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#453104 - 11/09/13 10:56 PM The Trauma Myth -- trash or insightful?
Jacob S Offline

Registered: 01/01/13
Posts: 653
Loc: where the shadows lie
I came across "The Trauma Myth" by Susan Clancy recently and while I am initially shocked and dismayed by what I think it is saying, I am willing to reserve final judgment because there are a lot of people out there who feel the author is onto something. I understand how it helps some people to be able to recognize that just because they didn't feel traumatized doesn't mean it wasn't damaging.

Personally though, I read an interview of her ( ) and it only left me with a bad taste in my mouth. At one point she clearly says "[repressed memory] doesn't exist." There's a big difference between being skeptical of a claim and out and out calling people liars, and I feel she crosses that line. Her opinion is that memories aren't repressed, just forgotten. I'm not sure what the line is between a repressed memory and a forgotten memory or if that even matters.

She also says in that interview that sexual abuse is really only awful in 5% of cases. Not sure where she got that number from, but she seems to be suggesting that any assault that does not land someone in a hospital does not qualify as "awful."

In other places, she talks about the role of society as being the cause of much of the pain a victim faces. I'm not going to call her pro-pedophile, but pro-pedophile apologists will often say that the child would not be harmed if society allowed room for such (puke) "relationships." I will agree that societies that do not value a frank introspection probably have less incidents of men breaking down in adulthood due to recovered memories. After all, many of us came to the truth about our own childhood as a result of someone else's story. If no one shares their story, it all stays under the surface. But that doesn't mean there is no damage done. I think millenia of violent, mysoginistic, oppressive societies (the supposed enlightened greeks had no problem "acting out" on their slaves and wives) is enough to say we can't assume that victims back then were psychologically healthy simply because no one ever told them they were a victim.

That is my case of the problems I have with her. I can accept the only thing that her study clearly showed: that SOME survivors of abuse did not immediately perceive it as traumatic. As she puts it: "Characteristics of the sexual abuse experience related to trauma (like how frightening it was, whether penetration or force was involved, and how many times it happened) do not do a good job of forecasting the level of long-term psychological harm experienced. There appears to be no direct, linear relationship between the severity of the abuse and the psychosocial difficulties victims experience in adulthood." Everything else she argues seems to be conjecture not directly based on her or anyone else's data.

There have been at least 3 threads about this book on MS.

To my surprise, two of them were primarily positive. The reviews on Amazon also include both extremely negative and extremely positive reactions by fellow survivors. Meanwhile, it seems to me that the part she gets right is kind of obvious while the part she gets wrong is potentially devastating.
MY DESIRE HERE IS TO LEARN WHERE OR IF I AM WRONG in my understanding of Clancy's argument. I certainly do not want to dismiss anything that is helpful to others nor do I believe in knee-jerk reactions. Since my reading of her words is predominantly negative, I really would like to know if there anything useful in this that can be gleaned.
I am a veteran of the soul wars.

#453110 - 11/09/13 11:31 PM Re: The Trauma Myth -- trash or insightful? [Re: Jacob S]
On The Fringe Offline

Registered: 09/21/13
Posts: 326
Loc: Southeast USA
I will say that my abuse was not hostile. I was groomed as a kid and idolized my abuser. It lasted for 6 months and I missed him when they moved.

I do not have all of the traumatic symptoms of some others, no sexual dysfunction.

Shame and false guilt don't seem traumatic compared to what others endured.
I feel more like I do now than I did when I got here.

#453115 - 11/10/13 03:31 AM Re: The Trauma Myth -- trash or insightful? [Re: Jacob S]
don64 Offline

Registered: 10/09/13
Posts: 1104
Loc: St. Croix, USVI
My sense of many positions on many issues is they are simplistic because underlying societal/cultural values overlap so many things. So, I am going to mention some things that to me are value based belief issues that can lead to humans not being able to think clearly.

1. Capitalism--the belief is that money is extremely important, more important than most anything else. The more money you have, the more power you have, the more important you are. Look at our leaders and their decision making process. Look how votes on issues are influenced by money versus what is a healthy, humane, sustainable choice. Some people feel badly about themselves as human beings because they don't have certain amounts of money, certain amounts of possessions (car,house,clothes,prestigious school,etc). Some people believe they are less worthy as a person if they do not measure up to some external standard.

2. Religions--Many religions say "do thus and so and you will go to heaven" or "do thus and so and you will go to hell." They go further and tell people what is ok to do with their bodies and what is not ok to do with their bodies. And, each "true" religion has its own version of what is appropriate.

