Article written by Ruth Jaden
When so much trauma is hidden out of sight, words are often the only things that survive as evidence.
Speaking about one’s own experiences and emotions helps in processing and healing by validating one’s trauma. But it can be difficult to articulate your feelings when you don’t know who to talk to, or how to begin understanding what you’re going through. A previous post on our blog entitled ‘Speaking Up’ illustrates the challenges that can come even after opening up about abuse.
Books help survivors where their immediate surroundings fall short. They help process grief and assist in articulating it more precisely, especially when coming from authors who are survivors themselves. So seeing similar experiences and emotions reflected in books can help survivors feel understood.
Here are some books that can help with your healing process.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou’s first memoir chronicles her encounters with abuse and racism as a young girl. After the death of her abuser, young Maya develops selective mutism, literally becoming silenced by her fear. But by the time she published ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, Angelou was already a prolific writer whose booming voice would go on to empower black self-expression. Her prose—graceful and heartfelt—reflects an author overcoming oppression and exercising control over her narrative.
‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ does not beautify trauma and instead depicts the burden of its aftermath. In it, Angelou’s masterful writing reminds the reader that there can be triumph after silence.
Writing into the Wound: Understanding Trauma, Truth, and Language by Roxane Gay
Trauma is never isolated and is often compounded with broader issues that make it more difficult to heal. Timely and relevant, Roxane Gay’s ‘Writing Into the Wound’ is a short but sweeping discussion of her own experience with abuse in conjunction with collective issues like the pandemic, the climate crisis, racial and economic inequality, and political upheaval.
In this essay, Gay confronts the reluctance to write about one’s own trauma, stating that only by opening up a wound and “cleaning it out, one word at a time” can we possibly heal from it. Even as she illuminates the realities of speaking up, Gay demonstrates the uniqueness of each individual’s capacity to articulate their own experiences.
Healing from Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life by Jasmin Lee Cori
‘Healing from Trauma’ is a straightforward and comprehensive guide, offering a wide range of actionable approaches to understanding and processing trauma. Jasmin Lee Cori is a psychotherapist who, being a survivor herself, employs her expertise with a great deal of compassion and understanding.
This book emphasizes healing at your own pace and finding the methods that are most suitable for you. It also highlights self-affirmation by recognizing your growth and progress as you heal.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado’s works challenge convention to reflect underrepresented realities. Her memoir, ‘In the Dream House’, underscores this fully. In recounting her struggles in an abusive same-sex relationship, Machado reflects on her own experiences by weaving together literary tropes, cultural critiques, and historical explorations.
In the Dream House is a haunting depiction of the many things that can compound an individual’s trauma. It illustrates the power of giving voice to your own story and shows how words can give power to those whose suffering has no tangible trace.