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The Surprising Solutions To Heal Trauma Without Medication - Bessel van der Kolk

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The Surprising Solutions To Heal Trauma Without Medication - Bessel van der Kolk

Do We Think About Trauma Wrong? (00:00:00)

  • Bessel van der Kolk introduces his thesis on trauma by showing movie scenes that accurately capture the physical manifestations of trauma.
  • People give off signals about their emotional states through their body language and facial expressions.
  • Traditional medicine and psychology are disembodied professions that focus on defining things carefully and studying the mind and behavior, respectively.
  • Theater directors, teachers, yoga instructors, martial artists, musicians, etc. have a better understanding of how bodies move together in the real world.
  • Stress is a normal part of life and humans are wired to cope with it.
  • Trauma is an assault on one's being that changes the way a person experiences themselves, the world, and their movement.
  • Stress is temporary and the body's biology of stress is effective in managing it.
  • Trauma gets a person stuck and frozen in a state of rage, fear, terror, etc.

Link Between Trauma & Chronic Stress (00:03:56)

  • Trauma and chronic stress are closely linked.
  • Chronic stress can be enjoyable when it involves using one's capacities, like in military work or disaster cleanup.
  • Trauma often involves a breakdown in social connections.
  • Vietnam veterans who lost close friends during the war experienced more trauma than those who didn't.
  • Social support and a sense of safety at home can protect against the negative effects of traumatic events.
  • Talking to someone you trust and care about can help reduce the impact of stressful events.
  • Social reception and support make a significant difference in how trauma affects individuals.
  • Social support is crucial in healing trauma.
  • Having someone to talk to and receive validation from can significantly reduce the impact of traumatic events.
  • Lack of social support or a sense of unsafety at home can exacerbate the effects of trauma.

Why Trauma Causes Us to Shield Ourselves (00:07:28)

  • Trauma causes individuals to shield themselves from others because they learn that people around them cannot be trusted.
  • People who are close to them may have hurt, pushed away, criticized, or ignored them.
  • This leads to suspicion and difficulty in trusting others due to past experiences of being hurt by people.
  • Trauma is defined as an event or experience that occurs outside the bounds of normal human experience.
  • It can include events like rape, witnessing a loved one's death, or chronic neglect and dismissal.
  • Trauma changes a person and can have lasting effects on their life.
  • Trauma is not just remembered mentally, but also physically.
  • The body experiences and stores trauma, leading to automatic reactions and responses.
  • For example, a person who has experienced sexual assault may react with fear, crying, or anger when touched by someone they like due to the body's memory of the trauma.
  • Trauma takes away the sense of control over oneself and one's reactions.
  • People may defend themselves by blaming others or external factors, but ultimately, recovery from trauma requires changing one's perception of the world.
  • Changing perceptions involves seeing the world with new eyes and understanding that while we cannot control what happens to us, we can control our reactions and behavior.

How to Not Be at the Mercy of Your Feelings (00:12:41)

  • Trauma can cause people to overreact to situations due to past experiences, as the brain's limbic system, responsible for survival instincts, plays a significant role in trauma responses.
  • People often resist the idea that they are not fully in control of their reactions because it can feel disempowering, and different individuals may react differently to the same event.
  • Minimizing and feeling ashamed of traumatic experiences is common, preventing individuals from seeking help or healing, and they may also feel ashamed of being triggered by seemingly small events, leading to self-judgment and unnecessary suffering.
  • Initially, people may use avoidance as a coping mechanism, but unresolved trauma can resurface in relationships or when faced with situations that resemble the original trauma. Blaming others for relationship problems is common, but recognizing that multiple failed relationships may indicate a personal role in the issues is crucial.

Does Trauma Make Us More Vulnerable to Future Trauma? (00:21:34)

  • Experiencing traumatic events and having trauma sensitivity can predispose individuals to being more sensitive to future traumas, creating a recursive loop.
  • Some people who have experienced trauma may develop skills and resilience, such as becoming exceptional nurses or kindergarten teachers, due to their understanding of what they needed as children.
  • However, for many, trauma can lead to a cycle of repeating negative patterns and behaviors learned in early life.
  • The accumulation of traumatic experiences does not necessarily result in a linear increase in sensitivity and vulnerability as people can find ways to manage and shield themselves from unpleasant surprises.
  • Factors such as privilege and socioeconomic status can influence an individual's ability to mitigate the impact of traumatic events.
  • Teaching self-regulation and self-awareness from an early age can help individuals better manage their emotions and respond to difficult events.
  • Understanding oneself, including what activities and interactions bring comfort and calm, can be a valuable tool for coping with stress and trauma.
  • Promoting a conscious society where individuals are aware of their own reactions and the impact they have on others can contribute to a more supportive and understanding environment.

