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The psychological battle over trauma There is a contradiction at the heart of our mental health

Are humans inherently fragile? Mark Makela/Getty Images

Are humans inherently fragile? Mark Makela/Getty Images


October 3, 2023   7 mins

We live in traumatised times. Over the past few years, our social media channels, reality TV shows, and even playgrounds have become saturated with therapy speak. Instead of feeling uncomfortable, people now feel “triggered”; listening to a friend is now “holding space”; ex-partners are labelled as “gaslighting narcissists” on TikTok. And we are all encouraged to examine our “trauma” — even if we’re not actually sure what that might be.

This marks a strange moment in our cultural relationship with mental health. After decades of stigma, we are finally sharing our vulnerabilities. Yet we may be talking ourselves into a new problem. Trauma has become something of a cultural fixation — one of the most overused concepts in our daily lives.

But what exactly is trauma? And why has it come to dominate the therapeutic and cultural discourse? In an attempt to get to the bottom of this new psychology, I’ve been speaking to the world’s leading trauma experts. And I have discovered something unexpected: a powerful contradiction at the heart of psychology that explains why trauma has become one of the most divisive political issues in America.

The problem is that no one can agree on a definition of trauma, let alone how it should be treated. Progressives and conservatives don’t see eye to eye: either you are a Lefty snowflake with self-diagnosed trauma, or else you are getting on with life’s difficulties without complaining about it.

Psychologists are split down similar lines. When clinicians talk about trauma, they tend to distinguish between two distinct but related kinds of human experience. The first is the type researched by Dr George Bonanno, a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, who has been investigating grief and PTSD for more than two decades. He explains that in the DSM, the key diagnostic manual used by psychiatrists in the US, trauma has a very specific definition: “It’s a violent or life-threatening event that is outside the range of normal experience.” This might include a car crash, sexual assault or a period spent in combat. However, Bonanno says, “even the term [‘traumatic experience’] is a misnomer, because even those events don’t always cause trauma reactions… I use the phrase in my research ‘potentially traumatic events’, as no event is inherently traumatic”.

In his book, The End of Trauma, Bonanno points out that most people who endure extreme events — or trauma — tend not to suffer from PTSD. But those who do tend to experience a range of symptoms, such as flashbacks and panic attacks, which usually decline over time. So rather than being slaves to our trauma, Bonanno argues that humans are defined more by our inherent resilience than by our fragility.

Others disagree. Many clinicians would argue there is another kind of trauma that isn’t yet included in the DSM, but which is increasingly seen as a fundamental cause of mental illness. It it caused by experiences that aren’t explicitly violent but which affect us deeply, such as an emotionally abusive relationship in adulthood, or severe emotional neglect in childhood.

The psychotherapist Alex Howard, author of It’s Not Your Fault, distinguishes between overt trauma, as described by Bonanno, and covert trauma, this less tangible, nevertheless traumatic experience. Most of the clinicians I’ve interviewed agree that while we’re relatively good at treating overt trauma when it manifests as PTSD, covert trauma and the resulting “complex PTSD” is harder to deal with as it’s transdiagnostic, encompassing various disorders, and so affects almost every aspect of someone’s life. But this covert trauma, for an increasing number of clinicians, explains why we are the way we are. And through this interpretation, we are moving our conception of mental health away from “what’s wrong with you” and toward “what happened to you?”

It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of this shift in our politics and culture. The degree to which our actions today are shaped by previous traumatic experiences has fundamental implications for criminal justice, social welfare, and healthcare policy. It also marks a dividing line between conservatives, who tend to value self-reliance in the face of adversity, and progressives, who believe we are defined by systems and forces beyond our control. The new narrative around trauma gives weight to the latter, to the ire of conservatives.

However, this new way of thinking about the mind is compelling for the public. Look at the extraordinary success of psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps the Score, which spent more than 150 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Van der Kolk has argued powerfully for greater recognition of the effects of childhood trauma on adult mental health, and has lobbied for “Developmental Trauma Disorder” — a new construct that would take into account “covert trauma” — to be included in the DSM manual.

