utopia… an impossible dream?

For German version click here

Just recently Franz Ruppert did a presentation in Oslo at the International Training in Norway on the topic of War, Violence and Destruction. (You can get the pdf of the presentation here.)

Professor Franz Ruppert

Professor Franz Ruppert

He starts the presentation by musing on the state of the world at the moment, not knowing if we head towards peace or more violence, or when the next explosion will happen. And when travelling having to think about what country can one visit, where is safe, and that there are many places now that are too dangerous to go. He continues “but then even if I stay in Germany, something could happen with terror attacks”.

A couple of weeks later we heard about the young Iranian carrying out a mass shooting attack at a shopping mall in Munich, Ruppert’s home town… and the day after that in Ansbach, also Germany. And this second attack by a refugee.

What is happening, and can we in any sense see a way out?

I am often asked by students and clients, once they understand the profound and endemic nature of trauma: “then the whole world is likely to be traumatised… what can we do about it?”

I know the experience of terrible angst and fear when we suddenly really see just how traumatised our world is; we see unresolved trauma in every news item, every statement made by a politician, every crazy war-mongering decision made in our name, every film or TV programme we watch.

The News Today

If we really look at many of the topics in the news at the moment the world really does look crazy. The UK decides to leave the EU on a slim margin of vote, where half the country ‘loses’, and the other half, most of whom made their vote to send a message of dissatisfaction to the politicians, ‘wins’… a vote to withdraw into isolation. The US is hard on the road to voting in a narcissistic psychopath and sociopath as president, an event that affects everyone in the world; climate change (one of the many causes of refugees) is on the back page, even though we are experiencing the hottest summer on record; the middle east is a mess, caused by our politicians who didn’t listen to their own people who protested in vast numbers in 2003 against the Iraq war; and the economy is broken. Most ‘modern’ western countries have greater poverty levels than ever before with people having to rely on food banks and charities while governments pander financially to the corporate elite, rush to privatise and sell off everything from health, to national parks, to education, to probably the very air that we breath. I could go on and on, but you know it all already.

Meanwhile we never know where the next ‘terrorist’ attack or gratuitous shooting is going to happen… and we have been abandoned by our media. So much journalism these days is manipulated and manipulative… of us.

We are living it seems in unprecedented times. In the UK politically we consider whether to keep and update our Trident nuclear submarines, but how would we use them? We do not fight another state as we used to, so who or where would be the target? The enemy is within… within our own borders, our own country, our own town.

Michael Moore

Michael Moore

The ‘enemy’ is within us…

each one of us… and it is the one thing we do our very best to avoid: our trauma.

In a letter about the US election and the likelihood of Trump winning the presidential race the American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore wrote:

“You need to exit that bubble right now. You need to stop living in denial and face the truth which you know deep down is very, very real. Trying to soothe yourself with the facts – “77% of the electorate are women, people of color, young adults under 35 and Trump cant win a majority of any of them!” – or logic – “people aren’t going to vote for a buffoon or against their own best interests!” – is your brain’s way of trying to protect you from trauma.” (Moore, 5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win)

How do we ‘exit the bubble’?

‘Exiting the bubble’ means facing our own, individual trauma, and facing our trauma means understanding the fundamental dynamics of perpetration and victimisation. This is the topic of Ruppert’s presentation mentioned above.

… because the chaos we see in the world is down to one thing: trauma…. and the ways in which we individually and collectively avoid the emotional pain of our trauma by continuing and escalating perpetration.

Let’s start with some definitions:

Perpetration means causing harm to another

Victimisation means being harmed by another

So the first question is: why does someone cause harm to another? The answer to this question is quite simple: because they do not see the other clearly due to their own traumatisation. When we have experienced trauma from that moment on we are vulnerable to dissociation, which distorts our perception of reality. Trauma distorts our view of the world, and of others.

