The Other Pandemic: On the Roots of Trauma and Abuse Worldwide
by Kevin Martens Wong for Merlionsman on Sunday, 25 September 2022
I have struggled against multiple instances of sustained emotional, sexual and institutional abuse throughout my life, including while I was a student in St Joseph's Institution and Catholic Junior College, a teacher in Eunoia Junior College, and from a friend in the Kodrah Kristang Core Team during the initial stages of the revitalisation of Kristang. How should we cope with and deal with trauma and abuse like this, and why, for the love of the planet, does the planet behave like it is a small, isolated problem when actually it is far more prevalent and widespread than most of us imagine? This article details the nuanced, solutions-infused and restorative approach that I have taken toward working through abuse, and why, more than ever, it is needed at all levels of society.
Baby Kevin wants you to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma, so that in an alternate universe he could have had a slightly less dysfunctional and insane childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, and just generally entire life.
In gradually coming to terms with all of the various forms of abuse I have been subject to across my thirty years of existence, two things have become abundantly clear to me from a constellation of qualitative and quantitative data, the extrapolation of the implications of hard evidence in all sorts of sources from the scientific-empirical to the humanistic-affective to the mythic-transcendental, and from, of course, a wealth of personal experience dealing with other people’s fears, insecurities and projections:
The prevalence and incidence rate of abuse of all kinds of children and young persons is likely significantly higher than what is reported across the world, both in the media and in the literature, and has been so since the Industrial Revolution, if not earlier. Not that I believe in cabalistic Satanic death cults governed by pizza-related symbols (still not enough evidence for me there), but one does not need to be a trauma-informed person to recognise the implications of not just the Epstein case, but just what is going on at home, with the numerous cases of exploitation and violation that continue to pepper The Straits Times, TODAY and Channel NewsAsia, a number of which I have very unfortunately been forced to be very intimately connected to.
Every single human being in at least the last two thousand years, if not earlier, and regardless of nation of origin, sociocultural background and probably regardless of neurotypicality, experiences same-sex attraction, defining attraction broadly first as merely emotional or admiring in nature, and then as romantic, physical and sexual as development of the psyche proceeds.
Two of the eight ego-functions of every human psyche, Introverted Feeling (Fi) and Introverted Intuition (Ni), are very poorly unconsciously understood by the general population across the world at best, and are actively impeded by various agents in positions of power, whether those positions are political, religious or academic, at worst.
Points 1 and 2 should resonate, even if you identify as virulently homophobic, evangelically or fundamentally hyper-religious, uninquisitive and just an ordinary person trying to mind their own business, cisgender-heterosexual, ace, aero, pan, demi or any of the other refined forms of sexual identity that have developed. By definition:
What one identifies as can be different, and often is, from the actual dimensions of one’s lived experience (I have been the subject of a lot of projection from this and at least three serious instances of abuse from men identifying as cisgender-heterosexual who have gone on to act out their same-sex attraction with me, and then disclaimed the entire endeavour as me having manipulated them into it, or turned them gay.) This involves, again, the functions listed in point 3, as well as their extroverted counterparts, extroverted feeling (Fe) and extroverted intuition (Ne); the pull of the collective is very strong when it comes to both of these functions
This fact does not detract in any way from that identity, and from the other experiences that one may have; one may still be attracted to people of the opposite gender, to people romantically, to non-human entities, to anthropomorphic representations of humans, and so on.
And why even bring up point 2, Kevin? Because in my varied experiences of being projected on and abused, and from the many, many stories I have heard, my experience is far from unique. The hate and tremendous anger and frustration that many people project onto their Other of choice appears, in many cases, to not just be a random, unconscious choice: they were abused by an authority figure who unconsciously refused to accept that identity, or who portrayed and enacted the very worst aspects of that identity for them, whether that identity was homosexual, transsexual, transgender or worse. The deeper the abuse without proper psychosocial or psychoemotional help, and without acknowledgement that something terrible and horrifying had happened, the deeper the resultant perpetuation of the cycle of intergenerational trauma. Who talks about it? Who teaches us to talk about it? Who wants to talk about it, especially when, as many, many studies have shown, the perpetrator is in our own family, or our teacher, or our partner, or our government, or our trusted religious figure, or our therapist? And then the psyche also has to overcome the face and image: the person in question is straight! The person in question is a faithful family man, or loyal man of god, or a fantastic feminist scholar. They would never do something like this. I did not survive; there was nothing to survive, and there is nothing to survive. Everything is fine.
