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New Identities in the Midst of Violence

“This lives in me—it is part of my being, a constant companion, a thing no one can understand if they only enter here and worry about their own safety from one day to the next…” (Nordstrom, 104) 
“I realized that identity, self, and personhood, as well as physical bodies, are strategic targets of war” (Nordstrom, 105).
“This war took away everything we had, including who we were” (Nordstrom, 109).

Image

(mubi.com)

These quotations all contain a similar theme—the effect that war can have on ones identity. Carolyn Nordstrom explores the effects of terror warfare during the war in Mozambique, especially as it relates to personal identity and reconstruction of social perceptions. I found this idea of imagination as a coping mechanism to be very interesting. Victims are forced to recreate viable worlds, selves, and new orders of significance (111) in order to resist defeat. The goal of the antagonists is domination—to break people down not only physically, but also mentally. Yet this group of Mozambican people was able to survive in the midst of tribulation through their creativity and “un-making” of violence.

While reading through these accounts of the war in Mozambique, I noticed that the way many victims coped with these traumatic events was through imagination, and the recreation of how they construct the world around them. Nordstrom talks about imagination becoming the core feature of survival (110), and the “unmaking of violence” (116), a process that seeks to end the perpetuation of violence in victims. She also mentions Afectados, or the “war affected,” people who often lose social skills and forget about “core aspects of life.” (117). I wonder if victims suffer from “Dissociative Disorder,” a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in which one disconnects from feelings or memories that are extremely painful. This article on the disorder talks about dissociation as a survival method because “it allows individuals to endure “hopeless” circumstances and preserve some healthy functioning” (Sidran Institute). This seems to describe what the Mozambicans face, as they seek to redefine their identities apart from the war. Dissociation might be adaptive initially, but long-term healing is necessary. Clinicians state that the disorder “can become a double-edged sword. It can protect them from awareness of the pain in the short-run, but a person who dissociates often may find in the long-run his or her sense of personal history and identity is affected” (Sidran Institute). Clearly, deep emotional healing is needed to recover from terror warfare.

Sources:

Nordstrom, Carolyn. “Terror Warfare and the Medicine of Peace.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 12.1 (1998): 103-21. Print.

“What Is a Dissociative Disorder?” Sidran Traumatic Stress Institute, 2009. Web. <http://www.sidran.org/sub.cfm?contentID=75§ionid=4&gt;.

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