What survivors of trauma have taught this eminent psychiatrist about hope
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of NPR
Posted: October 16th, 2023
In 1968, at the age of 42, psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton sat down to write Death in Life, a book about his experiences interviewing survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Over the course of his career, Lifton studied not only survivors of the atomic bombings but Auschwitz survivors, Vietnam war veterans and people who'd been subjected to repression by the Chinese government. The COVID pandemic prompted him to reflect on what he'd learned about mass trauma and resilience – that telling stories about trauma, and even trying to influence policy, can often help people recover. Now 97, Lifton has just published his 13th book, Surviving Our Catastrophes: Resilience and Renewal from Hiroshima to the Covid-19 Pandemic. "I interviewed people who had undergone the most extreme kind of trauma and victimization," [said Lifton]. "And yet some of the very same people who had so suffered from trauma have shown what I call "survivor wisdom" — they transformed themselves from helpless victims to agents of survival. If ... storytelling can include the transformation from the helpless victim to the life-enhancing survivor, then the storytelling is crucial. The storytelling we most encourage is that kind that enables the formerly helpless victim to be transformed in the story, to transform himself or herself, collectively transform themselves into life-affirming survivors. That's the key transformation, and that's the story we [listeners] seek to help them achieve."
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