Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Thinking About Trauma

Originally posted on November 3, 2013

I think it useful to consider that there is a spectrum of trauma from the mildest to the most severe. On one hand, I’m inclined to say that it does not meet the requirements for being considered “trauma” unless there is a radical break with what the psychiatrist Jules Masserman in 1953 called the “Ur” Defenses, “Ur” referring to an ancient Babylonian-Sumerian civilization. Perhaps a better term might be ‘primal defenses.’

Masserman (in an article in the American Journal of Psychiatry 1953;110:324-333. notes three of these:
   1. Somehow, I will survive. A sense that one’s mortality is inconceivable.
   2. There is a reason for what happens. True randomness also goes against a very deeply-felt grain.
   3. People will help. There will be friends.

When these get sufficiently bruised or disrupted at an unconscious level, the mind resorts to more primitive defenses, including mild to severe dissociation. It’s as if to say, “there must be some mistake: at some level I’m willing to twist my mind any which way to support these assumptions.  (There are other deep instincts, too, such as the tendency to preserve the sense of self, as valued and good, if possible, as wicked and tough, if necessary.)

People are even willing to have multiple “selves” in order to repair the trauma. The point is that it helps to recognize the ways the mind insists on preserving its foundations. In Southeast Asia and the Far East, Yogic and Buddhist approaches invite us to transcend these defenses—or that’s one way to interpret their value, among others.

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