By Marivir R. Montebon
If your compassion does not include you, your compassion is not complete – Dr. Ani Kalajian
New York City – An expert on traumatic stress management, Dr. Ani Kalayjian said that people who have experienced trauma, are primarily responsible for the healing of their own pain in order to enjoy life.
“Do not wait for acknowledgment from your wrong-doer. Take responsibility and work on your healing,” said Dr. Kalayjian in the hour-long Speaker Series presentation on Forgiveness and Reconciliation in the UTS Oak Room at 4W43 in New York City on October 17, 2017.
Kalayjian maintained that while “horizontal violence” such as slavery, genocide, terrorist attacks, internalized aggressions of perpetrators and colonizers remains alive and pervasive, the individual person is mainly responsible to get out of the pain.
“We work for restorative justice, yes, but individual healing does not depend on reparations,” Kalayjian explained when introducing the cases of comfort women in the Philippines and Korea who were made sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, and the example of the victims of the militarist Turkish government.
She added that in certain circumstances, when restorative justice has been meted, some victims are not able to move on with their lives and continue to harbor on hate or shame. “Our own healing is our own responsibility while we work for justice. Forgiveness is essential to your own healing, and reconciliation is a choice,” she quipped.
Kalayjian is an adjunct Psychology professor at Columbia University, an NGO representative at the United Nations, and president of the Association for Trauma Outreach & Prevention and Meaningful World. She said that people are still using the old mentality of “keeping hurt, getting angry, being vengeful, and thus heightening violence.”
The cycle of violence, she noted, goes from post-trauma stress disorder, to addiction, and continued grief, sadness, anger, and revenge.
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. Hence, it is important with every traumatic experience to determine the lessons learned. In this process, we identify your strength, not your trauma. And the first step to healing is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift to yourself, not to your wrong-doer. Forgiveness breaks the cycle of anger and hurt inside you, then you become strong, to love yourself back and help others, and enjoy life” Kalayjian explained.
As a victim of war trauma herself, Kalayjian struggled personally in her young life under the militarist rule of the Turkish government. She said that she was blessed to have met Dr. Victor Frankl, founder of logotherapy, with whom she underwent therapy for four years.
In that therapy, based heavily on existential philosophy, Kalayjian remembers Frankl as very funny, grounded and humble. He asked me: what meaning did you get from that experience? In logotherapy, you have to help clients forgive. “It is a gift to yourself, to break the cycle of pain and hurt. It is an individual decision, and no religion can force you to do that,” she said.
Meanwhile a survivor-advocate of sex trafficking bravely spoke last summer before high level government and civil society representatives on the UN Global Fight Against Trafficking about her own trauma as a child sex slave and noted that indeed, healing starts from within.
Withelma T Ortiz Walker Pettigrow said that she healed from her own trauma by forgiving herself to effectively stop the shame and helping others who have had the same experience in order to heal. But she did not stop there. She staunchly advocated against sex trafficking in the US, ran her own radio program, and helped others heal.get out of the cycle of shame and prostitution.
“If I did not decide to advocate against sex trafficking and help others, I would not heal,” she told this writer. As an anti-sex trafficking advocate, Withelma emphasized the need to involve women and girls in crafting laws and measures to curb human and sex trafficking.
“Please give us a seat at the decision table. We have real perspectives and understanding of this problem. I am not able to heal if I did not advocate for this,” T said during the June 23 summit.
The Baltimore-based anti-sex trafficking advocate had been trafficked for sex for seven years, at the tender age of ten, until she was 17. She said was moved from California, Nevada, Oregon and to Washington state as a sex slave.
Withelma T stressed that government and society must address the problem from the perspective of men as the predominant market for sex trade. “We have to target the perpetrators of the crime, men in particular. They are not men of respect. They quickly come in and out and live normal lives while I have had to struggle every day to rebuild my life. Justice must be accessible,” she pointed out.
(Photo by UTS; part of this article could be read at https://uts.edu/news-and-events/492-real-healing-starts-with-forgiveness-dr-ani-kalayjian)