kortina.nyc / notes
12 Oct 2023 | by kortina

Van der Kolk // The Body Keeps the Score

The Body Keeps the Score is one of those books making podcast / book club circuits… so I’ve been hesitant to read it.

But right around the time I had exhausted all of the Cormac McCarthy on Libby (1) a friend whose opinion I really trust on books Rx-ed it and (2) the book became available from my library, so I finally read it.

It was kind of fun reading this directly after finishing No Country for Old Men, because you can see some of the behavior Van der Kolk attributes to PTSD in many of the No Country characters.

Notes and quotes…

387 At the opening session for a group of former Marines, the first man to speak flatly declared, “I do not want to talk about the war.” I replied that the members could discuss anything they wanted. After half an hour of excruciating silence, one veteran finally started to talk about his helicopter crash. To my amazement the rest immediately came to life, speaking with great intensity about their traumatic experiences. All of them returned the following week and the week after. In the group they found resonance and meaning in what had previously been only sensations of terror and emptiness. They felt a renewed sense of the comradeship that had been so vital to their war experience. They insisted that I had to be part of their newfound unit and gave me a Marine captain’s uniform for my birthday. In retrospect that gesture revealed part of the problem: You were either in or out—you either belonged to the unit or you were nobody. After trauma the world becomes sharply divided between those who know and those who don’t. People who have not shared the traumatic experience cannot be trusted, because they can’t understand it. Sadly, this often includes spouses, children, and co-workers.

412 As we now know, war is not the only calamity that leaves human lives in ruins. While about a quarter of the soldiers who serve in war zones are expected to develop serious posttraumatic problems,10 the majority of Americans experience a violent crime at some time during their lives, and more accurate reporting has revealed that twelve million women in the United States have been victims of rape. More than half of all rapes occur in girls below age fifteen.11 For many people the war begins at home: Each year about three million children in the United States are reported as victims of child abuse and neglect. One million of these cases are serious and credible enough to force local child protective services or the courts to take action.12 In other words, for every soldier who serves in a war zone abroad, there are ten children who are endangered in their own homes. This is particularly tragic, since it is very difficult for growing children to recover when the source of terror and pain is not enemy combatants but their own caretakers.

This got me thinking: what if the universe is not benign? That seems improbable – at best, it’s indifferent…

1375 Nina and I decided to create a set of test cards specifically for children, based on pictures we cut out of magazines in the clinic waiting room. Our first study compared twelve six- to eleven-year-olds at the children’s clinic with a group of children from a nearby school who matched them as closely as possible in age, race, intelligence, and family constellation.1 What differentiated our patients was the abuse they had suffered within their families…


1389 In card after card we saw that, despite their alertness to trouble, the children who had not been abused still trusted in an essentially benign universe; they could imagine ways out of bad situations. They seemed to feel protected and safe within their own families. They also felt loved by at least one of their parents, which seemed to make a substantial difference in their eagerness to engage in schoolwork and to learn.

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