Some Thoughts On Trauma

I came across a discussion about trauma yesterday. About a year ago, I had a 6 yr old molar tooth pulled. The dentist even gave me 6 mos to get used to the idea. 6 mos after that yanking out of my tooth, in a follow-up with my dentist, I admitted that it traumatized me. I quickly added that I knew he was a sensitive and caring person and that there was nothing he could have done to prevent my feeling traumatized. I said, since I have been learning about adoption related trauma as I have learned more about both of my parents as adoptees, I think I was just more aware of it.

I knew nothing about Doris Brothers at the time nor did I know about ACE scores. What I learned about her is that Doris Brothers urges a return to a trauma-centered psychoanalysis. Making use of relational systems theory, she shows that experiences of uncertainty are continually transformed by the regulatory processes of everyday life such as feeling, knowing, forming categories, making decisions, using language, creating narratives, sensing time, remembering, forgetting, and fantasizing. Insofar as trauma destroys the certainties that organize psychological life, it plunges our relational systems into chaos and sets the stage for the emergence of rigid, life-constricting relational patterns. These trauma-generated patterns, which often involve denial of sameness and difference, the creation of complexity-reducing dualities, and the transformation of certainty into certitude, figure prominently in virtually all of the complaints for which patients seek analytic treatment.

Below this is what I read yesterday, that struck me as relevant, though the discussion was not about adoption.

“Yesterday I read an interesting article by Doris Brothers about traumatic attachment, dissociation, and the intergenerational transmission of trauma. Part of what she conveyed was the idea that in a traumatized system dissociation operates to reduce complexity, which serves a salutary function insofar as it functions to eliminate from consciousness that which interferes with the reestablishment of order and predictability in needed relationships.”

“Dissociation may be understood, in part, as a means of simplifying experience through a radical reduction of experiential complexity. . . . To experience such complexity might well heighten what is already a level of uncertainty about psychological survival that is close to unbearable. As complexity is dissociatively reduced, a traumatized person’s relational world comes to be ruled by simple, rigid SECs [systemically emergent certainties] [a concept similar to organizing principles] that are clung to with desperate ferocity.”

“In the absence of trauma, SECs are subject to change according to the shifting needs of the constituents of the systems in which they arise; they are, in other words, context sensitive. Trauma-generated SECs are strikingly different. Emerging within systems dominated by the desperate need to halt the spread of chaos and tormenting uncertainty, they tend to be impervious to the changing environment.”

Moreover, Brothers observes that “traumatic attachments tend to be rigid, constricted and highly resistant to change,” and that “the more trauma, the more risk of inflexibility.”

Brothers also observes that “attachment patterns that form in the context of unbearable experiences of existential uncertainty in one generation may influence the attachment patterns that emerge in the next,” and that “dualities and dichotomies” often characterize traumatized systems.

~ Doris Brothers Ph.D. (2014) Traumatic Attachments: Intergenerational Trauma, Dissociation, and the Analytic Relationship, International Journal of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, 9:1, 3-15.

From the person raising the discussion – “All of which got me to thinking about those who promote dichotomous ideologies and Manichean worldviews. Ordinarily, I pull no punches when thinking or talking about these people (especially when they are jockeying for political positions that could affect my life and the lives of people I care about). But if I withdraw for a moment from the impulse to ridicule, I reflect that these may be people whose lives, whose organizing principles, are the product of trauma, maybe even trauma that didn’t happen to them directly, but to their parents. Seen in this light, the impoverished either/or thinking, the insufferably reductive and punitive moralities take on a different hue, that of involuntary affliction, sequelae of a prior generation’s trauma, and those saddled with such worldviews suddenly appear more understandable and less blameworthy.”

Manichaeism was a major religion founded in the 3rd century AD by the Parthian prophet Mani, in the Sasanian Empire. Manichaeism taught an elaborate dualistic cosmology describing the struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness. Clearly, humanity has not progressed very much in reality.

Many adoptees tell stories of a variety of degrees of abuse. An ACE score is a tally of different types of abuse, neglect, and other hallmarks of a rough childhood. According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, the rougher your childhood, the higher your score is likely to be and the higher your risk for later health problems.

A Huge Disappointment

The author of this book has completed Day 1 of a 2 Day conference on trauma. His book had previously been recommended in my all things adoption (which includes foster care) group. It is impossible to accurately convey how disappointed those who view the first day’s live event are with this man’s perspectives. I just signed up for free as there is still Day 2 to go this day and then, there are supposed to be recordings, if one misses the live event. Here is the link – The Body Keeps Score.

From the registration site –

Dr Bessel van der Kolk presents his signature presentation on treating the imprints of trauma on the body, mind, and soul.

He claims – “I’m presenting this training to serve as both a guide and an invitation—an invitation to dedicate ourselves to facing the reality of trauma, to explore how best to treat it, and to commit ourselves, as a society, to using every means we have to prevent it.”

Dr van der Kolk shows you how to apply proven methods and approaches like neurofeedback, EMDR, meditation, yoga, mindfulness, and sensory integration in your clinical practice — so you can experience the satisfaction of helping even your toughest client heal from deep-rooted trauma.

Some comments from my all things adoption group after watching Day 1 –

There were some horrific comments about foster children being dangerous and difficult and burning houses down. Not as specific cases. Foster children in general.

