Book review ‘From madness to Wisdom’ by Iris van Zomeren

Through her beautiful email to ACE Aware NL I came into contact with the author of the book ‘From madness to Wisdom – The autobiographical life story of Iris van Zomeren’. We agreed that I would review it for the website. Iris sent it to me and as soon as I started reading it I was fascinated. (See also our book page; titles in alphabetical order of authors’ last names.)

The book begins with a foreword by psychotherapist Rachporn Sangkasaad Taal. She tells how she met Iris, who had already gone through all kinds of therapy. She writes that she is impressed by the post-traumatic growth (PTG) that Iris has achieved. With her introduction she makes it clear that the book is about a very tumultuous life, but to really understand how much lack of safety there was for Iris, reading cover-to-cover is the best thing you can do.

The book is written narratively, with lots of personal dialogues and exchanges between Iris and other main characters. That means that you as a reader are sucked into the poignant events. In addition, so much is explained in the field of psychological and emotional trauma healing processes that probably almost everyone can derive valuable insights from it. Iris takes the reader along on the journey she has made and we see her slowly but surely ‘breaking open’, blossoming, giving light and air to what she has endured. The intergenerationality is also evident: her parents were both damaged in their own childhood and the healing work that Iris is now doing has a positive effect not only for herself, but also for others in her family line. As a reader, you witness her deep self-examination and her harrowing recovery process; with how she writes, Iris invites you to “hold space” for that.

Iris starts with a sketch of her family situation, with parents with a background of domestic violence and sexual abuse, among other things. There is a lot that gets handed down to Iris and the other kids through intergenerational transmission. That is so intense that Iris can only survive by freezing and suppressing emotions and memories. With more trauma sensitivity, several adults could probably have picked up on signals, but Iris, like many children, is alone with her pain and despair.

In 38 often concise chapters she guides us through her experiences and in many chapters explanations are included in clear boxes about certain terms that are discussed in the text. This makes it easy for the reader who is new to the topic to follow unfamiliar concepts. Where relevant, Iris has included passages from letters, correspondence and diaries; these can be recognised by being written in italics.

Around the age of twelve, Iris starts to rebel more and more against the home situation, which leads to complex coping strategies. She finds no understanding at home; her parents lack the ability to acknowledge and address their own role in the problems. As a result, Iris loses the connection with her authentic self and an existential gloom arises.
Around the age of twenty, some of her painful experiences begin to emerge, but the time is not yet ripe and the sense of security is not yet sufficient to face everything. That sense of security does arise when she is in her early thirties and meets Erik, the love of her life. With him beside her, more and more of the trauma hidden in her emerges. It is a tough road and more and more she experiences a huge rage; this also puts pressure on her relationship with Erik. However, she notices that the anger also has a very good side and that it helps her to regain her self-esteem, her dignity, to undo the “in-dignation”.* As a result, she gradually and increasingly comes into contact with the underlying injuries. The realisation grows that anger does not have to be an obstacle, but can be a gateway to get in touch with yourself. Iris describes it beautifully: “You tend to see the anger as disorienting when in essence it is reorienting” (p. 62).

The desire for contact with her family of origin remains, but it also turns out to be very complicated again and again. This is mainly because the other family members continue to completely deny the events of the past. This is a phenomenon experienced by many people who want to address abuse and neglect within the family. There is often a great taboo on the subject, which makes restoring family relationships difficult and often temporarily or permanently impossible.

After two bizarre and very intense experiences, she comes closer to the origin of her trauma. Through a clearly described, very intensive therapy process, she becomes aware of how different sub-personalities have carried the trauma for her.

As many discover during their healing journey, a long-lasting need remains to seek the love you should have received as a child in places and with people where it cannot be found. The acceptance that that lack of the past can never again be compensated for, is often intense. It deserves mourning and processing time, time in which you learn to refocus, to see that what was not possible before, is possible now: choosing a social environment that can be with your pain and that sees your courage and your potential at the same time. Within a setting that is safe, nurturing, supportive and stimulating, the ‘detoxification process’ (p. 161) can still take place, a process necessary to return to your healthy core and from there to see and experience life in a new light.

