Collective Trauma and the Myth of “Getting Over It”

The Double Header Part I: Moving On and Getting Over It

Badger was recently asked: “When is it time to move on from a collective trauma or loss towards a more promising future and how best to proceed?”

Collective Trauma

Collective trauma can occur in any group, whether it is a nation’s citizens reeling after a terrorist attack, or the inhabitants of a small town trying to come to terms with a school shooting.

This is when the oft-used phrase “a community came together” rings true: leaders step up to provide structure and support for other members of the group; they strive to maintain lines of communication and remind each person, We’re All In This Together”. Differences in ideologies and social mores are temporarily discarded in favor of a more productive and holistic approach that serves the group rather than simply a portion of it

“We’re All In This Together” reminds members of the group to think of others, and to be empathetic whenever they are communicating with them. Especially important, particularly immediately after the event, is the members’ shared memory, which validates each person’s emotions. The shared memory reminds each person not only that they aren’t the only ones suffering, but also reminds everyone involved that “it’s not just you; you didn’t make this up!”

But Wait…

The Group Is Made Up of Individuals

While the trauma is shared, each person’s experience of the trauma is individual. If you were present at Stones Rising 2018, it is possible that you saw and heard and did the same things I did—but it’s more likely that you saw and heard and did a whole bunch of different things, making your perception of the events we witnessed unique. If we all sat down and collated our individual observations, we could build a narrative about what happened that weekend. For example, because of a variety of factors like where you were sitting and how you were feeling during the Board of Directors’ floor show—er, Members’ Meeting—each person’s recollection would add another dimension to the story.

This is where the real crux of the matter—and my answer—come into play. Let me remind you that these are all observations: I’m an artist, not a psychologist, dammit!

Life experience has a lot to do with how you handle trauma in the here and now. Although the group’s members have shared a common trauma, each of us will deal with it differently according to what we have learned from our years of life experience. A person’s reaction to bullying—one of the chief topics of discussion these days—is very much related to any previously experienced bullying or other abusive behavior. Sometimes you don’t even realize the depth of abuse you endured until some guy comes up and screams at you because you tried to keep a vehicle from blocking the road. Would you walk away, become confrontational, or cower? Would you wait, consider your options, and then act?

Likewise, a person’s reaction to a trauma is IS PROBABLY NOT PROPORTIONAL to the severity perceived by an outsider. Again, we are now talking about the individual. Cumulative traumatic experience does not trump a single traumatic experience, and vice-versa. The worst thing any of us can do is say “Well, my trauma is way worse than yours.”

Please note: NO ONE I know is being used as an example below. I have intentionally mixed things up, so if I accidentally describe you or someone you know, it is NOT INTENTIONAL. Thank you.

Two people get yelled at.

One person was yelled at a lot—and it was horrible, but the person’s experience with bullies enabled them to take the teeth out of the verbal abuse by simply ignoring it. So, for this person, being yelled at a lot does not necessarily equal a huge trauma.

A different person was yelled at once—and it was truly horrible, because when they were a child, a relative routinely yelled at and beat them. Yelled at once does not lessen the effect of the trauma—and may in fact make it worse than that suffered by the person who is yelled at often.

Two people were ridiculed in front of others.

The first person got this treatment every morning when they reported for work. It was humiliating, but they had to bear up under it because they needed the job, and their boss had already threatened reprisals if they made any fuss. They are trapped in a negative feedback loop, accumulating trauma.

The second person had this happen once at an office meeting. They had plenty of experience dealing with people like this attacker, so they went to the HR office and filed a complaint. They remain empowered.

Two people received unwanted attention.

The first person put up with this almost every day. They felt unclean, and worried that they wouldn’t be able to sidestep the other person’s advances forever. Their attempts to find work elsewhere were stalled. Their trauma doesn’t allow them to sleep at night for fear of a sudden attack.

The second person had this happen once. A victim of sexual abuse, this person freaked out and nearly ended up in the hospital because they tried to kill themselves.

Empathy is required, my friends. We’ve all been through a lot, and, not being mind readers, we should assume that we don’t know everyone else’s circumstances. Our best bet is to assume that the other person’s trauma is as bad, if not worse, than ours.

Collective Trauma Does Not Assume Collective Recovery

How Can I Help?

Everyone needs space now and then

The chief way to learn about another person’s experience is to listen to them. Don’t listen in order to give advice, just listen. Give support: “I’m here for you,” and input—only if it is requested.

