Kathleen Hirsch | Healing the Heart of Trauma
Writing and musings by author Kathleen Hirsch.
kathleen hirsch, writer, spiritual director, boston, ma, spiritual writing
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Healing the Heart of Trauma

Healing the Heart of Trauma

Who Shall Be Our Prophets?

A prophet gets the priorities right. 

She speaks the truth that we didn’t know that we already knew. 

I would like to think that a prophet turns us to an awakened and deeper state of perception.

A prophet is a breath of cool air, a goad, a truth-teller.

Speaking hard truths is never popular.  But women today know in a way that we haven’t in a long time that NOT speaking truth distorts everything – our thoughts, actions, dreams, nightmares, choices, freedoms.

Young woman – gymnasts, aspiring actresses, artists, those at mid-level positions in almost every profession — have become society’s prophets.  This amazing development is often referenced as “the MeToo Moment.”  But the reality is so much bigger than a hatch tag.

Because stories of predatory acts have been allowed out of hiding, we can witness the possibility of deep healing from trauma.

I know from my work as a spiritual director that victims can go years sucking it up, stuffing their angst and suffering and silence.  They can be world-class champions.  Multi-million-dollar earning talk show hosts.  Lawyers, financiers, priests, doctors.  The bruises and curses and nightmares can be relegated to the realm of the off hours, but they don’t go away.

This week in Commonweal Magazine, (online) I read one of the most articulate and nuanced essays I’ve run across, by a survivor of abuse, on the importance of others’ stories.  A literature and writing teacher today, she describes the ways in which literature availed her of the means to recognize, name, and begin to grapple with abuse that was decades old and existed only in the shadowland of the subconscious.

In “Bracing for Impact: Trauma, Triggers, and the Saving Power of Literature,” Cassandra Nelson writes that it was through literature, as a graduate student, that she began to realize what had happened to her as a young girl.  And it was through literature – its unflinching look at human nature and motives, its fearless facing into destruction as well as redemption – that she began to work through the layers of shattered self-esteem and trust and anger and outrage that had been eating away at her from the inside.

It wasn’t just reading novels that allowed her to recover, but it was novels that initiated the process.  Nelson’s excellent piece suggests something that we often forget, in this time when reading has become such a diminished activity:  literature uniquely releases the moral power of words, and it is these words and stories that guide us into worlds that have been cloaked in a miasma of abuse and denial, in our personal stories.  Great novels and great poetry – she mentions The Bluest Eye, King Lear, The Divine Comedy – offer us vivid constructions of the dark gestures that humans perpetrate on one another.  They name that darkness in ways we sometimes can’t, or aren’t ready to;  they provide space in which to move around in that darkness, and they offer wisdom that can begin to lead us into resolution, healing and light.

With the help of therapy, group work, supportive family and friends, writing, and her omnivorous reading of literature, she was able to reconstruct her life.

I encourage readers to seek out this essay, a work of quiet prophecy, and take the time to read it.  Like the literature that she holds up as a font of illumination and consolation, Nelson’s work gives the current revelations of celebrities and everyday women a dimensionality and that situates victims in a fully-developed and appropriate context, and offers deep insight into an unexpected pathway of healing.

When you are done reading, share your comments.












  • Barbara Smith-Moran

    January 30, 2018 at 5:37 pm Reply

    Cassandra’s writing reminds me, yet again, that I have a scientific education, not one strong in liberal arts. Her vocabulary and her analyses are a bit beyond me. Nevertheless, I recognize my own recovery of memories–or in my case, reinterpreting what I already remembered–in her own. One of my three siblings, a sister, has been open to sharing her own memories and listening to mine. What a gift that has been! I wonder whether Cassandra had a similar gift of a sibling, or whether all she had, or chose, was the lonely way out of the dark woods through reading to find out what happened to her. To each of us, God speaks the healing words in the language we can hear.

    • kathleen.hirsch

      January 31, 2018 at 9:47 am Reply

      Barbara, thank you for this profound gift of sharing. The role of “sister,” or listener, is key in my experience. Cassandra mentions a therapist, supportive “family,” and group work. Be well.

  • Richard Staples

    January 28, 2018 at 9:31 am Reply

    Beautiful, Kathleen, nd I went on to search and read the Commonweal Magazine essay, too. Well worth the time, and enlightening – here’s the link:

    • kathleen.hirsch

      January 28, 2018 at 11:27 am Reply

      Thanks for this, Rich.

  • Nancy Rappaport

    January 28, 2018 at 8:23 am Reply

    I agree! Push by sapphire is a wonderful account of the fierce determination to overcome travesty and bluest eyes by toni Morrison is breathtaking last page of a flower growing out of the cement. That said what is lost with resiliency is the idea that too much damage can destroy even the strongest spirit. . My hope as a child psychiatrist is that we can support kids before the corrosive affect of abuse and teach families new ways of fortifying each other .

    • kathleen.hirsch

      January 28, 2018 at 11:28 am Reply

      Dear Nancy,
      So wise. Prevention is greatly to be hoped for! Thank you.

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