Friday, October 23, 2009

Trauma revisited

I am becoming quite uneasy with the way the word "trauma" is bandied about in the context of schizophrenia. Trauma is often likened to something immediate, like child sexual abuse or having a parent who beats you daily in an alcoholic rage. I fear that what I see as a growing insistence to link child abuse with schizophrenia is turning into a witch hunt. We are all traumatized in some way by our upbringing, even by "good" parents. Most of us don't go on to develp schizophrenia.

Trauma in schizophrenia is usually much more subtle than that. It depends on the individual and the personal family history. That's why one person's schizophrenia is never identical to someone else's. It is context specific. It can't be replicated in others because everybody's environment is different.

Think of dropping a stone into a pool of water. The pool is the pool of you, your children and your ancestors. The stone is a triggering event. It could be an untimely death, a grand deception, a stay in prison, an illigimate child. The ripples radiate out in concentric circles. Each generation is a circle. There is displacement. Most of us are not that sensitive to the ripples. But some of us are. Some of us sense that something has happened without knowing anything about its origins. That can be schizophrenia, or depression, or it could be a childhood cancer. There are all kinds of conditions that we take on in response to pain.

Let's understand that "trauma" can mean deeply held "feelings" that even the suffer is unaware as to the origin. The sufferer passes these feelings on

Trauma is human suffering not made conscious.


  1. "Trauma is human suffering". Yes. Maybe one could add: human suffering that is not made conscious.

    I'm not uncritical of Freudianism, but I think French post-modern analysis - Lacan, Kristeva - has a point when it says that the difference between what was called "neurosis" (including, in this case, "depression") and "psychosis" is that "the neurotic" has lost something, while "the psychotic" has never owned it. "The psychotic" has never been allowed to become a whole person. In practice, this means that s/he has been denied the room to become an individual at some point during his/her first six months of life. The basis for "neurosis"/"depression" is laid later in life, after one has established some kind of genuine identity, that then is destroyed, taken away from them. - This also explains why it takes a lot longer, and is somewhat more difficult to resolve "psychotic" problems compared to "neurotic" ones. "The neurotic" knows, what s/he's looking for, because s/he's once owned it. "The psychotic" doesn't.

    The question is how you deny someone the room to become an individual. Of course, the most obvious way is neglect and physical/sexual abuse. What most people don't regard as harmful - and I've been accused of "trivializing real abuse" because I employ a rather broad definition of abuse and trauma - is verbal and/or emotional abuse on the one hand, but also, and even less, the simple fact, that no one can develop a genuine identity of their own, if they haven't got a somewhat genuine identity to mirror themselves through in their primary caregiver. There are countless, individual reasons why someone's identity might be shaky, and it would be wrong to blame people for this. The only thing, I think, you can blame these people for is when they are confronted with their own, what Laing termed ontological insecurity, for instance through their children's ontological insecurity, and choose to turn a blind eye. It's all right to make mistakes, but it's unforgivable to make a mistake, and, although you know it was a mistake, to claim it was the right thing to do.

    The problem is that people who are unaware of their own insecurity (and most people actually are) have a tendency to project their insecurity into others. This applies both to those who talk about "bad parenting", "the schizophrenogenic mother" (what a horrible term!), and those who blame "bad genes". It's not that simple, no.

    You might be interested in Derrick Jensen - if you haven't heard of him yet. Madness radio has a great interview with him:

  2. Marian - I think you are right about human suffering not made conscious, so I've taken the liberty of adding that to the last sentence of my post.


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