The most radical aspect of van der Kolk’s thesis is that past trauma is preserved within the body. While your mind might have dissociated from a traumatic experience, your body “keeps the score” and holds onto it. This means that, until we can fully process our original trauma, it continues to haunt us physically. The implication is that trauma is mysterious and hidden, but also vitally important to find. It dictates our lives and holds the key to our salvation. These are the perfect ingredients to drive a cultural obsession, with the end of suffering always just beyond our reach.

This concept of trauma is hugely popular in what some call the Trauma Industrial Complex: the inevitable industry that has sprung up to offer retreats, therapies, coaching programmes and courses to help people find and move through their trauma. When run by licensed therapists, some of these programmes can be helpful — but they also feed our “trauma-chasing” culture, keeping us chained to it.

Among clinicians, though, van der Kolk’s theories remain contentious. Bonanno is unequivocal in his critique. “There isn’t someplace we can hide memories away,” he tells me, “and there is no anatomical or neuroscience mechanism to explain how you have a trauma hidden in your body.” When I put this to van der Kolk, he listed a series of examples showing that humans could, in fact, repress traumatic memories. For instance, people in road accidents can experience anterograde amnesia, and there’s extensive literature on Holocaust survivors having no memory of their experiences, or of remembering them at a later date.

At first, I was confused that two world experts could disagree about something as fundamental as whether we can forget bad memories. But as it turned out, I’d inadvertently stumbled upon one of the deepest tensions in psychology. This abiding rift over memory stems in part from a controversy in the field that took place three decades ago.

In 1990, a university student called Holly Ramona started therapy for her depression and bulimia. Her therapist, Marche Isabella, told Holly and her mother that bulimia was usually caused by incest, and that 70% of her bulimia patients had been sexually abused as children. Through the course of therapy, Isabella worked with Holly until she seemed to uncover memories of being sexually abused by her father. Her father vehemently denied this, but would go on to lose his job, his marriage, and his family. He became the first person to successfully sue a therapist over implanted memories.

There were hundreds of similar cases involving “recovered memories” of childhood sexual abuse in the Eighties and Nineties, with therapists pushing their patients towards memories they didn’t have. It is a complicated moment in the history of psychology, because childhood sexual abuse is devastating and disturbingly common, and cases of false memories need to be carefully parsed out from real recollections. Some studies have also shown that traumatised people are more likely to have false memories, and Elizabeth Loftus, arguably the most influential researcher in this area, has shown convincingly how suggestible we can be to forming new memories. And even though there was no scientific support for the approach, a cohort of therapists were convinced that memories of abuse could only be unlocked through treatment. But many patients would later recant their “recovered memories”, and a host of lawsuits followed. For more medicalised psychologists, this episode was proof that psychoanalysis was vague, unscientific hokum.

This had lasting consequences for the field of psychology, leaving practitioners stuck between two reductionist positions: that either traumatic memories are entirely real, or that they are entirely manufactured. Neither position seems convincing when we consider the complexity of the mind and the prevalence of childhood abuse. But it partly explains why Bonanno and van der Kolk are at such odds.

It feels like clinicians such as van der Kolk are making the same mistakes as their Eighties predecessors as they encourage millions of people to “find their trauma”.  While there are benefits to destigmatising trauma, there are dangers too. Rachel Yehuda, Director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, cautions that “if you attribute everything that happens in the world that you don’t like or that you didn’t expect [to trauma]… that can take a concept that could have been very useful and change it quite drastically”.

Just look at the rise of “trigger warnings”. A 2020 study on trauma survivors found that these warnings may in fact worsen anxiety by increasing the “narrative centrality” of trauma among survivors. “Narrative centrality” refers to the degree to which someone identifies with their trauma, and how central it is in how they understand their own life. By increasing narrative centrality, you risk keeping people stuck in their trauma.

