Want to reduce mental illness? Address trauma. Want to save the world? Address trauma.

Photo: Painting of two women sacrificing a goat.

Different explanations have been given for the increased number of people suffering from mental illness. Some have claimed the increase is the result of ever-expanding diagnostic criteria and syndromes that risk medicalizing normal emotional reactions. Others argue the increase is the result of the pharmaceutical industry financially courting the medical establishment as well as using advertisements to attract potential users of their medications. While both these arguments seem correct, they nevertheless fail to address that an increasing number of people regularly experience despair and anguish and are struggling to make a meaningful life, if not keep themselves psychologically, socially, and financially afloat.

I would like to suggest an additional explanation for the increase in mental illness: The upsurge is the result of the collective failure to alleviate conditions that contribute to trauma-related stress. I also believe the mental health field has stood in the way of people overcoming mental illness and returning to growth-centered lives. In particular, models of mental illness as chronic, genetic-based disorders gives us the sense that we are reaching the origins of our suffering — that is to say, the genes we inherited — when in actuality, we risk denying the traumatizing conditions in which many of us grew up or continue to live. Although a diagnosis and medications may provide temporary relief, they may also cause Americans to evade making the challenging changes that are necessary for moving into an emotionally sustainable future.

Childhood abuse and other emotional damaging experiences are so prevalent today that trauma-focused psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk claimed the single most important health problem facing Americans is our exposure to what are increasingly referred to as “adverse childhood experiences,” which have been rigorously associated with chronic psychological and physical illnesses.

Adverse childhood experiences include recurrent physical abuse; recurrent emotional abuse; sexual abuse; an alcohol and/or drug abuser in the household; an incarcerated household member; living with someone who is chronically depressed, mentally ill, institutionalized, or suicidal; domestic violence; one or no parents in the household; and emotional and physical neglect. (I would also add to this already long list living in a violent community; the conditions of poverty; and the effects of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression.) Based on self-reports of over 17,000 adults in America, a study conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) concluded that more than two-thirds of the participants in the study had at least one adverse childhood experience when growing up; over two-fifths have a history of at least two of these experiences.

A study conducted at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, obtained results similar to the Kaiser/CDC study. Psychologist Patricia A. Frazier and colleagues administered the Traumatic Life Events questionnaire to 1528 college students. The results showed 85% had at least one trauma in their relatively short lives, and on average students reported a history of three traumas. The most common traumatic events included sudden bereavement (47%); life-threatening illness of a family member or friend (30%); witnessed family violence (23%); received unwanted sexual attention (21%); and involvement in an accident in which either self or someone else was hurt (19%).

If “normal” correlates with the greatest number of people, then coming from a normal household in America means growing up in conditions that contribute to poor emotional and physical health in adulthood.

The denial of trauma’s impact — or complete silence about its occurrence, such as the silence that often surrounds childhood abuse — has been the main approach to dealing with trauma’s aftereffects. There are benefits, of course, to denying trauma. For example, trauma-focused psychiatrists Alexader McFarlane and Bessel van der Kolk point out:

“Powerful social institutions such as insurance companies and the armed forces … benefit from downplaying the impact of trauma on people’s lives.”

Medicine’s reliance on clinical- and laboratory-based studies also allows its practitioners to ignore, or downplay, the role trauma plays in the development of mental disorders and diseases. McFarlane and van der Kolk remarked:

“Hitherto, science has generally categorized people’s problems as discrete psychological or biological disorders — diseases without context, largely independent of the personal histories of the patients, their temperaments, or their environments.”

The outcome is an anesthetic presentation of disease in which objectivity is prized over emotionally taxing “social work” and the more ambivalent outcomes that come with taking into account the actual lives of its subjects.

But the denial of trauma is more expensive than its benefits, and likely distorts the basic social fabric of our society. Again, quoting McFarlane and van der Kolk:

“How are the memories of brutualization and cruelty stored at a societal level? How does this affect people’s capacity for loyalty, personal and social commitments, beliefs in individual sacrifices for the common good, belief in justice, willingness to delegate decision making to elected representatives, and belief in the meaning of laws and rules?”

As I discussed in a previous post, America is a country born from trauma, and Modernity — especially its latest configuration as Neoliberal Capitalism — is a costly distraction from our deep, unhealed wounds. Modernity’s ethos of progress, and its continual need for expansion and growth, is not only a diversion from our emotional wounds, but also acts like an addiction, numbing the traumatic remembrances of our individual and collective pasts.

Medicine has gained prominence in our society as a method of denial likely because it successfully identifies in individuals’ bodies the effects of social ills for which we seem to have no solution — except going cold turkey off Modernity, which at this point we are ill prepared to do. Instead, we often look to mental healthcare to ‘fix’ individuals enough so they can function ‘responsibly’ (often defined in terms of holding a job and paying the bills) in a society that habitually denies its responsibility to its members.

When we fail to grapple with the conditions that lead to suffering, and thus fail to address the root causes of mental disorders, we are resigning ourselves not only to repetition of the problem, but also to a prevalent sense of “stuckness” that has us collectively doubting the possibility of meaningful social change.

We seem to have forgotten how to grow after trauma, both as a society and as individuals. I say “forgotten,” because traumatic experiences — those events that activate defense responses such as fight or flight and overwhelm us with fear — have gone on throughout human history, and most early forms of social organization seem in part to have developed in response to the need for a cohesive and supportive community to heal trauma-related stress and defend against threats.

It’s time to rethink the nature of mental disorder and how, as a society, Americans need to respond to the conditions that contribute to early life trauma. During the past several decades we have witnessed a shift from unprecedented — and largely unquestioned — growth in science and technology, to the need to increasingly devote energies to managing the fallout and risks of the imprudent choices previous generations made in the name of scientific advancement. As we rethink our relationship with Earth and the other life forms that inhabit our planet, we also need to reconsider our relationship with ourselves. How can we save the world if we can’t even save ourselves?

Reference

Kolk, Bessel A. van der, Alexander C. McFarlane, and Lars Weisaeth. 1996. Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society. New York: The Guilford Press.

© 2014 Laura K Kerr, PhD. All rights reserved (applies to writing and photography).

  • Laura Kerr, thank you for raising this crucial issue. We do indeed need to rethink the nature of “mental disorder.” and one way to do that is to stop talking about “mental illness” and start saying talking about the fact that 90%+ of people with psychiatric diagnoses are trauma survivors and what we are experiencing are not “illnessess” at all but trauma responses. Using illness language only encourages those who want to treat trauma responses with psychiatric drugs.

    • Great points. Thanks so much for your feedback.

  • Together We Heal

    Great article! I will definitely be reposting!

    • Thank you. I admire the support Together We Heal gives to sexual abuse survivors.

  • Thank you so much for this insightful and value post. And this is why I will continue to advocate for sexual abuse prevention education in every kindergarten and elementary school WW and why parents must teach body safety to their children from a very young age as they do any other form of safety message.

    • And thank you for your commitment to preventing sexual abuse.

  • ChristopherMAnderson

    Dr Kerr, Thank you so much for this outstanding article. I, too, like my colleague Dave Pittman will be sharing this with through MaleSurvivor’s networks.

    We have been speaking on this topic for years, and address the widespread level of abuse and trauma in all populations, and it’s outsized impact a whole host of public health issues.

    One particular challenge that I feel should be highlighted is the lack of MH resources for males, and the societal pressures and stigmas that stand in the way of men and boys from proactively being able to engage in the work of healing. This is not a “Men’s Rights” argument, rather a desire for all survivors to get the help they need regardless of gender, orientation, race, faith, or economic standing.

    There is nothing “unmanly” about engaging in the work of healing, but the challenges that stand in the way of men are often insurmountable (and are exacerbated by the lack of access to support many men feel exists). The more we can help the many millions of male survivors of trauma and abuse easily access sources of hope and support, the more progress will be made in addressing a whole host of social ills including PTSD, substance abuse, interpersonal violence, and public health issues such as diabetes and heart disease.

    • Thanks you for your important synthesis of the challenges facing male survivors of trauma. I hope your comment is read as much as my post.

  • Tom Bunn

    When working with flight anxiety, I found that it does not take abuse (such as sexual abuse) to produce a person who cannot regulate affect. It only takes insufficient attuned emotional availability. To produce inability to self-regulate, it is sufficiently traumatic for a young child – who of course is a separate person – to not have experiences that bridge that gap of separateness, that allow him/her to experience the various human emotions in the attuned presence of another person. See http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/conquer-fear-flying/201303/trip-emotion-world

    • Yes, this is definitely true. The ACE study looks at many experiences that do not necessarily include abuse but nevertheless can contribute to difficulties with affect regulation. The same could be said of Dr. Frazier’s study. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ivonne Meeuwsen

      Emotional neglect was found to be the most prevalent Adverse Childhood Experience in the Netherlands, with fully two thirds of the population questioned experiencing this in their youth. It’s also known to be a serious risk factor for the incidence of sexual abuse.

      • That is a very disturbing statistic. And thank you for pointing out the correlation between sexual abuse and emotional neglect.

  • Lindsay Wilsonq

    Laura ~ this is such a well-written blog-post. THANK YOU! After working through my own childhood traumas (not knowing that’s what it was until a therapist gave me the proper language for this), I deeply realize the lack of tools our culture has to help people integrate themselves after such a trauma. We are just beginning to have the language and the tools for such recovery and integration.

    For many years, I didn’t seek help because I was petrified of what the medical establishment would do with me ~ drug me, isolate me, etc. Instead I fended my way through the darkness and, fortunately, met the right people along the way. Each one giving me another tool along the way to heal and integrate my body-mind-spirit. I am truly grateful. At the same time, many people find me who are lost in a similar situation and need guidance. I don’t need any form or diagnostic test ~ I can just look in their eyes. I know they are not sick…they are broken.

    The healing modalities that I found to help me through my situation became my life calling. Yoga, meditation, traditional food ways, wild foraging, herbalism, dream-work, permaculture, a women’s circle, nature-based spirituality ~ all of these things came into my life, one after the other. I knew that these were the right kind of medicine for me both emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically. I also discovered Ecopsychology, the work of Jung, and Sacred Activism.

    The sparkle is back in my eyes. And, I am more in love with this world than ever. It’s taken me about 15 years, but I’ve been dedicated to this process… And, we DO need more of these kinds of tools in every community. They need to be part of the community ~ ways to regain balance after deep upset and trauma…further, the proper way to grieve loss and to open to transformation. Sobonfu Some is doing beautiful work around grief…

    Again, thank you for this post… It’s time to work on our deep wounds and get out of this place of stuckness. Our place in the web of life depends on us waking up, going deep, and transforming into the fiercely compassionate human beings we are meant to be.

    • Lindsay! Thanks so much for sharing the deep transformation that has resulted with your efforts at healing. As you mention, the journey takes time, but is well worth the efforts.

      One of the beautiful things about the web is that it allows for the possibility of creating a new language, one that is collaborative and not directed ‘top down,’ solely by professionals. This is a novel opportunity to create healing communities where we learn from each other, from both our successes and failures, and in the process, hopefully contribute to a truly healthy mental health community, if not healthier world.

      • Lindsay Wilsonq

        Yes, I agree. All hands on deck. The spiritual crisis is real. And, I feel that my own spiritual crisis primed me to be a key player in helping with the rather intense transition we are going through.

        • I like that you call this period a “transition.” That sounds much more hopeful that “endgame,” which I often hear — and often fear.

          • Lindsay Wilsonq

            “The simple truth is that every single civilization,
            including the western world, was brought into being from a sacred place to
            serve a sacred purpose. And when that purpose is forgotten, when its original
            alignment gets lost, when the fundamental balance and harmony of its existence
            become disrupted beyond a certain point, then nature has her way.

            This is the mystery of birth and death not only for humans, but for cultures
            too. And for thousands of years it has been understood that, just as
            civilizations have to come to and end, there can even be times of global
            extinctions. But always there are people who know how to gather the essence of
            life and hold it safely, protect it and nurture it until the next
            seeding.”

            ~ Peter Kingsley

          • This is terrific. Thank you for taking the time to share this. It leads me to reflect on what might be the “purpose” of globalization, particularly this latest round, and where it might lead us. Better? Worse? Definitely evolving….

          • Lindsay Wilsonq

            What I took from that quote is that when alignment is lost, collapse happens. To me, with each civilization that we have built, technology has become more manipulative. This means that the growth-scope-impact of a civilization is felt even more immensely. We get to feel the intensity of our decisions and choices at a rapid pace and with greater affect. This is fortunate in terms of waking up and quite unfortunate in terms of the devastation. There has been no previous civilization, to my knowledge, that exploded and expanded quite like this one (basically, with the use of advanced technology). We really get to see what happens when technology is not tempered with ethics, tradition, humility, and reciprocity. We have basically exploited the vulnerable aspects of the human condition with technology. And, many of us…are having to dig so deep to stay awake and find our way through the fragments of a collapsing empire (constriction, fear, repeating unskillful habits and patterns, being stuck, etc). It is quite an intense time ~ so much loss and so much to gain.

          • I think you might like one of the books that I am currently writing, which in part looks at how modernity exploits traumatic defense reactions. I focus especially on the role of dissociation, which is central for the large-scale dissemination of technologies that manipulate both our relationship with our bodies and with each other.

          • Lindsay Wilsonq

            I would like to read your book… Your description of it reminds me of Chellis’s book ~ http://www.amazon.com/Name-Chellis-Recovery-Western-Civilization/dp/087773996X ~ reading that book changed my life. I’m sure you have read it b/c she is a forerunner of Ecopscyhology. I love when someone writes in words what I’ve been mulling over for years ~ it’s like magic!

          • I love that book! If you have some time, you might enjoy the following post where I incorporated her work:

            https://www.laurakkerr.com/2013/04/07/sensorimotor-indigenous/

            You might like Paul Shepard’s “Nature and Madness” if you haven’t read it yet.

            Thanks again for your feedback!

  • Judith A Barr

    What a insightful and helpful article, Dr. Kerr. I did group last night with a survivor of a brutal gang rape (including shaving her head) and horrific domestic violence. The survivor’s husband had convinced her she was “crazy’ as an additional tool to control and manipulate her daily. Her life encompasses child abuse and trauma after trauma. She barely knows “normal”. She is strong, resilient and there is hope. Trauma work will be an important piece of healing and thriving. Thank You!

    • So terrible, so tragic. I am so glad she has you to support her on her journey to wholeness.

  • Bonzai

    A couple major sources of trauma for thousands, discusses at least as
    seldom as childbirth trauma are more general trauma from medical
    procedures and the trauma of relinquishment/adoption. Both of these have
    the same “just be grateful” dismissal style women (& babies)
    traumatized in birth experience. Since it’s now known how much babies
    are aware of, it is a logical assumption that premature infants would
    have very deep trauma from all the procedures performed on them as well
    as the lack of contact with their mothers.

    • Thank you for bringing up these important issues. I recently read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about specially trained hospital workers who support children going through medical procedures. I have also heard about attempts to be more sensitive to premature infants because of just the concerns you are raising. Yet as you suggest, it isn’t the norm to take seriously the traumatic impact of such experiences on the young. Fortunately, there is much that can be done to reduce the traumatic stress that results from invasive medical procedures.

  • Ivonne Meeuwsen

    Beautifully written. I would like to ask your permission to translate this article in Dutch. I write about Healing from childhood sexual abuse, which incidentally is the Dutch title of my book, which in America will come out by the end of februari under the title ‘I Thrive’. I would like to share your article with my Dutch audience.

    • Thanks so much for your interest. I have replied to your request via email. Please contact me if you do not receive my response (or check your spam folder).

      And congratulations on the upcoming English translation of your book – “I Thrive”!

  • It seems so obvious, so palpably self-evident these daze…I love to engage with people and just ask them, “What hurts…what’s your core wound?” MOST know and will be forthcoming with “it.” And so, as you eloquently point out in this great article, the gig is up. The pain of writhing in these unprocessed wounds individually and collectively has surpassed the pain and fear associated with critical mass change. The entire nation is undergoing PTSD albeit insidiously and silently just by virtue of our violent, war-like culture. YES! Let’s get to work and transform this exquisite pain into deep empathy, care taking, interrelatedness, joy, productivity and peace of mind. Thank you, Dr. Kerr!

    • And thank you, Dr. Bell! I admire your positive, can-do attitude, which I think of as another ‘inherited’ aspect of the American character — one that deserves reviving.

  • What a wonderful article and couldn’t agree more. I’m a therapist in the UK, and although the culture and history is different, the symptoms are the same. I mainly deal with addictions and I have not had a single person in my practice who has not had some kind of trauma, either major (abuse) or minor (invalidation by parents, bullying). The results of both types of trauma are the same, and yet those who have suffered minor trauma downplay it massively. It’s the way we’ve been taught

    If I had the reigns of power, I would start at the roots, supporting children to think healthily and effectively, teaching parents how to parent properly, and making classes teaching understanding of how we affect other people, compassion and mindfulness compulsory in schools. As it is, I can only help people put the pieces back together again when they have already suffered for long enough. Many thanks for the article Laura.

    • Thanks so much for this lovely comment and cross cultural comparison. I wish you did have the reigns of power!

    • joe o’connell

      much can be gained by teaching and practicing ” The Golden Rule ” this seems overly simplistic, until you stop and think of the outcome

      • I don’t think this seems overly simplistic. I think it sounds wonderfully compassionate. Thank you.

  • Gary Bowen

    Yes! thank you so much for publishing this study. I can add it gratefully to my armour of healing….. I was sexually assaulted over a 2 yr period when I was 12 just entering high school. Many years later I was sexually harassed by a male manager at work and couldn’t function anymore and lost my job. They put me through terrible grievance procedure that just made it all worse. I still don’t know if I was fired or if I quit I just couldn’t go back on that campus anymore. I was diagnosed with PTSD but they told me I was just feeling sorry for myself. This was at McGill University.

    • Gary, thank you for sharing some of your experiences. I understand your aversion to the campus; it seems like a natural protection from feeling hurt again. Revictimization is an all too common experience when there has been childhood sexual abuse, especially when it has been ongoing. I think it makes it difficult to differentiate between healthy and toxic environments. And whenever people do not validate our experiences and protect our rights, I think it’s safe to say the environment is toxic.

      • Gary Bowen

        Thank you so much for your affirmation. My CBT coach was instrumental in affirmation and helping me to learn to try and make friends again. Tough row to hoe but it is working. Mary Major, in Montreal. I made a web site for her, marysrecovery.

        • Thank you. You honor me. It’s hard to trust people after what you have gone through.

  • Corinna West

    This is what the mental health civil rights movement has been saying for years. We’d love for you and your readers to join us at Alternatives, our next national conference, this fall / winter. Here is the info from last year’s conference with lots of great speaker materials.

    http://www.power2u.org/alternatives2013/

    • Yes it has! My research and advocacy stretches back to 1994. I’ve never been as hopeful for the field as I am today.

      Thank you so much for sharing the link to the Alternatives conference.

  • Pingback: +RECOMMENDING A TRAUMA-TOPIC BLOG | Stop the Storm()

  • juliacarolinesmom

    Awesome article. As a member of a small town in South Carolina, when I try to bring these issues up with folks, they become extremely dismissive and many turn to a religious rhetoric, for instance, your last sentence, which rings true for me, would be met with, “Well having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is the only thing that will save you” type of response. I do not know where to go from here and as someone who has experienced trauma including rape (unreported) in college and the sudden death of my daughter when she was two, I have saught counseling and therapy however I do not know how to respond to those that insist on the religious rhetoric which is often times patronizing and dismissive. I so badly want to see social change yet there is a huge barrier when it comes to the fundamental religious community that social justice doesn’t matter or isn’t something we should bother ourselves with, because well from their logic, “Jesus is coming back one day and we should share the gospel as much as possible so as to ‘save’ people to have eternal life in Heaven”. This is baffling to me because to me to live in a Christ like way would absolutely include social justice issues that many evangelical Christians are so outspoken against. Thanks again for this article. I hope we can make progress in this realm and push back against the as you so aptly put it, the “medicalizing of normal emotional reactions” (much of which I think autism diagnoses are, but that is another can of worms)

    • You have suffered such terrible losses. I once heard of a book titled “The Spiritual Advantages of Childhood Abuse,” and although I never found the book, I thought the title ringed true, as it does for so many survivors of profound loss and trauma. I think when we have no choice but to confront our wounding our traumas do become spiritual advantages, and opportunities to really wake up to life. But it’s still painful.
      I’m originally from Texas, and began hearing about the day of judgment when I was five years old. Scared the heck out of me! But it’s really a bad interpretation of scripture, and can be quite unsettling to hear people use religion to avoid the difficult conversations we need to be having — the kinds that can lead to healing our wounds, transforming both who we are and our communities. Empty rhetoric is a defense against compassion, and truly taking the risk to suffer with another.
      Thank your for sharing so thoughtfully.

  • I couldn’t agree more. It is the field I work in, and I often say the second clause: If you want to change the world, heal trauma.

    Loved van der Kolk’s book, and we use the ACE score for individual clients.

    I’d like to offer this possibility: we’ve forgotten how to heal from trauma (much like we’re foreign to the innate mammalian function of tremoring) because we’ve re-wired to believe that our current condition is normal.

    Has anyone written the book, “I’m not okay, you’re not okay?”

    • Thanks so much for sharing your commitment to healing trauma — definitely a ‘team’ approach is the solution. Then, maybe we’ll all be okay.

  • Don Shetterly

    I completely agree. I went through so much trauma in my life which led me down a journey of anxiety, depression, Conversion Disorder and suicide. I love Bessel Van der Kolk and Peter Levine for their work on healing trauma. I’ve also worked extensively with Dr Paul Canali that I consider a pioneer in truly treating trauma on the body level because he has helped my life so much. Great topic. I am happy to see others write about the impact of trauma on our lives. I continue to write about all aspects of healing trauma in my own body as I know just how difficult it is.

    • I share your enthusiasm. Life itself can dramatically change when we begin to listen to the wisdom of the body. Thank you.

  • I greatly appreciate your forthrightness about this hugely important topic. I never really understood trauma when I was a family doctor in the ’90s. I learned so much in retraining as a somatic psychotherapist and with SPI / SE and have since developed a similar focus to yours, only on chronic physical illness. There is a remarkable amount of research linking trauma to so many effects, starting with mental illness and continuing far beyond. And this knowledge really is empowering and hopeful, especially as we learn about how life events interact with genes through epigenetics.

    I read some of your links (trauma in our society and in the US) and have added Robert Whitaker’s book to my list of things to read!

    • I really appreciate Peter Levine’s perspective, and have heard wonderful things about SE. I’m trained in Pat Ogden’s sensorimotor psychotherapy. Her book, “Trauma and the Body,” is very informative, should you be interested in any more good reads!

  • Dita Brooke

    great article.. Thanks!
    I believe that as a collective, we/they May also be manifesting a bigger problem & further exacerbating lower self esteem, within the effected individual by labelling the long term negative effects of Trauma as an “ILLNESS” which promotes a rather bleak outlook & feelings or actual isolation.. Rather than addressing ongoing concerns as.. Mental “HEALTH” issues..
    The latter embodies a more positive concept & provides a subliminal message of Hope & Solution.. Let’s say a Light at the end of the Tunnel, for one & all concerned.
    😉
    “For without the Dark, we can Not see the Stars Shine Brightly.”

    • Thank you, Dita, for sharing your insight. I completely agree with you.

  • amy m.

    I appreciate this article a lot. I’ve been struggling so much lately with my depression/anxiety, which I think is a combination of early childhood wounding, genetics, and the fucked up world we’re living in. I recently stopped taking my anti depressant and had to get back on it after a few months bc I was so depressed, I couldn’t function. I’m wondering about your thoughts on if it’s possible to both be on medication enough to function and still work on the root issues you’ve mentioned? This sentence in particular struck me: “Although a diagnosis and medications may provide temporary relief, they may also cause Americans to evade making the challenging changes that are necessary for moving into an emotionally sustainable future.” I feel like I have to take medication in order to stay alive, none the less hold down a job. But does that make it so I can’t access the underlying causes?

    • Thank you for sharing from such a private place. To answer your question, no, medications will not keep you from examining early childhood wounding and what you call “underlying causes” of your suffering. And if you know you need the medications to stay alive, then you must take them.

      When I first visited a mental health practitioner back in the 90s because I was having flashbacks, I was put on medications. That was during the so-called “Decade of the Brain,” when people were given drugs and diagnoses, and there was not much talk of trauma in most clinics. I eventually went off the medications, and have been off them for over a decade. However, I had to work through my past traumas via therapy and learn other emotional regulation skills before I could go off medications. And that took time — several years, actually. So give yourself the gift of time, and find people trained in the treatment of trauma to support you. And if one day you still feel like going off the medications, also give yourself time to taper off, and hopefully with the support of an informed physician. I wrote more on this topic here: https://www.laurakkerr.com/2012/04/15/psychiatry-retraumatizes/
      Take good care, Laura

  • Peyton Collier-Kerr

    My father will soon have been dead for seven years; I have
    yet to shed a tear. I do not miss him. My mother is almost 90 and has
    progressing dementia; my sister and I share care of her – with some help now
    from hospice. My sister never married and never left home so she and mother share a home and I come over regularly to give my sister some respite.

    My parents are two people who should never have married each other. They brought five children into the world all the while detesting each other. There was never true peace in our home; there was Mother crying for hours [or days] on end with us trying to calm her. Or she’d go silent for days. You could feel the tension.

    We were told constantly by my mother that she had not wanted children; she had wanted a “career” although we saw no signs that she had made any effort toward having one. If she wasn’t crying, she was playing the role of victim.

    My paternal grandparents lived just a mile away yet I only spent one night there; there were no hugs, kind words, no connection. When I was ages 9-11, I was
    sexually molested by a male cousin who stayed with us in the summers. I repressed it, finally telling my mother when I was in my early 50s. She made it all about her – how angry she was, etc. Never a word of comfort or a hug.

    It was a similar situation with my maternal grandmother. My mother treated my sister and me like “girlfriends”, telling us intimate details of her relationship with our father – to our horror. My father did similar things but not quite so graphic. They’d take us aside, complain about the other person and want us to be loyal to “them”. We did not want to have to take sides.

    We worked hard on a tobacco farm but were poor. Our parents made sure my sister
    and I knew how things were going financially but this “overhearing” started when we were quite young and we worried all the time about whether we’d lose our home – such as it was.

    Mother was jealous of anyone getting a gift and there wasn’t one for her. We learned that if we gavemy father a birthday or father’s day gift, we’d better have something for mother too. She was very religious and used heavy doses of guilt to keep us in line.

    My three younger brothers all died of drug abuse/overdoses/alcoholism. The middle brother committed suicide by taking Fentanyl. My sister never married. I married twice but never wanted children. I have a wonderful psychiatrist who has helped me manage my bipolar condition with medication. I am stable for the most part.

    For hours on end these days, my mother recounts all the bad things that have happened to her throughout her life. She says she’s ready to die so she can go to Heaven because, she says, she’s never been happy a single day in her life. She is miserable – always has been. I doubt that I will shed any tears.

    That’s right…she gave birth to five children and there was no happiness. She’s probably been mentally ill for my whole life. Before my father died, she’d rant [to his face] about what a horrible husband and father he’d been. He chose not to “hear”.

    During his final days, on his hospital bed, I asked him why he had married mother and had he loved her: he said he felt sorry for her and no, he had not really loved her.

    I am almost 67 so you can see how long this insanity has been going on. Frankly, I’m surprised I am fairly normal. There has been continuous anxiety. And there has been some trauma but I try not to look at it what way. It was just my life. I have a wonderful supportive husband. Life is good.

    • I think it take strength, courage, and an open heart to go through so much and nevertheless have gratitude for the good in your life. I suspect you bring a lot of kindness to the world, and acceptance. You have a lot to teach us all.