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Trauma and the Loss of Self

Taking Oneself as Someone At All and Therapeutic Recognition

Kei Hotoda Fall 2019

DOI: 10.25335/ppj.2.2-03

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Abstract

In this paper, I introduce two ideas that lie at the intersection of trauma and philosophy: (1) a particular self-conception that is best visible in cases of severe abusive trauma that I call “taking oneself as someone at all” and (2) the kind of response required to help restore this loss, which I call “therapeutic recognition.” My hope is that describing these two ideas using various philosophical concepts and research found in authors as varied as Susan Brison, Thomas Nagel, Charles Mills, and psychiatrist Judith Herman, will require philosophy to face the reality of trauma and the lived experience of victims and survivors. I conclude that it is not the case that the trauma victim is “welcomed back” to the world she knew prior to her traumatic experiences; rather, it is the witness who joins the survivor’s world. In therapeutic recognition, both survivor and witness come to share a world and its underlying assumptions about how one’s physical safety and trust in others cannot be taken for granted. In this way, therapeutic recognition can restore the survivor’s ability to take herself as someone at all, among others, equally real.

Content Warning: Please be advised that this piece discusses heavy, potentially triggering topics, including references to child abuse, sexual violence and rape, and brief mentioning of human trafficking and combat warfare trauma.

1. Introduction

One of the most devastating effects of severe trauma that psychiatrist Judith Herman describes in Trauma and Recovery(1) is the disconnection from others that trauma victims can experience. In the case of severe abusive trauma, the specific kind of trauma I will be examining, disconnection occurs initially in the abusive or assaultive event when the perpetrator takes the victim out of the human fold in the sense that she is unable to experience herself in relation to others as a result of being treated as less than human.(2) But a further disconnection can take place: the lack of proper acknowledgement or recognition from others of their traumatic experience, particularly on the part of those who do not have any experience or even second-hand knowledge of what it is to experience trauma. Herman notes the profound effect of this disconnection: for those who have developed a fundamental form of trust with others, usually first cultivated with our primary caregivers, that basic trust is lost in traumatic experiences.(3) She writes: “Thereafter, a sense of alienation, disconnection, pervades every relationship . . .. When trust is lost, traumatized people feel that they belong more to the dead than to the living.”(4) 

I am interested in the phenomenon of “belong[ing] more to the dead than to the living,” the significant gap that can form between trauma survivors and those who have not experienced trauma, whom I will henceforth refer to as “non-survivors.” In Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of the Self, philosopher and trauma survivor Susan Brison diagnoses this problem of not being able to understand and properly sympathize with survivors of sexual assault as one of never learning how to react to rape:

We lack the vocabulary for expressing appropriate concern, and we have no social conventions to ease the awkwardness . . .. We do not learn—early or later in life—how to react to a rape. What typically results from this ignorance is bewilderment on the part of the victims and silence on the part of others, often the result of misguided caution.(5)

In this article, I am interested in understanding the gap between the trauma survivor and someone who has not experienced trauma and in exploring the question of how we should respond to a survivor’s trauma narrative. How can we minimize the distance between survivors and non-survivors in understanding the experience of trauma, its aftermath, and recovery from it? If trauma disconnects victims from others, how can they genuinely reconnect with others and feel like they belong to the living, to the human community? By examining some philosophical literature on the self through the lens of severe abusive trauma, I suggest that victims of abuse and assault can lose a sense of self that I call “taking oneself as someone at all.” Paying attention to this loss can help us understand the specific kind of disconnection experienced by many survivors of severe abusive trauma. I then suggest that the loss of taking oneself as someone at all can be restored through a “therapeutic” or “restorative” form of recognition offered by others and, in particular, by those who are afforded a better position to offer this form of recognition.

