The Clare Spark Blog

March 18, 2012

History as trauma (2), Rosebud version

In response to my hint on Facebook that Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who recently went on a rampage killing 16 Afghanistani civilians,  might be suffering from a mental disorder, X wrote: “The only thing new here is the growth of a professional class of social leeches who use all human discomfort as a niche for some absurdly over-credentialed “helping” professional as a “grief counselor” or PTSD expert, all of whom are in full retreat from American values that have stood us in good stead for 240 years and pushing us towards some kind of Euro Social Justice oblivion. The “Say a Prayer for Peace” commercials make me want to hurl as the vet is coached to say he would have committed suicide without the counseling of some leech or other we should send money to support.

[“X” cont.] If I was in command of a military force today, and a Sgt Bale popped up, I’d make sure some “tragedy” or other took place before he got in the hands of the touchy, feely, lawyered up creeps who are infesting our nation and preserving and supporting the lives of now millions of marginal people who could actually be making a contribution to a better America.”[end X message.]

[Clare:] Clearly, much more needs to be said about the current state of medicine with respect to PTSD and other forms of disabling responses to traumas. This blog will comment further on the material introduced here: I have finished reading Robert Scaer MD’s book, The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation, and Disease (Routledge, 2007), and now can argue for its importance, especially in the light of Obamacare and primary care medicine in general.

Who won’t like this book? Government officials invested in the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies, trial lawyers, many feminists, and those who, out of life experience or conviction, disregard any type of medicine that relies solely upon a materialist (empirical) study of the brain, the endocrine system, and the mind-body continuum.  For what Scaer’s book delivers is a comprehensive survey of the field of neurophysiology and the pathologies that stem from trauma, especially those that result from a failure of mother-child attunement and bonding, though he does mention the many traumas that his patients have experienced, including natural disasters, automobile accidents, military combat, assaults, child abuse, incest, rape (including date rape) and more. But when mothers experience post-partum depression, for instance, Scaer considers such a calamity to be a form of child abuse that damages the child for life, including the proclivity for violent crime or any other antisocial activity. He returns to the infant and pain so frequently that one wonders if this frequently reiterated factor is not a part of his personal biography. (Examples: fetuses feel pain, circumcision must be accompanied by anesthetic, new born baby should be put on the mother’s breast immediately.)

I am convinced that Scaer’s work and that of other neurologists who have produced work since the last half of the 20th century are correct in refining the field of neurology and psychiatry, especially in overthrowing the Cartesian dualism of Mind as separate from Body, and in defending the idea of the unconscious, even though it is not Freud’s unconscious. Moreover, many practitioners, including students of healing in other cultures, have developed treatments that release the original frozen trauma, so that the patient does not experience subsequent physical and mental disorders such as fibromyalgia and panic attacks. These are all listed by Scaer, and evaluated by him as a scientist. His rather tentative and humble book is not about selling a fast track to cure; nor is he in agreement with DSM-IV in their limited understanding of trauma.

This is why I consider Scaer’s book to be a revolution in patient care, but one that makes recommendations that are not yet capable of being broadly realized, for HMO’s do not support long term mental health services, nor do primary care physicians have the time to take lengthy family histories. I have written elsewhere about panic attacks, in which it is suggested that each of us make a list of those terrifying, helpless-making moments in our past that could have contributed to the separation anxiety that is called panic or other names. See If there is something amiss with mother-infant bonding, the patient must resort to inferences about the relations between mother and child, for mother’s mood after birth cannot be directly recalled, although mother’s intent on escaping domesticity offers hints.

Even to read Scaer’s book may be a form of preventive medicine. Return to the Affordable Care Act. For those who wrote the legislation, preventive medicine entails screening for cancer, such as mammograms and colonoscopies.  They do not mention lifestyle choices and/or mental health services that can be shown either to lead to optimum functioning or, conversely, to unnecessary and persistent pain and suffering, not to speak of early death.