3. Information dispersal(news)--seeks to frighten people. Frightened people are more easily manipulated.

4. Marketing--Marketing works very hard and very well to tell people their self-worth is determined by what they buy, and that buying things is a very big deal.

This all seems pretty circular to me and very clearly designed to weaken people's ability to reach inside and come to conclusions which are personally intact. So, for me there is much mass psychosis. Books can be written with inflammatory postures because that will get more press, more interviews and more sales. Again, a desire for money, prestige, power. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with anyone having a lot of money. I am saying intentions matter. If someone's intention is to deceive, that is not a very health promoting energy to send out into the world. From my perspective, there is a great deal of deception in the world for the purpose of manipulating large groups of people to make choices that are not necessarily made from a position that is in one's own best interests. I'm doing my best to learn to think and feel for MYSELF. It is not easy. I have read somewhere that just because millions of people believe something does not make them sane. I am learning to trust my feeling self more. If it doesn't feel right, it probably is not right for me, regardless of if it thinks right. Don
Divine Law is not judgment or denial of self truths. Divine Law is honoring harmony that comes from a peaceful mind, an open heart, a true tongue, a light step, a forgiving nature, and a love of all living creatures. Jamie Sams & David Carson, Medicine Cards

#453118 - 11/10/13 04:41 AM Re: The Trauma Myth -- trash or insightful? [Re: Jacob S]
Jude Offline

Registered: 08/09/12
Posts: 1633
Loc: New England
I had not heard of the book before, but The New York Times Book Review (January 25, 2010) gave it high marks, and went to some length to clarify what her message was. NYT Book Review: The Trauma Myth

"But many carefully documented interviews revealed nothing of the sort. Commonly, the abuse had been confusing for the child but not traumatic in the usual sense of the word. Only when the child grew old enough to understand exactly what had happened — sometimes many years later — did the fear, shock and horror begin. And only at that point did the experience become traumatic and begin its well-known destructive process."

And her take on repressed memories:

"Dr. Clancy’s model also makes some sense of the whole sticky question of repressed memory. Most traumatic events are likely to be vividly remembered. But if instances of sexual abuse are simply among the many confusions that characterize childhood, they are perfectly forgettable: “Why should a child remember them if, at the time they happened, they were not particularly traumatic?” Only when reprocessed and fully understood do the memories leap into focus.'

All that being said, I still find her conclusions hard to reconcile with my own experience. The CSA I experienced at 13 sent me immediately into a lifetime pattern of isolation and use of extreme MB, drugs and alcohol to escape the trauma of that experience. I find it hard to believe that no one she interviewed felt anything but confusion as children, as a result of CSA.

I suppose her view that repressed memory is simply not remembering something that was not traumatic, is just a corollary to the "it wasn't traumatic" theory she starts with. It makes sense if you accept the initial premise, but it falls apart when that is seriously scrutinized. I'm not inclined to read the book, but I can see it being damaging to some people in recovery.
I will remember you
Will you remember me?
Don't let your life pass you by
Weep not for the memories
Sarah McLachlan

#453121 - 11/10/13 07:56 AM Re: The Trauma Myth -- trash or insightful? [Re: Jacob S]
SoccerStar Offline

Registered: 10/15/12
Posts: 928
There are some cultures in which sex between adults and children is practiced openly, publicly, with societal approval - many in New Guinea and Melanesia are famous for it. Without any sense of shame, secrecy, or being dirty / different / wrong, I could accept the notion that in such cultures the children involved would not be traumatized. However, from a psychodevelopmental perspective these cultures ARE wrong, as wrong as Victorian England with its institutionalized child labor and ritualized beatings for misbehavior, in that they all see children as just short adults and do not grasp their legitimately different reasoning capacity and emotional needs. If her point was to refer to those cultures as a standard then it is a moot point since there is no chance any if there norms ever could - or should - be merged with our own. There are just as many cultures where adult-child sex is up-front and public while remaining traumatic - witness child brides dying, or fleeing in terror, throughout the Arabian peninsula. So even the lack of shame and secrecy is not a guarantee of avoiding damage.

It is entirely possible to say something both factually accurate and effectively meaningless.