This points to the double-edged sword of increased cultural awareness of trauma. On one edge, it opens up more honest and vulnerable conversations about emotional suffering and mental health. On the other, it increases the narrative centrality of trauma throughout society.

As a result, therapists and psychologists are filling the role left by the clergy in providing guidance for how to live. As the Memory Wars show, psychoanalysis has the right DNA to fill that void. It is mystical, insofar as it deals with the unseen realms beyond our awareness. It is confessional. It is revelatory, revealing to us why we do what we do. In the absence of a metaphysical framework that can help us understand why we suffer, trauma is becoming a creed that can explain all.

And if the rise of therapy-speak is frustrating, it is also understandable. We need some way to make sense of suffering and redemption. It’s a problem, though, when we focus too much on our fragility and forget our resilience, a critique often levelled at progressives by conservatives. Likewise, if we ignore our vulnerability entirely, we create repressive societies — as liberals are fond of pointing out.

With its focus on emotional safety and the deterministic qualities of trauma, psychology often coincides neatly with social justice ideologies. Yet what works in the therapy room doesn’t necessarily work in the real world. Take the example of emotional validation: the idea of a therapist acknowledging and connecting with the emotional reality of a client. When this becomes a value in society, we can quickly fall into a moral relativism that gives undue value to people’s emotional reality.

But a healthy society should be sophisticated enough to know that humans are both fragile and resilient at different times and in different contexts. A healthy perspective requires us taking our “emotional reality” with a pinch of salt. Knowing when to focus on trauma and when to let it go requires a kind of wisdom that we won’t find on social media feeds and university safe spaces — but in the grit and contradiction of the human experience.


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Steve Murray
Steve Murray
7 months ago

This is a really good, well-researched and well-argued article with a sound conclusion. It brings into play most of the issues that currently divide people across the political and psychological spectrum (the two being intertwined) with the author giving due consideration to both sides, concluding that of course the reality of human psychology lies somewhere between the positions taken by those he cites.
What is of most interest to me is why we’ve become unable to hold balanced views, whether it’s in the fields of the psychology of trauma, sexual politics, ecological awareness, or straightforward political discourse. The complexity of human experience, of loss and of growth, has become a battleground over which people are encouraged to take sides, with the internet reflecting and amplifying the effect many times over in a way humans haven’t previously experienced and which we’re only just beginning to even conceive of how we might come to terms with. But come to terms with this new paradigm we must.
That’s why the kind of balance brought forward by the juxtaposition of seemingly entrenched positions in this article is valuable. It’s a welcome and necessary counterpoint – or to use the current parlance, pushback – against the flight to extremes and the necessity to take sides, aided and abetted by most of the media and “welfare” industries, with their specific self-serving interest in maintaining a state of imbalance.

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I would argue we have become unable to hold balanced views because, in the west, we have seen a societal creep towards a lack of shared values. As fewer and fewer attend church and fewer and fewer people even consider themselves to be Christian in a loose sense, we have created a vacuum. Furthermore, the attempt to erode a sense of pride in the home nation and focus on small group identities and how they are at odds with one another, divides people from one another. The internet, highways, air travel, these developments have changed the individual’s perception of place and rootedness.
Altogether, these shifts in understanding who we are and how we relate to one another has resulted in people identifying more closely with political parties – and as such, the banal of everyday life has become politicized. So, we can’t talk about mental or trauma or memory or even more trivial things such as what to eat for dinner, without the it being (potentially) politicized.

RM Parker
RM Parker
7 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

Yes, the whole concept of “the personal is political” was always some seriously corrosive $h1t. Actually evil, many would say – and I’d agree.

Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Iain McGilchrist has a powerful analysis of why contemporary humans are increasingly unable to see shades of grey.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
7 months ago

Very good essay; presents both sides of the issue in an even handed manner. IMO life has become very comfortable for most people in the west, and we have become disconnected from the hardships and suffering of previous generations. As a result, we become triggered by things that could be considered relatively mundane to previous generations.

