Tag: traumatic stress

How chronic traumatization interferes with meeting goals and completing actions

Trauma-related stress reveals itself in many ways: flashbacks, nightmares, emotional overwhelm, shame, obsessive thoughts, decreased concentration, apathy, and even loss of a sense of self. When trauma-related stress is chronic, which is a common outcome of early life abuse and neglect, these symptoms become a way to live without actively recalling the past. As one …

We can do better than desensitization as the goal of trauma treatment

David J. Morris, a former Marine infantry officer and a reporter in some of the most violent regions of the Iraq war, blacked out while watching a movie and ran out of the theater, only to regain awareness of himself in the lobby as he anxiously scanned other patrons for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Morris’ girlfriend …

What I learned about the importance of ‘tend and befriend’ while surrounded by a SWAT team

The pretty South African woman sitting next to me said our flight from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth was taking longer than expected, although I hadn’t noticed. I arrived in South Africa only a few hours before. Jet lagged, I was wrestling with the cellophane wrapper guarding the plastic cutlery that came with my in-flight meal. …

Too stressed to meditate?

Buddhist psychology claims there are three primary feelings, or sensations, which meditation can help access: Pleasant, Painful, and Neutral. Arising from these primary feelings are our reactions to them, the so-called secondary emotions. For example, we feel desire or joy in reaction to pleasant feelings, anger or fear in response to painful feelings, and boredom …

The secrets in our silences

I began reading the book History Beyond Trauma by Françoise Davoine and Jean-Max Gaudillière during a turbulent time in my life — when deaths, losses, and uncertainties continually piled up. Despite my best efforts to remain optimistic and push forward with life as planned, traumatic stress was threatening to be more than a subject I …

Capitalism exploits the body’s response to traumatic stress

Shelves of Ceramic Models of Brains

The Great Recession, like financial disasters before it, took its toll on bodies and psyches as much as it did on bank accounts and lifestyles. Suicides, family violence, stress-related diseases, and mental disorders increased during the crisis. For many, these hardships continue. Yet even during the best of times capitalism’s dependency on social hierarchies — …

Shopping our way to extinction

We humans have been destroying environments and eradicating species throughout our history. When some of our ancestors arrived in the Americas over 10,000 years ago, they wiped out at least 70 genera of large mammals and literally millions of animals — including ground sloths, camels, wild pigs, and several species of horses. Not much seems to …

How I practice psychotherapy with minimal intrusion from the DSM

Photo: Shed with "Freedom From Religion" painted on one side.

I started critiquing the DSM about sixteen years ago. At that time, I was conducting research for my dissertation on mood disorders as well as team teaching an advanced graduate seminar on the phenomenology of madness. Back then, mood disorders were called depression and manic depression. Both terms resonated with what it felt like to suffer …

The impact of trauma on protecting and preserving Earth

Photo: Oak tree in grassy field.

Do you worry about the nuclear waste and bombs squirreled away in underground bunkers? And wonder what would happen if there weren’t humans constantly monitoring these stockpiles? Such questions once led me to read Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us (2007), which explores what would happen to the planet if humans suddenly disappeared. His book answers the …

All those lingering lusty images…

There’s something untoward about a married woman of my age writing about lust, let alone feeling it. I should be spending time managing my hormones rather than hot flashes of an entirely different sort. But I am here to disclose that, yes, lust continues well into middle age. And here lies the problem: lust continues …

The wisdom of no escape

For several days, I felt a physical uneasiness in response to the Newtown tragedy. From my sensorimotor psychotherapy training, I interpreted the activation in my body and my unusual emotional sensitivity as evidence that I was outside the window of tolerance. You know you are in your window of tolerance when you are resilient to …

Dioramic visions of a forgotten past

Do you remember childhood field trips to science museums, gazing into dioramas of our distant ancestors? Perhaps you saw artistic renditions of Homo erectus huddled around a fire, or sitting near a faux cave carving stone tools, a nod to our ancestors’ fledgling cognitive capacities and more human-like traits. Saber-tooth cats or woolly mammoths were …

Born to be raised

I often wonder what it would take to heal centuries of violence, oppression, complicated grief, and emotional neglect. And yet the impulse to heal, social engineer, and reform often seems symptomatic of what is traumatizing about the US and the West in general — that perpetual need to fix a broken system. We know things aren’t right with the …

EMDR: The documentary film

In the nineteenth century, psychiatrist Pierre Janet was the first to theorize posttraumatic stress resulted from the failure to integrate memories of a traumatic event with otherwise normal mental functioning. Current research in neuroscience and psychology now validates Janet’s original intuitions about the nature of traumatic stress. Treatments like EMDR (“Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing”) also …

Research on traumatic stress supports paradigm shift

In the mental health system, the biomedical model is the dominant paradigm. It depicts mental disorders as chronic diseases requiring lifelong treatment with medication (like diabetes or high blood pressure). This model of mental illness has been under attack in the US, where an estimated 20 percent of the population regularly takes psychiatric medications. Arguments …

What can nightmares teach us?

Few of us make it through childhood without getting the wits scared out of us by a nightmare. Michel Jouvet, professor of experimental medicine and author of The Paradox of Sleep, theorizes such dreams may be behavioral rehearsals for survival, connecting emotions with corresponding actions. The dragon chasing you in your childhood dream is Nature’s …