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141: The Body Keeps The Score with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
25th July 2021 • Your Parenting Mojo - Respectful, research-based parenting ideas to help kids thrive • Jen Lumanlan
00:00:00 00:44:47

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How does trauma affect us?   Yes, we feel it in our brains - we get scared, frustrated, and angry - often for reasons we don’t fully understand.   But even if our brains have managed to cover up the trauma; to paper a veneer over it so everything seems fine, that doesn’t mean everything actually is fine - because as our guest in this episode, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk says: The Body Keeps The Score.   What he means is that the effects of the trauma you’ve experienced don’t just go away, and can’t just be papered over.  Your body will still hold the evidence in tension, headaches, irritability (of minds and bowels), insomnia...and all of this may come out when your child does something you wish they wouldn’t.   Perhaps it’s something your parent always used to resent doing, and made it super clear to you every time they did it for you.   Perhaps it was something you did as a child and were punished for doing (maybe you were even hit for it...your body is literally remembering this trauma when your child reproduces the behavior).   Lack of manners, talking back, making a mess, not doing as you were told, being silly...even if logically you now know that these are relatively small things, when your child does them it brings back your body’s memories of what happened to you.   Dr. van der Kolk helps us to understand more about how this shows up for us.  Sometimes understanding can be really helpful.  But sometimes you also need new tools, and support as you learn them, and accountability.   If you’re struggling with your reactions to your child’s difficult behavior - whether you’re going into fight, flight, freeze, or fawn mode, the Taming Your Triggers workshop can help. Join the waitlist to be notified when doors reopen.       Dr. van der Kolk's Book:

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (Affiliate link).

  Jump to highlights:
  • (01:00) Introducing Dr. van der Kolk
  • (01:58) Invitation to the Taming Your Triggers Workshop
  • (02:56) A note on some technical difficulties we had while recording this episode
  • (03:14) People often want easy answers: Talking about why we feel like we need pills and alcohol to deal with trauma and not make use of other methods which seem more beneficial
  • (08:16) "We become who we are based on the experiences we had and these early experiences really set your expectations"
  • (11:53) Dr. van der Kolk’s ongoing research on touch and trauma that looks into the virtually unstudied field of touch
  • (14:42) To effectively deal with trauma, people need to discover who they are and find the words for their internal experiences
  • (16:10) On mindfulness and yoga: the physical focus on movement in yoga may open up some space for mindfulness
  • (20:45) Rolfing : opening up the body so that it is released from the configuration it adopted to deal with trauma
  • (23:07) The importance of words and finding somebody who can helps you to find words as cautiously as they can, without inflicting too much of their own value system on you
  • (25:31) Dr. van der Kolk’s current agenda for kids to be taught to have a language for their internal experience
  • (28:27) Two of the most important scientifically proven predictors of adult function
  • (31:26) Dr. van der Kolk talks about Developmental Trauma Disorder
  • (38:31) The power of peer and community support in healing trauma
  • (41:32) Wrapping up
  Links:     [accordion] [accordion-item title="Click here to read the full transcript"] Jen Lumanlan  00:02 Hi, I'm Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives but it can be so hard to keep up with the latest scientific research on child development and figure out whether and how to incorporate it into our own approach to parenting. Here at Your Parenting Mojo, I do the work for you by critically examining strategies and tools related to parenting and child development that are grounded in scientific research and principles of respectful parenting.   Jen Lumanlan  00:28 If you'd like to be notified when new episodes are released, and get a FREE guide called 13 Reasons Why Your Child Isn't Listening To You and What To Do About Each One, just head on over to You can also continue the conversation about the show with other listeners in the free Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. I do hope you'll join us   Jen Lumanlan  01:00 Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today we're here with a guest who is a luminary in his field of trauma psychology, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. Dr. van der Kolk has been at the forefront of translating emerging findings from neuroscience and attachment research, development and study a range of treatments for traumatic stress in children and adults for decades now. He began by studying post traumatic stress disorder in veterans and has gone on to study it and other adults as well as how trauma affects children. He's studied treatments to help people improve their functioning in the world by looking beyond symptoms to understanding the causes of their behavior that's generating their problems. And then not just shifting their cognitive understanding of the problems and the causes, but also showing them how to change their physical experience of their lives. Dr. van der Kolk's book The Body Keeps The Score is required reading for anyone who wants to begin understanding that trauma isn't just something we experience in our brains, but something that lives in us.   