I know this saying has been done to death, but I really think it applies to this period in time:

Hard times create strong men;
Strong men create good times;
Good times create weak men;
Weak men create hard times.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
7 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I don’t think that we fully understand the human brain. It is has great strengths and yet also great weaknesses in that it’s is so susceptible to suggestion. We hope that the more we learn, the more prepared we become and yet in actuality, we are producing more mental health hypochondriacs than ever before. Being a victim of trauma is fashionable amongst those who have never really experienced trauma and resilience is becoming a thing of the past.

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
7 months ago

Creating such a low bar for what constitutes “trauma”, and then making it central to one’s identity has become the path of least resistance for way too many individuals and groups in our society; unsurprising given the easing of expectations and attention afforded those nursing said “trauma”. It’s become a form of emotional and cultural infantilisation.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
7 months ago

I think this is a good article and very balanced, as others have commented.

Many complain these days of being “too busy” and “having no time”. In general, Western people actually have more time on their hands than they used to. And yet it feels like less. I wonder if this is the result of too much communication. We have normalised over communication, largely peripheral and unnecessary. enabled by the internet.

Its volume and intensity fills people’s consciousness and saps their time to think. Time to think things through is essential for the very essence of humanity. It allows us, for instance, to consider the relative merits and drawbacks of both resilience and fragility…

Very wealthy people seem to acquire a surplus of expensive things but rarely seem content -indeed they are often quite unhappy and badly adjusted. Time is more valuable than money, and if people have so much of it that they are allowing it to be wasted on ephemeral trivia, then perhaps the same paradox applies.

If so, we need to learn to handle today’s technology and to retain our inner balance, because our interconnectedness and the consequent demands on our attention are only likely to increase.

Last edited 7 months ago by Albireo Double
Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
7 months ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

The ‘worried well.’

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
7 months ago

Cancel culture is based on trauma expansion. It is considered justifiable to impose the trauma of career destruction over a difference of opinion on whether a man should be regarded as a woman if he says he is because not to do so would retraumatise such men by denying the nature of their reality. Just as Elisabeth Loftus exposed as an expert witness in litigation the unreal nature of the traumas implanted by repressed memory therapists we need someone to expose the unreal nature of the theoretical harm to trans people exposed to denial of the reality of their claim compared to the real trauma imposed on cancelled individuals through litigation. The repressed memory movement began to shrink and wither when it was exposed to litigation.

Last edited 7 months ago by Jeremy Bray
Gordon Black
Gordon Black
7 months ago

Universities are churning out psychology graduates and they all have to make a living somehow: “Trauma Industrial Complex” certainly describes the big picture.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
7 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Black

Yet, ironically, we don’t have enough qualified people to help truly traumatised individuals. Looked after children (actual victims of childhood abuse and neglect) do not get the help and support they need from mental health professionals. CAMHS hasn’t got the expertise required to help these young people and are generally overwhelmed with regular young people who are struggling with basic levels to teen anxiety that has been overblown by internet manipulation into crippling anxiety and depression.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
7 months ago

The author’s a bit magpie-ish in his collecting of evidence but broadly speaking, he’s right. There is a necessary tension in psychology between validating trauma and challenging people to move out of where they’re stuck, but this isn’t a new discovery, we’ve known about this all along. Whether we like it or not we can’t harmonise all this stuff into a neat grand theory, but then who cares, practical clinicians aren’t philosophers after all. Validation and challenge, wisely and humanely doled out at the right time may not work in theory, but it does work in practice.
  My sense is that the ‘wellness industry’ is more pronounced in the States than it is in my own UK but it does tend to push the idea that normal reaction to adversity is automatically a mental health issue. That’s setting the bar too low, to the detriment of serious mental health diagnoses, and the logic of DSM hasn’t helped in this regard. We shouldn’t come too decisively down on one side or the other, we don’t want to wander into trauma chasing, neither do we want to return to labelling sufferers and simplistically telling them to toughen up.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
7 months ago
Reply to  Doug Mccaully

