Living the Chemuniqué WHY during COVID-19

Understanding the three phases of trauma

by Heinrich Jansen van Vuuren

Throughout history, societies have been shaped and moved by trauma. War, pestilence, and natural disasters have rained down catastrophes on humanity for millennia, sowing death and destruction, and leaving those who survive to pick up the pieces, to rebuild, and hopefully to learn. Every time humanity has faced a crisis, it has left an indelible mark on every society. Etched into the national psyche, it is passed from generation to generation, never to be forgotten. The survivors are remembered as saints and heroes.

Mankind is resilient, after every crisis we have come back stronger, and although sometimes we were slow to learn, nevertheless, we learned. After World War II, modern psychology finally began to learn how to deal with extreme trauma in a much more effective way, managing to heal what was once a life sentence. Today, the triphasic methodology, as illustrated below, is considered to be the most effective way of dealing with trauma, whatever the cause or severity.

We should not underestimate the psychological upheaval caused by the multitude of crises facing our country; it is far from over. This is only the beginning, but we shall prevail.

I want to share with you some quotes that help me to understand the three phases of trauma as we are living them, and hopefully at least one of these will speak to you too.

Heinrich Jansen van Vuuren

“South Africa is a country in which neither the best nor the worst ever happens.”

– General Jan Smuts, 1948

Phase 1: Creating personal safety and emotional stability

“Once we’re thrown off our habitual paths, we think all is lost, but it’s only here that the new and the good begins.”

– Leo Tolstoy

“Every storm runs out of rain, just like every dark night turns into day.”

– Gary Allan

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence, it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

– Peter Drucker

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”

– Viktor E. Frankl

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

– Fyodor Dostoevsky

Phase 2: Remembrance and mourning

“Those who do not weep, do not see.”

– Victor Hugo

“Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.”

– Oscar Wilde

“People cry, not because they’re weak. It’s because they’ve been strong for too long.”

– Johnny Depp

“Grief can have a quality of profound healing because we are forced to a depth of feeling that is usually below the threshold of awareness.”

– Stephen Levine

“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.”

– Helen Keller

Phase 3: Emotional reconnection and personal integration

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien

“Storms draw something out of us that calm seas don’t.”

– Bill Hybels

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”

– Albert Einstein

“There is something in the human spirit that will survive and prevail, there is a tiny and brilliant light burning in the heart of man that will not go out no matter how dark the world becomes.”

– Leo Tolstoy

“We cannot turn the clock back nor can we undo the harm caused, but we have the power to determine the future and to ensure that what happened never happens again.”

– Paul Kagame

I will end off with a quote from the same General Jan Smuts that I started this piece with. This quote speaks to me, and I would like to share it with you today:

“Perhaps it is God’s will to lead the people of South Africa through defeat and humiliation to a better future and a brighter day.”

– General Jan Smuts

Stay safe and keep well, and may God bless South Africa and her people!

Heinrich Jansen van Vuuren