Poster Coming Home

Why do I, as feminist and mother of one son and two daughters and grandmother to two grandsons and five granddaughters, dwell on the mother-infant attachment? I am convinced that many men are determined to control women because of earlier experience with mothers who were either (subtly?) rejecting or clinging to their sons, to the exclusion of other mature attachments (e.g. the Orson Welles-directed film of 1942 The Magnificent Ambersons). The first version of Nancy Dowd’s movie (Buffalo Ghosts) that was eventually released as Coming Home, featured a souvenir store on an army base in the Dakotas that emphasized the soon-to-be deployed Viet Nam soldier’s tie solely to Mother, not to wives or other love objects. Such sappy mementos as embroidered mommy pillows, for sale to officers and enlisted men alike, may have been too hot to handle.

Nancy Dowd, screenwriter

Scaer is the first author I have found who mentions the switch from happy face to angry face that causes baby to feel shame and guilt, literally turning his face away from the scary mom. For these men, women are always dangerously unpredictable and fit the archetype of Gorgon or Medusa. See Moreover, women, especially modern women, may signify the onset of a terrifying modernity that will only make mother more overpowering and omnipresent. Rosebud!

Here is what I find most instructive about Scaer’s work. He deals with the highly variable individual case history, yet government bureaucrats, not to speak of other professionals, deal with large populations, for whom one size fits all—the latest DSM manual for psychiatrists, the state-imposed school curriculum, the rules set up by Medicare and insurance companies. If childhood trauma is as frequent as Scaer’s stats suggest, then we are not educating youngsters where they need it most. For the lesson of trauma is this: every child needs a safe place with clear boundaries in order to explore the real world that s/he must master to survive and thrive. Distant bureaucrats or entirely cerebral teachers, or  hurried, un-empathic, physicians, hemmed in by the fear of litigation, or simply untrained in the latest discoveries in neurology and endocrinology, cannot treat the traumatized patient or student, and as Scaer argues, that includes a huge proportion of their clientele.

Finally, can children in isolated rural areas, dominated perhaps by religious fundamentalists, ever feel safe? Can kids in urban ghettoes, or anyone who is a member of a stigmatized group ever feel safe in public schools or anywhere else? And how do we know if we feel safe or not; we may be stoic or too polite to admit even to ourselves how we feel as we face the great questions of the day. There are private questions that often arouse shame when discussed publicly. I do not expect that my readers will divulge intimacies either here or in social media in general, nor, I suppose, should they.


  1. My two scariest life experiences were 1. live hand-grenade exercises while in Army basic training and 2. five years as a substitute teacher in public (government) schools. Public schools today are little more than tax-payer supported day prisons for children, Marxist indoctrination centers, and factories of race-hate, class resentment, and sexual disrespect. I’d rather walk over burning hot coals or toss more live hand-grenades than sub-teach again. Oddly enough, I loved all those kids, even the screw-ups.

    Comment by Friendly Fakir — July 31, 2014 @ 4:03 pm | Reply

    • I love teaching too, no matter who unfavorable the circumstances. It is possible that teaching is a calling, and is fun in even bad conditions.

      Comment by clarelspark — July 31, 2014 @ 6:54 pm | Reply

    • I was in the Hand Grenade “Pit” in basic. Noticed all the scars on the wall, which gave me pause. I felt very calm and in control with the grenade against my chest.
      The Drill Sargent slowly approached me and very gently grasped both my hands. He informed me I looked very frightened and I was rippling my fingers, one hand to the other after I had pulled the pin.
      After I threw the grenade, he escorted me to a rear area and explained that I could calm down and get it together. He further stated there would be no punishment that day, but there would be hell to pay the next day. He was a master counselor. The next day was rough.
      Your comments about many public schools is spot on.

      Comment by walt reed — July 31, 2014 @ 11:36 pm | Reply

  2. […] survival. Call such tactics a promising form of preventive medicine. For part 2 of this essay, see Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Comments […]

    Pingback by History as trauma « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 19, 2012 @ 12:58 am | Reply

  3. […] would require a lifetime of close study and more critical tools than I have at hand. For more see Also the first segment of this two-part series, see […]

    Pingback by Feminism and its publicists « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — March 18, 2012 @ 9:36 pm | Reply

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