The Power of an Authority to Inflict TraumaNovember 28, 2012| Last Updated on Friday, 17 May, 2013 16:50Trauma as Defined by Merriam-Webster:a : an injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agentb : a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physicalinjuryc : an emotional upset <the personal trauma of an executive who is not living up to his ownexpectations — Karen W. Arenson>2 : an agent, force, or mechanism that causes traumaLiving With TraumaWe all have trauma in our lives, some more than others. Trauma can be many things to many differentpeople. Verbal Abuse, Seeing a car accident, a loved one taking their own life, all of these things aretypes of trauma. It can be something as simple as a loved one or authority figure shouting at you orsaying something nasty or it could take the form of sexual abuse. Just like to people looking at an inkblot can see two different things, what could be traumatic to one person, may not be to another. That ispart of what can make trauma difficult to identify. Some forms are easy to recognize, while others maynot seem like an issue at the time, can grow and fester in the subconscious.Sometimes a person may not remember the traumatic experience because they have either pushed thememories so far down inside, or it again, just may not have seemed like it was a big deal at the time.But even seemingly small incidents can have major repercussions later on in life. For example, aprinciple tells a problem student that “They will never amount to anything” or “They will always benothing”. While at the time they may not realize it, things said by authority figures can have a lastingimpact, for positive or negative.Traumatic ExperiencesIncidents involving authority figures can be particularly traumatic. These figures, whether they reallyhave authority or not, have the ability to affect us far more than we may realize. A famous experimentconducted by Stanley Milgram is a great example of the way the words of an Authority Figure canaffect people. In 1961 Stanley began what is now known as the “Milgram Experiments”. They wereinspired by the defense used by War Criminal Adolf Eichmann during his trial. His defense was that hewas just following orders.Influential Authority FiguresThe study was done to measure the effect of an Authority Figure’s instructions on a person. The personwas given the role of “Teacher” and their job was to use a shock generator to deliver electric shocks toa person designated as the “Learner” when the “Learner” answered a question incorrectly. The twowere separated by a wall and neither could see the other, the “Teacher” on one side with an Instructorand the “Learner” on the other. The shocks were delivered by flipping one of many different levers,each labeled with things like “Slight Shock” or “Moderate Shock” continuing up to “Danger: Severe
Shock”.The final two were labeled “XXX”. Unbeknownst to the “Teacher”, the “Learner” was just a person onthe other side of the wall acting like they were being shocked. The levers didn’t actually deliver shocksto the “Learner” but the “Teacher” didn’t know that. After a certain point the “Learner” would begin tobang on the wall and demand to be released or begin complaining about having a heart condition.After this, the “Learner” would remain silent and not answer any questions. The Instructor would thentell the “Teacher” to treat the silence as an incorrect answer and deliver the appropriate shock. At thispoint most of the “Teachers” would begin to question the Instructor. The Instructor would then respondwith one of several scripted responses.Of the 40 “Teachers”, 26 delivered the maximum shock level. 14 “Teachers” stopped before deliveringthe maximum. While many of the “Teachers” showed various signs of distress at what they weredoing, they continued to deliver the shocks as instructed all the way to the end.Influencing OthersIf an authority figure can influence someone to the point where they are willing to harm another personagainst their own will, just imagine what kind of an effect this person can have with negativestatements and actions. All too often we find ourselves angry and speaking without thinking aboutwhat we are really saying. A few words said in anger can alter the course of a person’s life. By thissame thought though, a few kind words or words of encouragement can have a similar effect.Unfortunately most people tend to remember the negative over the positive, so the effect of positivestatements tends to fade faster than the effect of negative statements. Next time you find yourself in ashouting match or wanting to verbally lash out at someone, remember the power your words can haveand think about what your are saying.Find Treatment For Substance Abuse And Childhood Trauma before it consumes your life and the lifeof the ones you hold closest to you!