Advanced Essay #4: Importance of Storytelling for Survivors of Violent Trauma

The goal of this essay is to argue and stress the importance of what it means for survivors of violent trauma, specifically soldiers and war veterans, to share their stories and memories pertaining to the trauma that they have experienced. Initially, I wanted to do research and investigate the effects of holding onto important memories or stories and not sharing them, or in other words, secrets. However, I came to realize that that was more along the lines of a research paper vs. an essay with a controversial thesis, so as I shifted my focus to survivors of violent trauma, I was able to contextualize my thesis better and take a new route for this essay. A wide variety of sources are included to form a full view of this issue.


The human memory is extremely complex. It stores an infinite amount of moments, events, emotions, and more. Essentially, those are all of the elements of a story that is waiting to be told. That’s all memories really are, anyway: stories. As always in the case of stories, it is up to the person to decide whether or not they are willing to share them or not. No matter the circumstances, this always remains true. This conscious decision draws the line between secret and visibility. We keep secrets for many reasons. However, in the world that we live in today, it is not always easy for us to share the hard stories- those stories that have affected us on the deepest of levels, that rein ever present in our lives. This becomes even more true when we focus on the struggles survivors of violent trauma from warfare are forced to face. When their stories can’t be told, it only causes them more difficulties when it comes to their mental and even physical health. Survivors of trauma need to be able to have an outlet to comfortably share their stories, in a way that is best fit for them. It is all of our jobs to listen to them and to provide them with the proper resources for them to do this.

Dr. James Pennebaker, a psychology professor and researcher, once created an experiment to test if writing about traumatic experiences and feelings reduced the amount of times the patients seeked extra help. In an article written by Eric Jaffe, he says it included  “...a concentration camp survivor who had seen babies tossed from a second-floor orphanage window” and “...a Vietnam veteran who once shot a female fighter in the leg, had sex with her, then cut her throat.” Additionally, he says that “In one study of 50 students, those who revealed both a secret and their feelings visited the health center significantly fewer times in the ensuing six months than other students who had written about a generic topic, or those who had only revealed the secret and not the emotions surrounding it.” Even just being able to write down the experience and the emotions and feelings surrounding them were helpful to these people. It caused them to feel more at peace with themselves, and feel less of a need to reach out for help from the health center. That just goes to show how vital it is for their to be outlets for survivors of trauma to reveal their stories.

Sharing stories or experiences doesn’t always have to mean it is between two people. Powerful moments can happen between a person and the God that they look up to. For example, there is a somewhat popular image on the internet that shows a Russian soldier from World War II about to go into battle. He is looking downward, staring into space. He holds a cross between his fingers, and holds that same hand up to his mouth. The man is praying, it seems. In this moment he is speaking to his God. The man behind him is passionately yelling something, but that is not what he is focussed on. This is a moment of intimacy, the last quiet moment before this man enters a battle that may cost him his own life. However, he does not seem angry, or have a hard look on his face. It actually appears as though the corner of his mouth is turned up into a bit of a smile, and the corner of his eye seems soft. He is finding peace and solace within his God. The soldier holding the cross may very well be scared deep down inside, but he is accepting the circumstances and preparing himself as he must. For some people, it is merely a God whom they must open themselves up to.

Sometimes, depending on availability, veterans will get involved in programs that will allow them to share their own war stories to groups of people. Mike Felker, a veteran of the Vietnam War, is one of those people. In one of his presentations, he mentioned someone from the war who was called Big Man, and attached a short story he wrote about his experience with him. In it, he says, “I tried to pray and beg him back to life. By this time another patrol had come to the side of the cliff. Chuck, a hospital corpsman from the Third Platoon saw my hysteria, that my frantic efforts were futile. He shook me hard and slapped me when I started crying that Big Man was alive. I stopped, comprehending finally he was dead… I watched, as I will always watch, until he disappeared.” It is saddening to realize how emotionally and mentally scarring this must still be for him to recall. However, it is clear that being involved in a program where he can tell this story, and share his writings about the story, is helpful to him.

It is quite the hardship to experience trauma on such a grand scale and to have so many stories to share with no means to share them. Without some sort of outlet for those experiencing or those who have experienced violent trauma to share their most powerful stories from their memories, they may face a whole host of other mental, and sometimes even physical illnesses. This is why it is important that we listen to these people, that we provide for them the programs and resources in which they can feel comfortable sharing their deepest, darkest, and most difficult secrets or experiences. Everyone should be able to take what is in their minds and release it to the world in some way, shape, or form that is comfortable and safe for themselves.

Works Cited

"Feature Story: Writing to Heal: Research Shows Writing about Emotional Experiences Can Have Tangible Health Benefits." Feature Story: Writing to Heal: Research Shows Writing about Emotional Experiences Can Have Tangible Health Benefits. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

"Mike Felker's Writing." Mike Felker's Writing. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

"The Science Behind Secrets." Association for Psychological Science RSS. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.