Every few pages reading Dr. Bessel A. van der Kolk’s article “Beyond the Talking Cure,” tears come. He deeply understands this about trauma–our emotions, our bodies, and our senses are what record trauma, not our verbal, left brain, Broca’s area selves. I’ve chosen some quotes from the first half of the article to whet your appetite. Do click on the link if this material speaks to you and you want to learn more. While his article is heavily documented, it is reader-friendly and will help deepen your understanding of post-traumatic stress (PTS) and the ways one can integrate trauma so as to soothe, soften, and ultimately transform the symptoms. Here are some quotes from the first half of the piece that really speak to me and capture, in my mind, the essence of his message.
” . . . after having been traumatized, particular emotions, images, sensations, and muscular reactions related to the trauma may become deeply imprinted on people’s minds and . . . these traumatic imprints seem to be re-experienced without appreciable transformation months, years or even decades after the actual event occurred . . . It is precisely this failure to transform and integrate the sensory imprints associated with the trauma that causes people with PTSD to behave as if they were living in the past” (1).
“The process that prevents memories from becoming ‘processed,’ i.e. integrated within the large conglomeration of one’s autobiographical memory stores, is dissociation–failure to integrate all elements of the experience into a coherent whole” (2).
“The traumatic memories that need to be associated are not the verbal account of the past, but the fragmented sensory or emotional elements of the traumatic experience that are triggered when the person with PTSD is confronted with a sufficient number of sensory or emotional elements that are associated with the trauma . . . Treating PTSD consists, in large part, of helping patients overcome the traumatic imprints that dominate their lives: sensations, emotions and actions that are irrelevant to the demands of the present, but that are triggered by current impressions that keep re-activating old, trauma-based states of mind” (2).
“Today we would argue that subcortical areas of the brain, the primitive parts that are not under conscious control and have no linguistic representation, have a different way of remembering than the higher levels of the brain, located in the prefrontal cortex” (4).
” . . . the basic assumption that finding words to express the facts and feelings associated with traumatic experience can reliably lead to resolution remains to be proven. It might be equally, or more, valid to postulate that performing the actions that would have overcome one’s sense of helplessness at the time that the experience occurred, and giving expression to the sensations associated with the memory of trauma will effectively help people overcome their traumas” (5).
The next post will include quotes from the rest of the article that discuss “how to process trauma so that it is quenched, rather than re-kindled” (9). I can’t wait to share this information with you. It is indeed groundbreaking and may hold the key that will help us find our way to a peaceful and kind relationship with oneself, for many people need relief from PTSD, from survivors of infant surgery to survivors of domestic abuse, child abuse, car accidents, war, rape, child abuse, urban violence, other medical trauma, and other traumas. Hope is good medicine and that’s what van der Kolk’s article offers in large measure.