Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s new book, The Body Keeps the Score, is filled with wisdom, compassion, brilliance, and profound understanding. PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) has never been made SO clear. PTSD has never been presented as passionately and humanely. Read one, two, or all of the quotes below that I’ve chosen to showcase this amazing work. Why is each quote so long? Because Van der Kolk’s ideas are so fresh and brilliant, I couldn’t stop once I started! I’ve only read half the book or there would have been more!
“We now know that trauma compromises the brain area that communicates the physical, embodied feeling of being alive. These changes explain why traumatized individuals become hypervigilant to threat at the expense of spontaneously engaging in their day-to-day lives. They also help us understand why traumatized people so often keep repeating the same problems and have such trouble learning from experience. We now know that their behaviors are not the result of moral failings or signs of lack of willpower or bad character–they are caused by actual changes in the brain” (3).
“After conducting numerous studies of medications for PTSD, I have come to realize that psychiatric medications have a serious downside, as they may deflect attention from dealing with the underlying issues. The brain-disease model takes control over people’s fate out of their own hands and puts doctors and insurance companies in charge of fixing their problems. Over the past three decades, psychiatric medications have become a mainstay in our culture, with dubious consequences. Consider the case of antidepressants. If they were indeed as effective as we have been led to believe, depression should by now have become a minor issue in our society. Instead, even as antidepressant use continues to increase, it has not made a dent in hospital admissions for depression. The number of people treated for depression has tripled over the past two decades, and one in ten Americans now take antidepressants” (37).
“People who suffer from flashbacks often organize their lives around trying to protect against them. They may compulsively go to the gym to pump iron (but finding they are never strong enough), numb themselves with drugs, or try to cultivate an illusory sense of control in highly dangerous situations (like motorcycle racing, bungee jumping, or working as an ambulance driver). Constantly fighting unseen dangers is exhausting and leaves them fatigued, depressed, and weary” (67).
“In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past. How can people open up to and explore their internal world of sensation and emotions? In my practice I begin the process by helping my patients to first notice and then describe the feelings in their bodies–not emotions such as anger or anxiety or fear but the physical sensations beneath the emotions: pressure, heat, muscular tension, tingling, caving in, feeling hollow, and so on. I also work on identifying the sensations associated with relaxation or pleasure. I help them become aware of their breath, their gestures and movements. . . . Noticing sensations for the first time can be quite distressing . . . All too often . . . drugs such as Abilify, Zyprexa, and Seroquel are prescribed instead of teaching people the skills to deal with such distressing physical reactions” (101).
“The most natural way for human beings to calm themselves when they are upset is by clinging to another person. This means that patients who have been physically or sexually violated face a dilemma: They desperately crave touch while simultaneously being terrified of body contact. The mind needs to be reeducated to feel physical sensations, and the body needs to be helped to tolerate and enjoy the comforts of touch” (101).
“Nobody can ‘treat’ a war, or abuse, rape, molestation, or any other horrendous event, for that matter; what has happened cannot be undone. But what can be dealt with are the imprints of the trauma on body, mind, and soul: the crushing sensations in your chest that you may label as anxiety or depression; the fear of losing control; always being on alert for danger or rejection; the self-loathing; the nightmares and flashbacks; the fog that keeps you from staying on task and from engaging fully in what you are doing; being unable to fully open your heart to another human being” (203).
As yet, Dr. van der Kolk has not mentioned PTSD due to infant surgery with or without anesthesia or invasive medical procedures on children and infants. This omission disappoints me as I’m a survivor of pyloric stenosis (stomach blockage) surgery without anesthesia as an infant and suffer from PTSD as a result. I haven’t though given up hope. Moreover, I feel seen despite. In any case, relish collecting your own quotes as you read Van der Kolk’s magnificent book The Body Keeps the Score.