Peace out of Healing within: Integrating Trauma into Peace and Conflict Studies

FEATURED RESEARCH PAPER, 4 Dec 2023

Deting Lu, Ph.D. - TRANSCEND Media Service

Abstract

11 Nov 2023 – The enduring trauma stemming from historical events has posed a significant hindrance to the enhancement of grassroots relationships among groups once entangled in violent conflicts. Perceiving trauma as a root cause of conflicts, this article emphasizes the urgent need to address and heal trauma, thereby preventing the potential escalation of future conflicts into violence. Integrating insights from Galtung’s conflict transformation, Kingian nonviolence conflict reconciliation, and the Daoist concept of “peace out of harmonization” with theories on trauma and its healing, I introduce the concept of peace out of healing within. This concept highlights the vital role of trauma healing as the foundational step in the pursuit of peace, emanating first from within through intrahealing and then extending outward through interhealing.

Interconnectedness between Conflict and Trauma

Within the framework of Kingian nonviolence, conflict is understood as neutral and often carries a historical background.1 Similarly, when it comes to trauma, it is believed that trauma experienced by individuals in the present typically has its roots in their past experiences.2 Throughout its historical development, trauma has been primarily seen as a phenomenon with predominantly negative impacts on human society. However, like conflict, trauma also possesses a dual nature, capable of being either destructive or constructive to life.3 When approached holistically, trauma can offer opportunities for delving into our past and exploring the essence of our being, commonly referred to as post-traumatic growth.4 This exploration can also lead to the enhancement of our relationships with both ourselves and others.5

Conversely, when left unaddressed, trauma sustains a destructive cycle of violence. According to Daoism, trauma can be perceived as an imbalance caused by an individual’s lack of self-control, leading to a loss of humanity that fuels escalating violence.6 On an individual level, unhealed trauma and unreconciled victim-perpetrator relationships can give rise to lingering resentment, potentially contributing to future conflicts and causing harm when mismanaged.7 On a collective scale, as observed in historical trauma, it may manifest in revenge-seeking behaviors from victim groups or self-glorification tendencies among perpetrator groups, becoming embedded in social structures, cultural values, and historical narratives, ultimately perpetuating a violent feedback cycle.8

Galtung emphasizes the importance of promoting constructive conflict transformation to eliminate violence, portraying conflict as a dynamic ever-evolving lifecycle in his ABC Conflict Triangle, where conflict energy can emanate from any corner and influence others.9 From a trauma lens, I reinterpret the triangle with an inverted structure, positioning unhealed trauma at the contradiction (C) as the source of conflict energy. Galtung depicts the contradiction as blocked and stagnant, a concept aligns with the frozen and suppressed nature of trauma.10 Accordingly, I assume that when trauma remains unhealed, it resurfaces and repeats, manifesting in attitudes (A) characterized by harboring hatred, distrust, and apathy toward oneself and others, as well as behaviors (B) involving harmful actions toward oneself and others.11

Fundamentally, unhealed trauma serves as a fertile ground for the occurrence of conflict. Simultaneously, given that trauma often remains invisible and concealed in the depth, conflict can be understood as an outward manifestation of underlying trauma, presenting an opportunity to highlight the presence of unhealed trauma through aggressive attitudes and behaviors.

Therefore, I assert that it is crucial to address the existing yet unattended trauma to reconcile conflicts and break the harmful cycle of violence. This perspective aligns, to some extent, with the concept of “conflict reconciliation” proposed in Kingian nonviolence, emphasizing both trauma healing and relationship restoration.12 Upon reaching a state of peace through conflict reconciliation, the likelihood of exhibiting violent attitudes and behaviors decreases, subsequently reducing the potential for new trauma or re-traumatization rooted in the same root cause. This desirable transformation resonates with the Daoist notion of “peace out of harmonization,” which emphasizes that peace emanates from within and then extends outward through harmonious interactions between the self and others.13

