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    Traumatized Experience and Empathy

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    Trauma is often the result of a painful experience that is caused by a traumatic event. Trauma can be the effects of domestic or family violence, dating violence violence that happens in communities (gun violence, robberies, assaults and rapes), natural disasters, car accidents, serious injuries, death of a loved one, wars, and even sexual abuse.

    There are several types of traumatic experiences, of course the ones I’ve mentioned, but I will actually be diving deeper into what each category means; sexual abuse or sexual assault refers to any actual attempted sexual assault, as well as any unwanted sexual contact (as this usually leads to rape). Emotional abuse isn’t necessarily physical but in most cases, they tend to be verbal. Excessive demands in a child’s performance can cause them to have low self-esteem, thus leading to “emotional trauma” because, when a parent says hurtful things to the child(ren), (ie. you’re stupid, you’re dumb, you’ll never know anything), the child(ren) will actually believe the hurtful words that the parent has told them, and this is how emotional trauma comes to be.

    School violence is unfortunately becoming more too common in today’s society. According to a CNN article published in May of this year (2018), “there was on average, at least 1 school shooting every week” (Ahmed). Of course school shootings isn’t necessarily the definition of “school violence”. School violence can include mass shootings of course, bullying, interpersonal violence among classmates, and even a student committing suicide. These examples listed can have devastating effects on students who have witnessed any of these acts of violence, most definitely mass shootings, as they often involved innocent people being victims. Trauma over the death of a loved one is another common form of trauma, especially if it was unexpected, unexplained, accident, homicidal, etc. This is another form of trauma that can also have everlasting effects on an individual, and can even combined with emotional trauma. The last most common type of trauma is community violence, which includes gang violence, robberies, etc. The trauma in community violence tends to become more severe as someone who’ve experience a traumatic event like a shooting, often experience more of the same type of violence and can even harm and individual emotionally.

    Empathy is when humans are aware of the feelings and emotions towards other people. In most cases, I consider it very important that we as humans show empathy towards one-another, because we have to be able to get sense of what people are feeling and what their emotions are like. To be able to understand the feelings of others, we have to sense the feelings and perspectives of others in a way that we can show interests in someone else’s concerns or in some cases, our own.Is it possible that empathy could be taught? According to an article from, Helen Riess who is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School has proof that empathy can be taught. Riess says that she was instilled both a strong sense of social justice and how people need to treat each other humanely(Boshernitsan), as after conducting many different research, Riess has found out that empathy can be taught to others, and personally I feel that it is important to teach empathy to others, regardless of feelings. Empathy can be shown in any situation, whether it be through sickness, a death of a loved one, anger, and even trauma.

    Here in this essay, I will be looking at a variety of sources that explain how humans can show empathy to others who have suffered from traumatic events, and how empathy helps build up a person following a traumatic experience. The question I am seeking to ask is What is the relationship between trauma and empathy? Human empathy increases when we understand others’ traumas. Sometimes, this understanding comes from our personal experiences of trauma, and sometimes it comes from learning about others’ experiences.

    For my first piece of evidence, I’ve done some research on how people who’ve suffered trauma during childhood tends to have elevated empathy levels when they became adults. “Trauma can increase attention to emotion, environmental cues, and increases amygdala responsiveness.”(Greenberg et al). In other words, after humans experience a traumatic event, we often have high emotions about certain things and even in some cases, other people tend to have a wide range of emotions towards the individual who has suffered from trauma.

    A person who’ve had a personal experience with trauma as a child may have higher levels of empathy in adulthood, because as adults, we tend to take perspective of our own empathies and we often understand the emotions of others who may be going through trauma as well, as another piece of evidence on “Elevated levels of empathy in adults followed by childhood trauma” says that “These findings suggest that the experience of a childhood trauma increases a person’s ability to take the perspective of another and to understood their mental and emotional states, and that this impact is long-standing”(Greenberg et al). In other cases, the levels of empathy we express towards others in adulthood tend to be life long because, now we get to show our emotions towards others who have suffered from a traumatic event, whether it be during adulthood or even childhood.

