Traumatizing Young Children


How can Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions and their supporters, including the ICE workers who engage in the actual behavior, tear small children away from their parents and warehouse them in detention facilities, subjecting these children to trauma and a horrifying sense of shock and loss from which some may never recover?

Border Patrol agent conducts a pat down of a woman at a holding facility

Border Patrol agent conducts a pat down at a holding facility. Photo courtesy of US Department of Homeland Security.

The answer to this is that Trump and his co-participants do not actually experience either themselves or the children as fully human.  Instead, they are withdrawn into themselves, their hearts hardened by a lifetime of conditioning to be fearful of others, and that fear is then displaced onto a mental tableau in which they imagine themselves to be part of an “us” that is being infiltrated by a “them”, who are “crossing the border” without permission. “The border” is supposed to separate us and them, but it is being violated, threatening to reveal our underlying vulnerability to being humiliated by other human beings, indeed the very person next to us wherever we are. We have been thus humiliated in the past, and we must not allow that to occur again. And that fear of humiliation leads these hardened humans to withdraw from the actual world of lived experience suffused with the natural empathy that flows from existing in this real world of beautiful vulnerability, and to pretend, mentally, that they are living in an imaginary world consisting of more-or-less full-time protectionist fantasies.
In this latter hallucinated milieu, the rationale of “deterring the immigrants who are crossing the border” answers the pull, coming from the open heart of Being itself, to recognize the psychic violence being done to these children. Trump and Sessions and the millions who support their policy co-intentionally suppress their recognition of the actual humanity of these children beneath an imaginary shield-tableau in which the children are “dehumanized” just as Trump and Sessions have dehumanized themselves. Hardened against the legacy of fear of humiliation that turns like a worm inside them, they express over and over again their determination not to re-open themselves to any human being, those others who “bring drugs, who bring crime, who are rapists.”
For more on this tragic phenomenon that can only be resolved by a healing revolution that may already be occurring, see Chapters 2-4 of my book The Desire for Mutual Recognition on fear of the other and the construction of imaginary communities.

Peter Gabel  is editor-at-large of Tikkun and the author most recently of The Desire for Mutual Recognition, published by Routledge Press.

3 thoughts on “Traumatizing Young Children

  1. Dehumanizing the enemy as a people is a sine qua non for war, for acts of genocide and slavery. It is a must to see others as not fully human as a premise to creating an “us” vs “them” mentality, which is also founded on fear and prejudice. In the internment of Japenese Americans in World War II, the argument was made that Japenese people although American citizens were never able to be trusted and their thinking was inscrutable to Westerners, something less than fully human.

    • Can the Trump administration reconnect parents with their children? I hope they can, and if so, I hope they will. However, I want to see good evidence that the Trump administration can and will. For that, I want to see good evidence the Trump administration has kept good records of where they have placed children they have separated from their parents. Can they promptly, on request by parents, report the locations and how to access children whom they have taken from their parents? We should demand the Trump administration makes such information promptly available. We need reassurance the administration has kept track of the whereabouts of separated children and can and will provide such information to the children’s parents. I fear the administration will in many instances be unable to retrieve and provide the information.

  2. the latest from what i’ve heard is that the children are being forcibly drugged -five and six pills at a time of
    psychotropic drugs-day and night, and that those who resist, are held down and forcibly injected—the reason for such as claimed, is that they are traumatized -of course-in the holding pen cages of the detention facilities.

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