Peace out of Healing within

By integrating insights from Galtung’s conflict transformation, Kingian nonviolence conflict reconciliation, and the Daoist concept of “peace out of harmonization” with theories on trauma and its healing, I introduce the concept of peace out of healing within. In this context, “peace” denotes a state of dynamic equilibrium between yin and yang, representing wholeness, where conflict may still arise but can be constructively managed by individuals with sufficient capacity.14 “Healing” depicts a process that involves a natural movement toward reconnecting with all aspects of oneself, including both traumatized and non-traumatized parts. This process ultimately leads to a state of wholeness, where one can better cope with sensations associated with trauma.15 Since trauma often resides within individuals, the term “within” is used to highlight that healing requires an inside-out effort and to emphasize the importance of cultivating peace within oneself first and then extending it outwardly.16

Essentially, the concept aims to highlight the pivotal role of trauma healing as a foundation for the pursuit of sustainable peace. Given that trauma impacts the human organism and relationships, healing needs to take place on both intrapersonal and interpersonal levels. I introduce the term intrahealing to describe the process of healing unfolding within oneself, while interhealing refers to the healing occurring within relationships. Recognizing that disconnection or dissociation lies at the core of trauma, intrahealing involves heading toward wholeness by reconnecting with all aspects of oneself.17 On the other hand, interhealing entails healing fractured relationships through rediscovering the interconnected nature of our existence.18

According to the concept peace out of healing within, it emphasizes that when individuals undergo intrahealing, it naturally fosters intrehealing within relationships and communities. Recognizing that the world is fundamentally formed of relationships, Menakem (2017) clarifies that “healing the trauma (intrahealing) becomes the first step in mending the relationships.”19 Hübl also asserts that “healing always starts with the intrapersonal healing (intrahealing),” and the interconnected nature of our existence ensures that our healing processes are inherently interwoven.20 In other words, when intrahealing takes place in one domain, interhealing naturally follows in another. Essentially, intrahealing and interhealing are interrelated processes that mutually support and reinforce one another. Just as trauma is contagious, so is healing. As Haga expresses, “healed people heal people, healing people heals.”21

The Harmonization Process of Healing

Drawing inspiration from the Daoist notion of “peace out of harmonization,” I introduce the process of attaining peace out of healing within as “harmonization.” In the context of intrahealing, the harmonization process involves acknowledging and reconnecting with various fragmented pieces of oneself, including both traumatized (yin) and non-traumatized (yang) pieces. Through harmonizing these distinct pieces and facilitating their interaction and mutual support, it ultimately leads to a state of yin-yang equilibrium, symbolizing wholeness. Within the framework of Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, Schwartz describes the essence of “wholeness” as the fundamental “Self” residing within each individual, guiding different internal entities known as “parts.” These “parts” function independently yet collaboratively to support the overall wellbeing of the internal system. For instance, when one part experiences distress and pain, others often assume protective roles and make sacrifices to shield the individual from the suffering of the traumatized parts. Essentially, IFS focuses on healing these traumatized parts and restoring a harmonious balance among all the “parts” through approaching the deep state of “Self” that can potentially lead to spontaneous healing within oneself.22

As there is no universally applicable approach to intrahealing, the visualization of the harmonization process proves to be quite challenging. This complexity arises from significant variations in the process among individuals, primarily due to the differences in their capacities to respond and cope with trauma.23 For instance, it may manifest as a dynamic process involving forward and backward movements over time or exhibit more pronounced peaks and valleys. These variations represent diverse means of managing the potential ups and downs during the harmonization process of intrahealing. Conversely, it may also appear as a more straightforward process that can be captured by a simple straight line, suggesting quick intrahealing through uncomplicated practices when the individual’s capacity to confront trauma is robust.

