— five personal stories about the everyday life of Belarusians who suffered from the psychological violence.
Events of recent months in Belarus have left many scars on our "collective body". A body remembers everything, a body does not forget. A body is shocked, a body shrinks, a body freezes, a body punches, a body runs, a body does not move. A body cannot relax, a body spasms, a body gets numb. We lose meaning, we become hypervigilant and reactive, we can experience painful flashbacks, we can cry bitterly, we can get angry, we can feel trapped, we can stop sleeping and eating, stop deriving pleasure from familiar things, from work, from relationships. We can feel ourselves misunderstood, dumb, and humiliated. We can feel helplessness and loss of control, as well as the impossibility to seek support and ask for resources, even if there are some.

A trauma is an episode of such overexcitement of the nervous system, and a person cannot cope with it the usual way because of the lack of adequate support, resources, and time.

It is the impossibility to overcome a certain event. In the case of Belarusians — a sequence of intense, repetitive, unexpected, cruel, and frightening events; the whole frozen complex of thoughts, feelings, and decisions created at the moment of a traumatic situation, which cannot be revised or assimilated. Any reminder of the situation can actualize this complex, then the trauma "hurts" — and the person time and again experiences those emotions that they experienced in the traumatic situation.

Traumatic events can also have an additional meaning — the collapse of our basic illusions: the illusion of immortality, the justice of the world, the simplicity of world order, our own inviolability and security. The traumatic experience becomes more than just a "life experience." The trauma organizes a personality around itself. It forms not only our negative ideas about the world, but also about ourselves.

Even if we weren't directly hurt, it's important to remember that many of us have a trauma of witness. These are similar changes in one's inner experience, resulting from empathic involvement in relationships with others experiencing a traumatic state, or as a result of witnessing someone else's encounter with violence. Moreover, by remaining in a situation of acute stress for a long time we may feel "learned helplessness" — a depressed state that arises from the futility of our own actions; cognitively it manifests itself in the uselessness of efforts.

The psyche does not want us to break down; it is trying to somehow process everything happening around and the response it causes inside you. It tries to integrate everything that happens in the picture of the world, to "digest" some kind of an off-the-charts flow of information about pain, suffering, violence, and injustice — even if haphazardly.

Everyone adapts as best as they can: someone with the help of creativity or guerrilla tactics, humor or aggression, collective actions and mutual aid, solitude and isolation. Tiny acts of resistance and self-control paint a general pattern of protest, of rejection of what is happening. Anything that leads to a greater sense of freedom and strength (as opposed to a sense of weakness and stiffness) and to a greater sense of inclusivity and community with others (as opposed to isolation and loneliness) — is good.

Different survival strategies are not worse or better than other ones. Try not to judge your own ways of coping and how others are coping with what is happening. Everything, absolutely everything that happens to us — it is normal. It is a normal response to the abnormality happening around.

If we cannot improve a stressful environment — all our personal resources should be directed in improving our own "now and here" state. We are already coping with trauma, even if we discover in ourselves some strange and frightening symptoms — markers of traumatic experiences I mentioned above. Every moment we do our best to stay alive.

Though it is difficult, it is important to remind ourselves that the violence happening to us in recent weeks, gut-wrenching, heinous, flooding — it is only a part of our experience. In the darkest moments, everything seems to be permeated by pain, but life is much bigger than trauma; our sensory experience and we are much bigger. Therefore, despite the chilling horror, despite the uncertainty — we choose to live. It is important to recover a sense of subjectivity and to show yourself and others that the world has mechanisms that help to support each other, to reduce the damage from violence, and to resist it.

If we don't pay enough attention to the quality of our relationships — no matter how clear our strategic paths or work processes are, — everything can crash down overnight. Caring for each other should be a part of a broader political agenda.
Mila Vedrova
psychologist, coach, art-activist (Minsk, Belarus)
What is to be done?
1. Call each thing by its right name: what has happened to you, or what did you witness — was it scary, aggressive, inhuman, frightening, cruel? Was it violence? Did you feel a sense of losing control?

2. Talk to someone you trust, someone who understands, someone who has witnessed the same as you, someone whom you feel safe with. Let it out. Ask a listener for what you really need in this conversation: silent presence, emotional feedback, sharing experiences, supportive tactile contact, request for help and practical advice, informational support, assistance in going to relevant professionals.

3. Allow yourself to feel — it is harder than it sounds. Imagine that some part of you is a small child going through challenging times. Let it be, whatever it feels. Emotions are a marker of what happens to us when we contact the outside world, an opportunity to understand which of our needs in this contact were not satisfied. Emotions can be intense, but not destructive. Cry if you feel like crying, stomp your feet if you are angry, yearn for the lost sense of security. Whatever the feelings are, ask yourself the question: what could support you now, when you feel (insert here a description of your emotional state)?

4. Trust your body and follow it: sleep as much as you need, eat, move in a way you want to or don't move at all; lie curled up if you really want to, try to feel the pleasure in the fact you can "hide and freeze".

5. Identify your triggers: which events/places/plots/stories provoke you to reexperience traumatic distress and resonate with painful flashbacks? This is important to understand so that you are not scared by your reactions. Minimize the chance of facing triggers whenever possible.

6. Limit yourself in reading the news and viewing traumatic content. Information about violence faced by people from the reference group evokes in us the same reaction as if we were in their place.

7. Find your ways of resistance, and activities which can support you; get back your own subjectivity — it is important to remember what gives you pleasure, joy, a pleasant physical resonance, what fills you up and calms you down.

Looking for resources and being able to implement them at difficult times is an important part of the healing process. Remind yourself that life is much bigger than the trauma, than what happened to you, even if it seems to you right now that everything has come down to a single episode.
The project aims at informing society about the consequences of the use of psychological state violence against citizens of Belarus

If more stories on trauma are visible to society, the more people which are involved in the context will feel heard and understood. Furthermore the opportunity to share (anonymously) one's history via Instagram/Telegram can play therapeutic role as an open platform for reflection/articulation of one's feelings and experiences. First and foremost the project is aimed at residents of Belarus, but we hope it will help to highlight the problem for the international community as well. Besides the collected stories can become one of the proofs of the commission of systematic psychological state violence in the processes of international advocacy and other actions, intended to bring perpetrators to justice through published stories of intimidation, humiliation, psychological pressure.

The authors of the project express their deepest special thanks to:
Mila Vedrova - for psychological consultation
Natasha Derevianko and Semyon Kipnis - for translation and editing
Maria Chupikova and Denis Bogdan - for the voice acting of the stories.
Vladimir Avgust - for creating a chatbot.

Help us to make stories visible.
Tag @by_invisibletrauma on Instagram and tell your story.
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