Khmernews

What is individual and psychosocial trauma in the Cambodian context?

Posted by khmernews on March 4, 2008

Research reveals that trauma has a double manifestation: individual trauma and psychosocial trauma.

The term psychosocial trauma is used to describe the social impact of political, cultural and economic oppression. While some individuals witness or endure more than others, pervasive fear, grief and poverty take their toll on the wider community.
Psychosocial trauma refers to both its impact on individuals and on society as a whole. In order to be understood, a psychosocial trauma must be considered and analyzed regarding a very specific socio-cultural context. During the Khmer Rouge regime, nearly the entire population experienced long-term exposure to a “disaster made by their own people”, a man-made or human-caused disaster which included nationwide atrocities. The whole civil society was destroyed, people lost their friends and relatives, and because people lived in extreme fear, relationships between people changed dramatically.

The term “psychosocial trauma” is used to describe the social impact of political, cultural and economic oppression. While some individuals witness or endure more than others, pervasive fear, grief and anger etc. take their toll on the wider community. Psychosocial trauma refers to both its impact on individuals and on society as a whole.

When Cambodians began to suffer from these destructive events and for many people this began long before the Khmer Rouge became the supreme authority-most of them faced three common elements of psychosocial trauma with impacts on the individual and social context: (i) Most Cambodians did not expect that there would be a civil war; (ii) Cambodians were not prepared for there egregious events; (ii) Cambodians could not do anything to prevent the traumatic events from happening.

Due to the complete upheaval of Cambodian society, most people were forced into collective and unique individual experiences of events in which: 1) their daily experiences were a threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity, and 2) the ability to integrate their emotional experiences was overwhelmed.

The impact on the whole Cambodian society still persists:
-destruction of peer groups and relationships on may levels
-distrust and fear
-destructive communication pattern
-social disengagement
-domestic violence, etc.

This is caused by corresponds with immature pattern and structures in the level of personality development of many Cambodians, who were traumatized during the Khmer Rouge years:
-lack of self esteem
-lack of compassion
-lack of peaceful communication skills
-lack of anger management
-lack of physical health
-lack of creativity
-lack of morality and positive ethic principles, etc.

Most Cambodians who survived the Pol Pot era experienced or witnessed many awful events, events which would normally overwhelm a person’s capacity to cognitively and emotionally process their experiences. Most Cambodians were emotionally shocked over those years, which understandably led to breakdown in cognitive processing, But even in such dire situations, fortunately many people were able to stay healthy and now continue to give others emotional support and encouragement.

-Extracted from the Center for Social Development (CSD) : Understanding Trauma in Cambodia : What is individual and psychosocial trauma in the Cambodian context? Phnom Penh, 8 October 2007, p18-19.

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