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Vol. XVII, No.2 Winter, 2003



Similarities between Adult Children of Alcoholics or Childhood Abuse
With Recipients of Societal Trauma

Is Bush Going to Betray the Afghans and Kurds?

The Power of Nonviolence

Understanding Iran and the Non-Arab Muslim World: Suggestions for
Non-Violent Change Initiatives

Preventing Nuclear Proliferation in the Right Way


Darling Graciela Villena-Mata

Living with addicts affects how we grieve and how we express that grief. It affects our overall well-being. Having an addicted-oriented society challenges us to stay sober, even for those who do not have to struggle with personal addictions or childhood familial abuse. It challenges all of us to honor our personal grief as well as any societal-inflicted grief, such as from "isms" (e.g., racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism). Society's behaviors and attitudes can reflect those of an addict. "Macro and micro expressions of addiction and dysfunctional behaviors are more than mirrors of each other: they are one and the same." So say Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Tassel as they discuss the impact of addictive persons in management and leadership positions. Individuals and families make up society. Individuals set policies and mission statements, which then influence implementation and enforcement. If we have wounded leaders, then would it not make sense that their world perceptions are filtered through unresolved wounds? Being a "cause aholic" is no different from being the addict at the societal helm.

It is therefore important to understand the relationship between addiction and the trauma that induce it, both at the individual and at the societal levels. Is it healthy for us to continue using trauma mechanisms and coping skills (TMCS�) as primary attention-getters? If we live in addictive-oriented society, do we not perpetuate the dysfunction? Is not our overall well-being affected by playing by those addictive rules set forth by society? Are not our identities affected and formed around these rules?

Society that is addicted-oriented, much like individuals that are addicts run on such things as: adrenalin, "fight, flight, and freeze" reactions; categorization/stereotyping of self, other people and behaviors; "time as the enemy and Master"; fear of the unknown for which they believe they have no coping skills; fear that they will not have "safety islands" to which they can regroup as they continue into uncharted "lands"; dismissal of anything that is not perceived as life-threatening; and dismissal of anything outside the focus of their addiction. Dr. Reverend Clarence Williams sees "racism" as a societal addiction. He believes that no one can recuperate from racism; only go through recovery. Others have like "isms" to disease-based illnesses, which infects not only the intended recipients but everyone in society in different forms.

Schaef and others like Dana Cloud contend that it can be the perceived abuser group's advantage to have "walking wounded". What if it benefits them to have people be so preoccupied with existence and survival? If people are so tired and in need of distraction from a cycle of work, sleep, work, then their having a variety of addictions would benefit those who do not want a populace who can question the status quo and become activists for living, rather than for revenge, martyrdom, or simply existing. People who are preoccupied with their daily existence have more of a tendency to fault those around them who are different rather than question "authority" figures and systems. Much like individuals in a dysfunctional family whose authority figures can play one sibling against another. A populace that is in a survival mode and encouraged to react, rather than reflect can be easily manipulated and given disinformation and misinformation by wounded leaders and addicted-oriented systems.

During the course of my professional work and research, I noticed the similarities of symptoms and "rules" that adult children of childhood abuse manifested with the symptoms experienced by recipients of societal trauma, which were induced by "isms" (i.e., racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and so forth including religion-based discrimination). By becoming more conscious of the limitations that addictions imposed on our quality of life and how "isms" can be used to perpetuate a "fight, flight, freeze" mode of living, we come closer to regaining our dreams, hopes, and paths‹not based on trauma and existing, but based on living.

Often unresolved macro and/or micro trauma and its chronic grief invite addictions. Addictions act as buffers against feeling pain, loss, and helplessness. Addictions are distractions and forms of escapes. The more common addicts are drug and alcohol abusers, work-aholics, and those with "activity-holics". Other kinds of addictions are chronic worrying, and I would say, any chronic thought process and/or behaviors that keep us in a 'loop' where there is no growth, no insights, no real advancement for ourselves and our communities.

This is a short article to a large issue for those who are on the receiving end of societal trauma. May this article encourage you to explore the parallels between micro and macro trauma's effects on recipients and their groups.

©2003 copyright. .Darling G. Villena-Mata, Ph.D., a social psychologist, is a trainer, consultant, and speaker in the area of societal trauma's effects on its recipients. She has written several articles and a book on the above similarities and its healing. You may reach her at or 310.994.6606

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These articles and opinions of the authors do not constitute the endorsement of Nonviolent Change nor its publisher, Organization Development Institute, or any of its staff.

©2002, 2003, 2004,2005. All rights reserve. The Nonviolent Change Journal is published by the Research/ActionTeam on Nonviolent Large Systems Change - an interorganizational and international project of The Organization Development Institute.

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