So now we have to look at what trauma is. Again, let’s go to a definition as a starting point:

Definition of Trauma

Trauma is an experience where the victim is totally and utterly helpless and overwhelmed by the forces at play. If these ‘forces’ are another human being, then that person holds all the power and the victim has none. The view that ‘fight and flight’ are trauma reactions is wrong; they are high stress reactions – if you can fight or flee you are not helpless. To say that these are trauma reactions avoids the terrible reality of the trauma experience, our utter helplessness. The only possibility in the trauma situation is resignation and dissociation. The experience of trauma is as if I might not survive this moment, and the body/mind system takes over in order to apply a last-ditch effort at survival: all energy goes to keeping the vital organs alive rather than wasting energy on ineffectual efforts to fight or flee, and the mind dissociates from the terrible experience. Dissociation is the body/mind way of splitting off experiences that are too terrible, and take too much energy.

From this point on the psyche is split, as you can see in the diagram.

the split self

surviving trauma

For a more detailed discussion of this model see my blogpost Introduction to IoPT Theory.

The important point for us here is to understand that, although we do still have access to our healthy self after a trauma, we also have a ‘surviving self’, whose only function is to make sure that our trauma does not resurface.

The surviving self develops many strategies that ensure we can avoid the split off (frozen in time) trauma experience… strategies that fall into the following categories:

  • avoidance
  • distraction
  • control
  • denial

Again, you can find out more detail about our surviving strategies in this blogpost: Surviving After Trauma. What I want to move on to is…

The primary traumas for most of us…

If you have any doubt about the possibility of having experienced trauma you might want to think about these primary traumas. They are traumas that happened before we had any means of cognitively remembering them, during the pre-verbal phase of our life. These are the trauma of a failed loving connection with our mother (usually because she herself is traumatised), and the trauma of having to give up on our healthy self in order to survive the trauma of this failed loving connection. These are the traumas of being conceived and born into a less than ideally welcoming world… even a highly traumatised and traumatising world. For more on this see the blog Trauma of Love and the Constructed Identity.

You might also be interested in seeing the trailer for the new film called In Utero to understand something of this early time of life.

Perpetration as a surviving strategy

Just to begin with we need to understand that perpetration in itself can be traumatising, particularly if the perpetration is forced on us by another… think of the Lord’s Army’s abduction of children to kill in Uganda. Perpetration, until one is inured against feeling it, involves uncomfortable feelings of shock, horror, guilt and shame, which the person splits off in order to survive their experience.

But perpetration functions as a survival strategy… a ‘perpetrator attitude’, is a way of denying and avoiding one’s own deep feelings of despair. Instead the person makes another feel the pain; he or she causes harm to another as a way of managing their own trauma pain. The stronger take it out on the weaker; the school bully causes harm to the more vulnerable child; the perpetrator parent causes harm to their child. Think of that old adage of the parent who beats the child and says “this hurts me more than it hurts you”, or “this is for your own good”.

This dynamic of perpetration as an avoidance of looking at one’s own trauma then becomes an accepted form in society, continually growing and becoming increasingly severe. It becomes acceptable that those who succeed in business have tyrannical tendencies, that those who win elections are ‘tough’ and willing to make ‘tough’ decisions, like going to war under the guise of ‘regime change’… one tyrant for another, one perpetrator picks off (victimises) another.

Perpetrators are unwilling (and unable) to engage in real dialogue, because real dialogue requires an emotional engagement of those emotions that draw us together: empathy and compassion, love and commitment; and anything that involves such emotions softens us, and inevitably, will take us closer to the reality of our split off trauma, which the perpetrator within wants to avoid at all costs. So instead, the emotions of hate and fear, which create distance rather than closeness, become the common currency of perpetration.

And because our fear of being alone and vulnerable (due to our own traumatisation) is unbearable, we join the perpetrator(s) to gain some feeling of togetherness, some sense of ‘safety’. The victimised child in the traumatised family system finds the safest place to be is next to the perpetrator – that is the paradox of the therapeutic work with victims of childhood sexual and violent abuse: the child’s loyalty to the perpetrator so often undermines the good intentions of the therapist. So we join with others and turn a blind eye to the perpetrator tendencies of the group… the mob. “You’re either with us or against us”… polarisation immediately invites perpetration.

