Book Review: The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk

The Body Keeps the Score is the book I would have needed decades ago.

I would have needed it when I decided to do whatever was necessary to heal. I believe it would have saved me years of confusion.

And even if I feel much better these days, it is still an amazing read.

This book feels validating, compassionate and insightful. It explains perfectly how a traumatized person feels and thinks, and why.

More importantly, it’s full of hope that recovery is possible and points to proven, but not generally talked about, healing modalities.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk”

The power of connection

I used to think I was uniquely defective and alone. At the time, I did not see my beliefs as a consequence of trauma : I thought the reason was who I was. As a result I did not want anyone close. I did not trust myself, and I did not trust others. I had managed to convince myself I did not need others anyway.

But even then, even when completely disconnected from my need to connect (!), I had a strong urge to find out if other people had lived through similar experiences. I wanted to know what happened to them, and how they were experiencing life, others, and themselves after that. And of course, I wanted to know if, and how they had managed to heal.

Continue reading “The power of connection”

Why do I always fall for the wrong guy ?

“Why do I always fall for the wrong guy?” I must admit it’s a question I asked myself a few times. And when listening to a very interesting podcast with Dr Frank Anderson on Trauma and Internal Family System, the answer came in a reaI “aha” moment.

To be honest, I already knew the answer – or rather, let’s take the grandiosity out of this – my answer. But this very smart psychiatrist and psychotherapist summed it up with a few elegant sentences : “Most adult romantic attractions are really us trying to heal an early attachment wound. Instead of seeking this healing from another person, what we need to do is seek the relationship, get triggered an activated, and then do our work.”

This is brilliant.

Let’s have a look at these few sentences.

Most attractions are us trying to heal an old wound

Of course, while we are in the throws of these attractions, sometimes violently obsessive ones, we do not feel we are seeking salvation or healing. We are convinced we have found a soulmate. Even if this person is not available, highly dysfunctional, or downright dangerous. We believe our love will make everything all right (this time).

But then normal life returns either because the relationship has never started, has failed, or after it has succeeded and we are now in a normal relationship and magical thinking has left. Sometimes we can look back and realize we have dated, or tried to date, the same person all along – with a different name and face, but you know, basically the same. And the relationship, or absence thereof, has basically looked and felt the same as well.

If there is a pattern, we probably are trying to heal an old wound, using different relationships with the same dynamic, over and over again.

In my case, it could be a figure of authority, unavailable, and showing some interest in me (real of fantasized). Or a man who had certain personality traits like narcissism. Best of all: everything at once.

And I have lived my childhood with a narcissistic, married, sexually violent father.

It may seem very obvious stated like this of course, but it took me a very long time to be able to state it that way. Denial is a powerful, far reaching mechanism. It took me years to understand my father was who we was. And years to understand most men are different, so I could be more discriminate.

What we need to do instead is do our work

Nobody can heal us, except ourselves – granted, with the support of others, and if it can be a supportive partner, then it is terrific. But the only person who can really heal us, is us.

I believe we all initially carry this fantasy that someone is coming. We feel terrible, but someone is coming to save us. A prince charming will appear and make us feel all right. It can also be a charming princess of course, depending on our preferences.

It will not work. Nobody’s coming.

I know. I’m really sorry.

If we feel terrible without a relationship, we will feel the same inside a relationship, once the romantic highs fade – and they can fade quickly indeed. It is not the job of a romantic relationship, or any relationship, to heal us. Other people are not here to heal us. Even if they wanted to, they would not be able to, the same way it is impossible to heal someone with broken bones from the outside. The healing happens inside ourselves, mainly because of what we do.

Of course, we don’t necessarily know what to do. This is where books, podcasts, blogs and therapists are useful. They can guide us out of our illusion that some magical person will solve all our problems, and into problem solving. It is the only way.

Now, I have read versions of what I am writing now several times before really getting it. I read them, and believed fervently they did not apply to me. I needed a few iterations of miserably failed relationships to get it.

We all need to have our experiences. But knowing other people frame it differently can help to get it sooner, I think. A guide gives directions we do not necessarily follow, but when we get lost a few times and don’t know what else to do, we backtrack to find the guide and hear him or her out.

Follow the attraction anyway

The wounded part of us is hidden deep down inside ourselves, usually well protected. To put space between this wounded part and our day to day experience, we can use addictions, dissociation (a favorite of mine), intellectualization, compulsive activity, whatever. The result is that our wounded self is not readily accessible. We can actually be very functional, even when carrying a difficult past.

When we get activated by a potential romantic relationship, it touches our wounded self though. This part of us, hoping to be held and healed, comes out. This is what makes us so vulnerable in relationships. This is also why what we feel seems disproportionate sometimes, or not adapted to the situation. We can seem weird from the other side of the relationship. Or we can fit into an unhealthy dance, like the narcissistic – codependent dance, or the avoidant – insecure dance.

If the trauma we went through is significant, the relationship can bring a tremendous amount of pain. We firmly believe we are in the present, but we are in fact feeling and acting from the past. If we are suffering from repeated limerence, or love addiction, we can be sure this is what is happening.

This is our chance. Yes, being limerent or lost in love addiction feels terrible. But it full of hope as well : we are in contact with our wounded self, and can begin real recovery.

