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Resisting the Violence of Censorship and Traumatised Stuckness

Updated: Feb 17

TRIGGER WARNING: References to war, violence, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and trauma



As a charity sector lifer, I'm not sure I've ever found it harder to exist in our collective working culture than I do right now, and I knew other people must be feeling the same. So I put out a post on LinkedIn to my network asking people to sit with their feelings and share anonymously how they were doing. As e-mails came in, I felt it was probably important to accompany those comments that I shared with something more long-form about the importance of this exercise. This blog is specifically for people who care deeply about what is happening in Palestine; it's for people who want to make sense of how the trauma we're all experiencing (though only a tiny amount in comparison to what the Palestinians are experiencing) is impacting on our ability to think clearly or act collectively.


If we can bear not to look away, the destruction of an entire people is being live-streamed before our eyes but there have been many organisations carrying on as if nothing is happening or worse, making a concerted if clumsy effort to silence, censor or vilify staff that they employed post 2020, because of their expertise in social justice and anti-racism. Speaking out against the horror of genocide seems to be taking it one step too far. If you want to read more about the situation in Palestine itself, I write more here, (and in another blog I'm working on and will link once it's posted).


So, as we hold our breath, hearts thumping readying ourselves for the impending ground assault in Rafah - the following post is an attempt at softness, at pushing gently towards courage, a place to breathe out - and a call to honour what is happening in our bodies. Before we start, let's be clear about one thing:


What we are witnessing is utterly, completely and devastatingly traumatic.

While we may not be physically living in Gaza, we still experience the genocide, again, to a much lesser extent to Palestinians inside and outside of Gaza. But we watch videos and see pictures of entire martyred families - most devastatingly children - we are left mourning the loss of the universe of possibilities stored in every inch of their being, from their tiny toes to the the valves of their still-forming hearts. We cry with people through live stories and voice notes - experiencing the grief-stricken anguish of people in their first moments of unimaginable distress, finding their worlds collapsed with the final breaths of their loved ones. We leave comments of hope and solidarity for people like Bisan, as she sends us terrified messages, we check in daily if she is still alive, we wait for her updates. We worry for MoTaz - feeling relieved that he got out of Gaza but worrying about the survivors' guilt that he carries as he tells us he can't eat, his body aches, and that he feels choked.


We are also:

  • Experiencing the ground beneath our feet shifting - watching as 'Israels right to respond to October 7th' is used as an excuse for our tax money to be put towards some of the most heinous war crimes committed in living memory.

  • Being confronted with the toxicity of workplace culture - extremes often allow us to see hypocrisy in a much more clear way

  • Fearing the clear moves towards Totalitarian politics that will change our lives forever.


Feeling traumatised, worrying, rage and grief, is sacred - it is our bodies nervous system telling us that we cannot look away in the face of such unimaginable destruction.


This is why it irritates me beyond imagining when I see attempts, mostly from white women activists whose privilege affords them the freedom to speak out, instead of using their platform to highlight what is happening in Palestine, use their platform as a stick to beat people with - shaming people for feeling frozen in their own trauma and not being quite sure how to respond is not a healthy public response. It's nauseating. It's alienating. One thing we need more than ever is community care, and shaming people for what they're not doing only sows further division and creates loneliness too, both of which are awful conditions for movement building. If a post is shaming you - it's not serving you.


Trauma and repression are productive; they do things to us, they impact how we live and how we function. As Bessel Van Der Kolk tells us ‘the challenge of recovery [from trauma] is to establish ownership of your own body and your mind – of your self. This means feeling free to know what you know, and feel what you feel without becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed’ (p. 204). In my last blog, I referenced Avery Gordon in Ghostly Matters. She says what we're seeing is "the profound human costs of a system that is utterly dependent on the repression of a knowledge of social injustice”. So how is our recovery from trauma impacted, or how are we triggered when the very world around us denies any sentiment that our feelings are valid?


In response to this, I'm asking:


How can we practice feeling in new ways?

For many of us who carry bodily memories of trauma, being shamed is a distraction. If you're feeling stuck, frozen or overwhelmed - take a breath. Close your eyes and try to breathe out - let go of the way you're holding your body so tight that it feels like the only way to hold yourself together. Come to this moment as you are. Give yourself some space - allow yourself to feel those feelings that the world around you is telling you that you have no right to feel. Track the sensations through your body. What are you feeling? Where does it hurt?


This is not a self-indulgent exercise, but an exercise in liberation. In a world predicated on the denial of inequality - letting yourself feel the weight of it is to allow yourself to be alive. As Audre Lorde tells us in the chapter Poetry is Not A Luxury - Paying disciplined attention to our inner life - how we feel - what we think - is a sacred practice. Often, our feelings are like hurricanes, an uncontrollable swirl of debris lifted by a force we know is there, but it's hard to be still for long enough to unpack the contents of our deepest and most unruly feelings. For Audre Lorde, slowing down, connecting with ourselves enough to give shape to our nameless and formless feelings - to speak them into being is how we touch those true places of possibility and change. Verbalising those thoughts and feelings that we don't dare to touch is how we connect with our power and work towards the dream of survival and change.


I'm going to leave you with some words from more words from Audre Lorde which have gotten me through some incredibly tough times. Upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, she wrote the chapter "The transformation of silence into language and action":


"I have come to believe over and over that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised and misunderstood... In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality...what I regretted were my silences. Learning to put fear into perspective gave me great strength....I am not only a casualty. I am also a warror. What are the words that you do not have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die from them, still in silence?"


We can, of course, write to our MPs, protest and raise up Palestinian voices while we're working on this which is so important - but for the longer term, I am gently inviting you - not necessarily to announce your feelings to the entire world. But to sit with yourself - find your way through the labyrinth that is your internal chaos. Give the chaos form and shape - find some stillness within that. Then maybe, invite others in. One at a time. Reach out to friends, family and allies. The work of social change is deeply internal and relational - don't allow others to shame you into believing one post on social media makes them superior to you. It's taken me months to actually get my head together enough to write this post, so give yourselves time, too.


Working on staying human and resisting de-sensitisation to the horror and trauma of it all is revolutionary. We are all facing our own internal shit-storm, and finding some peace and stillness in it is the only way we have energy for resistance.

My call to action remains - for those of us who are feeling silenced, think about your feelings - think about physical sensations in your body - connect with the anger, powerlessness, loneliness. If you feel able, write to me about what you're feeling, how you're doing, what you're experiencing. Talk to me about how you'd like things to be better and what hopes you have for who we are and should be together. Talk to me about what you'd like to say to the leaders of the organisations that you work in.


You can send me an e-mail at aman@birthingourselves.co.uk / or a voicenote / video - whatever feels right and accessible to you :). For now I'll share entries anonymously, but eventually, if I get enough entries I'd like to put together an art installation.


If you're feeling like your feelings are totally out of control, and you'd like a totally impartial space you can call The Samaritans (116 123) or e-mail them on jo@samaritans.org. Think also about accessing help from a professional if you need some more expansive space - there are different initiatives that grant access to low cost theapy. Lots of therapists have low-cost options if you're struggling for cash, just reach out and check in with someone who looks like they could work for you. If you need some help looking, send me a message and I'll try and help find someone for you :)


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