    The source about elevated empathy in adulthood followed by childhood trauma was bout multiple studies that was conducted in order to find out whether childhood trauma lead to elevated empathy levels in adulthood. While these studies receive mixed responses, there were however many responses that show that adults who’ve suffered childhood trauma tend to have higher levels of empathy in adulthood (Greenberg et al). These studies asked about children who’ve had a traumatic experience prior to the age of 17, and include questions about a death of a friend, or a family member, sexual abuse, child abuse, gang or gun violence, etc. as any of these just mentioned are one of the common types of trauma. Also conducted in this research was the severity of the trauma as well as the age groups, and also in the source it says that “Affective empathy was positively correlated with the severity of parental upheaval, sexual abuse and “other” traumas; social skills was positively associated with the severity of violence” (Greenberg et al). To be perfectly honest, I was actually expecting that violence would be included as to leading to increased levels of empathy because, then we can often have emotional support to others who have suffered or are suffering from the same type of trauma, and I was also expecting that sexual abuse and most definitely parental upheaval would also be correlated with “affective empathy”.

    Nonetheless, my next piece of evidence will include facts and photos from the novel; How the other half lives, and in this source, I am more focusing on the empathy that can be show to those living in slum conditions and how other people’s view of poverty are different than how they used to view it. Author Jacob B. Riis creates collection of photographs of the various slums of New York City during the early 1900’s. Each image can be looked at by an individual and their perspective on how they view poverty can change, thus showing empathy to the people who were affected. “One half of the world does not know how the other half lives.” (Riis 1). Basically what Riis is saying is that people who live in areas that are well kept or are in good shape, doesn’t care to think about the people who may be less fortunate than them or maybe those individuals were forced to live in those conditions. Riis is also saying by this quote that people viewed poverty by a form of “drunkenness”, but people failed to look into the roots of poverty and why some people live in poverty (Riis 1).

    Unfortunately, there were many people who didn’t care how the other half lives basically because, they’re not in the position with the people who are living in poverty. In some cases, a person may look at these images and be able to express empathy towards the people in this living conditions because, we get to learn more about how these types of living conditions affect individuals who are forced to live in them, so it is easier to feel some type of emotion through looking at these images and as Riis explained, people’s views on poverty began to change when they began looking at these images of how basically “how the other half lives”, and we can also sense the different type of emotions that people living in poverty go through (Riis 223).

    Corresponding with violence and sexual abuse, Patricia Lockwood’s poem “The Rape Joke” is narrated in the second person point of view. This point of view encourages the reader to experience empathy by thinking through the number of “you’s” throughout the poem. One quote that states a great example of maybe overcoming this trauma is “You know the body of time is elastic, can take almost anything you give it, and heals quickly” (Lockwood). Basically she’s saying that she would eventually overcome the rape trauma that she’ve suffered, and or in other words, she’s expressing empathy towards her own emotions, which would also lead to the reader(s) to also express empathy as well. Often times after a traumatic event has occurred, depending on the situation, some people would eventually get over it later in life but for some, trauma can be lifelong, which can potentially lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as some people would frequently have flashbacks of a traumatic event. Though it wasn’t explained whether or not Lockwood suffered from PTSD later on, one quote from the poem did say that; “After it happened, she went home and laughed like nothing even happened” (Lockwood). As I previously stated, whenever a traumatic event happen, depending on some people’s emotions, some can overcome it quickly than other, but some can began to have flashbacks of the incident later on.

    Layli Long Soldier’s poem “38” doesn’t necessarily express trauma, but expresses more on empathy through the events that occurred in this poem. “38” is a poem about thirty-eight Dakota men who were executed under orders from President Abraham Lincoln. This execution was considered the largest “Legal” execution in U.S. history (Long Soldier). “38” is also a poem in connection to The Great Sioux Uprising. Unlike Lockwood’s “The Rape Joke” however, “38” isn’t written in first or second person point of view, but it is written in narration to the events based on what happened in the poem, as well as the Great Sioux Uprising.

    Empathy can be expressed through the memorial(s) that was mentioned in this poem. “Memorials help focus our memory on particular people or events” (Long Soldier). Basically, Long Soldier is saying that we have memorials so that we can remember the life or legacy of certain people, or maybe to reflect on a tragic event that occured. I can consider memorials to be a place where people can express empathy because, as I’ve previously mentioned, a memorial is a place where we can reflect on an event and the people who were affected by that particular event. We as humans can also and in most cases, we do show our own emotions whenever tragic events happen, because it just so happens that we often feel sorry for the people who were involved in a tragic event, and Long Soldier’s “38” is just another example of how humans can show empathy to the people who’ve suffered from this horrible hanging event. So in other words, it isn’t necessary the “trauma in this poem that would get readers to show empathy, but almost certainly the descriptions of the memorials mentioned that would cause readers to show empathy.