Therefore, when considering the duration of this internal work, variations are to be expected as well. Maté offers an alternative expression of Eckhart Tolle’s explanation of enlightenment, proposing that while profound experiences of healing or transformation may occur as an overnight event for some individuals, for the majority, it is an ongoing process that unfolds gradually over time.24

Concerning the specific attributes characterizing the harmonization process of intrahealing, they include fluidity, flexibility, holism, cumulativeness, and nonviolence. I propose that the harmonization process follows the Dao, especially embodying the principle of Wu wei, making it inherently fluid like water. Water naturally assumes a humble role, bringing about changes from lower positions until equilibrium is achieved.25 Likewise, the harmonization process of intrahealing mirrors the flow of water, gently seeking to move downward to the state beneath the various parts, where the Self resides and creates space for healing to unfold naturally.

Furthermore, acknowledging the inherent presence of trauma in human experiences and recognizing the uniqueness of each individual, it becomes evident that there is no universally applicable pathway to healing, making the process flexible. Specifically, the harmonization process should transcend the application of singular and linear paths for everyone who has experienced trauma, instead adapting to individual circumstances and considering the coping capacities individuals have developed for their traumatic experiences. For example, one may choose to initiate the healing process with bottom-up approaches, focusing on the bodily sensations, or opt for top-down approaches, concentrating on the mind. It is also common to alternate between both approaches, facilitating trauma healing at one’s own pace.26

The combination of both bottom-up approaches and top-down approaches also embodies the holistic nature inherent in the harmonization process. As emphasized by Glasgow, the (intra)healing process should extend beyond the realm of the mind, specifically the nervous system, and encompass the body, which carries the imprints of traumatic memories and ancestral resources. Additionally, the spirit, symbolizing the potential for something greater, holds a significant influence on healing, particularly within certain cultures such as indigenous communities worldwide.27 From my perspective, the spirit referenced resonates with the notion of the Self as framed by Schwartz in IFS, representing an entity that remains resilient to harm and possesses innate energy for healing.

When it comes to developing the capacity to navigate sensations and emotions associated with trauma, it is a gradual process that involves taking small steps incrementally, making the process cumulative.28 With continued practice, the capacity for healing expands, similar to the continuous and gentle wearing away of the hardest substance through the “soft drip-drip-drip of water”.29 Furthermore, this accumulation of harmonization process embodies the philosophy of nonviolence, which requires consistent training until it becomes ingrained in muscle memory, enabling the body to respond to conflict stemming from trauma in a nonviolent manner.30 Serving as a fundamental guiding force in the harmonization process, nonviolence also ensures the avoidance of harm to oneself or others along the pathways toward healing.

Overall, the harmonization process of intrahealing is characterized by fluidity, flexibility, holism, cumulativeness, and nonviolence. Consistent with the concept of peace out of healing within, as individuals attain inner peace through intrahealing, their peacefulness and nonviolence extend into their interactions and relationships with others, thereby facilitating intrahealing and spreading peace on a larger scale.

In the context of interhealing, particular emphasis is placed on restoring the relationship between a “perpetrator” and a “victim.” As highlighted by Galtung, violence not only traumatizes the victims but also harms perpetrators through their internalized hatred and the act of inflicting violence.31 Haga argues that a simplistic dichotomy between perpetrator and victim fails to capture the complexities of harm and violence.32 Furthermore, Tolle reveals that an identity rooted in pain can hinder the confrontation of one’s “pain-body,” a manifestation of trauma.33 Consequently, it becomes critical to look beyond identities such as perpetrator and victim, acknowledging and validating the original trauma experienced by both parties when seeking to restore their relationship.