Tips to Being More Self-Compassionate (00:26:48)

  • Self-compassion stems from a loving and responsive family environment, while abuse and neglect early in life can lead to negative self-perception and difficulty in treating trauma.
  • Psychedelics, particularly MDMA, have shown promise in increasing self-compassion and helping individuals accept their past experiences without self-blame.
  • Psychedelics and breathwork practices can break down the walls of secrecy around traumatic experiences, allowing for deeper self-exploration and healing.
  • Excessive use of screens and digital devices can hinder self-knowledge and self-experience by providing a constant distraction from emotional discomfort.
  • Engaging in sensory experiences and activities that evoke a sense of aliveness can disrupt habitual patterns and promote healing from trauma.
  • Yoga is an effective treatment for trauma as it encourages individuals to pay attention to their internal sensations and experiences.
  • Trauma can be healed without medication by activating the sensory system in the brain.
  • The brain's predictive nature creates habitual systems based on past experiences, but new habits can be formed by activating the sensory system through activities like meditation, yoga, martial arts, and action.

How Trauma Manifests as Illness (00:33:58)

  • Trauma can manifest as various illnesses that people may not typically associate with stress and trauma.
  • Examples of such illnesses include fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and autoimmune diseases.
  • Trauma can worsen autoimmune diseases and make individuals more vulnerable to developing them.
  • Somatic responses related to trauma have been identified but are not extensively studied or understood.
  • The lack of research on bodily experiences and their relationship to trauma creates a gap in knowledge.
  • Studying body sensations and people's relationships with their bodily experiences is challenging but possible.
  • The speaker's foundation funds studies on topics that have not received sufficient attention or funding, such as the impact of touch on traumatized individuals.

Principles for Treating Trauma (00:38:32)

  • To heal trauma, it's essential to create a sense of safety and engage in activities that promote body connection, such as bodywork, yoga, and tai chi.
  • MDMA has shown promise in helping severely shut down individuals feel more connected to themselves.
  • Mindfulness practices can be beneficial but require guidance to navigate potential stress.
  • Learning to confront internal feelings and live in silence with oneself is crucial for healing trauma.
  • Discovering personal safety measures and understanding emotional triggers are important.
  • Knowing the reasons behind negative responses provides choices and the ability to make different decisions.
  • Techniques like hypnosis, EMDR, and psychedelics can help alter perspectives and create new experiences to overcome trauma.
  • Happiness in life involves choosing between the discomfort of self-awareness or being ruled by mental afflictions.
  • We can either accept the sadness of our limitations or the pain of our transgressions.
  • Unspoken expectations can lead to premeditated resentments.

Opening Up to Other People (00:50:49)

  • Therapy is beneficial when it involves a supportive and accepting relationship between the therapist and the client.
  • Therapists should undergo their own therapy to understand their techniques and their impact on the mind.
  • Critiques of therapy culture emphasize finding effective and ethical therapeutic approaches.
  • Psychiatrists are not required to undergo their own therapy, raising concerns about their understanding of the effects of prescribed drugs.
  • Effective trauma healing modalities create a safe environment for emotional exploration and deeper processing.
  • Therapists should regularly evaluate treatment progress and consider multiple options to find the best fit for each individual's needs.
  • Bessel van der Kolk found Rolfing, an intense form of bodywork, to be the most helpful in releasing trauma held in the body.
  • While he initially believed in medication's potential, his work showed that chemicals play a minor role in healing trauma compared to other approaches.

What Bessel is Excited About (01:01:40)

  • Bessel is excited about psychedelics because they bring the mind back into psychiatry and allow people to discover things about themselves that nothing else does.
  • He is concerned that psychedelics will get commercialized and misused, leading to negative consequences.
  • Bessel draws a parallel to the history of MDMA, which was initially regulated and then became subject to political interference and limited research.
  • He shares an anecdote from his time as a senior medical student, highlighting the perverse incentives and political influences that can shape drug policies.

Bessel’s New Book (01:04:38)

  • Bessel's new book, titled "Come to Your Senses," focuses on the critical issue of introspection and body self-awareness.
  • The book explores how individuals can become aware of themselves and change their relationship with themselves.

Where to Find Bessel (01:05:04)

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