The upshots of this investigation at the relatively unexplored intersection of philosophy and trauma studies reverberate beyond the academy. Broadly speaking, the perspective of trauma tends not to be assumed in philosophical reflections on the self and personhood; instead, ideal conditions are often assumed.(6) It is not unreasonable to worry that those who have not experienced trauma similarly make assumptions that others they encounter are not traumatized. But this is mistaken, both in and out of the academy. First, given the number of people who have experienced sexual violence, human trafficking, child abuse, urban violence, and combat warfare (among other forms of extreme experience), traumatic experiences are not uncommon. The American organization Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), reports from the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted by the United States Justice Department the commonality of sexual assault: “Every 73 seconds another American is sexually assaulted”; nine out of every ten victims of rape are female; the majority of these assaults take place at or near the victim’s home, with 48 percent of victims reporting that they were “sleeping, or performing another activity at home.”(7) In “The Epistemological Significance of Psychic Trauma,” Karyn Freedman demonstrates how widespread the experience of sexual violence is for women, particularly Canadian women, and including Indigenous women:

In Canada, a woman is sexually assaulted by forced sexual intercourse every 17 minutes (so, in less time than it will take you to read [her] paper); a woman is sexually assaulted in many other ways every 6 minutes, and 1 out of 2 women over the age of sixteen, or 51 percent, have experienced physical or sexual violence. And sexual violence cuts across all classes and social groups. . . . Studies have shown that aboriginal women in Canada . . . experience . . . not just one rape or assault or battering, but a lifetime of it.(8)

If we consider the reported experiences and the similarly disturbing statistics regarding how much of the population endures child abuse, combat warfare, and or human trafficking, which are only a few of other sources of trauma, the sheer number of traumatized people only increases multifold, demonstrating the ubiquity of trauma. Moreover, it just cannot  be known without confirmation whether someone has or who has experienced any form of abusive trauma. So I believe it is important to question our assumptions (if we hold them), such that we think about the likelihood of trauma rather than treat it as a “special” or rare case. When we do so, we may both better understand the self and also potentially respond better to survivors’ experiences of trauma.

2. The Loss of Taking Oneself as Someone at All

What exactly does it mean to be “disconnected” from others in the aftermath of severe abusive trauma such that one can no longer take oneself as someone at all? One disconnect that occurs is when the victim is reduced to the status of an object by the perpetrator: the victim is taken out of the human community, considered an entity without agency or power to remove herself from a life-threatening situation. Although a source of fiction, the protagonist in the novel Push, Precious Jones, articulates the loss of the ability to take herself as someone at all because of the constant assault and abuse: 

I see me, first grade, pink dress dirty sperm stuffs on it. No one comb my hair. Second grade, third grade, fourth grade, seem like one dark night. Carl is the night and I disappear into it. And the daytimes make no sense. Don’t make sense talking, bouncing balls, filling in between dotted lines. Shape? Color? Who care whether purple shit a square or a circle, whether it purple or blue? What difference it make whether gingerbread house on top or bottom of the page. I disappears from the day, I jus’ put it all down—book, doll, jump rope, my head, myself.(9)

Precious’s sense of time, in particular, has been severely disrupted. As a result, she is unable to make sense of her quotidian experiences to the point where she is unable to participate in what many might consider to be basic activities, from engaging in school activities to merely thinking about herself. She is not only disconnected from others but from herself.

Yet another kind of disconnect that can take place is when others—family, friends, health staff, educators, etc.—fail to respond sufficiently to the victim’s traumatic experiences. Here I will focus on this kind of disconnection, and I would like to examine the extent to which philosophical literature can help us better understand this kind of self-understanding in terms of the disconnecting effect of trauma. Returning to Aftermath, Brison describes what it was like in the immediate aftermath of having been attacked in broad daylight from behind, then sexually assaulted and left for dead in a ravine: “For the first several months after my attack, I led a spectral existence, not quite sure whether I had died and the world went on without me, or whether I was alive but in a totally alien world.”(10) This “spectral existence” manifests explicitly in a forensic examination post-trauma:

For about an hour the two [male doctors I had never seen before] went over me like a piece of meat, calling out measurements of bruises and other assessments of damage, as if they were performing an autopsy. This was just the first of many incidents in which I felt as if I was experiencing things posthumously. When the inconceivable happens, one starts to doubt even the most mundane, realistic perceptions. Perhaps I’m not really here, I thought, perhaps I did die in that ravine. The line between life and death, once so clear and sustaining, now seemed carelessly drawn and easily erased.(11)

The feeling of leading a “spectral existence” is not limited to impersonal medical encounters; the effect manifests when Brison felt that well-intending relatives failed to express sufficient sympathy. Such relatives did not bring up the traumatic event for fear of reminding her of what happened. Brison’s reaction was to ask, “Didn’t they realize I thought about the attack every minute of every day and that their inability to respond made me feel as though I had, in fact, died and no one had bothered to come to my funeral?”(12) She does not “take herself as someone at all” in that she feels less alive than others because they do not understand what she has experienced: overwhelming terror and helplessness to do anything about that terror and being primarily used by the perpetrator in ways that a person should not be used. The body has been violated, but so too has her psyche, which struggles to make sense of a senseless experience. The event and its aftermath are overwhelming; experiencing it all alone can be alienating and can thus disconnect the victim from others who do not understand the overpowering nature of the experience.(13)

Another way of understanding the diminished existence and disconnecting effect of trauma is by considering the flip-side of the self-conception Thomas Nagel emphasizes in The Possibility of Altruism and The View from Nowhere of understanding “oneself as merely a person among others equally real.”(14) He takes as a starting point the reality of one’s own perspective, and suggests that we must think of our perspectives abstractly, “of ourselves as one point of view among others.”(15) This self-conception, which takes no perspective to be privileged, is important for Nagel because he thinks it makes acting in the interests of others without ulterior motives of satisfying one’s own interests possible.

However, when considering the perspective of enduring and surviving abusive trauma, Nagel’s starting point is thrown into question. For instance, Brison’s perspective seems unreal to her while the doctors examine her and when her relatives do not reach out, even with good intentions. Nagel has no issue with the conception of the reality of one’s own perspective and instead takes as problematic the conceiving of the reality of other people’s perspectives. Unlike a victim of abuse or assault, someone in this position will likely not question whether his experiences actually occurred. The trauma survivor has the reverse problem: others seem to go about without a doubt that their experiences are real, but she cannot stop questioning the mere reality of her experiences (let alone, for instance, whether, to what extent, and exactly how those experiences might bear bringing up to someone else—say, to raise to a confidante, a police officer, etc.). The survivor’s problem might then be understood as the problem of seeing herself among others equally real, while the emphasis in Nagel’s problem is not on being among others but taking others’ perspectives as equally real as his own. This reverse perspective of Nagel’s concern thus gives us another way of understanding the inability to take oneself as someone at all: everyone else’s point of view seems to be privileged, but it is not clear to the survivor whether she even has one anymore after the experience of severe abusive trauma.

Yet another way of understanding the disconnecting effect of trauma and the loss of taking oneself as someone at all might be in terms of “parallel universes,” a concept that can be found in Charles Mills’s essay, “Non-Cartesian Sums.”(16) He describes the alienating experience of being a Black student studying philosophy: “The peculiar features of the African-American experience . . . are not part of the experience represented in the abstractions of European or Euro-American philosophers.”(17) Within the experience of philosophy in higher education, it can seem as though there is only one universe, one that makes proclamations of, expresses devotion to, notions of liberty and universal human equality. But the African-American experience and the Black experience more generally, within philosophy as a subject of study, can lead to “a likely feeling of alienness, strangeness, of not being entirely at home in this conceptual world,” the sense that they are living in a universe that runs parallel to the apparently mainstream one.(18) It is this sense of alienation, that there is another, more “real” world than the one one inhabits, that I wish to bring to bear on the abusive trauma experience.