In any group of this sort, there will be individuals who have a very black and white approach to the situation. In their minds, since the group (because in their minds “the group” often supplants “individuals”) suffered the trauma at roughly the same time, its members should all be finished with their grieving, anger, or confusion at exactly the same time. Far too often in our society, the “get over it!” mentality surfaces, and these particular group members will be the first ones to tell you that you should be over the trauma and moving on by now. I have the feeling that the people who are saying this the loudest may be trying to avoid being reminded that they too suffered a trauma. But you know, I could be wrong…

Like many others, you have recognized and given voice to the fact that something was wrong, and that it affected you negatively, but unlike some of your friends, you aren’t ready to “get over it,”–and still that’s what you hear over and over and over again. “It’s time to move on,” people say. “Time to look forward.”

Stepping away from the collective part of the trauma may help. It is possible to do this while still being able to count on friends—possibly from the same situation—to have your back in dark moments.

The Double Header, Part 2: Reconciliation with Ourselves

I have so many good memories, experiences, friends met, raised our kids, performed ceremony, met and married my husband as a result of attending 4QF for dam near 20 years. How do I come to terms with what has happened at 4QF and my roles in it? I heard the rumors but told myself they weren’t true because it never happened in front of me. I was selfish in my desire to not ruin or lose 4QF so much that I ignored the signs. I never reached out to those that “one day just stopped showing up, they disappeared never to be heard from again” people. How do I come to terms with belonging to a sick cult organization for so many years and not know it? How do I marry my feeling of revulsion for 4QF with the happy memories of 4QF?

First of all, this is a topic with which I–and, I believe, many of us–are continuing to wrestle. So you are definitely not alone.

My friend, I’m going to ask you to take all the good stuff and put it aside, because it’s worth keeping.

How Four Quarters Works and How The Leadership’s Dysfunction Led You Down the Garden Path (Until They Decided You Were a Liability)

 The People Who Disappeared

We all know people who left Four Quarters, often under circumstances that were less than transparent . “What happened?” we asked ourselves, “Why didn’t they come back? Did they do something wrong?”

…can you believe that we actually asked ourselves if they did something wrong?

We rarely learned the answers to these questions. Sometimes–particularly with the live-ins–the word would go out that the person had been asked to leave because of some sort of bad behavior, usually involving drinking. I didn’t know a lot of the people who left in 2008, so I felt no need to reach out to them.

It’s natural to question our actions–or in this case the lack thereof, especially in circumstances where we didn’t quite know the people who left. You may not have reached out to these people, but they also never reached out to you. You might think that of all those who left, maybe one, perhaps someone you knew a little better, might have contacted you–or someone–but for the most part they didn’t. Why? It’s entirely likely that they were afraid. We know now that threats have been made against some of our friends during this recent “purge”, and while we don’t know much beyond that, the implication is that the threats were so vile that to this day some will not speak of things that happened to them at Four Quarters. The reticence of long-term exiles hints at the possibility that something similar happened to them as well.


Your issue is not really one of selfishness. This is how Four Quarters works:

  1. You go there. You see the land, you meet the people, you see the stone circle (I refuse to capitalize any of these formerly capitalized words.) You attend a moon service or event.
  2. You are sucked in. You love the land, you love the people, you love the stone circle. And it can all be yours because we’re so open and loving and accepting!
  3. You become involved. How better to show the rulers of Four Quarters how much you love and appreciate everything they’ve done to make it possible for you to go there?
  4. You carve out niche for yourself/your family/your friends. Your campsite becomes elaborate, you are proud of it and the fact that you are involved with Four Quarters.
  5. At this point, you have also made a number of observations. It doesn’t really matter what you say, it seems like Orren/the Board don’t listen even when you, a long-time and responsible member, have a concern. You observe that in fact the quieter you are the better.
  6. Periodically there are crises that threaten Four Quarters. You feel compelled to do everything you can to shield the church.
  7. You see something you don’t like in the Four Quarters leadership’s actions. Perhaps you witness abusive behavior. You may have even discussed it with your camp mates–should you do or say something about it? And here’s the crux of it: by this point you have been convinced that you should not rock the boat because you don’t really know/understand what’s going on. You aren’t there all the time; you don’t deal with the day to day operations, you know jack shit about how the place is run.
  8. It becomes easier to just keep your head down. You have what you wanted, perhaps even more than you thought you wanted. You are held up as “a member in good standing”. People go to you when they have questions. And so on for as long as it lasts…

Why We Should Think Twice Before Punishing Ourselves for Our Involvement in Four Quarters:







Beautiful plants grow out of shit. They don’t feel embarrassed about it; neither should we.