I hope, dear reader, that you had a great start of 2023 ! I don’t know about you, but I never struggled to find a purpose each new year. I had a very clear one, even if I would have preferred not to have it: getting well. If you are on the same quest, I wish you a 2023 year full of insights, progress and healing.
Part of my own healing path has been to read books about recovery from trauma or any topic that I am struggling with. It didn’t do all the work, but it definitely helped to feel connected, to understand myself and to show me the way to a better life. Without these books, I would pretty much still feel lost.
In 2022, I’ve read about 20 healing books (not all published in 2022 by the way). They’ve all been helpful in some way, but three of them have been really awesome.
If like me you are into books as healing tools and do not know these ones, I suggest you give them a try. They may become a great help for you in 2023.
#1 Best healing book of 2022 : What happened to you ? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, from Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey
This book helped me to make sense of what happened to my brain during and after trauma and why I felt so different. It also drove home a truth that I needed to hear: feeling better, or finding my way to regulation after being triggered, is also about relating to a safe person – and not, as I tend to do, about isolating to lick my wounds.
I’ve read a lot of books and articles around trauma. But this one is great at integrating the work of plenty of researchers and clinicians in a wide variety of fields such as psychology, anthropology, epidemiology and of course neurosciences. Above all, this knowledge is conveyed in a simple, understandable manner. It’s a dialogue, with lots of stories, that I found far easier to read than the typical book.
Let me give you an example that gave me a lot of food for thoughts (and emotions…):
Stress response and evocative cues (aka triggers or emotional flashbacks)
Unfortunately, one of the first thing that happens to our brain during trauma is the shutting down of the higher parts of the brain. It means we don’t have access to reasoning, our ability to tell time, and our explicit memory. But we do register the event in lower parts of the brain with the associated emotions, often not consciously.
That’s how we can find ourselves back in a panic mode without any good reason, as far as our conscious brain can tell. It’s better than what it used to be, but it still happens to me. Sometimes I’m safe, but one cue reminds me of a past trauma. The cue can be finding myself alone at night, a tone of voice, certain physical traits, a smell, that I don’t perceive consciously. I find myself dysregulated, anxious or depressed, without any understandable cause. And I feel crazy.
The book tells the story of a boy who could not trust a caring teacher, until they understood the teacher was wearing the same deodorant as the boy’s abusive father (who was not allowed to see the boy anymore, at least unsupervised). The boy was not aware of the evocative cue, however. He probably wondered what was wrong with him, as I did in numerous occasions. Of course nothing was wrong with him, apart from his traumatic experiences. He was just triggered back into his feeling state of the time of being abused.
Understanding this, and other concepts of this book, has been a fundamental shift in the way I see myself. It’s been like putting all the pieces together and for the first time really seeing one coherent picture.
There is really nothing wrong with us, apart from what happened to us.
#2 Best healing book of 2022 : Complex PTSD, from surviving to thriving, by Pete Walker
I can not believe this book has been around for a decade or so, has become a classic for recovery from trauma, and I had not bumped into it once before. One of the reason is its title referring to complex PTSD. In order to choose this book, you have to be quite advanced in your recovery, know that you suffer from CPTSD, and already have broken through your denial about your family of origin.
But, if you are prone to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or addictions, and if you know or suspect it has something to do with the way life was in your family of origin, please read this book. Please please please do yourself this favor.
You may recognize yourself every page or so, as I did. Again, I have read a lot of recovery and self help books, several hundreds I would say. And never have I found one that described me so accurately. I usually highlight sentences I find useful, but I have stopped doing this in this case as I was highlighting everything.
Pete Walker talks at length about emotional flashbacks, one key symptom of CPTSD. He talks about our loss of self esteem, our vicious inner critic, our shame, perfectionism, social anxiety, inability to build intimacy. And how it is all linked with ways we were traumatized and abandoned.
He also describes the four possible responses to trauma, Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn, and the four corresponding types of coping. The “Freeze” response is mine. I coped with a traumatic reality by dissociating, and I have been very good at it. I believe it saved me then, but it created a pattern of disconnection from myself and from others. I’m still working on it, as it stands in the way of a fulfilling, pleasurable life.
Like “What happened to you” this book is brilliant. It is describing the same reality, but from the inside. It also allowed me to put all the pieces together and see myself in a coherent and understandable way. And it also gave me useful directions.
#3 Best healing book of 2022 : Us, from Terry Real
I have done a full review for this book already, so I will not say a lot here. This book also talks about us, traumatized people. It is so insightful you feel like highlighting everything, and that it allowed me to understand myself, but this time in the context of relationships. And relationships are definitely a place where our wounds get triggered.
So here it is, my take on great, great healing books for trauma survivors. I have no doubt I will find equally insightful and helpful author this year. Fortunately, it is never over. Please feel free to leave a comment if you feel another book should be added to the list !