Friday, 31 July 2015
My Book nearly completed and musings on Virgina Woolf, Amy Winehouse and the nature of trauma.
The Victorians were notorious for their sexually strict morals (outwardly) and the therefore unfortunate fact that many children were sexually abused in secret. What differs then of course was that no-one dare talk about it - Freud when he first declared that much of the neurosis he saw was due to sexual abuse of his clients as children scandalised Viennese society and he was forced to retract the idea and declare instead that these were children's fantasies (after all doesn't every child want to have sex with their parents??). Sadly these ideas were universally accepted as he was so influential no-one dared to disagree for many years. Even in the 1970's a standard psychiatric textbook declared incest to be so rare as to be unimportant and in any case had no significant effect on the child!* Today after the Jimmy Saville enquiry and the grooming of children in major UK cities we know differently..
Children are profoundly affected by such experiences, as well as lesser traumas such as being unloved or betrayed and the result, when their brains are still forming, is permanent dysfunction from subconsciously triggered traumatic memory. And, as my book makes clear this has very real physical results; dizziness (fainting), tinnitus, depression, migraines, panic attacks, irritable bowel syndrome and so on. These effects are real and they could be the basis of much mental and physical suffering including bipolar disorder which Virginia is believed to have suffered from.
I was incredibly saddened but also vindicated to read that she and her sister Vanessa, had indeed been abused by their half brothers, George and Gerald Duckworth, as she recalled in an essay ' A sketch of the Past' written in 1939. Could our current understanding of traumatic memory have saved her if she lived today?
But would she and all the other people who have these hidden scars be healed now? To be honest it's unclear whether this information has filtered down to mental health professionals, or certainly primary care where most people first report mental health issues. There is still much work to be done. I hope in writing my book, which details much of the science behind the stress response and how it relates to traumatic memory, will help elucidate this information to a sceptical public and other professionals. The science is there. It just hasn't been joined up sufficiently yet to be understandable within a specialised, fragmented medical model. I hope to redress that balance.
* Bessel van der Kolk, one of the worlds' leading figures in the study of trauma, read us an extract from the manual as part of my trauma training. It was mind-blowing.