The Body Keeps the Score – trauma explained

This is perhaps not the most logical book to review on a gifts blog. However, I found it tremendously helpful in understanding my own childhood trauma and how that has impacted my life. Trauma usually comes in the shape of abuse, neglect or violence. In my case the neglect was institutional, rather than built into our family: I was in hospital for three weeks as a baby, in a time when that meant very little contact between the baby and the parents. The official theory was that baby’s don’t feel and of course they do. And I needed what every newborn baby needs: to be held, to be comforted when I cried etc. However, if hospitalization had been it, I would probably still have grown up almost normally, but my parents lost a baby when I was 5, and that shook them (and therefore our family) up to such an extent that I started locking myself up. Combine this with their normal neuroses and you get trouble. 

This is a common story: one trauma is usually not so much an issue. It’s when trauma builds on trauma that people can no longer handle it without help. 

This isn’t the place to go into my personal story. However, it does explain how I read this book: as a map to my own issues and what I can do about it. 

The main insight into trauma, that has come to fruition in the last few decades, is that trauma gets stored in the body. The way we move. The way we tense up. The movements and body parts we avoid – it’s all linked to our intimate psychology. This also means that talking may not be the best way to heal trauma – at least, not at the start. Bessel van der Kolk does explain that learning to talk about our trouble is part of the process of healing. However, he goes on to show with case studies that it doesn’t always require a confessor-psychologist. Sometimes it’s enough to be able to tell your story to yourself. 

In The Body Keeps the Score, van der Kolk takes us on the journey he himself took as a trauma specialist. From talking therapy to EMDR, to Psychomotor Therapy, Neuro feedback, mindfulness and yoga. Of those I have experience with psychomotor therapy, mindfulness and yoga. I am trying out neuro feedback through an app since reading this book. 

The problem of trauma is that it hijacks the psychological alarm system. Trauma victims feel alarm when it’s not necessary to. And when the body is in alarm mode, rational thought and calming the emotions are near to impossible. The result: unpredictable violence, withdrawn behavior and serious problems managing stress. Sleepless nights can lead to depression and all that combined will have a backlash on the immune system, which leads to illness.

In an effort to calm themselves many trauma victims use medications. Whether it’s self medication (alcohol, drugs, smoking) or the medications prescribed by the psychological establishment. And these medications will numb the emotions, making life bearable, but they won’t help deal with underlying issues. And many of these drugs have serious side effects. 

The solution is not ready made. Each case is different. But whether healing happens through theater, yoga or therapy – or some combination of these – it always involves facing up to what the body has to say and healing it, by integrating it. 

What more can I say. You should just read the book. Really. 

It includes extensive supplements for further reading, both online and in books. 

More books about psychology

Posted on Categories Books, Smart People