Bessel Van der Kolk and liberating yourself from repressed traumas

With great interest, I watched the three-hour Zomergasten broadcast with psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk. Growth from trauma is a central theme in my life. Moreover, I find this one of the most fascinating themes of all time, which will never bore me. Two major discussions were taking place in the public debate, namely about repressing trauma and about care innovation.

Repressing trauma and care innovation; that’s what it was about following the interview with Bessel van der Kolk in Zomergasten. The Netherlands had to be warned for such a ‘dangerous man’ as van der Kolk, because specialists could talk clients into trauma. Thus, repressing trauma would not exist. Geeze.

As a wounded healer and experiential expert+++ within a family history in which many transgenerational traumas, child abuse, narcissism, sadism and religious forms of coercion have taken place, I think this is an extremely dangerous idea to spread. I have no idea who those scientists are that wrote this piece in de Volkskrant – which is their right to do if they want to. But what immediately comes to mind with some common sense is that there may be other interests at heart hidden behind doing this. Do they serve themselves, the system or humanity?

As an experience expert, let me explain in an accessible manner that an incredible number of people are silent about their traumas in order to protect others. Van der Kolk also talked about this on the back of a fragment from the film Doubt. A black woman can’t handle the thought of her 12-year-old son being abused by a priest, because he has to persevere in order to get minimal opportunities, such as university entrance. We see the complex frameworks of race, institution, beliefs and family systems in other times. In the world where I come from, namely the Jewish ultra-orthodoxy in the Netherlands, people have looked away, kept silent, did not only fail to take action, but also the non-Jewish professional aid organizations were deliberately kept out of the community and more.

People with traumas have often not been seen for centuries, resulting in a bit of a victim society today. That will improve at some point if we know how to handle it well for the future. And the profiteers of these times should be ashamed of themselves. But that’s for another opinion piece.

Even I experienced this a bit. Even today, when I deliberately use pieces of history for change in the world, people think it’s not that bad—especially with the narcissism and sadism in my teenage years. Because look what an eloquent, well-functioning and strong woman I am. All of that may be true, but that doesn’t exclude the other side to it either, let alone the sacrifices and struggles that I’ve made to get ahead.

Someone close to me has indeed repressed trauma. That trauma has surfaced under hypnosis, after which the healing process has only started to happen as best as it could. Little by little, the details have emerged. Repressing this trauma has had huge consequences on my life – like a domino effect. If only I had known about these histories long before I was born. That would have enabled me to act even better than I already did during and after the first eighteen years of my life. And it would have enabled me to suffer less.

There are even moments in which I wonder if I have repressed something, or if I don’t know something. That can also be a positive matter. And I’m someone who doesn’t walk away from anything. Instead, I am open to any confrontation that needs to happen. I have memories since I was a few days old, which sounds strange to many people, but for which I am incredibly grateful. That allows me to see clearly all the good and the bad, exactly as it is and not according to unbalanced filters. The bottom was reached already years ago (at 32) and I am incredibly calm. And yet – even I sometimes wonder. It is just a human phenomenon if you want to understand and grow.

What I know for sure is that no sincere person, with the intention of healing, would let a professional talk them into trauma. In normal situations, professionals – or anyone else for that matter – don’t have that power at all. Certainly not in a stubborn and individualistic country like the Netherlands. This may be different within the closed-up communities. Just as I am sure that there are few people out there who would make up trauma having certain interests at heart.

This reminds me of writer Griet Op De Beeck and the bizarre allegations that she made up the abuse. Put yourself in her position for a second and use your empathy. Then: something inhumane has happened and we say it’s not true and that it is only created for a bestseller. Horrible. A humane response would be to receive it without judgment, to respect it and to place it within the framework of the social interest – whatever you may or may not like about it.

Or in my case a little closer to home: that six victims of sexual abuse by a teacher at the Jewish Orthodox school in the Netherlands would have made up that this happened to them because of an iPad they could get if that was their testimony (yes really…). Or because of the interests of others that they would support. Being right and being right according to the law are two very different matters. Of course, I was not there when it happened and only followed the case from a distance. And we must respect the law. But never, ever let me turn my back on people and make them feel like I don’t see them.

I think the discussion around healthcare innovation in the Netherlands is more than crucial and is only in its infancy. From my perspective, there are still many professionals who are concerned with their own interests and not with the healing of others. Interests such as how much money and ego confirmation their care yields.

I call them ‘piece handlers’ or ‘narrow tunnel handlers’, because they zoom in on a specific piece within their domain and stick to what they think has been determined by science. They do this instead of integrating mind and body with some common sense and trying some alternative options. Options that can differ from person to person and that actually respond to the causes instead of symptoms of trauma (which, for example, have to be addressed by medication).

For years, I have followed an incredible number of summits, researched works by international masters and compared the Netherlands with, for example, America in the field of psychology, spirituality and philosophy. Name a work, methodology or tool and I have studied it and sometimes tried it out.

From that process, I concluded that the Netherlands still has some way to go in the field of healthcare innovation. For example, one session of plant medicines can sometimes heal more than years of sessions with a professional. Especially when there is nothing clinically wrong at all, alternatives such as the arts or exercise can be of great added value to the healing process. Psychiatrist Bram Bakker also reflects on this status quo via BNNVARA, Joop. I’m very happy with that.

What I personally found the most interesting statement by Bessel van der Kolk is how a trauma brain manages to act completely adequately in the situation, but years later not in everyday situations. In fact, I recently decided to bring back the teenage version of Dina-Perla, because she was phenomenal. She was a force of nature as they call it, with a great sense of justice. The latter is still there, but the former has to come back. In some ways she was much stronger than the Dina-Perla of today. For example, in its simplistic and instinctive wisdom – long before I’ve picked up other wisdom through years of study and self-development.

The teenage version of Dina-Perla, in turn, would applaud today’s Dina-Perla for her courage. But today’s Dina-Perla wants her straightforwardness of ‘not this’ and ‘I’m worth more than this’, because how that wisdom makes life easy. Not this. I am worth more than this. Whatever it may be in the moment. Don’t waste time on it, keep your strength and carry on. And her love of dancing as an alternative lubricant for the body and soul. Today, no clubs and going out, but ‘ecstatic dancing’ to the music of Mose. You know: the thing that the authors in de Volkskrant call dangerous and the thing that some call vague. Absolutely delicious.

The Dutch version of this article was published by BNNVARA, Joop.