The alluring, but spurious, notion that all our problems stem from childhood has infiltrated our society.
I worked at a trauma-informed children's mental health clinic for about four years in fundraising/grant writing. I was steeped in the language and theory there and Van der Kolk was often referenced, so were the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) of trauma. The children we served had witnessed murders, their mother's abuse, they'd been abused themselves, lived with addicts of one kind or another, and generally occupied a lower economic area of the city. Most of them had indeed experienced trauma and the point of the clinic was to get to them early to treat them with cognitive behavioral therapy and help grow in them any sign of resilience - the only antidote to trauma.
At the time, there was not a lot known about why some people had more resilience than others and I have not read up on the literature in years, so I do not know what the new findings are now that Satel refers to but resilience, not trauma, needs to be emphasized. This is especially true to address what Satel only beings to talk about and falls short in really delving into - people trying to find trauma in their lives to explain their ailments or why they are the way they are. It's attention seeking behavior and it bumps up against a type of narcissism rooted in victimhood that I see everywhere, especially in young people and the Zoomer generation.
I started seeing and hearing people around me talking about experiencing trauma in the present and reliving it in the past when in fact the incidents they associated with trauma did not appear to be traumatic (such as what Satel refers to as microagressions). Some would claim they were "triggered," a very real thing that happens to people with PTSD, not something that college students should be crying wolf over because something makes them upset or uncomfortable. It was (and is) mimetic, this desire to be a victim rather than to rise above, and the desire to tell the story of why one is sick or broken. This is just one more example of our cultural infantilization and it makes for a society of victims. Unfortunately, victimhood is what draws the spotlight now on social media and, as Prince Harry demonstrates with his book tour, in the mainstream media.
I think these concepts have also trickled down into, and influence the rise in distorted thinking around racism in America. Recently, Wilfred Reilly wrote an insightful opinion piece in Newsweek, "Americans Are Convinced That Race Relations Are Bad. The Data Says the Opposite." Racism in America has declined, but if so why do so many Black people believe the opposite, and feel oppressed, he asks? "The answer is that our society has for some navel-gazing reason begun talking obsessively about racism. Mentions of terms such as 'racists' and 'racism' have increased hundreds of percent across virtually every major news outlet since the empirically more bigoted 1970s and 1980s . . .The general assumption among our pragmatic population seems to be that anything discussed often and frantically must be a true existential crisis. As a result, citizens have begun to wildly over-estimate current levels of ethnic conflict."
This is social contagion (Satel gives the example of the Satanic ritual social contagion, but there are many documented cases in history), and it is showing up everywhere from DEI to the rise in the number of children identifying as trans. The question is - what's the antidote?
Harry is a grifter. These people are monetizing suffering. Invariably there is “mission creep” in these “diagnoses” which looks ridiculous over time. There really is a place to say “get up, brush yourself off, and move on”
I don't think the idea that people are incorrectly mimicking trauma for popularity and identity (which I've also noticed) necessarily invalidates trauma-informed approaches.
Did those incorrect mimickers get that story from a therapist, or are they cobbling it together on their own from pop culture?
Developing the resilience to heal actual trauma starts with seeing it clearly and without avoidance or overemphasis. It doesn't STAY there, but it starts there. The fact that some people are drawn to pseudo-trauma and perseveration doesn't mean that real survivors need to follow suit.
A few decades ago, pseudo-trauma was not in the public sphere, which was a plus, but many therapists had little to no actual trauma training either, leading many of them to give bad and even harmful service to actual trauma survivors (PTSD, narcissistic abuse, etc.).
Since the end of WWII and the rise of advertising, society has moved steadily away from collectivism. The primary way people individualized themselves was through what they buy and wear (mini-skirts and Harleys being early examples).
We are now moving to individualism based on personality - political and social affiliations, and psychological afflictions. That's a broader social shift, and one that I don't believe was caused by psychology.
Just because people are shopping for a diagnosis doesn't mean that childhood experiences don't affect one's formation. In fact, diagnosis-shopping could be an excellent opportunity to dig into what childhood messages might have lauded victimization at the expense of resilience. I suspect there is a mountain of parental anxiety buried in some of those situations!