Jen Lumanlan  01:58 If what you hear in today's interview resonates with you and you see how the trauma that you've experienced in your life is impacting your relationship with your children today, I invite you to join my Taming Your Triggers workshop, which is open for registration from Sunday, August 1st through Wednesday, August 11th. It's a 10-week course where you learn the real sources of your triggered feelings which either lie in the kinds of Big T traumatic experiences that we'll discuss here today or potentially in not having your needs seen and met by your parents. You'll get all the support you need in our private, non-Facebook community. And you can sign up to get an Accountabuddy to bounce ideas off as you're learning them, and to hold you gently accountable for doing the work when you might otherwise just let it fall by the wayside because it's difficult or maybe even threatening to the stories that your overactive left brain has told you about your experiences for all these years. You can go to to learn more about the course and sign up.   Jen Lumanlan  02:56 I also wanted to mention that we had some technical challenges during this interview. So you may notice a little bit of choppiness as we had to remove some sections because they weren't understandable. But even so there's such an incredible amount of value in what Dr. van der Kolk was saying that I know you're going to get something useful out of it. So here we go.   Jen Lumanlan  03:14 I was curious to hear your interview with Krista Tippett and on being which a number of people have recommended as a really stellar interview. And you had talked about how people in other cultures have things like dancing and moving and singing really integrated into their cultures and religions. And I've been to church since I was a child, but there was no there was no dancing, there's no moving the Church of England, and it also reminded me of Resmaa Menakem's book, my Grandmother's Hands where he describes people who were enslaved, using exactly these practices to continue their culture and heal their trauma. Yeah, but we just kind of stuff it down and then it comes back to bite us later. And we find that we need the pills and that we need the the alcohol, or it feels like we need that. What's what happened in our culture, do you think to make us, sort of head down in that direction instead of these other practices that seem like they're much more beneficial?   Bessel van der Kolk  04:08 Well, of course, it depends on the culture, we live in and like, let's say you would live in Berkeley, California would not be unusual to go to your yoga studio. In other parts of the country, you are a traitor to your religion, if yoga or your environments in among the people I hang out with having a yoga practice and meditation practice would be or even martial arts practice would be very common. But that's a small segment of the population of course. You know, people like easy answers. And, and that's true all over the world. Let me give an example. A few years ago, there was this huge tsunami in in the Indian Ocean and a group from my clinic, went down to Sri Lanka to do first aid. And they called me for the beach in Sri Lanka and said, Bessel, they have everything here that they need to recover. They are moving together, they are singing together, they have rituals. It's beautiful. But down the street, Pfizer pharmaceuticals has come with pills. And they all the Sri Lankan people are lining up behind it, the Pfizer truck to get the pill to make the pain go away. And I think that's always, around the world, the issue is is the community strong enough to induce you to share your pain communally, Or do you go off drinking or drugging by yourself? I think that's, you know, you see that all over the world in some ways, but in other parts of the world, the other things are more easily accessible.   Jen Lumanlan  05:58 Yeah, and I think it might have been in the On Being episode or another interview that I heard from you where you were talking about how you helped out in Puerto Rico after the hurricane, I think I think it was, if I'm remembering that correctly. Yeah. And that I that, again, people were sort of taking charge of what needed to be done and they had a sense of autonomy over the start of the repair work. And then FEMA arrives, and and completely takes over the whole thing and, and says that you're going to do it, how we're going to do it and stop doing all these things you've been doing. And it just seems as though we sort of impose these ways on other people a lot of the time as well.   Bessel van der Kolk  06:35 Yeah, of course, American society has these inborn things about top down versus individualistic enterprises. But, you know, you can say all kinds of things are inaccessible. But America is still the land of innovation. Somehow, our culture is still off, it's okay to start something new and start to try out new things. And you see things happen all the time. So this is tension between. But we don't have a government that really for us, for the people, but at least we still have a culture where there's a relative amount of possibility for people to develop alternative structures.   