Quotes by Bessel A. van der Kolk

"Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.” (p.97)"
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"As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself…The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage."
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"Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives."
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"BEFRIENDING THE BODY

Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child-abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe. In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.

In my practice I begin the process by helping my patients to first notice and then describe the feelings in their bodies—not emotions such as anger or anxiety or fear but the physical sensations beneath the emotions: pressure, heat, muscular tension, tingling, caving in, feeling hollow, and so on. I also work on identifying the sensations associated with relaxation or pleasure. I help them become aware of their breath, their gestures and movements.

All too often, however, drugs such as Abilify, Zyprexa, and Seroquel, are prescribed instead of teaching people the skills to deal with such distressing physical reactions. Of course, medications only blunt sensations and do nothing to resolve them or transform them from toxic agents into allies.

The mind needs to be reeducated to feel physical sensations, and the body needs to be helped to tolerate and enjoy the comforts of touch. Individuals who lack emotional awareness are able, with practice, to connect their physical sensations to psychological events. Then they can slowly reconnect with themselves."
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"The brain-disease model overlooks four fundamental truths: (1) our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another. Restoring relationships and community is central to restoring well-being; (2) language gives us the power to change ourselves and others by communicating our experiences, helping us to define what we know, and finding a common sense of meaning; (3) we have the ability to regulate our own physiology, including some of the so-called involuntary functions of the body and brain, through such basic activities as breathing, moving, and touching; and (4) we can change social conditions to create environments in which children and adults can feel safe and where they can thrive.

When we ignore these quintessential dimensions of humanity, we deprive people of ways to heal from trauma and restore their autonomy. Being a patient, rather than a participant in one’s healing process, separates suffering people from their community and alienates them from an inner sense of self."
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Bessel A. van der Kolk
  • Bessel A. van der Kolk

  • Description: Bessel A. van der Kolk, M.D. has been the Medical Director of The Trauma Center in Boston for the past 30 years. He is a Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University Medical School and serves as the Director of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress Complex Trauma Network. He is past President of International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

    Though he identifies himself primarily as a clinician, he has published well over 100 peer reviewed scientific articles on various aspects of trauma, including his current projects: 1) yoga for treating PTSD, funded by the National Institutes of Health; 2) the use of theater for violence prevention in the Boston public schools, funded by the CDC; 3) the mechanisms of EMDR; 4) sensory integration; and 5) the use of neurofeedback in PTSD.

    He participated in the first neuroimaging study of PTSD, in the first study to link Borderline Personality Disorder with childhood trauma; was co-principal investigator of the DSM IV Field Trial for PTSD and is chair of the NCTSN DSM V workgroup on Developmental Trauma Disorder. He has written extensively about using neuroscience research to identify appropriate treatments for PTSD and completed the first NIMH-funded study of EMDR. He has taught at universities and hospitals around the world.

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