Prince Harry is a perfect example of the above. I have no doubt his childhood had a profound impact on his world view. Losing your mother as a child IS traumatic, and I see no reason why that can't exist in the same space as other aspects of his personality.
In short, I think this article conflates real treatment with internet pop culture in a way that is inaccurate and unhelpful.
I am not clear what Dr Satel's experiences are with working with individuals from all walks of life, rather than just ones that are mostly diagnosed with DSM-5-TR disorders. As a therapist who has been working extensively with people who have been, both diagnosed with specific disorders and people who are just dealing with every day personal and relationship issues, I have come to understand the complex neurological, psychological and psycho-social workings of childhood traumas in every person with whom I have worked.
It is not complicated if you bring into your assessment the machinations of our brain's design to conserve energy. Experience build brain structure has been demonstrated by the top neuroscientists (see Harvard's https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/experiences-build-brain-architecture/). Yes, we are extremely resilient, but for survival, not thrival. Our adaption to our early childhood environments wires in a manner that is adaptive for our survival in childhood, but maladaptive to living a fulfilled, authentic and creative adulthood. Due to the nature of our brain's conservation of energy design, in our personal and interpersonal relationships we often continue to react from a helpless child's frame of reference, fearful, and desperately driven to seek approval and sense of belonging when we are actually physically and cognitively capable adults who could deal with conflict and challenges if we perceived reality more clearly.
These obsolete reactive patterns need to be identified and rewired in adulthood so that we can perceive and respond to a truer read on reality.
There is a reason why our world looks the way it does; we perceive reality from a lawful and specific adaptive lens that evolved from our unique adaptation to the environment into which we were born. We are nature, and as such are governed by nature's cause and effect laws. The more we understand the interplay between our biological, neurological and psycho-social dynamics, the better we will be able to address the mental health issues we are currently facing.
With regards to the increase in both the trauma narrative and the documented increase in mental illness, what often goes unmentioned is the never before seen in human history "social-informational" environment we are living in.
The internet has us drowning in information, much of which we have to process through a social lens and I can't help but think this environment weakens the "resilience response" and erodes mental flexibility, making us more prone to both real and perceived traumas.
I think that in addition to the ill effects of social media, this sensitivitrauma discourse has had a profound impact on Millennials and Gen Z.
For all their good characteristics, such as their aspiration to authenticity and excellence, I can also see high rates of anxiety and overall lack of resilience.
Nowadays it is so easy to spend a lot of time online reading about psychiatric disorders, trying to figure out what is wrong, seeing everything as “toxic,” and you can convince yourself you have PTSD or even autism, and once you internalize this you become what in the ‘70s they called neurotic.
As a Gen X, I can see the difference: We were protected by our cynicism. In contrast, younger people are so much more earnest and uptight, and they stigmatize themselves as a result.
Mate’ is a solid theorist. His thesis contains some valuable insights about how we don’t adequately account for what he calls “psycho-social” impacts on our health. The connection between mind and body etc. That said, one should not be diagnosing people in the way that he does without more data and direct exposure to the individual. He starts with some solid and useful counter medical culture observations about our incomplete approaches to medicine and then he takes it to the point of absurdity. Heavy woo woo vibes.
First, what exactly is a trauma-informed society, and how is that measured so we know we actually are one?
Second, I understand your premise: the likelihood for almost everyone to revisit their childhood through a lens of “What happened to me?” ushered by the cultural wave of being trauma-informed. Yet famed author Glennon Doyle muses about the opposite in her book Untamed when she cannot connect her eating disorder with her idyllic childhood.
Author Nancy Verrier, after years of connecting stories and experiences of adopted children given to loving parents vetted by the child welfare system, identified in thousands of these now adults, relationship attachment issues and people-pleasing tendencies. These are behavioral patterns that track back to wounding from a primal separation occurring before a child can even speak.
Childhood trauma is not only real but unrealized by many. It is not something that needs to be searched out, it lives in daily interactions with others as people react in ways that identify unmet childhood needs sometimes so extreme that they flow beneath the surface of one’s psyche, coming out sideways in most cases.
