I often ask myself why the conversation following human trauma often ends at the specific event. For instance, after a plane crash we readily discuss and investigate the “how” and “why.” Rarely do conversations encompass the anguish and trauma of loss for family, loved ones, or even survivors. The aftermath of trauma is ruthless and holds the survivor emotionally and physically hostage. However, the internal world of a survivor is typically “off limits” – placed within a “secret bubble” or swept underneath the family rug. As a society, we don’t fully understand “what happens next” or know how to create a dialogue about the pain (mental & physical), shame, hopelessness, or the need for the survivor of trauma to internally withdraw or wear a protective mask – to not be seen – to avoid detection — to disappear.
Survivors often seek comfort in the shadows of silence and don the mask of invisibility to hide what is perceived as damaged or broken, to mask self-perceptions of shame, blame, inadequacy, and self-loathing, to disguise feelings of depression, anger, and doubt, or re-create an image that is more palatable to family or friends.
What would you see or do if a survivor of trauma allowed you to SEE behind the mask? Would you look away? Ask them to put the mask back on? Or remain still and accept the person behind the mask?
My upcoming TraumaUnmasked photography project allows you to step inside the two worlds of trauma survivors – “Masked” and “Unmasked.”