Emotional trauma is an experience of unendurable emotional pain. In my book Trauma and Human Existence, I claimed that the unbearability of emotional suffering cannot be explained solely, or even primarily, on the basis of the intensity of the painful feelings evoked by an injurious event. Emotional pain is not pathology—it is inherent to the human condition. Painful emotional states become unbearable when they cannot find a “relational home”—that is, a context of human understanding—in which they can be shared and held. Severe emotional pain that has to be experienced alone becomes lastingly traumatic and usually succumbs to some form of emotional numbing. This numbing flight from unendurable emotional pain is vividly illustrated by the bluesy song, "Numb," written by Stephanie Stolorow and performed by her and her brother Ben Stolorow under the name “Stoli Rose.” Here’s the link.

If you listen closely to the lyrics, you will hear allusions to the role of shame and, especially, of human finitude in the constitution of emotional trauma. The lyrics of bluesy music provide the words that name the experience of trauma. The more formal aspects of such music seem universally to evoke the visceral dimension of emotional pain. In the unifying experience of the blues, songwriter, performers, and listeners are joined in a visceral-linguistic conversation in which traumatizing aspects of finite human existing can be communally held and borne.

Copyright Robert Stolorow, Stephanie Stolorow, and Ben Stolorow

About the Author

Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D.

Robert D. Stolorow, Ph.D., is one of the original members of the International Council for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, which stems from the work of Heinz Kohut.

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