With all the post-traumatic growth she is going through, Iris is increasingly successful in tracing the origins of the events of the past. Feeling through, seeing through and living through the old pain creates more and more compassion, not only towards other victims, but also towards the perpetrators of the past. Compassion is also in the foreground when she meets people from her childhood, with whom she enters into a conversation about what was going on for her at the time. This helps her experience the reality of her past more powerfully. She also increasingly experiences that the body, with all apparently ‘dysfunctional’ reactions, provides wise solutions to survive in circumstances that far exceed the comprehension, pain threshold and capacity a child has. The pain is stored in the most basic parts of the brain and in the cell memory of the body. The pain can therefore not be healed through cognitive insight alone. The body is allowed to speak, is allowed to tell the life story, supported by forms of therapy that are helpful.

Iris ends her book with the following observation: “Of course it is not the case that old things no longer arise, but there is less and less resistance in me and much more patience. And this patience is not a method, but the result of my intense healing process” (p. 303).

I see in that conclusion a beautiful link with the recently discussed book by Viktor Frankl. In his vision, happiness is not a goal, but the result of experiencing meaning in life. Iris says her patience was not a goal, but the result of her healing process. It is remarkable that life values such as patience and happiness seem to require profound processes in order to develop. They seem like a goal, but they turn out to be the result of something else, namely a deeply lived experience of recognition, acceptance and meaningful connection with the Self and the Other.

It seems that the great mandate and moral appeal which powerfully emerge from this book, are aimed at adults: the more courage they muster to face their own demons, the more likely they are to not pass on the evil spirits to the next generation. Working on your own trauma recovery is therefore an immense gift for your children and grandchildren. The cover-up culture with regard to family secrets, which Iris talks about in her book, can then undergo a fundamental change. This requires sincere compassion, so that judgment and shame do not have such a dominant place as is often still the case today. With her book, Iris has made an important contribution to that much-needed openness about the lifelong impact of domestic violence and abuse on the young child. Anyone who is (or has been) involved in this will be able to find, in addition to valuable insights, a lot of recognition, acknowledgment and also comfort and hope in this book. With more social awareness about this, we can ensure that our children do not have to go through madness to come to wisdom. They may then keep their childlike, often oh so wise giftedness and let it develop further.
This book, in which Iris has captured her life story in a poignant way, can be very helpful for those who are looking for knowledge about and possibilities for healing trauma.

*In this blog with Jet Markink we spoke about ‘de-guiltify’; both words, to ‘de-guiltify’ and to undo the ‘in-dignation’, are important aspects of the trauma healing process.

‘Raising Resilience’ – the ACE Aware NL podcast

Today is International Women’s Day! This year’s international theme is ‘Embrace Equity‘ and the Dutch theme is ‘Unlimited livability‘ – a call to work together to ensure that as much as possible, we can move through our living world, our life world, without social, cultural, financial and emotional limitations. For this, resilience is important. Resilience is sometimes described as the ability to deal flexibly with life’s challenges, among other things by truly really welcoming all your emotions. To achieve that and raise resilience, it is helpful if feminine energy has the upper hand, in both women and men.

The first 1000 days of a human life have a major impact on the rest of one’s existence. No longer is there any doubt about that now; this has been demonstrated in all kinds of ways and has been substantiated both empirically and scientifically. So the first 1000 days, from conception to about the second birthday, are essential. What happens during pregnancy and around birth really matters. In that phase the foundation is laid for the life that follows. When there is a lot of stress in those early years, it usually becomes more difficult for a child to handle things smoothly and to stay healthy on all fronts. Even when social and health problems do not appear until later in life, upon careful examination they often turn out to have their roots in childhood. With that knowledge in our pocket, the conclusion is obvious that we would all do well to cherish that period, so that life after birth can be lived in an unlimitedly livable way and can continue to be. And then it gets exciting… do we accept that challenge? How can we embrace equity in a practical sense? I do have some ideas. Let’s raise resilience! Let us take good care of our pregnant women, see the interests of children as equal to those of adults, and let us give vulnerability a more prominent place in our society.