After years of doing my work, I still get into limerent episodes although less intense and shorter than before. But each one gets me to a better place. And I hope every one of us will take every attraction, even for the wrong guy, for what it is: a part of us trying to push us into healing.

So the wrong guy may not be the wrong guy after all: he may be a perfect healing opportunity. It all depends on us and if we manage to turn around and look into ourselves .

Me Too Therapy best healing books of 2022

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.

Continue reading “Me Too Therapy best healing books of 2022”

How can I change ?

Is change possible for me? How much change can I realistically expect ? How can I change, particularly if lack of time or money is limiting what I have access to ? Can I do it on my own, or do I need professional help ? Is there hope for me ?

These are the questions I grappled with at the beginning of my recovery. I believe most of us do – wether we call it recovery from an addiction, from anxiety, from depression, from a traumatic past, from complex post traumatic disorder, or sexual violence (sometimes an unfortunate combination of all of the above).

In hindsight, I did change a lot, and I’m still changing. Some traits I believed were innate, like introversion, disappeared. Some traits, like assertiveness, emerged from the depths, together with this previously unknown feeling, anger. My self esteem shot up. Thanks to my new found self esteem and anger, relatively solid boundaries appeared.

Explaining how I changed, though, is a tough challenge. And some problematic aspects did not move at all. Why? I don’t know.

So I recruited help, as usual, this time in the form of a podcast : Why don’t we get better ? by Forrest & Rick Hanson. This podcast seems to be a very promising source of insights and reflexion by the way, so I subscribed. It may well be a nice addition to my very short list of useful podcasts. I’ll keep you posted.

But back to our topic of change: as a very experienced therapist and author, Rick Hanson’s thoughts are much richer and more structured than mine. However, I was glad to see I agree with a lot of what both father and son (isn’t that sweet ?) say here.

Continue reading “How can I change ?”

Healing shame

There are many consequences of having lived through sexual violence. But if I had to chose the most important one, for its impact on my life, or its overwhelming presence in my mind all these years, it would be shame.

Our shame seems to know who we are. It is this voice telling us that we are so inappropriate, wrong, guilty, and stupid, whatever we do. Since it is about us and not our behavior, there is no chance at ever escaping it. The best we can do, is hide our true nature to people around us.

This belief is one of the reasons we feel so lonely: even when surrounded by people who love us, we cannot help thinking they would not, if they knew the “real us”.

Shame is an ugly feeling. It’s dark and heavy. By its sheer presence, it can ruin everything good in our life: either preventing something good to happen, or preventing us from enjoying what is good. It’s a contemptuous, hostile way to relate to ourselves.

And it can be never ending. I used to think I would prefer be anyone else than me. And then I would feel ashamed to be so ashamed. Oh boy.

Continue reading “Healing shame”

How does psychotherapy work ?

I went to see a psychotherapist once it was clear I was not going to make it on my own. And by “make it”, what I really mean is being able to live my life. I waited until I had no other option partly because I did not know how it would work.

Giving access to my inner world to someone else, without understanding what would happen, was terrifying.

I had found my therapist in the phone book, which is admittedly not the best way to do it. At the time the main trend in my country was the psychoanalytical theory. So what I imagined was lying on a couch with a therapist sitting behind me, who would not say a word while I would be going on and on about my past.

Understandably, the idea made me want to run away. I was so relieved when I saw there was no couch and my therapist did not particularly expect me to talk about the past.

Apart from that, she did not have a clue as how to help me, and the therapy went nowhere. Honestly, no benefit at all. After a couple of months of me being mostly confused, she moved to another country and let me in the care of a male, more experienced therapist.

I was petrified at the idea of spending an hour a week alone with this unknown guy, but I gave it a try because it was still my last hope. I think he also did not know how to help a child sexual abuse survivor, but still, with time he managed to reconcile me with the male half of humankind. He also got me to a perfectible but better relationship with myself. All in all, no small result.

Continue reading “How does psychotherapy work ?”

Fear based living

All too often, our decisions are based on the fear of getting in trouble or getting abandoned, rather than on the principles of having meaningful and equitable interactions with the world.

Pete Walker, in Complex PTSD, from Surviving to Thriving

Fight, Flight, Freeze

No need to be a psychologist to know the “fight of flight” phrase. It has been pretty much everywhere, from tv programs to magazines to blogs to online psychology courses. Usually it comes with the example of a cave ancestor faced with a saber toothed tiger.

Threat ? Fight or Flight.

This “Fight or Flight” has been around since the 1920’s, initially describing the instinctual response of animals to danger. With time, it was discovered humans have the same hardwired reaction to threat, and that it can lead to us being traumatized.

Unfortunately, this idea that there are only these two possible reactions to a threat is shaming for us, survivors of sexual trauma. Because of course, when we disclose what we were victims of, or even in the privacy of our own heads, there it goes: “when it happened, why didn’t you fight? Why didn’t you flee?”.

Indeed, most of us did not: instead, we froze.

This can, and very often does, lead to unfair self blame later.

It can also be used by malicious or uninformed people as a proof of consent. I think you know, but just in case: not fleeing, and not fighting, is not a proof of consent. Unpressured explicit consent is a proof of consent. As for children, informed consent simply does not exist.

Continue reading “Fight, Flight, Freeze”

Powered by

Up ↑