Of the 8 or so hours, I can probably boil the helpful info down to about 3 sentences and none of them are new.

Assumptions that all adopters are very nice and that any problems with adoption trauma must be due to the first mom drinking during pregnancy. I’m exaggerating. But not by much.

He also said that combat veterans with PTSD don’t benefit from Prozac because they’re too invested in blaming PTSD for all their problems. He also claimed that Prozac always works for everyone who isn’t a combat veteran.

Therapists are victims and powerless, that DSM is “a piece of sh*t”.

He also thinks everyone should take tango lessons and that it would solve their trauma better than therapy.

I hope people only ever access his works thru pirating and only to laugh at him and that his empire crumbles under his feet.

Let me guess he said adoption trauma isn’t real lol Most people think that children when adopted are clean slates, and our minds and bodies can just start over but that’s not even true, even for babies.

He spent AGES showing a video and talking about how traumatic it was for a non adopted child to be away from his mom for a day or two while younger sibling was being born. But oh gosh if it’s adoption, then adopters are very nice people and are absolute saints for putting up with difficult adopted children.

A lot of people are just uneducated and adoption trauma doesn’t exist to a lot of the world.

He also made a comment that assumed all foster children are correctly and justly taken from their families because they’ve all been abused by their first families.

A questioner asked should I skip reading the book ? The answer was – the book itself is great. Just not the adoption aspect, but overall.. worth a read!

His bigotry made me unwilling to financially support his business.

As an adoptee my response to him is: how f***ing dare you assume all adoptees are difficult and dangerous and all adopters are saintly and amazing for putting up with us ? How dare you, you overprivileged white man, one who feels entitled to say that colonizing wasn’t that bad and China is a miserable place to be ?

He is drunk on his own power and has no capacity for critically thinking through his bigoted views.

I have read the book. The book is not all about adoption, in fact, if I was describing the book I wouldn’t even discuss that part. It is about the bodies physiological, neurological and biological response is trauma. It is a very important way of understanding regarding why people respond they way they do. It’s been a while since I read it but I’m sure there are some generalized and probably offensive statements for adoptees but overall it’s extremely helpful in understanding how trauma effects all the multiple systems of the body.

I was told flat out by a Guardian ad Litem that my children needing glasses was due to my drug use during pregnancy. Never mind the fact that I’ve never had a drug problem, never failed a drug test and was drug tested during, before and after my pregnancy… Couldn’t be that every member of mine and my husband’s family needs glasses and sometimes children just have vision problems. It must be drug use (meant sarcastically).

Keep in mind that over 50% of psychological research cannot be replicated. (Over 50% actually according to a top scientific journal – Nature magazine.) While therapists can be beneficial, there are a lot of quacks who present as authorities in the field. Some of the most well-known people in the field can be the most problematic such that their work cannot be replicated, but they ride the coat tails of their notoriety and most people don’t know how to keep them accountable.

Just a note, that 50% number is not quite accurate and most of the psychology quacks aren’t the ones actually doing research. There have been a lot of critiques of that article since, including the kinds of studies they chose to try to replicate and the conditions under which they claimed replication failed. I’m not saying it isn’t a problem, but that article almost certainly overstated it.

I’m a PhD in psychology. We have a giant problem with public communication of our science.

Someone suggested the book – The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity by Nadine Burke Harris MD. From a review at NIH website – Hans Selye, a Hungarian-born physician, developed the concept of the General Adaptation Syndrome as the first neurohormonal model of physiologic stress implicating pituitary and adrenal function in the etiology of many chronic diseases, and the associated sickly appearance of those suffering. claimed the physiologic life is fundamentally a process of adaptation to the totality of one’s experience, with real health and happiness being the successful adjustment or adaptation to those ever-changing conditions. Failure to adapt to the stress burden resulted in disease and unhappiness. In 1985, Vincent Felitti, MD, Chief of Preventive Medicine at Southern California Permanente Medical Group, San Diego, added mightily to Selye’s work with his findings of the profound, destructive, multi-organ system consequences of adverse childhood experiences. Nadine Burke Harris, MD, discovered Felitti’s pioneering work later, yet immediately understood the potential power of its lessons if implemented in her pediatric practice. She describes well her newfound understanding of the pathogenesis of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and the excitement of potential, effective therapeutic interventions. The Deepest Well is the story of how Burke Harris transformed herself into a champion persuader of truths difficult for others to hear, and a better clinician.

Bessel van der Kolk was booted by The Trauma Center (which he helped establish) because of his issues. The Boston Globe from March 7 2018 – Allegations of employee mistreatment roil renowned Brookline trauma center.

This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest (I’ve met Bessel before and my old boss worked under him at the Boston Trauma Center when he was in charge… he went down with Me Too NOT because he’s a sexual predator, but because he’s such an a**hole that he got more or less ousted from the PTSD community). It’s really a shame because his work is SO important and good and foundational in the complex PTSD world but he’s such a horrible person it overshadows it a lot of the time. I didn’t realize his what views were re: adoption etc, but I did know his insane levels of narcissism and his general tendency to bully.

Another one says, I met him at an International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies conference as well, in 2012 or 2013, I remember him being rude, though I had no idea he had any specific views about adoption in particular.

I’m so very disappointed to hear this. I read his book and it was so very eye opening for me. His work seems so foundational to the study of the affect of trauma on people. It is so very disappointing and even more frustrating.