I agree. DSM has had a significant part to play in medicalising human reactions in a one-dimensional way. DSMV actually classified stoicism as a disorder. That can be perfectly true sometimes. It can also, equally, be a resilient reaction that helps people to deal with whatever provoked it.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
7 months ago
Reply to  Coralie Palmer

A few years ago DSM declared that uncomplicated bereavement was a disorder, that caused a riot. If we become prisoners of a logic that pathologizes more and more things, how big a living space will we be left for us to do our thing without someone telling us we’re a bit nuts? Eccentrics, be very afraid, DSM might be coming for you!

Last edited 7 months ago by Doug Mccaully
Dominic A
Dominic A
7 months ago

Sometimes it’s useful to go back to etymology/linguistics. Trauma is from Ancient Greek, and means wound, or piercing (of the skin). A mere bruise or abrasion is minor trauma, a hammer to the head, major trauma. It can be caused by accident, on purpose, by external things, other people, or by oneself. So it is with psychological wounds – they range from minor social humiliation to the terrors of war, extreme violence, or tsunamis. Amongst themselves, medics may refer to ‘minor trauma’, but with the general public they’d call it bruises and scrapes. Similarly, psychologists refer to trauma, and generally have a clear, nuanced sense of this; the public however hears the word and freaks out. Actually, trauma ≠ PTSD. Most trauma, after the original event, is self-generated – in a misguided attempt to mange threat, the mind reterrorises itself, through panic, fear, humilition, disgust. The psychic equivalent of scratching an itch so that it never heals. Whilst dogs have a ‘cone of shame’ to stop them doing this, we need an equivalent to prevent us from keepiing wounds open, livid.

Jaden Johnson
Jaden Johnson
7 months ago

There’s a pretty good long read about Van der Kolk here: Bessel Van der Kolk on Trauma, America’s Favorite Diagnosis (nymag.com)
I found this quote to be particularly scary:  “It was hard to think of a problem to which trauma therapy wouldn’t be the answer.”
Behold the Trauma Industrial Complex!

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
7 months ago
Reply to  Jaden Johnson

“It was hard to think of a problem to which trauma therapy wouldn’t be the answer.”
How about the problem of the over-diagnosis of trauma?

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
7 months ago

This kind of essay is increasingly common today. An author sets himself as the rational man wondering why everyone else can’t just be like him. If they did then we would be just fine. We would become a healthy society. I am becoming increasingly frustrated by this kind of thinking.
People don’t behave rationally, they behave emotionally. People don’t act altruistically they act in their self-interest. We will never be sophisticated enough. When will our intellectual class realize we don’t need another essay on how we ought to be, but serious practical solutions to problems based on how we really are. The designers of the American system of government tried to create a system where man could be free but have his worst instincts reigned in. They failed. It turns out in a free society it is hard to reign in greed and stupidity for very long. No one has come up with anything better though since Madison et.al., and I am tired of people thinking things can get better if we just wait for the human race to come to their senses.
Only fools keep expecting things that don’t and won’t happen. 

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
7 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

Wait… isn’t your comment subject to the very critique made in your comment?

Last edited 7 months ago by Kirk Susong
Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
7 months ago

The trauma industrial complex, indeed; many therapists will be disinclined to question a basis of their business. Not to be cynical nor belittle actual trauma; rather, to agree with Bonanno.
Ceaseless naval-gazing over our own victimization and wounding becomes tiresome. Life is hard; so stipulated. But most First Worlders don’t experience trauma in the narrow, conventional sense, and many who do (Viktor Frankl comes to mind) find constructive ways to cope. If modern man’s forebears had spent so much distracted time bemoaning lesser life difficulties, predators would have dispatched them. An appropriate result.