Through the lens of trauma, I formulate a trauma-informed mode of interhealing process, encompassing the perspectives of both victims and perpetrators. Aligned with the concept of peace out of healing within, the unfolding of interhealing necessitates preliminary intrahealing. For both perpetrators and victims, intrahealing starts with the validation and affirmation of their trauma in a safe and nonjudgmental space. In the case of victims, the trauma primarily stems from the harm inflicted upon them by the perpetrator in a specific traumatic event. Conversely, the trauma experienced by perpetrators in this context consists of two facets: the harm they endured in their past lives and the perpetuation of harm onto another being. However, acknowledging the first facets of a perpetrator’s trauma does not justify the harm they have caused. Instead, it serves to identify the underlying cause of their harmful behavior and cultivate a space for them to hold genuine accountability for the inflicted harm.34

The healing energy stemming from genuine accountability can follow a circular path, enabling the possibility of an apology from the “perpetrator.” This, in turn, contributes to the healing of the “victim,” subsequently fostering the potential for forgiveness that can also facilitate the healing of the “perpetrator.” This dynamic constitutes the process of interhealing and intrahealing.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is evident that urgent attention must be given to the unaddressed and unhealed trauma, as the globe continues to grapple with wars and violent conflicts rooted in these enduring legacies. Healing trauma serves not only as a crucial means to break the cycle of violence but also to rebuild connections among peoples and countries. Consequently, it demands inclusion and attention in both the peacebuilding process and our daily life practices. By embracing the wisdom of peace out of healing within and actively implementing it, beginning with ourselves, we embark on personal healing journeys that simultaneously contribute to healing the world around us.35

Notes:

