Posts Tagged ‘trauma’

That time when my dad was wrong

May 15, 2010

I’m eleven years old and I am in flight, having just launched off the upper level of the Allstate parking lot—sailing with handlebars raised to a setting sun.

This is the perfect wheelie jump, dropping a couple of feet over a four-foot wide strip of round stones to the lower level of the Allstate parking lot.  And I am in the middle of my greatest wheelie ever, astride my greatest bike ever:  a green five-speed sting-ray with a banana seat, the apotheosis of noble steeds of biking steel circa nineteen-seventy-one.

No doubt my Herculean effort is because my father is watching, Zeuss-like on his blue Schwin—not quite paused to watch, but circling near the landing zone with a vague promise of attention.   With my little brother watching as well, it’s only me and the sky and a faint possibility of the moon.

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A tale of two camps

May 14, 2010

The summer camp that my parents sent me to was a well-respected and venerable institution in the north woods of Wisconsin.

The summer camp I went to, at least in my mind, was something more akin to a Nazi concentration camp.

As a grown-up I might like to spend some time amongst the pines, “roughing it,” swimming in the lake, fishing, engaging in manly sport and jocular good cheer with fellows.

As an eight-year-old child, I was put on a transport vehicle, slept on one-inch thick mattresses and had forced work details for insubordination:  “green buckets” that had to be filled with either pine needles, pine cones, or (hardest to come by in the immaculate woods) trash.

As a grown-up I can see how this very camp helped shape David Mamet’s love of guns and cabins in the woods (he went there and I’m sure he loved it; in my mind he might have been a capo, collaborating with the authorities as some sort of “counselor in training”).

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A bullet-proof vest for the soul: psychological abuse in relationships

February 2, 2010

In a recent  NPR interview by Michele Norris, about psychological abuse in relationships, Dr Steven Stosny (Psychologist; Author, Love Without Hurt) spoke about the gender difference regarding the things that we are mean about when we systematically put our lovers down.  While Stosny acknowledges that we all say mean things sometimes, non-abusive relationships allow for apology (and hopefully a change in behavior moving forward) while abusers tend to be self-righteous in telling the other that they deserve the bad treatment or are at fault for “making me do it.”

Stosny claims that one in four relationships have some degree of psychological abuse, and that this abuse can be a precursor to physical abuse (in about 40% of cases); yet he points out that as wrong as physical abuse is, unless it results in disfigurement or overt maiming, it is the psychological abuse that causes more damage—making people feel lastingly unlovable and worthless (while physical abuse is easier to recognize as “wrong” and out of control—about that other person having issues).

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Helping in the face of disaster

January 20, 2010

Obviously the earthquake in Haiti is strongly on our collective world’s mind and as I come up against the limits of what I can personally do (i.e. sending money and some good thoughts) I found the stories and images from Haiti triggering memories of the past for me personally.

Back in 1994, when I was a psychology intern, I was in the midst of a training year at a university that happened to be at the epicenter of the Northridge earthquake.  This was my first experience of a significant temblor and I was in my bed, ten miles from the center of it and it absolutely terrified me, busting every wedding gift as my wife and I clung to each other, our first child still in her womb between us.

When I got to work, the building that had formerly housed the counseling center was leaning precariously to the side and slabs of marble lay shattered around the campus—places we might well have been strolling had it hit at 4pm rather than 4am.  A ring of apartment buildings surrounded the campus, many of them damaged beyond repair and several pancaked into oblivion.

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Seeing evil, doing evil

January 15, 2010

A recent article in Monitor on Psychology by Tori DeAngelis, “Porn use and child abuse,” presents evidence about links between those involved in internet porn and those who perpetrate abuse on children directly.

Now this may seem obvious to those of us who would intuit the relationship between acting out and watching (after all, why on earth would someone want to look at child abuse if one isn’t compelled toward such behavior, whether it is being repressed or not?).

Michael Bourke, PhD, Chief Psychologist of the U.S. Marshals Service, and Andres Hernandez, PsyD penned a study published in April’s Journal of Family Violence (Vo. 24, No. 3), that focused on 155 men convicted of possessing, receiving or distributing internet-based child pornography.  The men took part in an 18-month treatment program.  At sentencing, 74% of the men had no documented hands-on victimization, but by the end of treatment, 85% confessed that they sexually molested at least one child (with an average of 13.5 victims per convict). 

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Miss Havisham on the couch

December 30, 2009

Ever since I saw David Lean’s film version of Great Expectations on TV as a kid, I have been fascinated by the character of Miss Havisham who, having been jilted on the morning of her wedding, has stopped all the clocks and lives on for years in her wedding dress, one shoe on, cake rotting on the table amidst the cobwebs of her rotting mansion.

Inspiration for Norma Desmond in one of my favorite American films, Sunset Boulevard, Miss Havisham embodies not just heartbreak but Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  When we think about PTSD we tend to think about violent events, particularly war experiences, but the mechanics of PTSD are that overwhelming emotional experience causes a person to mentally leave the building of their body for a time (think of that slow motion, floaty feeling just before the impact of a car accident).

As a result, the surreal self cannot fully process the trauma, and it is left to float like so many cobwebs throughout the body, never making it to be properly filed in the brain’s true memory storage area.  Since the trauma is loose in the body, it can be triggered by sounds, smells or sights and suddenly loom up as if it were happening in real time, rather like a pop-up window unexpectedly opening on a computer screen.

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Is colic torture?

September 4, 2009

a cast for michelle's footI think most of us would agree that water-boarding is torture, but what about colic?  Given that colic subjects parents to severe levels of sensory input which do not stop despite all attempts at soothing, rocking, singing, distracting pleading and begging, I think that colic needs to be recognized as a form of torture.

Now, I’m not saying that babies do this on purpose, and I think that they should receive full immunity against prosecution (as well as against persecution and retaliation), but it’s only fair that we acknowledge how relentless and unstoppable howling, if done deliberately, could be considered a torture technique.  If prisoners were deprived of sleep, howled at for hours and then forced to deal with human feces, I think most of us would say that things had gone too far.

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