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When Empathy For Trauma Crosses The Line

The world watch anxiously as twelve Thai boys and their coach were rescued from the depths of caves in which they were trapped for nearly two weeks. While viewers everywhere were captivated by the spectacle, more critical eyes were also keeping watch. It isn’t to say that the trauma and experience of the Thai boys wasn’t important or that their lives weren’t worth rescuing, or that their trauma isn’t valid. Trauma, as defined by Judy Crane, author of The Trauma Heart, is any negative life experience or series of experiences which influence the way one sees themselves and their place in the world.

What trauma is and who trauma affects cannot be determined by anyone. How trauma is viewed and discussed, however, is completely within our control. We should never compare one’s trauma to another because saying one’s trauma is more or less significant than someone else’s is what can inhibit someone from seeking the treatment they need to recover. Part of recognizing trauma is recognizing that trauma is happening everywhere, to millions of people, all of the time. What the boys endured is no doubt traumatic. Our attention to it, on the other hand, brings to question what made this particular traumatic event more significant than the trauma suffered by dozens, hundreds, thousands, if not millions of children at a time, everyday- children who aren’t being rescued. Children whose sufferings are not making headlined news.

Tim Recuber, a sociologist and author of Consuming Catastrophe: Mass Culture in America’s Decade of Disaster 1st Edition spoke with Brian Resnick at Vox to discuss society’s tendency toward what he calls “empathetic hedonism”. “There’s a certain kind of pleasure in really feeling for someone else, even if those feelings are bad,” Recuber explains, “That’s what the term is trying to name.” Recuber describes how our culture “tries to venerate empathy” so that viewers are able to publicly announce and display their ability to have empathy in the first place. “…it does mark you as a moral person,” he elaborates, going on to state, “That tends to be valuable today [to be seen as] an empathetic person. People get to demonstrate they have this ability.”

Recuber explains that the hedonism in this kind of voyeuristic empathy is available at increasing rates, making it a challenge to try and understand someone else’s story as intimately as possible. Problematically, there is no ever understanding exactly what someone else has gone through. Moreover, when a trauma becomes the spectacle of the media, the effort of empathy is concentrated into one popular event instead of a global, more universal sense of compassion. “I can convince myself that I can understand what someone else went through. Bu I don’t really know that’s the case. So there’s always a sense you can always learn more, always watch more coverage.”

This kind of empathy doesn’t necessarily cross the line, because the ability to care for and share in the suffering of others is an essential human quality. However, this kind of empathy should raise question to how we relate to, consume, and share the narratives of trauma which are the very real and very intimate narratives of very real and very vulnerable human beings.

At The Guest House Ocala, we welcome everyone who has experienced trauma and, as a result, is suffering from addictions, mental health disorders, or other manifestations. Our programs are custom tailored to the specific experiences and needs of each client. Everyone has a story. Change yours today. Call us at Call 1-855-483-7800.