Gina Ross: Antisemitism triggered by ‘tremendous collective trauma'

Founder of International Trauma-Healing Institutes tells ‘Post’ that Israel, United States and Iran are all suffering from collective trauma

Members of White Supremacy groups gather in West Allis, Wisconsin. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Members of White Supremacy groups gather in West Allis, Wisconsin.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Antisemitism, which is creeping into many of the world’s more – and even less – traumatized societies at alarmingly high levels, is the result of collective trauma, said Gina Ross, founder and president of the International Trauma-Healing Institutes in the United States and Israel.
“Resurgent antisemitism indicates trouble in the general culture – indeed, that a tremendous collective trauma was triggered,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “When a country unleashes this virus in its culture, it is a sign of big trouble that they are going through. Antisemitism is an easy scapegoat, woven in the tissue of cultures over 2000 years; it is how to feel good about oneself by diminishing and attacking others.”
She said that Jews will always be the first ones attacked, “but it is really not only about us.
“We are not the only ones paying the price, even if we are indeed receiving the majority of hateful attacks,” she continued. “The police have suffered, black churches, Christians, gay clubs, soldiers and politicians have been attacked. What is common to all is the meme of hatred and violence – indicators of trauma symptoms.”
Ross, who has come to teach in Israel about four times per year for the last 20 years, was just in the country. She ran a three-day training conference at her institute December 16 through 18 together with US Dr. Stephen Porges on “Why the Polyvagal Theory holds the key to the treatment of trauma.” The Polyvagal Theory explains how the autonomic nervous system works in trauma and healing.
In an interview, she also expressed that Israel, the United States and Iran are all suffering from collective trauma, explaining that “many countries today are under the influence of collective trauma.” Some countries express their collective trauma in a nonviolent way and inwards (Israel and the US), while others engage outwardly and use physical violence (Iran).
Ross said that one can surmise “what level” of trauma a country is experiencing by watching their media or by looking at their government policies and rhetoric.
She said that when a nation is in a serious and violent collective trauma vortex, such as Iran, that nation’s capacity to take care of its needs in positive ways is compromised, resulting in various symptoms: one-sided historical narratives generating a perpetual sense of victimization, a polarized worldview, mistrust, paranoia and conspiracy theories, claims of moral superiority with demonization and dehumanization of adversaries, lack of freedom with repression of the population and human rights abuses.
In Israel, she said, the trauma can be seen in the country’s internal vortex.
“Sometimes, in democracies, the polarization becomes internal and we see that in Israel,” she explained, noting the polarization within the political parties, which ultimately led the country to three elections in one year.
Moreover, she added that some of the country’s media unwittingly pass on a trauma-informed perspective to the rest of the country by amplifying the polarization and sharing an unbalanced vision of Israel’s future, focused only on the difficulties and “stuckness” instead of hope or the power to change things.
“How we present things in the media is so crucial,” she said, adding that Israel and the Palestinians need to deal with their own personal trauma “before we can make peace.”
The United States, too, “is in a huge, collective trauma vortex that is now expressing itself in strong polarization between parties,” much like we see in Israel.
“Polarization can actually kill,” Ross said boldly. “And each one of us can add to it or subtract from it.” In America, for example, this could mean differentiating between the people who are nationalists – most of them – from those who are white supremacists – a few thousand – instead of labeling half of the country as racist.
Ross said that the international community is responding incorrectly to the Iranian terror regime with its black-and-white tactics of either recommending aggressive confrontation or solely diplomacy. She believes a third approach is available: “Effective, respectful diplomacy can take place in a psychologically informed way, understanding and addressing Iran’s underlying needs, inviting it to reintegrate itself into the community of nations, and reverse its destructive impulses, while, just as importantly, simultaneously making clear that military force is an option, if necessary,” she said.
According to Ross, Iran’s aggression is rooted in its fears, feelings of humiliation, loss and hurt pride at the collective level.
“Iran’s ambitions, fears and actions clearly indicate that it is caught in a collective trauma vortex,” she said. “This present Iranian collective trauma vortex has the potential to inflame the entire region and potentially the world.”
Her approach: diplomacy, combined with clear boundaries and consequences of military action, while providing Iran with the support it needs to help fulfil its people’s “Universal Basic Needs.” Ross’s list of basic needs include safety, autonomy, positive self-image, competence, trust in others and being trustworthy, validation of one’s experience and reality, sense of justice, and meaning and contribution.
“Iran cannot exit this trauma vortex on its own,” Ross said, noting that “too often we fail to validate suffering or establish the right boundaries, because the ways of expressing the suffering are destructive; or conversely, we validate/condone destructive actions or fail to establish the correct boundaries because we are aware of the suffering.
“Painful events must be acknowledged and processed, apologies given and compassion shown, when necessary,” she said.
She noted that often-ignored cross-cultural differences must be acknowledged and processed and, at the same time, confrontations of evil doing must be made.
Since discovering that the root of violence is trauma from 20 years ago, Ross has taken it upon herself to share this information in various ways. She trained Palestinian journalists in Ramallah during the Second Intifada, who realized during her training that they were traumatized and needed to heal their trauma before they could engage in conflict resolution.
She has also worked in Israel with phone helpline staff and trained mental health providers, medical professionals and school counselors and teachers.
Ross’s core recommendation for healing is, first, education. “People should be aware of the impact of trauma so they can see it for what it is and handle it in realistic ways with the available tools,” she said.