I ended up surviving because I was never stupid enough to stay silent and let the bloody thing fester inside me. I complained, I whined, I “let my emotions overcome me”, and I wrote; it does not have to be written out directly, it seems, as long as the psyche is able to express its fear, its revulsion, its loneliness, and its absolute terror in some fashion. I was selected for the Ministry’s Budding Writers Programme at the age of 12, and snagged a Highly Commended Award at the Royal Commonwealth Essay Competition at 13, not for nothing. I always knew that my story mattered, even if it couldn’t be shared with everyone; there are people, to this day, who I will fight to the death for because they listened, even though I didn’t have the words to say what I wanted to say yet.
When the psyche does not do what my psyche did, and the psyche convinces itself that everything is fine, everything is okay, and how could anything bad have happened to you, anyway, if none of the authority figures in your life are acknowledging it? Or this happens to everyone, anyway, it’s fine, I don’t need to worry about it. Or there’s no proof. Or, in one notable case that has caused me so much pain and terror as an adult, I feel you abused me.
Or let’s go one step deeper, as was the case for a number of people I have worked with, who struggle with thoughts like I’ve never killed anyone, but what’s wrong with killing? The world is going to fuck-all anyway. The ancient Greeks thought it was okay to sleep with kids; that was the "logic" my abuser used on me, that modern society doesn’t know what it’s doing.
Why doesn’t all this show up in the literature? Why do people still try and claim that some things, some fundamentally bad and horrifying things, are genetic, or pre-programmed, or not their fault, because they were born that way? Well…you try getting pure, untainted, quality, authentic, vulnerable data from someone you have never met before, and someone you have no relationship with, and someone who might just be terrified of you because you are acting in an institutional capacity. Hey, why would such people be obliged to tell you the truth, especially severely damaged and hurt people who have already been abused by people in positions of authority whom they love(d), trusted, admired and respected? Why would people who have been incarcerated be obliged to tell you the truth?
This is the ridiculously hard part for many of us who already acknowledge the reality of the abuse, to look for explanations, to want to have someone to blame (trust me. My pattern and blame are usually very good friends). In the end, it is no one’s fault, and it is also everyone’s. Yes, my parents hurt me, you can finally say, or yes, that trusted religious figure abused me. But someone hurt them. Yes, someone did, I will say. And so many people hurt me too, and yet I have never abused anyone, and, in all likelihood, never projected onto anyone. Did you get lucky, Kevin? Yes and no; to this day, if I look back on my life, I cannot find the turning point that made me who I am today; all I see is a daily, neverending struggle to never forget that I was fundamentally a good person, and that every day, I would have to check, and make sure, that I was fundamentally a good person by always making the right choice, always considering others’ perspectives, and always remembering that my pain, no matter how bad, did not make me the centre of the universe. The same has to hold true of how I regard everyone else, even if they have done some atrocious things to me.
That kind of approach to the buzzing, disintegrating madness of psychological trauma has been a lifetime of work, and will continue to be a lifetime of work, not in the least thanks to family members, teachers, superiors and at least two therapists who have tried to impede my progress in sorting myself out, but also because this is hard. It is hard, every day, to reconcile the fact that I loved, deeply and tremendously, my best friend in SJI, my Kodrah Kristang Core Team member, the junior college that gave me, in some way, a safe space to recover from abuse; and simultaneously that all three of these entities also attempted to violate and abuse me in horrific ways. It is hard to hold space, every day, for everyone who has abused me, remembering that they only abused me because they themselves were abused and traumatised to degrees that were even more frightening than what happened to me.
And it is very hard, but so worthwhile, to remember that the cycle must stop. The cycle must stop, and the only way it can stop is if it begins and ends with me, every single day, for the rest of my life.
Fault and fear do not have to last forever. I have been adamantly against the death penalty, even though male friends have literally attempted to rape me and I have been molested in my sleep, because every single damn human being, every single person on this fucking planet, has the capacity to change and to become someone who individuates and learns and grows from their pain. This includes everyone who abused me, and everyone else on the damn planet perpetuating the cycle of trauma that has become ridiculously insane after the first and second World Wars – and we need to damn well need to do it, as the third one approaches.
This does not mean we let people off the hook. No. People need to do the fucking work. But we need to stop enacting horrific punishments on people who do horrific things, because it helps no one; at best, it adds one more devastatingly broken person to the world, and at worst, it encourages that person to continue to believe in the fundamental lie that they are, at their core, a fundamentally bad person. No more caning, no more hanging, no more lethal injections, and in an ideal world, no more sentences that encourage a person to stare at a wall and comprehend how fucked up they are. I used to have to do that, when I was a child and I had to go sit outside in the tiny gated space between the grill and the front door until my emotions stopped existing.