Last edited 7 months ago by Colorado UnHerd
michael harris
michael harris
7 months ago

We have been here before (trauma locked in the body) with bio-energetics and even as far back as Reich.
The problem is that none of this is easily provable or falsifiable.
No, there seems to be no mechanism by which memories can be hidden in the body.
But…the hidden elephant,,,lots of the abuse handed out to infants happens before memory forms or words are available. Some even before birth.
Is all this ‘remembered’ in some way? Or has it no consequences in life and can it be dismissed as water under the bridge?

Glynis Roache
Glynis Roache
7 months ago
Reply to  michael harris

Indeed, there are now ‘rebirthing therapies’ to counteract the trauma experienced by babies at birth. As to where such memories are stored? How about in an information-carrying quantum energy field ? Before filing this as  ‘nonsense’, look at a theory, called “orchestrated objective reduction” (‘Orch OR’), first put forward in the mid-1990s by eminent mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose, FRS, University of Oxford, and prominent anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff, MD, Anesthesiology, Psychology and Center for Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona. A theory which is rapidly becoming, according to Stuart Hameroff, “the most rigorous, comprehensive and successfully-tested theory of consciousness ever put forth. From a practical standpoint, treating brain microtubule vibrations could benefit a host of mental, neurological, and cognitive conditions.” There is still opposition to it in certain quarters and my conception of it may well be grander than Penrose’s.
  As you say, we have been here before and according to many American health platforms, including those on which van der Kolk often speaks (and giving the nod to Eastern medicine) the body as a whole does have an energy field. Among clinicians, as the article says, van der Kolk’s theories remain contentious and Bonanno is unequivocal in his critique. ‘“There isn’t someplace we can hide memories away,” … “and there is no anatomical or neuroscience mechanism to explain how you have a trauma hidden in your body.”’ How about he considers extending the work of Penrose and Hameroff to the rest of the body?
   I believe that mind/body medicine and specifically psychiatry has a long way to go. We are of very complex construction. On the other hand, to put things at the level of my own crude brain function, I often snort when I hear : ‘I was traumatised when she said that,’ and declare that we are rapidly becoming nothing but a bunch of pussies.

michael harris
michael harris
7 months ago
Reply to  Glynis Roache

Many questions come to me while reading your fine informative post.
Memory. Which kind of memory? The kind you can bring to mind by exercise of will. Is that kind mostly a visual memory? Or connected with words as in recalling a speech or an argument.
Or the kind of memory (aural perhaps) where you hear the first few bars and remember the rest of the theme? Or have advertising jingles stuck in your ‘head’ from decades back? Or the first few words of a poem that brings back the rest (words here are remembered more as music).
Or, for instance, the smell of my grandmother’s house which I had forgotten for half a century until I came into an apartment which had exactly that odour?
Or a particular quality of light (often towards dusk) that I have known/lived in once before though when I cannot say?
What is trauma or, indeed, any other event in our lives? How is an event lost to our memory, where has it gone, by what magic is it found again, is what is found what was lost?
Offering a mad hypothesis…
What if the universe has been created and continues to be made by the combined consciousness of all living creatures?

Glynis Roache
Glynis Roache
7 months ago
Reply to  michael harris

   ‘Into my heart an air that kills. From yon far country blows: What are those blue remembered hills, What spires, what farms are those? ….That is the land of lost content …’ I think Housman understood the vagaries and quirks of memory which, as you say, can be provoked in so many ways and on so many levels. We don’t really understand the concept of the unconscious mind that is spoken of so glibly. Does it have neural correlates or is it a quantum field? Most information-processing such as driving a car is mere computation. And for this, firing neurones suffice. The hard problem is the existence of consciousness itself. The same wiring in our brain that lets us enjoy eating an apple also lets us imagine eating an apple when no apple is around. Science cannot explain how. (I forget who said that.)
    As to your final theory? I don’t think it’s mad at all. Australian physicist Peter Russell said that we are ‘consciousness looking at consciousness’. If I were to plump for a God, that would be my concept of him. I might favour that as an origin story but, with you, I am predisposed to the idea that we share a collective unconscious with all living things … Just us then? Shhhh….
PS If information theory about the indestructibility of information is correct, the repercussions of this sort of thinking on the concept of inherited trauma etc. (and how to treat it) are rather hard to cope with.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
7 months ago
Reply to  Glynis Roache

These are great discussions, thanks both. Going back to my earlier point about the internet, what role does that take in our collective consciousness? It’s a form of collective consciousness but disembodied, which may be in conflict with our hitherto “collective unconscious” (getting a bit Jungian without intending to) and therefore causing all sorts of havoc with our sense of self.

