Handling, processing and transforming personal and communal woundedness towards empowerment and prevention
Explorative and Experimental Inquiry Project
In every part of the world and on all levels of society emotional, sexual, spiritual and physical abuse happens on a regular basis. It doesn’t make any geographical, social, political, cultural nor religious distinction. The seriousness of its profoundly traumatic impact on human well-being is slowly penetrating and this gives rise to research into its mechanism and long-term effect. Many groups and organizations search for ways to stimulate safeguarding and increase awareness. While this leads to some positive changes, nevertheless some observations can be made. The first is that prevention remains generally reactive – a response after an occurrence has happened. Thus protocols are explained and instruction manuals written. An approach that is pre-occupied with a more fundamental investigation towards change – prevention before the mechanism of abuse becomes active – is rare. Secondly, the term ‘trauma’ has received a negative and loaded connotation, often confused with the symptoms of PTSD. Third, many groups have barriers that prevent or slow down reporting and reacting to abuse. There is the resistance towards external interference, fear of stigmatization and damage to reputation coupled to the role of strongly embedded images about being human.
These discoveries, among others, awakened and strengthened the vision for this project: to create space for personal, social and cultural change by empowering people proactively against the mechanism of abuse through processing and healing our wounds communally. In this, the question ‘how’ is of primary importance.
Bridging Gaps and the Art of Inquiry
In the search for this ‘how’ the first task was quite simply to ‘mind the gaps’ between real life and theoretical explanations, between the individual and the communal, between understanding trauma as a problem to be dealt with and as a source towards genuine human connection and wholeness. Thus any approach to answering ‘how’ needs to be able to bridge these distances. Pure academic research, where looking for a theoretical solution plays a major role, could tend towards keeping the gaps tethered separately to the ivory tower of academic life. The vision for this project, though, dwells in experience itself and accepts this as a genuine source of knowledge. It is therefore an artful form of inquiry and a hybrid method of discovery with and not about or for people.
With this in the background, the idea of creating a lab grew. A lab where experiments could be prepared, undertaken and evaluated and where those who participate are actually also researchers.
Participation became the ‘how’ and this sparked the idea to enter into participative theatre and liturgical or spiritual celebrations. Both are by nature bodily and communal while also possessed with an inherent sense of freedom. Moreover, and interestingly so, these ‘experiments’ cannot simply be based on ethical principles – they are in and of themself ethical, especially in the light of the content for this project. What they need is a healthy dose of common sense, wisdom that places human dignity in the center and that lifts transformation up as a tantalizing vision, not as a prepared all-fitting mold. Deep democracy as a process of empowering, training and supporting human persons and communities, offers this. It aims at bringing healing to relationships founded on the premise that all voices and roles, internal and external, should be heard and attended to – included those things that can barely be spoken of. On top of this, this approach aids the democratization of knowledge as a commitment to all forms of knowledge (from the body, the affections, the intellect, the spiritual, the relational, the cultural) need to be heard, received and shared appropriately.
Appropriately means ethically sound. Here the structured, institutional way of writing forms of consent or giving questionnaires falls short of what is actually asked for. Aware of the role of power relationships in all experiments and human interaction, a careful, meticulous and ongoing navigation between roles, responsibilities and forms of partnership has to be applied. In this the seeds of both vulnerability and inner strength that lie on the soil of participation need to be activated.
Thus the two experiments will not only be grounded philosophically and formed ethically, they will also be submitted to the art of inquiry and assessed through continuous action, reflection and feed-back.
Linked to all the above, and before it can be done, safe, open and symbolically supportive places and times will need to be identified. That is where the project finds itself now. The ground is being plowed, the seeds are being gathered and soon creative sowing can begin.
The interdisciplinary research project “SeBi” of the Chair IST aims at the difficult balancing act of sexual self-determination in people with so-called “mental disabilities” (MgB) between enabling and protection. In the context of this project, a conference will be held at the University of Halle-Wittenberg on 29/30 September 2022. The next conference will be held in Munich in 2023.
Marianne Servaas is married and mother of 4 adult children. Doctor in Systematic Theology. Born, and currently living, in Belgium. Spent time in France, England and the Philippines. Survivor of various forms of abuse and seeking ways to unleash communal healing from within the wounds.