No one is fundamentally bad or good, nor is anyone fundamentally destined to be bad or good. We all make the choice, every single day. But we are all fundamentally capable of being good. We are all fundamentally capable of owning our fuckeries, whether they are tiny ones, or huge, damning mistakes that destroyed someone else’s life. We are all fundamentally capable of being courageous in the small ways that can make wider change possible, and of being selfless and compassionate enough, while still being fair, to every single person, regardless of background, race, religion, sexuality, neurotypicality, ability, socioeconomic status, nationality and more.
So here is my apology, that is completely unwarranted, but which someone needs to hear. I am beyond sorry, as a gay man, that someone who was gay may have abused you. I am beyond sorry, as a non-binary person, that someone who found a deeper celebration of their inner diversity may have abused you. I am beyond sorry, as someone who was once Catholic, that someone who was Catholic, or Christian, or evangelical, or religious in general, may have abused you. I am beyond sorry, that as a teacher, an authority figure, a thinker, a leader, a person celebrated by my own nation and my academic discipline on a public and global scale, that anyone else who similarly held this position may have abused you.
I am beyond sorry, as someone who has been abused throughout his entire life, that you were abused, and that in many cases, no one beyond me has ever acknowledged it.
Because in the end, it also actually doesn’t matter whether I apologise or not, or acknowledge it or not. I have nothing to do with it. And though I feel for you, as I always feel so much for all of my students and abusers, what matters is you. It matters that you acknowledge it, if you were hurt. It matters that you apologise to yourself, first, if you were the one doing the hurting, and then you apologise to the people who you need to apologise to, wholly, and truly, and vulnerably. And then you take what comes. If you’re dealing with someone other than me, the consequences can be harsh, because the planet is deeply stupid about consequences (extraverted intuition (Ne)); but with a heart of individuation, the right things will always happen. Trust me on this.
And if you’re dealing with me, well. We’ll talk when you start individuating, and you start taking responsibility and accountability, and you start telling me about all the fucked up things you did to me. Not for me to blackmail you. Not for me to throw a fit at you. Not for me to send you to jail (and if there are legal consequences, we live in Singapore, so we will deal with the legal consequences). But for me to understand why, and to help you sort your own bloody life out. Not before.
And after that, as I have always been, I will be on your side. As I have been on everyone’s side my entire damn life, and will continue to be on everyone’s side my entire damn life.
Little human soul; take it from another, very small, very little human soul. You are brave. You are filled with possibility. You are not destined to be disgusting, or broken, or criminal, or to die a lonely, empty, meaningless death. No one is. But you must take your life into your own hands. You must be all that you can be. You must stop abusing yourself, because the planet does not need another person who shuts themselves down, quiets the inner voice within, and says fuck it. Say fuck it to the abuse, and to the trauma. And say yes to a better life. A braver life. A life that says I will not give up. I will stand tall, even if I stand alone. And I am so much more than my trauma and my abuse. I am so much more than unbridled revenge. I am so much more than perpetuating. I am so much more than their projections. I am so much more than their fears and insecurities. I am, and can be so much more.
I may or may not be waiting for you when you can find this out for yourself; I probably don’t know you, after all. But you will be waiting for yourself, and that’s the first, and most important step.
a really important Epilogue: Getting help
This is not about professional roles: the utility of teachers, therapists, counsellors, psychiatrists, pastors, priests, shamans, doctors, scientists and nurses will never go away, and anyone who tells you that one entire profession should be discarded and ignored because a small number of people in that profession cannot get their shit together should also be treated with caution, as should the people who profess a purely empirical-rational approach to dealing with your inner world – the affective and abstract dimensions of life can and should never be ignored (especially with those two functions I mentioned, Fi and Ni).
Rather, find help from someone who is willing to reveal that they are a fundamentally incomplete human being, that they have found and continue to find help for themselves, who show you that they are actively and continuously working on their own issues, and that they are going to be treating you like a fundamentally incomplete human being who is their equal in the process. It does not correlate by profession; there are always going to be shitty versions of every profession. But do yourself a favour and go beyond the qualifications and certifications. Find someone who knows what their own trauma and fears and insecurities are, and is willing to share a little bit about them while not projecting them onto you or making you responsible for them. This can be a difficult process, but take it from someone who had really, really bad experience with therapy and then had a really, really good one, in spite of abuse that made me fear therapy even more.
While you’re doing that, find friends who you know, from experience, love the shit out of you and will judge you just enough that if you tell them that you did something fucked up, they will report you after a careful and thorough assessment of the available evidence; and in all other cases, will be there for you in whatever way you need.
Do what works. A lot of science works, and some of it doesn’t; a lot of weird, purely affective-emotional stuff doesn’t work, and some of it does. Think for yourself, and feel for yourself. Do whatever it takes to break the cycle. You know you deserve it.