  1. LaFayette, B., & Jehnsen, D. C. (2007). The nonviolence briefing booklet: A 2-day orientation to the Kingian nonviolence conflict reconciliation. IHRR Publications.
  2. Menakem, R. (2017). My Grandmother’s hands: Racialized trauma and the pathway to mending our hearts and bodies. Central Recovery Press. p. 120.
  3. Galtung, J. (1996). Peace by peaceful means: Peace and conflict, development and civilization. SAGE Publications; Galtung, J. (2000). Conflict transformation by peaceful means: The transcend method. United Nations.
  4. Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the transformation of trauma. Penguin Books.
  5. Haga, K. (2020). Healing resistance: A radically different response to harm. Parallax Press. p. 601.
  6. Dietrich, W. (2012). Interpretations of peace in history and culture (N. Koppensteiner, Trans.). Springer. p. 49.
  7. Haga, K. (2020). Healing resistance: A radically different response to harm. Parallax Press. p. 600.
  8. Galtung, J. (2007). Introduction: Peace by peaceful conflict transformation – the TRANSCEND approach. In C. Webel & J. Galtung (Eds.), Handbook of peace and conflict studies (pp. 14-32). Routledge.
  9. Galtung, J. (1996). Peace by peaceful means: Peace and conflict, development and civilization. SAGE Publications; Galtung, J. (2000). Conflict transformation by peaceful means: The transcend method. United Nations; Galtung, J. (2007). Introduction: Peace by peaceful conflict transformation – the TRANSCEND approach. In C. Webel & J. Galtung (Eds.), Handbook of peace and conflict studies (pp. 14-32). Routledge.
  10. Galtung, J. (1996). Peace by peaceful means: Peace and conflict, development and civilization. SAGE Publications; Galtung, J. (2000). Conflict transformation by peaceful means: The transcend method. United Nations; Hübl, T., & Avritt, J. J. (2020). Healing collective trauma: A process for integrating our intergenerational and cultural wounds. Sounds True. p. 32.
  11. Galtung, J. (1996). Peace by peaceful means: Peace and conflict, development and civilization.
  12. Haga, K. (2020). Healing resistance: A radically different response to harm. Parallax Press.
  13. Li, C. (2014). The Confucian philosophy of harmony. Routledge.
  14. Li, C. (2014). The Confucian philosophy of harmony. Routledge.
  15. Maté, G., & Maté, D. (2022). The myth of normal: Trauma, illness and healing in a toxic culture. Penguin Random House.
  16. Hạnh, T. N. (1992). Peace is every step: The path of mindfulness in everyday life. A. Kotler (Ed.). Bantam; Krishnamurti, J. (2010). Freedom from the known. Random House.
  17. Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the transformation of trauma. Penguin Books. p. 77; Maté, G., & Maté, D. (2022). The myth of normal: Trauma, illness and healing in a toxic culture. Penguin Random House.
  18. Hübl, T., & Avritt, J. J. (2020). Healing collective trauma: A process for integrating our intergenerational and cultural wounds. Sounds True.
  19. Menakem, R. (2017). My Grandmother’s hands: Racialized trauma and the pathway to mending our hearts and bodies. Central Recovery Press.
  20. Hübl, T., & Avritt, J. J. (2020). Healing collective trauma: A process for integrating our intergenerational and cultural wounds. Sounds True.
  21. Haga, K. (2020). Healing resistance: A radically different response to harm. Parallax Press.
  22. Schwartz, R. C., & Sweezy, M. (2020). Internal family systems therapy (2nd ed.). The Guilford Press.
  23. Herman, J. L. (1997). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence from domestic abuse to political terror. Basic Books; Levine, P. A. (1997). Waking the tiger: Healing trauma. North Atlantic Books.
  24. Sounds True. (2022, December 20). Gabor Maté: A personal view of healing into wholeness in a toxic culture. Insights at the Edge [Audio podcast episode]. Retrieved from https://resources.soundstrue.com/podcast/gabor-mate-a-personal-view-of-healing-into-wholeness-in-a-toxic-culture/.
  25. Lao Tzu, & Mullinax, M. S. (2021). Tao Te Ching: Power for the peaceful. Fortress Press. p. 48.
  26. Koven, M., & Gibson, M. (2023, February). Understanding what trauma healing looks Like [Conference session]. In Trauma Super Conference (online), Retrieved from https://www.traumasuperconference.com.
  27. Glasgow, C. R., & Bristow, J. (2023, February). Holistic healing in a divided world [Conference session]. In Trauma Super Conference (online). Retrieved from https://www.traumasuperconference.com.
  28. Levine, P. A. (1997). Waking the tiger: Healing trauma. North Atlantic Books.
  29. Lao Tzu, & Mullinax, M. S. (2021). Tao Te Ching: Power for the peaceful. Fortress Press. p. 144
  30. Haga, K. (2020). Healing resistance: A radically different response to harm. Parallax Press. p. 98.
  31. Galtung, J. (2007). Introduction: Peace by peaceful conflict transformation – the TRANSCEND approach. In C. Webel & J. Galtung (Eds.), Handbook of peace and conflict studies (pp. 14-32). Routledge.
  32. Haga, K. (2020). Healing resistance: A radically different response to harm. Parallax Press. p. 98. p. 384.
  33. Tolle, E. (2004). The power of now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment. Namaste Publishing.
  34. Haga, K. (2020). Healing resistance: A radically different response to harm. Parallax Press. pp. 376-380.
  35. This research paper is originally part of Deting Lu’s doctoral dissertation titled “Moving beyond victim-perpetrator dichotomy: Revisiting Nanjing through a trauma-informed and healing-centered approach,” which was completed in September 2023 at Osaka Jogakuin University. 

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Deting Lu earned her PhD in Peace and Human Rights Studies from Osaka Jogakuin University in Japan. Presently, she holds the position of a research fellow at the UNESCO Chair on Peace Studies at Nanjing University in China. She is also a Steering Committee member at the Northeast Asia Regional Peacebuilding Institute (NARPI) in Korea and a Committee member in the International Relation Committee of the Peace Studies Association Japan (PSAJ).

 

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One Response to “Peace out of Healing within: Integrating Trauma into Peace and Conflict Studies”

  1. The urgent need to address is NOT “heal” trauma, but PREVENT trauma.

    That is rid the world of wars. This can only be achieved by abolishing the War industry and its legal users, the Armed Forces.

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