Psychologists believe there are only four core emotions that humans display:
The latter emotion is the one that I find the most fascinating. I have always loved horror movies and dark literature. I romanticized fear at an early age, without any push from outside influences. The darkness was always with me. It came from within, seeping out of my soul like an infant from a womb. I nurtured it and the macabre ministry grew with time. I loved to be scared, to gain forbidden knowledge and to create works of art that summoned fear in others (good natured – stories, poems, etc.). The nostalgia from those memories still tugs on my heartstrings. It was a simpler time.
The way I that experienced fear changed when I went through a traumatic experience in my early twenties. My life was never the same after I stared death in the face and won. But my life came with a price. The trauma scarred me. It altered my brain chemistry. The aftermath was almost insufferable; it was so terrible that I almost gave up. The world was such a dangerous place that I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. I thought I knew what fear meant, but I didn’t.
I have lived with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for almost a decade. Thousands of hours of therapy, medication and an ocean of personal effort have enabled me to develop coping mechanisms. I function normally, but for a while it was complete hell. Certain that doom was impending, I suffered panic attacks while scanning faces in crowds at the mall. Everything seemed to bring me back to the scene of my trauma. Sounds made my blood run cold. Smells emptied my bowels. I couldn’t focus at work or in my personal life. My relationships deteriorated because I became a hermit. I isolated myself because that was the only way that I could feel safe. Self-harm became my medicine to numb the pain. I thought I knew fear. I didn’t. True fear is a curse. True fear eats souls.
The journey to recovery is a dark road and, sadly, millions of people don’t have the clinical resources necessary to finish. When the incident occurred, I was a wealthy twenty year old (not a child), with every resource at my disposable. I had a loving family and a great support system. I had everything going for me and my recovery still almost killed me. If I weren’t blessed (through no merit of my own), I don’t know that I’d be writing this blog post today.
At the moment I am writing this post, over two thousand children are suffering severe trauma. This is not hyperbole. This is reality. The President’s zero tolerance illegal immigration policy mandates that all immigrants who try to cross the border illegally are prosecuted. Unfortunately, even immigrants that are trying to seek asylum and are presenting at designated ports of entry (as the law requires) are also being arrested. The administration refuses to tell the truth here. They created a policy that separates children from parents for the sake of deterrence and political fodder for Trump’s deplorable base. And they implemented this disgusting policy without creating the necessary logistical infrastructure for its enforcement. This is state-sanctioned child abuse.
These children have been ripped from their parents and imprisoned in camps where photographs are not allowed because the conditions constitute child abuse. The government does not have any process or plan for how to reunite these children with their parents. Most children don’t speak English. They don’t know when or if they’ll ever see their families again. Imprisoned and terrified, these children know what true fear is and they are far too young to have that experiential knowledge. Kidnapping and imprisonment are trauma. Period.
The effects of trauma on children are particularly tragic. In 1976, a Chowchilla, California school bus driver and twenty-six children were abducted by armed men. The ages of the children ranged from five to fourteen. The hostages were freed after sixteen hours of being detained. After that incident, every single child displayed symptoms of PTSD. For many, the symptoms worsened over time. These children were detained by men who spoke English and they were only detained for sixteen hours. But they were still incredibly traumatized.
We don’t know when these children will be reunited with their parents. It could be weeks. It could be months. It certainly will be longer than sixteen hours, we know that. Prolonged periods of captivity can lead to more dire consequences. If nothing changes for the child, despite efforts to be freed or reunited or improve their outcome, the child will have a high risk of developing learned helplessness. This essentially means they’ve given up. Their mental reward system is broken and they end up walking around like zombies. Accounts of German concentration camp survivors and Japanese internment camp survivors have both shown that behavior. Depression and other chronic mental health illnesses can be catalyzed by kidnapping and separation from parents. Perhaps most disturbing of all, there is a chance that these children will suffer an enduring personality change. As a result of their abuse, their brains could be permanently altered. Even if they’re reunited with their families, they might never be the same.
I don’t know these children’s fate. I want to believe that they’ll be okay. I want to believe that they will all persevere through this and not be permanently handicapped. Unfortunately, the evidence indicates that this is not likely. They are experiencing severe trauma. Medical authorities have classified the children’s treatment as clinical child abuse. Overcoming my trauma nearly killed me and I had every resource imaginable at my disposal. These kids have nothing and they have no one. They were fleeing oppression and persecution. They came here for refuge and safe harbor. Instead of welcoming them, we tore them from their parents. We taught these children the meaning of true fear. Because of that, they will never be the same. Shame on America.