The universes Mills describes run parallel to each other because of at least two factors: “racial slavery, which linked biological phenotype to social subordination” and because scholars of law and philosophy simply ignored the contradiction of slavery’s rise all while promoting and adhering to claims of liberty and universal human equality. In the “universes” that a victim of abusive trauma might find herself in, they run parallel not because the victim is perceived in a certain way, but primarily because of a peculiar experience she has where she is treated as less-than-human in the traumatic event by the perpetrator, and further, when this experience is insufficiently recognized by others in the aftermath.

The idea of parallel universes may then help us understand abusive traumatic experiences in the following way. There is one universe in which “most of us” live—that is, those who do not encounter any form of abusive trauma and who hold an underlying set of beliefs grounded in the assumption of one’s physical safety from human-induced trauma. We believe, or behave as though we believe, that the statistics are in our favor to not encounter abusive trauma from fellow humans. Furthermore, despite however much we might acknowledge that our identity can change in light of our experiences, we believe that our experiences will not be marked by trauma, and so we believe that our sense of “who we are,” and even more basically “that we are”—that we have a perspective, that we take our experiences to be real—will remain intact.

But trauma narratives, like Brison’s, give us an opportunity to glimpse into the nature of severe abusive trauma: in fact, most of us—that is, empirically, the great number of people who encounter abusive trauma in various forms—live in the real world, where physical safety and trust in others cannot be taken for granted. These narratives confirm to us the possibility that the world is composed of the illusion that abusive trauma is anomalous. Returning to Freedman, she describes the “cognitive dissonance” that survivors often face in the aftermath of trauma. In the wake of an assault, a trauma victim may have trouble holding on to the belief in a “just-world philosophy,” “that it was within [one’s] power to protect [oneself] from any harm.”(19) Freedman describes her own experiences of dealing with a set of inconsistent beliefs in the wake of her assault. Should the survivor share her trauma narrative with someone, that interlocutor is at a turning point and given the opportunity to determine whether the world is as the survivor describes. The interlocutor can deny the survivor’s world, thus continuing to exclude her from joining a human community again by further fortifying her sense that she is living in a separate, parallel world. Or, the interlocutor can stand as a genuine witness to the survivor’s experiences and consider the reality of the world that those experiences describe. If the interlocutor can do the latter, I suggest that the work of “therapeutic recognition” is at play: a kind of recognition that acts as a bridge between the parallel universes, which helps to establish or restore the survivor’s sense that she is someone at all—genuinely among others, as equally real as them.

3. Therapeutic Recognition: Restoring the Ability to Take Oneself as Someone at All

We are now able to understand disconnection in this specific way: when non-survivors fail to respond to traumatic experiences and trauma narratives properly, survivors can lose their ability to take themselves as someone at all, where they feel less alive than others, unable to live “among others, equally real,” off in a world that runs parallel to non-survivors. The practical question then follows: How can their ability to take themselves as someone at all be restored, such that they feel among others, equally real, in a shared world?

I suggest that “therapeutic” recognition can bridge the gap between the non-survivor and survivor. Brison gives us concrete suggestions for how to respond to trauma narratives that indicate what therapeutic recognition might entail. She notes that it is not enough to construct a narrative; survivors need an engaged audience:

In order to construct self-narratives we need not only the words with which to tell our stories, but also an audience able and willing to hear us and to understand our words as we intend them. This aspect of remaking a self in the aftermath of trauma highlights the dependency of the self on others and helps to explain why it is so difficult for survivors to recover when others are unwilling to listen to what they endured.(20)

Herman makes a similar suggestion. It is not “simple pronouncements” relieving the victim of blame, but more specifically: “From those who bear witness, the survivor seeks not absolution but fairness, compassion, and the willingness to share the guilty knowledge of what happens to people in extremity.”(21) So what can an audience do to “hear and understand the words [of a trauma narrative] as [the author] intends them,” to “bear witness” and “share the guilty knowledge of what happens to people in extremity?”