Jen Lumanlan  07:15 Yeah. So I'd love to sort of go back a little bit, as it were into your history of working with people who've experienced trauma. And I know that you were really struck by the early, early animal research where researchers not including you, were giving painful electric shocks to dogs while they were trapped in cages. And then they would open the cage doors, and the dogs who had been shocked would just kind of sit there whimpering. And I think this has obvious parallels to situations like domestic abuse, where we might say, Well, why doesn't the patient the person just leave. But I'm also interested in the implications of this for people who are not in the thick of the trauma right now that it has happened to them in the past something like, you know, divorce and bullying and things that happened in our childhood, and that this has profoundly shifted the ways that we show up in our relationships with our children today. And I think it's so tempting to just say, well, you're not in that hurtful situation anymore, that you were in when you were a child, why don't you just do it differently? Why, why doesn't that work?   Bessel van der Kolk  08:16 Because you still are in a situation, because we become who we are, on the basis of the experiences we have had. And the experiences that we have had in our brain mind, predicts how things will be in the future. So if you're experienced as a kid is that the people who are supposed to take care of you, regularly humiliate you, put you down and make you feel terrible about yourself, that becomes your map of the world. And later on, you may meet somebody who puts you down and humiliate you, you go like, wow, this person is terrible person, but I feel at home. You may feel more comfortable in his in his own bizarre way with that person who does nasty things to you, does somebody who's actually nice to you. That's, so these early experiences really set your expectations as set your reward system of your brain. So that certain things become pleasurable, for other people may not be pleasurable, or they may feel terrible for other people feel terrific. And it's not a conscious decision because these things get laid down in the nether regions of your brain.   Jen Lumanlan  09:33 Yeah, and it I think it has a lot of connections obviously to attachment theory and I've been digging into a lot of reading on that lately and how babies will even seek out attachment they'll they'll be motivated to connect with a parent even if the parent is abusive towards the child. So it's   Bessel van der Kolk  09:54 ...we're we're very communal creatures. For me, by far the most interesting course at the college was about Harlow and his monkeys. And it turns out that now, several of my closest friends, were working for Harlow at the same time that I was studying Harlow. And, you know, seeing how we as human beings really are little monkeys with a gigantic frontal lobe. And I always love to look at monkeys because they chase each other, and they groom, each other, they fight they do things very much like human beings. And what Harlow found is that monkeys need to be attached. And humans need to be attached. There's not like an option... COVID is not like, oh, let's just be by ourselves for a year and not connect with other people. No, that is who we are. We are defined by our context, defined by people who know us, people don't know us, the people who recognize us to make people may feel special. That's who we are. Most of our brain is for social enterprise.   Jen Lumanlan  11:12 Yeah, so there's severe problems there where we can't do that. And just for anyone who's listening, who is not familiar with the Harlow's experiment, this is where he's creating these monkeys made out of wire that I mean, some of them would puff air at the baby every time the baby tried to hug up to it. And some of them had spikes on. Some of them were just a Terrycloth over a piece of wire and you see these pitiful pictures of baby monkeys hugging on for dear life.   Bessel van der Kolk  11:34 There is clue to the mothers hugging the Terrycloth. The mothers who feed them, which is really interesting. Touching, actually just, you're doing research right now with touch and trauma. Being touched being held, is very much at the core of who we are here.   Jen Lumanlan  11:53 Oh, can you tell me some more about that? What are you looking at in that research?   Bessel van der Kolk  11:56 Are we looking at the a lot of challenges, people are terrified of touch, don't feel comfortable with touch, or need touch all the time, or don't get comfort from touch. So there's a real altered relationship to your bodily systems. And you know, because we have been so drugs or yakking in our field, we haven't paid attention to that. And for me, it's interesting that there have been Nobel prizes figuring out how vision works, and how audition works and how smell works, and some people left out touch. And touch has been virtually not studied, even though the first thing we do when we're distressed is to hold on to each other. And often when something terrible happens, we don't even have words, but just feeling somebody hope even better is bigger and stronger to you or to hold you said it will be okay. It's very powerful. And people who are traumatized, have terrific difficulties taking in the comfort of touch, living with it, and I think just a dimension that we need to pay much more attention to.   Jen Lumanlan  13:11 Yeah, yeah, I agree. And I think it's partly to do with the body brain split that we enforce through various aspects of our culture where...   Bessel van der Kolk  13:19 That's culture. It's who we are.   Jen Lumanlan  13:20 Yeah. Yeah, yeah, we privilege everything that happens in the brain is rational and better than anything else that's happening elsewhere in the body. And yeah, so I was thinking then about some of the ways that people who maybe don't have...





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