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A personal dimension of human rights activism: Narratives of trauma, resilience and solidarity

Maria del Pilar Hernandez, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This study addresses the question of how a group of eight Colombian adults, who were persecuted and displaced by political violence, have made sense of their personal survival in the midst of the political turmoil that the country faces. It focuses on the life stories they use to describe their experiences and the explanations available in their social context to talk about their trauma and survival as they make sense of their proactive work with other victims. Eight activist survivors of displacement and political violence were interviewed about their experiences and explanations for their overcoming adversity, and their views on how available academic discourses on the Colombian conflict speak to them. The meaning of politically based trauma and resilience is analyzed within their life stories. A narrative analysis of the transcripts is used to describe the themes that speak about the participants' life experiences coping with the adversities of political violence in Colombia. Trauma and resilience stories are discussed to further an understanding of empowerment, human rights activism and community survival. I suggest that their ways of coping with adversity within the particular historical and socio-economic conditions of Colombia challenge several individualistic Western concepts about trauma: that traumatic responses are universal and therefore, victims of human rights violations presenting certain symptoms should be thought of as “disordered” according to mental health assessments; and that traumatic experiences should be defined as personal experiences; and that there is an essence to traumatic experiences that allow their detachment from the context in which they occur. The participants' ways of coping with adversity illustrate that resilience is both a community and a personal process. The collective dimension of resilience encompasses processes that counteract social trauma. These processes aim to rebuild and sustain social relationships to heal the wounds of trauma and a sense of belonging and personal identity. The personal dimension of resilience processes is embedded in the collective.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Academic guidance counseling

Recommended Citation

Hernandez, Maria del Pilar, "A personal dimension of human rights activism: Narratives of trauma, resilience and solidarity" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9978505.