Monday, August 22, 2016


Cultural relics have been targeted by ISIS in northern Africa and the Middle East in alarming numbers. The first successful prosecution by the International Criminal Court for only the destruction of cultural heritage took place today at The Hague. Ahmad Al-Fagi Al-Mahdi took part in the destruction by Islamic militants of the 14th century Holy Tombs of Timbuktu in his native Mali in 2012 and today he admitted and apologized, calling for an end to these acts.

The phrase destruction of cultural heritage got me thinking about our individual specific and pointed cultural heritage, that of each of our families, and how psychoanalysts navigate the change in perspective of our unique stories. Some people come to us hoping we will undo what they have had to endure, or hoping that the painful experiences of childhood will be eradicated. But our history is part of who we are, for better or worse, forever embedded in our neuro-circuitry [unless damage occurs, such as by a stroke or traumatic brain injury] and I encourage patients to respect what has transpired, give it its due, its voice, and give it a place beside all that has made them the courageous and resourceful enough person now before me who seeks psychotherapeutic treatment.

Some patients worry, as we empathize with the relational trauma of chronic misrecognition and misattunement or with the Trauma of physical and sexual abuse of their childhoods, that their newly welcomed and understandable anger will be insurmountable to finding their way back to loving and forgiving their families of origin. It does seem remarkable that, if we persevere with recognizing, naming, and accepting anger, we will find it can be more easily lived, lived alongside the more palatable emotions and memories that are human experience.  I don’t know how forgiveness for heinous acts comes about, but it seems partially linked to learning to forgive ourselves. I know I am grateful life-long for those who have forgiven me.

No comments: