Does thinking about trauma make you feel like something is wrong with you? That is probably because the medical industry and/or our culture pathologizes trauma. But trauma is actually a very normal, common, and healthy response to life’s difficulties.
So I’ve been doing a deep dive into Bessel van der Kolk, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, who is a leading and longtime researcher of trauma since the 1960s. Oh my gosh, wouldn’t it be so amazing to have him on the podcast. I went to his website and I requested it, but I’m not getting my hopes up, but it would be amazing.
He’s also the author of the book, The body keeps the score and if you’re watching on YouTube this is what this book looks like and he is just a man who knows a lot about trauma from a scientific standpoint at the very least.
I don’t know very much about his personal life and I’ve been searching him in my podcast app and listening to every single episode, every podcast episode that has him in it and for the most part he talks a lot about what his book is about which is ways to heal or start to heal from trauma that aren’t with medicine. It’s one of the reasons why I love him is because he actually doesn’t love the medical industry. At least that’s my impression.
He himself, he’s a psychiatrist. So I’m not saying, there’s nothing good about it, but he seems to really kind of nag on his own industry and how they have come to manage trauma and understand trauma and all of that. I heard him say in a podcast episode that the DSM, which is the medical industries, sort of Bible of all the illnesses and disorders and what to do about them. He says the DSM is garbage.
So I was just like, who is this person? He’s a doctor. He’s a psychiatrist. He is a researcher and yet he is very grounded in what actually works, and I recently heard him say that we should stop pathologizing trauma and I was like, YES, I love this guy.
So if you’ve been around for very long and if you’re new here, welcome, I’m so glad you’re here… You know, that one of the things I talk about often is that trauma is super normal, and pretty much everybody has experienced some form of trauma in the course of their lives. It is very, very ubiquitous, and that’s the word that Dr. van der Kolk uses.
So first, let me define pathological or pathologize for you. The definition just according to Google is to regard or treat someone or something as psychologically abnormal or unhealthy. For example, most, this is a, “most of the older theories pathologize same sex attraction.” So in that example, same sex attraction used to be pathologized and to some extent still is today, right?
It used to be thought of as psychologically abnormal or unhealthy. It’s like a problem, a disorder, you know, something that’s wrong. And by this definition of pathologize, trauma is not pathological.
In fact, it is very psychologically normal. It’s something that most people, how they deal with life’s difficulties. Sometimes at some point they deal with it with I think sometimes we put trauma in the unhealthy bucket because it feels awful and we don’t want it, right? But just because something feels awful and we don’t want it doesn’t mean it’s not healthy.
So for example, getting a fever is healthy. When we have germs, bacteria, or virus that comes into our bodies as a foreign substance, our body starts attacking and one of the ways we get rid of these foreign substances, these viruses and bacteria, Is by burning them off, right? It is very healthy.
In fact, you don’t really want to bring your fever down unnaturally, unless it’s so prolonged, right? Like you also don’t want a fever to get too hot because then that starts to cause other problems and normal fever for normal length of time for a day or two days is actually really healthy. And it is your body fighting off the thing that is foreign and is not good for your body.
We’ll just put it in those very broad terms. So in that way, trauma is healthy. Trauma is a response that our bodies create to keep us safe and alive. Isn’t that amazing? Our bodies just act of their own accord, they breathe, they beat our heart, they filter air and the things that we take into our bodies, our bodies are so amazing.
And one of the ways that our bodies deal with seemingly unsafe situations is by having a trauma response, it’s very healthy. I don’t mean to say that trauma is healthy like we should all have trauma, right? Of course not. We don’t want trauma. We want to be able to go into that stress response and then come out of it. This little reframe in terms of has something gone wrong?
I mean, yeah, life is full of trials and tribulations and difficulties and things that go wrong every day, but we really want to be able to respond to these difficulties in an appropriate way and trauma is one of those ways. We just don’t want to be stuck there, right?
That’s when it’s like, like the example of the fever, when the fever is longer than three days or higher than a 104.F or whatever, that’s when we’re like, okay, we need to take some interventions, right? And that is the same idea with trauma.
If it is a temporary coping mechanism, it’s beautiful and wonderful and healthy. If it’s something we get stuck in, then we might need some extra support and help to get out of that. And that’s part of what I do. I help my clients feel more resourced and more supported in their healing because the truth is I can’t heal anyone. I can’t make you heal. All I can do is give you resources and give you conditions that support your healing.
And that’s why I’m such a believer that we need to stop pathologizing trauma. It is so normal. It is so common that when we label it as something bad or wrong, really what we’re doing is we’re creating shame.
We’re creating this idea that. You shouldn’t have dealt with it this way, but here’s the thing with trauma. It’s like totally, completely outside of your control. So isn’t that funny that we tend to shame ourselves and get shamed and shame others over something that is not even in our conscious control.
I mean, it’s like saying, Oh, I got sick. Oh, you’re so terrible for getting sick. No, we don’t do that. We’re just like, yeah, getting sick is part of the course of life and it sucks when you’re sick, but you get through it, right? We don’t have like a lot of shame around it the way we do with trauma.
So, if we see trauma as very common, normal response to life’s challenges, we’ll be less likely to feel ashamed and that’s part of my mission here on this podcast is to bring to light some of these things that people go through and show that it’s normal and natural and common and all of these things. You’re not alone in it because I want us. To be able to drop the shame piece, feeling shame is always an obstacle to healing.
Shame keeps us quiet. It keeps us small. It keeps us hidden, even sometimes to ourselves and we don’t want to be hidden to ourselves. That is what perpetuates trauma and digs us deeper into the trauma versus helping us come out of it or heal from it.
It’s a small step from, Oh no, something is wrong. It’s all my fault. We want to know when something is wrong. Pain in our body, emotional or physical is a signal that something’s not quite right so that we can address it. We can address the problem, repair the problem, not so that we can find blame because that is not helpful. So much of the work I do is to help people get back into a regulated state. This doesn’t mean that we never feel stress or we never feel down.
It means that we know how to find our way back to a connected, creative and calm space within our bodies. I truly hope that this podcast is helping you do that. I hope that it’s helping you see that trauma is very common.
And that it’s even in a certain way, in a certain light, a healthy response to life. And I’m hoping that this podcast is helping you feel that your experiences are not some crazy abnormality. That you aren’t alone that there really isn’t something “wrong” with you and that there is a way to healing one of the very first steps is for you to understand that you are not broken. You are not alone, you are not wrong for this if you can shed that layer of oh this is normal, this is natural, this is even kind of healthy.
Okay, now I can take the next step to figuring out what do I want to do about it because of course, like I’ve said, trauma doesn’t feel good. It’s a lot of difficult emotions and sometimes it’s really hard to be with those emotions.
But we can never move toward healing if we’re hiding or in denial about what the truth is. Right? So that’s, that’s my hope with today’s podcast episode, um, that you genuinely are starting to internalize and understand that trauma isn’t some big, bad, scary thing, that there’s hope to overcome it and that you can overcome it.
I would love to partner with you on that journey. If you feel like. Me being your partner is a right thing for you. I am not the right thing for everyone. That’s totally okay. Cause every body and every nervous system is different regardless. I hope that the thoughts and ideas that I present here on the podcast are helpful for you.
And if they are, would you please leave a rating or a review? I just, I’m just getting to the point where I’m just like, I want everyone to hear that they are not broken, that there’s hope for them, that there’s a way to heal. It doesn’t have to be with me, but I do think that the. Ideas that I bring here to the podcast are very helpful and useful.
And I’ve even had people say that they’ve changed their lives, right? I’ve had a handful of people say like, you said this one thing and that changed how I think about myself. That changed how I think about my life. And that is what I’m hoping here. So if you would leave a rating or a review or share it with a friend, it would mean the world to me. And it would mean that other people can start to heal as well.