In-depth observations of the behaviour of some animal species show that in the case of traumatic stress, they enter a state of immobility – akinesia (tonic immobility), which saves them from mortal danger. This state is similar to freezing or deep hypnosis. For some sharks and rays, it is possible for humans to induce a similar state in which the animal completely relaxes and breathing becomes more stable. However, it is only the final emergence from freezing that results in a true recovery from the traumatic event.
Trauma occurs if immobility is not released. This means that the person cannot return to normal life. The immobilization reaction is combined with chronic anxiety and other negative emotions like terror, a sense of helplessness (Peter Levine).
The body has its own memory. During the first years of life, our brain stores the thought and emotional patterns that we operate in adult life. A stressful situation that arises today often triggers past emotions that seem inadequate. This creates a bridge between our present and our past – a time when, as children, we were unable to cope with difficult stimuli. Being flooded with childhood emotions means that we do not have access to the prefrontal cortex – a place in the brain responsible for analysis, decision-making and empathy, among other things.
Basing on her own experiences, but also on the experiences of others, Agata Jarosławiec traces the traumas which have left their mark on our individual fates, but also on the fates of our ancestors from whom we have inherited fears that are difficult to recognise and name. Perhaps the process of collective cleansing, of opening up to empathy with others, but also with oneself – can pull us out of the wheel of violence that is rolling through our community?