It should be acknowledged that what a victim of severe abusive trauma needs varies from person to person, and so the general picture of recovery for such victims will be multifaceted and complex. It is also important to recognize the significance of how some trauma survivors both need not share their stories of trauma nor are able to share their stories.(22) But should a survivor have a story to share, therapeutic recognition can be found in one important feature of responding to survivors of abusive trauma: to listen to a survivor’s narrative, and particularly without interruptions, judgments, doubts, or opinions. In Brison’s case, what was helpful to her was not to withhold talking about the assault for fear of reminding her of it. Rather, what she found supportive and useful was that she was given an opportunity and a safe space to talk about her experiences and concerns regarding the traumatic event. It is “conversational gridlock,” as well as victim-blaming that is to be avoided. Such a survivor needs others to recognize what she has already seen, and when others recognize her narrative, the survivor can begin to feel that she is connected to a community who attempts to share the same “guilty knowledge of what happens to people in extremity.”

In the case of listening as a responsible way to respond to a victim of abusive trauma, there may be a temptation to say that the witness “just” has to listen without interrupting with judgments and doubts about the narrative’s key facts or its overall veracity, which suggests that the task is easy. But there can be different implications to listening. One can listen to the details of a trauma narrative to genuinely imagine what it was like to experience the traumatic event; one can also listen to the details of a trauma narrative to question the coherence of those details. The former can help a trauma survivor confirm her sense of self; the latter can throw the survivor’s confidence in her storytelling into doubt and thus cast doubt on her sense of self. Furthermore, judgments and doubts can be difficult for a speaker to even notice, much less suppress, because they are deeply tied to one’s sense of the world as predictably safe from events like abusive trauma. This leads to the second feature of therapeutic recognition: the witness must withhold the emotional need and tendency to deny that “this traumatic event could happen to me.” Brison makes this point clear when she explains that even “the most well-meaning individuals, caught up in the myth of their own immunity, can inadvertently add to the victim’s suffering by suggesting that the attack was avoidable or somehow her fault.”(23) 

What makes it so difficult to avoid denying that abusive trauma is real can be attributed to having to imagine what is happening to the speaker, while also having to identify in some way with the speaker such that one ends up imagining oneself, or someone dear to oneself, enduring the same traumatizing experience. Brison refers to a friend “succumbing to the gambler’s fallacy,” who “pointed out that my having had such extraordinary bad luck meant that the odds of my being attacked again were now quite slim.”(24) Embedded in this response is an expression of attempting to protect and preserve the friend’s sense of a safe world in which something so random could not happen without some rational explanation. In this case, the friend resorts to (a misunderstanding of) probability to help explain the seeming randomness of Brison’s attack. What the friend is avoiding is imagining and facing the idea that this event could happen to anyone, that the world can be a terrifying place where human beings can be traumatized by one another so badly that even when they do survive it, they do not fully feel alive. Like in victim-blaming, the friend is deflecting away from the truth and reality of (the victim’s) trauma in our world to preserve her sense of safety and trust in others, and she is thus not genuinely listening to Brison’s narrative.

4. Shared Worlds

So far I have mostly described therapeutic recognition in negative terms: listening to a trauma narrative without interrupting and without deflecting away from the narrative’s details to try to preserve one’s own sense of the world as safe. Therapeutic recognition might be understood in a culminating, positive point: the interlocutor who “bears witness” to the survivor’s narrative does so when they shift from thinking, “This traumatic event can’t happen to me,” to realizing, “This can happen to me.” The survivor lives in a world where she knows that her safety and trust in others are not guaranteed and were never guaranteed in the first place, even though it may have seemed so all her life. When the witness who has not experienced trauma moves from thinking, “This could never happen to me” to “This could happen to me,” they have now entered the survivor’s world, leaving the world of illusory thoughts like “This can’t happen to me” and more broadly, “The world is generally safe from traumatizing experiences” behind. Such a witness can help restore the victim’s lost sense of self by helping them come to accept what Freedman calls an “alternative worldview” that centers around the belief that “the world is fundamentally unsafe for women because they are women” by, for instance, facing basic but unsettling facts about sexual violence towards women.(25) The successful witness who offers therapeutic recognition in this way thus does not turn the focus of the victim’s story away from the victim and towards themselves. Rather, the victim’s story and the victim herself are the pivoting points around which the witness realizes, “This can happen to anyone, including me or someone I know.” When the witness makes this shift, this is a key opportunity to provide the victim with the sense that she is someone at all: her experiences were real, she is alive and not dead, and the witness accepts her story as part of her and “who she is,” rather than taking all of this to be an anomalous blip in the grand scheme of events. The victim can then take herself as someone at all while at the same time the witnesses can adjust their understanding of the world and traumatic experiences. 