    Empathy in this case means that, people who reads this poem can express empathy to the people who were killed in this tragic and traumatic event. Readers can also express empathy through some of the details that were explained throughout this poem. The Dakota people did what they could to protect their land and unfortunately, thirty-eight of them were killed for standing up for themselves and protecting their families (Long Soldier).

    Depending on the event, trauma can be very hard to overcome, and some people even experience trauma more than once. Empathy is something that should be shown to others who’ve suffered. Whenever I hear about a mass shooting on the news, or a shooting in the neighborhood, I often feel a series of emotions. These emotions can range from sadness, to anger, to even frustration because of the fact that these incidents keep happening and nobody’s doing anything to stop them. Mass shootings that occurs in schools vs. the everyday gun violence in Chicago may be different occurrences, but they’re both linked together through trauma.

    The Chicago tribune reports that there were 762 homicides in Chicago in 2016. Not only was that the highest number of homicides of any city in the US, but 2016 was also the deadliest year in Chicago in nearly two decades (Gorner). Usually gun violence is more prominent on the south and west sides of the city, but this level of gun violence has affected areas on the northside as well. Often times, there’s innocent bystanders and children who are often caught in the middle of these horrific shootings. There is just so much trauma that people who are in situations like this have to deal with, and it can also be a big struggle for the people who constantly live in fear that they too will be the next victims. For the people who’ve witnessed gun violence, the emotional effects can be lifelong.

    As I previously stated, this is the same for school shootings that are constantly on the rise. The trauma is can be more devastating to the children who witness these events happen, as after an event like this occurs, that child could potentially have nightmares, or even fear going to school. Unfortunately, this is a sad reality we live in when children fear going to school, considering the fact that schools are supposed to be a safe and welcoming place for everyone but with school shootings on the rise, school considered being a safe and welcoming place just may not be the case anymore. Humans can show empathy to others who’ve witnessed traumatic events by offering their support for one another, whether it be through counselling, therarapy, or simply talking to a person and offering advice, and in situations as severe as this, sometimes consoleing a person may be the best thing to do after a traumatic event. Of course showing empathy isn’t going to cure a person of trauma but when we offer emotional support, the person who is suffering from the trauma can feel a sense of comfort as I think is the most important thing we can do just to let them know that we feel the same amount of emotions as well.

    Based on all of the sources I have researched, it is possible to show empathy to people who have suffered trauma. Our empathy levels are increased by having an understanding for other peoples’ trauma, whether if the person has witnessed events like violence in their communities, car accidents, sexual abuse, or a death of a loved one. Trauma is linked through emotional pain, and empathy is linked through feelings towards victims of trauma. It is very important that people have emotions for one another so we can offer our support and understand their feelings. Trauma is very difficult to overcome, but with emotional support from others, people who are suffering from trauma can have a sense of feeling that there are people around them who know and understand what they’re going through so that they can have someone to talk to. Lastly, people who are empathetic should listen to the victims and be there for emotional support and to comfort them regardless of the situation, because in situations like this, sometimes comfort may be the best solution.

    Works Cited

    • Ahmed Saeed, Walker Christina. “There have been, on average, 1 school shooting every week this year.” CNN , 25 May. 2018. Accessed 3 Dec. 2018.
    • Boshernitsan Rimma. “Can Empathy Be Taught? This Clinical Professor Has The Proof.” Forbes, 29 Nov 2018. Accessed 3 Dec 2018.
    • Gorner, Jeremy “Few answers as Chicago hit with worst violence in nearly 20 years.” Chicago Tribune. 30 Dec. 2016. Accessed 7 Dec. 2018
    • Greenberg, David M., et al. “Elevated Empathy in Adults Following Childhood Trauma.” PLoS ONE, vol. 13, no. 10, Oct. 2018, pp. 1–13. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0203886.
    • Lockwood, Patricia. “The Rape Joke.” The Awl, 25 Jul. 2013. The Awl. 16 Oct. 2018.
    • Long Soldier, Layli. “38”. Mudcityjournal. Mud City Journal. Accessed 30 Oct. 2018
    • Riis, Jacob A, and Luc Sante. How the Other Half Lives : Studies among the Tenements of New York. Penguin Books, 1997.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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