Carlos’s Comments on “The Body Keeps The Score”
“We become what we behold.” Marshall McLuhan
The mind is malleable. The senses sculpt the brain, continuously shaping consciousness and influencing behavior. In those who have suffered trauma, the function of the brain becomes inhibited, and the victim of shock feels a dissociation from the reality of the present moment. Bessel Van der Kolk examines the formation of trauma, its effect upon the brain and ways to heal from emotional wounds in his book The Body Keeps the Score. The dissolution of trauma occurs when the mind becomes unstuck: when the conditioned responses to stimuli are abandoned, the blockages loosened and the current of new ideas permitted to flow.
One of Van der Kolk’s colleagues once said: “the brain is a cultural organ – experience shapes the brain.” It is not difficult to understand how a person can feel trauma if exposed to war, rape, abuse or a serious accident. Far less easy is to notice the ways we are shaped by subtle emotional injuries. Mass media offers an unending stream of often malevolent stimuli which may intensify agitation and stress in many people. Violence in news broadcasts and in entertainment may help create feelings of sustained tension and chronic anxiety. The conflict found on screens, heard on the radio or read in newspapers and magazines, may be almost as damaging to the psyche as a direct blow to the body. So trauma, in this sense, is not so much caused by a single intense event but is rather part of a continuous process, a mental malaise that grows stronger the more we experience it.
We mirror the behavior we see in others. If we see repeated violent imagery in television shows, at the movies, during a video game or on the internet, we may internalize the injuries we see. Traumatic experiences are thereby downloaded onto our minds; in a way, we are being programmed by the programs we view. And if the reflections received from the mass media are distorted, like fun house mirrors, they may produce in some individuals mental confusion and an inability to recognize and assess a true threat. So fear, anger and disorientation may be common in our culture because the media creates a perfect environment for these emotions to thrive within us. When trauma is the result of a single physical or emotional wound, it may be easier to heal because it is easier to identify. But “media trauma” is insidious – it is far more difficult to guard against because it is so pervasive (and persuasive).
The impressions we receive from the environment sear a pattern, a groove, into the mind. And just as it is possible to recover from a single traumatic injury, so too it is possible for a person to successfully combat “media trauma.” Van der Kolk believes that emotionally damaged individuals, who are trapped in a toxic mental holding pattern, may facilitate healing by making friends with the body and connecting with others. Active participation in movement practices, such as yoga and dance, may undo paralyzing anxiety and depression and allow new choices for growth to present themselves. If we are to heal from the mental cuts we receive every day from a mass media that inundates us with violent images and almost ceaseless conflict, we must become less sedentary in body and mind. The passive recipient of provocative stimuli is vulnerable and easily wounded. An active persona defines and shapes itself. And fostering compassionate connections with others, without media static, creates the conditions necessary to realize outer strength and inner serenity.