In fact, if its our hitherto “collection unconscious” becoming conscious to us, no wonder its causing problems on the mental level.

michael harris
michael harris
7 months ago
Reply to  Glynis Roache

Thank you for the Housman. Shivers in the skin.
A piece by Rameau ‘Le Rappel des Oiseaux’ transposed to piano by Debussy. Some versions online by pianistic speed freaks. But also a wonderful two minute recording by Emil Gilels with photographs of him in his youth (youtube young emil gilels le rappel des oiseax).
A few years ago I tried transposing i this piece into words while mistranslating the title…

The Reply Of The Birds

He shouts of love; meanwhile we see
beyond his shoulder, in the crook of the hill
a fire rises hungry and free

There is no grief, there is no harm
he cries, only joy.The smoke twists in the updraft and we plunge
to the source of the flame then bank out over bare slopes
of grey mountains that break to scree

The fading wind shall not becalm
us in the absence of being. We who can shriek and wail
and who see the earth with the eyes of the surveyor of time
cannot be still or wait for the arm

of a master who must decree
the directions of the soul’s tides and the strength of the storm
we will instead fly seaward to a far continent even if
there is neither chart nor certainty

Glynis Roache
Glynis Roache
7 months ago
Reply to  michael harris

The music was good but for me your last few lines said it better!

Pamela Booker
Pamela Booker
7 months ago
Reply to  michael harris

I can remember being 17 months old after a physical trauma and much after.

Dulle Griet
Dulle Griet
7 months ago
Reply to  michael harris

Excellent summary. There is no evidence that psychological trauma affects the body in the ways that pseudo-sciences like body memory and polyvagal theory would have us believe. The brain alone can store memories.
This doesn’t mean, however, that trauma doesn’t have a physiological impact. MRI scans have shown that the brain registers rejection in the same way as physical pain, and that trauma can influence the way the brain develops. The impact of trauma on the body is also seen in the heightened involuntary fight-or-flight responses, raised cortisol levels, inflammation and related auto-immune diseases of the traumatised.
These measurable, physical symptoms could show up as an indicator of trauma in a child who had been traumatised before birth, or in the pre-verbal stages of development.

:_
:_
7 months ago
Reply to  Dulle Griet

No, the brain cannot store memories and no human being has ever retrieved a memory from storage, because those are computer analogies and nothing in your brain works in any way like a computer. We do not remember, we reconstruct “as it must have been” and those reconstructions are often flat wrong and very vulnerable to suggestion. This is what the whole “recovered memory” malarkey is; a misunderstanding of what memory is.

https://aeon.co/essays/your-brain-does-not-process-information-and-it-is-not-a-computer

Dulle Griet
Dulle Griet
6 months ago
Reply to  :_

Interesting article, but I agree with the commenters who ratioed it.

Vesper Stamper
Vesper Stamper
7 months ago

Thank you for presenting the complexity without feeling the need to “solve” it. I really appreciate that.

Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
7 months ago

I believe that this is a consequence of women entering the public square starting, say, in 1900. Sociologist Georg Simmel said that women would change the public square to suit “a more feminine sensibility.”
What this means, I believe is that women are not programmed for the thrust and parry of the public square. They are programmed for the domestic culture of women where every woman is the undisputed chatelaine of her home.
It is traumatic for women to have to live in the public square, and that is what the whole “harm” and “trauma” culture is about.