If humans were really this pathetic, we never would have made it out of the stone age.
I found forgiveness to be the only way forward regarding family rifts. You're not capable of changing other's words or actions and it does no good whatsoever to live in the past. Hopefully my children will be able to get over their childhood trauma as I was. God forbid they had to settle for Chips Ahoy when they really wanted the damned Oreos!!
To me, this trauma-informed therapy approach feels more like masturbatory suffering that will wind up emotionally crippling its patients. I mean, how was Abraham Lincoln, whose early tragedies are the stuff of nineteenth-century lore, ever able to survive childhood, much less thrive as an adult? He looked onward and outward. Perhaps the underlying issue for most of us these days is not traumatic events per se, but our decreasing sense of personal resilience. Alfred Lord Whitehead reportedly said, “Civilizations thrive until they start to focus on themselves.” . . . So thankful that Dr. Satel is pursuing this critically necessary critique.
I am reminded of the MeToo movement where nearly every inappropriate act was considered as equal to assault. If all acts are equal then the truly traumatic acts of rape are diminished.
What a much needed voice in this conversation! I recently heard Mate for the first time on a podcast. He’s intelligent and speaks clearly, so I can see how convincing he might be. However, the logic breaks down incredibly rapidly. He spoke of trauma to young children when they don’t get what they need, but all of us with very young children know that they don’t have clear conceptions of their needs. This is why adults need to care for them, set boundaries, choose their diets, etc. I think no one would argue that denying a toddler a second pint of ice cream would be abuse, but to a toddler it might feel like it. The perceived trauma can even be extreme for children. I’ve seen my child hyperventilate in her toddlerhood over not getting a balloon. What I’m trying to say is that our perceptions and reactions to things might not be equal or even in the same ballpark as the harm caused by them. This is why such a subjective approach to trauma would make ALL of us severely traumatized and likely to have some kind of mental disorder manifested or lurking in our minds, waiting to pounce. Broad statements like “a child being neglected” will develop “disorders” is absolutely like a psychic or palm reader with broad, universal appeal. Specific examples of child abuse with evidence backed claims, such as “children who are beaten are more likely to become violent, as evidenced by x,” are not as fun, sexy, splashy— and most importantly, are not relevant to the broad w swath of people buying pop psychology books.
I’m a licensed mental health counselor, all I can say is who is this person? because the degree to which they are ignorant of modern psychotherapy is astonishing.
The dominant form of psychotherapy being practiced today globally is cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT does not have an emphasis on early childhood experiences. The emphasis on childhood experiences comes more from earlier types of therapy that are based off of Freud and Adler. There is merit to examining what happened in a persons childhood often maladaptive patterns of behavior start young.
But as a practicing psychotherapist about zero of what was described in this article applies to modern work. I can only assume it was written by someone who is extremely out of touch with how modern psychotherapy practiced.
It’s also important to note that psychiatrists are the least competent psychotherapists. So that might have something to do with it. If you ever need therapy, get it from the mental health counselor, a social worker or a psychologist. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in prescribing medication‘s to people. Most never engage in therapy with clients. When they do they are garbage at therapy. That’s probably why this author is so far off the mark.
I spent much of my life with major mental illness which had a genetic/metabolic origin. This is not particularly uncommon yet my parents spent a fortune on the various talk therapies that were the current fad: Freudian, cognitive, nowadays trauma. This is not to say these have no value, but they have an appealing story side which explains, sometimes blames, but rarely fixes. With biochemical treatment, my issue—which caused extreme expense and suffering for my family and myself— cleared in less than a year. I wonder when psychiatrists will stop acting as sales reps for Pharma and actually concentrate on practicing medicine, exploring and categorizing medical issues such as heavy metal exposure, celiac disease, thyroid disorders and genetic glitches that provoke mental illness. Many of these can be successfully treated.
Unfortunately, prince, who is both “not-the-sharpest-tool in-the-shed” and a high profile scandalous figure is being strategically used by very smart and influential actors for agenda pushing and monetary profit.