Eventually the person functioning from a perpetrator attitude becomes a psychopath… the definition of which is a complete lack of the capacity for empathy. Many of our corporate and political leaders it seems would fulfil the psychopathic designation.

Victim Attitude as a Survival Strategy

Where there is a perpetrator there is a victim, and where there is a victim, there is also a perpetrator. And victims become perpetrators, and all perpetrators are also victims.

A victim attitude is a survival strategy that uses victimhood as a means of avoiding the real trauma of the victim. Such people will lament their fate, regarding themselves always as a victim, a martyr… seeing themselves as sacrificial lambs… and by this attitude they irritate others and invoke the perpetrator in them… So by their very victimness they become perpetrators, and they create perpetrators in others, and the cycle goes on.

Perpetrators always feel that they are victims of others, feeling mis-accused and mis-used by others, thereby creating more victims… and more perpetrators.

Perpetrator-Victim Dynamics as a Global Phenomenon

This cycle is insidious and invidious, and it dominates our global interactions. It causes those in power to make the decisions that they do, using violence as the ultimate perpetrator weapon… and it causes those who are desperate to resort to violence when nothing else works. Violence draws attention… at least it used to; but now we are subject to daily incidences of violence… and what do we do?

We resort to our own survival strategies to deal with the helplessness we feel when we look at these things going on in the world:

  • we avoid the news and anything that stimulates our feelings of helplessness
  • we distract ourselves with shopping, television, fantasy entertainment
  • we hide away from the world
  • we join movements that seem to have some solution
  • we rely on others to do what we feel we cannot
  • we make donations, sign petitions, go on protest marches
  • we try and figure out the best politician to vote for
  • we try to figure out who is telling the truth in the media
  • we ‘share’ stuff on facebook

I know… I have done all of these, as you probably have too. It’s overwhelming and scary beyond belief if we really look at it.

So here goes…

Utopia… an impossible dream?

I had an email exchange with Franz about his presentation on the topic of War, Violence and Destruction, during which he proposed adding one final slide to the presentation, which eventually came out as follows:

Utopia – the global solution to reducing war and aggression:

Those who wish to assume responsibility for others by being in positions of power… politicians, corporate leaders, parents, teachers, judiciary etc. 


  • need to prove that they are aware of their own trauma and are willing to confront it by…
  • … either waiting until they have done so before assuming such responsibility, or
  • continuing their trauma therapy will doing their job
  • in this way they demonstrate to the electorate that they are trustworthy 
  • at the same time the electorate should:
  • take personal responsibility for becoming aware of the issues of trauma
  • only vote those into powerful positions who prove they are worthy by addressing their trauma

Well, this is a solution… what it means is that the very best thing each and every one of us can do is take the issue of our own traumatisation seriously… seriously enough to do the necessary work to clear our psyche of our splits, so as not to inadvertently function from our own internal perpetrator. Because remember, everyone who has experienced trauma has within them the ability to act as a perpetrator as a defence against the experience of their own trauma. If I have suffered a trauma I can at times act as a perpetrator.

Perhaps it is a utopic solution… but it can give us the impetus to get on with our own healing, because in my view that is the only real hope we have.



PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE COMMENTS AND JOIN THE DISCUSSION… but be aware all comments are moderated so will not appear immediately.


utopia… an impossible dream? — 3 Comments

  1. Thank you, Vivian for posting this important topic here! The solution may in the moment seem utopical, but it is a clear solution, whereas all the other ideas only focus on symptoms or make the problems of violence, aggression and hate even worse.

  2. Marta, thanks for your comment… and just to say that there is a link to the film at the beginning of the blog… but if you missed it others might too so it is good to have it extra in your comment.

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