Briony B
Briony B
7 months ago

There may be something in this, but traditionally perhaps the “domestic culture of women” has been more cooperative and hierarchical than that – there might well have been a female “undisputed chatelaine” in most households, but there were also maybe subordinate daughters-in-law in multigenerational households, “old maid” daughters, poor-relation cousins and so on, even junior wives in cultures with polygamy, who had to find a way to negotiate their role.
However, it’s probably true that the modern tendency to treat men and women as interchangeable has not happened without harm to both.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
7 months ago

That’s hilarious. And demonstrates yet again that if you want a truly fatuous interpretation of society, ask a sociologist.

Last edited 7 months ago by Coralie Palmer
Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
7 months ago

Trauma seems to have an unspoken association with dreams, to take the German word ‘Traume.’ I say this because the original psychoanalytical approach was to reveal repressed childhood experiences in dream symbolism – traditionally. of a ‘traumatic’ sexual nature.
From this starting point, we then appear to encounter ‘hysteria’ as an universal expression of feminine sexuality. What was arguably interesting is that the Americans subsequently created film noir and the femme fatale by transferring the trauma AND the hysteria to the male threatened by this powerful new female figure.
Trauma was then transferred to the battlefield, and most famously recorded in the trenches of the First World War. I think this is where it seeped back into the culture in the form of Surrealism when an uncanny violence met sexuality to produce a strange new symbolism. It’s no accident that David Lynch first and foremost makes necessarily violent films.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
7 months ago

Quiet strength and overcoming adversity was long considered a virtue. Even books with anti-heroes, like the Flashman series, offer examples of bravery, even if old Flash was an admitted self-serving cad.
Bleeding one’s slights, hurts, and “victimhood” all over the internet is fashionable, and, like all fashions, will become laughable “what were we thinking?” embarrassments. None too soon, for my taste.

Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
7 months ago

Excellent article. I particularly liked the clarity of this sentence: “It also marks a dividing line between conservatives, who tend to value self-reliance in the face of adversity, and progressives, who believe we are defined by systems and forces beyond our control.”

Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
7 months ago

There’s a lot of money at stake here: the business of making people permanently not quite well (physically and mentally), but without killing them (a bit like a successful virus, really), is very profitable. You get a guaranteed bunch of customers in the long run. Ideal business model. Social media makes people unwell in this way. Pharma is all about making aspects of the human condition (for example, feeling temporarily down) an illness to be helped by a pill. The fitness and health industries need their target markets to always be just a little unsatisfied. And now we have psychological medicine and therapies: make the patient more anxious, insecure and – crucially – dependent on the therapist. Kerching.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
7 months ago

How did Odette Sansom/Hallows GC cope after she had her back burnt with a poker, her toe nails ripped out and survive a concentration camp?
Why did psychologists not question those who survived torture in WW2? Is it because there is no money in curing the well ?

Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
7 months ago

It strikes me that a key way to think about the rise of psychological practices like those described in this article is to understand psychology not as an academic discipline but as form of religious engagement. Perhaps not all psychologists, but these at least are positing ultimate values, transcendent causes, solutions to the human condition, etc. They invoke the language of science just as Christ used the language of shepherding – it’s the cultural context of their audience.

:_
:_
7 months ago

It’s not a bad article but it’s all a bit “he says, she says, who knows who’s right?”
In truth, “recovered memory” is provable nonsense and this has been known for decades. It’s just that the concept is an easy vehicle for making cash, so it persists.

And again, I see discussion of human mental life and memory using computer analogies. It’s really not an improvement on the steam age (“I’m under pressure”, “blow off some steam”, “don’t bottle things up”).

Nothing in your brain works like a computer and no human being has ever accessed a stored memory from the brain or anywhere else. That’s not what remembering is. It is better described as “reconstruction”.

https://aeon.co/essays/your-brain-does-not-process-information-and-it-is-not-a-computer

Also, the “liberals believe this and conservatives believe that” is overdone.

Last edited 7 months ago by :_