And as Jude pointed out, her conceit about "repressing trauma vs forgetting non-trauma" seems like circular reasoning. There are many stories here of guys who didn't realize what they'd undergone was wrong for years afterward - but then the damage speaks for itself. I didn't figure it out for 4 years and felt nothing from it for 26 years, then I had a nervous breakdown and tried to k myself. If she wants to interview me she's welcome to.

My story

"Don't think it hasn't been a little slice of Heaven just because it hasn't!" --Bugs Bunny

#453122 - 11/10/13 08:05 AM Re: The Trauma Myth -- trash or insightful? [Re: Jacob S]
Sven Offline

Registered: 07/29/13
Posts: 486
Hmmm, sounds like one more adult who tries to minimalize the damage (sexual) abuse does to kids and adults - she just is better with words so it doesn't sound as bad.
The first step to living the life you want, is to leave behind what you don't want.

#453125 - 11/10/13 09:41 AM Re: The Trauma Myth -- trash or insightful? [Re: Jacob S]
jas4159 Offline

Registered: 06/16/11
Posts: 474
Loc: New Hampshire
She enjoys the luxury of denial in my humble opinion. As to her point about a child not precieving the acts of abuse as trauma I think she is right. At eight years old you do not understand the concept of truama you only know how it makes you feel. I have little use for the author.


#453127 - 11/10/13 11:21 AM Re: The Trauma Myth -- trash or insightful? [Re: Jacob S]
unhappycamper Offline

Registered: 10/21/11
Posts: 753
Loc: VA
Once again, "trauma" means INJURY. It doesn't mean a wrong, an evil, or something that is unwanted, not understood, socially frowned-upon or punishable by law. An event is not a trauma, but an injurious event is "traumatic."

Just about anyone will quickly "realize" or "identify" an experience as traumatic, if it causes them physical harm, like bleeding or pain. But some traumas (injuries) aren't identified until later--like when you're showering and find a bruise you weren't aware of. Maybe you figure out when it must have happened, maybe you don't. Regardless, it's a trauma (injury).

Obviously different children, and children of different ages, will react differently--and at different times--to different kinds of sexual encounters with adults. If that's all this book is trying to say, I think it's hard to argue with it. I don't think it helps every CSA victim or survivor to instantly file them under "Life--Ruined."

As for the whole "repressed memory" fracas, which began as a trope for defense lawyers to blow smoke at child-abuse trials, I think it's best left to the neurologists. If repressed memory is a real, definable phenomenon, there must be a physiological mechanism behind it. So far, the doctors seem to be onto something (hippocampus, etc.)

Just sayin'. Just my take. Peace!


#453135 - 11/10/13 12:16 PM Re: The Trauma Myth -- trash or insightful? [Re: Jacob S]
Bluedogone Offline

Registered: 07/03/13
Posts: 1008
Loc: Southern US
I want to be completely fair about this, but I think the good Doctor is out of her effing mind with her theory.
Whether you say, "i can't do this," or say, "I CAN DO THIS" You're Right.

#453137 - 11/10/13 01:50 PM Re: The Trauma Myth -- trash or insightful? [Re: Jacob S]
risingagain Offline

Registered: 11/09/10
Posts: 597
Loc: Vancouver, BC, Canada
I suppose her view that repressed memory is simply not remembering something that was not traumatic, is just a corollary to the "it wasn't traumatic" theory she starts with. It makes sense if you accept the initial premise, but it falls apart when that is seriously scrutinized. I'm not inclined to read the book, but I can see it being damaging to some people in recovery.

I didn't remember, but I still suffered the consequences... you know, memory is actually a complex thing... our cognitive recall is one part, but the emotional resonance and the patterning that results from our experience is another... so just because someone doesn't tell you they remember doesn't mean that they aren't affected. I know this by looking at my life.

If you had asked me, when I was 18, how my childhood and family were, I would have told you that my childhood was basically OK... 15 years later after constantly struggling with extreme isolation, pervasive shame, major distrust, stiffness in my body, coldness and instability in my relationships, difficulty making friends, physical symptoms like digestive problems, spine problems, low energy, depression etc etc etc.... after 15 years of that my cognitive recall and 'story' of my childhood finally caught up to the reality of what I've been living...

So even though I didn't 'remember', I remembered.

Someone can call trauma a myth, but that does not make it so. Our early experiences have important psycho-physiological impacts on our lives. Patterns get set up, whether conscious or unconscious. A course is set. Now, patterns can be changed, and that's the work of recovery.... but to deny the existence of trauma is ... well, simply irresponsible.

Edited by risingagain (11/10/13 01:57 PM)

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