Thus, I conclude that it is backwards to think that non-survivors “welcome” survivors “back” into the prior world of assumed safety and that this is how survivors are pulled out of alienation, “spectral existence,” and “living posthumously.” Rather, it is the non-survivor who must make the difficult effort to join the survivor in her world, and this is done so by listening to her trauma narrative without judgment or doubt and by coming to terms with the reality of her experience as that which can happen to anyone, including the non-survivor themselves. The aim of therapeutically recognizing the survivor’s trauma narrative and their sense of themselves as someone at all is to properly share a world with them, rather than giving them the sense that they have veered and spun off into a separate, parallel world. “Taking oneself as someone at all” and sharing a world with others cannot be assumed or taken for granted but, rather, should be understood as a joint achievement between the inhabitants of that shared world.

In this article, I hope to have shown that it is worth thinking about the self and how the self relates to others from the perspective of having experienced severe abusive trauma. A victim of abusive trauma’s initial terrorizing contact with a perpetrator (and any subsequent contact) is undoubtedly damaging to the self. What is further devastating is that others could be in a position to help the victim restore her sense of self, but for various reasons are unable to. It is incumbent upon “witnesses” to make an effort to “share in the guilty knowledge of what happens to people in extremity,” as Herman says, but it is not always clear what this entails. I hope to have shed some light on this matter. What becomes of our reflections on the self, others, and the world, both academically and practically, when we run into someone with a distressing trauma narrative? Perhaps we can learn to react to rape, to sexual violence, to severe abusive traumatic experiences and survivors’ trauma narratives, if we carefully consider our assumptions about trauma and the construction and maintenance of the self among others, equally real, in a shared world.

Acknowledgments

This material is adapted from my dissertation, “Taking Oneself as Someone At All: Trauma, Recovery, and the Self” (2018). I wish to thank the chair of my dissertation committee, Tony Laden, for his long-standing support for my ideas and writing. I also wish to thank my dissertation committee member, David Hilbert, for supporting my presenting of this material at the 2019 “Philosophical Engagements with Trauma” conference at the University of North Carolina Asheville. I am also grateful to Melissa Burchard for organizing said conference and giving me the opportunity to present this work to a wider audience. Finally, many thanks to Melissa Burchard and Michelle Panchuk for reviewing my work and offering insightful comments and questions that helped to sharpen my thoughts and writing.

Bibliography

Brison, Susan. Aftermath: Violence and Remaking of the Self. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2003.

Burchard, Melissa. Philosophical Reflections on Mothering Trauma. New York: Routledge, 2018.

Freedman, Karyn. “The Epistemological Significance of Psychic Trauma.” Hypatia 21, no. 2 (2006): 104-25.

Herman, Judith. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

Lindemann, Hilde. Damaged Identities and Narrative Repair. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2001.

———. Holding and Letting Go: The Social Practice of Personal Identities. New York: Oxford UP, 2014.

Mills, Charles. “Non-Cartesian Sums.” In Blackness Visible: Essays on Philosophy and Race, 1-20. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1998.

Nagel, Thomas. The Possibility of Altruism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1979.

———. The View from Nowhere. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 1989.

RAINN. “Scope of the Problem: Statistics.” Rape and Incest National Network, 2020. https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem.

Sapphire. Push. New York: Vintage, 1996.

Contributor Information

Kei Hotoda is the Graduate Program Coordinator and Interim Business Manager at the University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Philosophy. She earned her PhD in philosophy from the same department in 2018.

Footnotes

  1.  Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (New York: Basic Books, 2015).
  2.  I am interested in cases of what I call “severe abusive trauma,” such as sexual violence and child abuse. The phenomena I explore in this paper likely overlap with other kinds of traumatic experiences like combat warfare or surviving natural disasters, but the cases I think best highlight the loss of what I call “taking oneself as someone at all” are cases of assault and abuse by an identifiable perpetrator.
  3.  Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (New York: Basic Books, 2015), 51. I believe it is crucial to receive recognition of one’s trauma narrative from peer trauma survivors, but my main interest here is the relationship between the trauma survivor and someone who has not experienced a similar kind of traumatic event.
  4.  Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (New York: Basic Books, 2015), 52.
  5.  Susan Brison, Aftermath: Violence and Remaking of the Self (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2003), 12. 
  6.  This claim is a broad generalization about mainstream philosophical literature on the self and personhood. Recent works that resist this temptation include Hilde Lindemann’s Damaged Identities and Narrative Repair (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2001) and Holding and Letting Go (New York: Oxford UP, 2014), as well as Melissa Burchard’s Philosophical Reflections on Mothering in Trauma (New York: Routledge, 2018).
  7.  RAINN, “Scope of the Problem: Statistics,” http://www.rainn.org.
  8.  Karyn Freedman, “The Epistemological Significance of Psychic Trauma,” Hypatia 21, no. 2 (Spring 2006): 104-25.
  9.  Sapphire, Push (New York: Vintage Books, 1996). The work is of fiction, but draws on the author’s own experiences of teaching literacy in New York City in the 1980’s. Moreover, it is the phenomenon of being unable to make sense of one’s experience that I want to focus on here, and I think this articulation helps to highlight the loss of taking oneself as someone at all.
  10.  Susan Brison, Aftermath: Violence and Remaking of the Self (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2003), 8-9.
  11.  Susan Brison, Aftermath: Violence and Remaking of the Self (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2003), 12-13.
  12.  Susan Brison, Aftermath: Violence and Remaking of the Self (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2003), 13.
  13.  “Spectral existence” may sound like the rare neuropsychological condition known as Cotard’s Syndrome or Cotard’s Delusion, where one believes one’s body no longer exists or ceases to function properly, sometimes to the extent of self-starvation. However, my interest is not in the belief of one’s bodily existence or having illusory thoughts about one’s physical state; my interest is rather in the existential and relational phenomenon of feeling severe isolation and alienation from others.
  14.  Thomas Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1979), 14.
  15.  Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere (Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 1989), 20.
  16.  Charles Mills. “Non-Cartesian Sums,” in Blackness Visible (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1998), 1-20.
  17.  Charles Mills. “Non-Cartesian Sums,” in Blackness Visible (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1998), 4.
  18.  Charles Mills. “Non-Cartesian Sums,” in Blackness Visible (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1998), 3.
  19.  Karyn Freedman, “The Epistemological Significance of Psychic Trauma,” Hypatia 21, no. 2 (Spring 2006): 104-25, 111.
  20.  Susan Brison, Aftermath: Violence and Remaking of the Self (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2003), 51.
  21.  Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (New York: Basic Books, 2015), 69.
  22.  For a variety of reasons, young children who endure long-standing abuse may not be able to tell their stories. For a study centered around the experiences of adopting young, severely traumatized children, see Melissa Burchard, Philosophical Reflections on Mothering in Trauma (New York: Routledge, 2018).
  23.  Susan Brison, Aftermath: Violence and Remaking of the Self (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2003), 9.
  24.  Susan Brison, Aftermath: Violence and Remaking of the Self (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2003), 10.
  25.  Karyn Freedman, “The Epistemological Significance of Psychic Trauma,” Hypatia 21, no. 2 (Spring 2006): 104-25, 105.

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