In the context of vulnerability, this morning I thought of an amazing woman who has said beautiful things about it, namely Brené Brown. One of her most famous quotes is: “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
Vulnerability as courage – choosing not to be armed to the teeth, but to allow yourself to be wounded and to be open to your own feelings and those of others, even if it hurts. That can feel very scary. In a society where individualism is almost an ideology, co-reliance is a difficult concept. Do we simply dare to acknowledge that we need each other, that it is difficult not to feel connected to loved ones? That is quite normal, namely, because people are ‘wired for connection’: their entire neurophysiological system is set up for meaningful connection with others. When that connection is missing, sometimes already very early in life, it produces feelings of deep pain and loneliness. This can lead to the belief that you are ‘not good enough’, that you are not worthy of being loved, that you don’t belong and that you have to survive on your own. And then… what if that threatens to overwhelm you…?

A few years ago I saw the movie ‘The House I Live In’, in which addiction expert Gabor Maté says: “When people are in pain, they want to soothe that pain. So the question is not ‘why the addiction?’, but ‘why the pain?’ ” I was perplexed. That illness is usually an expression of a (especially emotionally) disturbed balance – that was a conviction I had already lived with for a quarter of a century. The layer that Gabor Maté added with this statement, however, felt like an inevitable paradigm shift. I felt like I had been given some kind of key that unlocked everything. To me, this seemed to be the essence, a vision that urgently deserves to be followed everywhere in society.

That is the idea from which ACE Aware NL was born: creating awareness about ACEs, adverse childhood experiences, and recognising that many behaviours and habits that are labelled as ‘difficult’ or ‘unhealthy’ are in fact survival strategies and self-medication for the pain of loneliness and exclusion. That is why I started ACE Aware NL, together with Victor Bodiut. And speaking of courage and vulnerability: without him I would not have dared to. Together we have laid a wonderful foundation, on which we now continue to build. The so-called ‘feminine’ energy has a prominent place in this: soft receptivity, intuition, room for ‘being’ instead of ‘doing’, attention to the emotional life, from the inside out, as inspiration for the more masculine energy.

Everywhere in nature, growth always takes place from the soft spots. This is very clear in babies and young children. For healthy growth, it is therefore important to ensure that this softness is protected and that no (physical and emotional) hardening occurs. Love, closeness, compassionate attention… those are the things the young child thrives on and with that you can raise the child’s resilience. How can you shape that? And what are the consequences of the lack of such care?

In order to discuss this extensively with experience experts and professionals, ACE Aware NL now also has a podcast entitled ‘Raising Resilience!’, together with Petra Bouma, who has been making the beautiful visuals for the blogs for some time now and who also put together artwork for the podcast, I have now set up the infrastructure for it and the first four episodes are online! You can listen to Nikk Conneman, Eefke Postma, Marie-liz de Jongh and Hilde Bolt. In the near future a lot of interviews will take place again and we will meet many more beautiful people. They will talk about their work, but also about their own experiences, which often contain a lot of touching wisdom as a result of grief.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of shame and judgment around the subject of ‘trauma’. Those are not helpful, because they cause many people to experience a barrier to telling their story. People keep suppressing everything, eventually often resulting in illness. Opening up about the pain and grief of your life history… that takes a lot of courage. There is often so much wisdom in what people have to say about what was difficult for them and how they overcame those difficulties. I really have deep respect for that, because I also know how complicated it can be not to let the loneliness of the past fully influence your life in the present.

The tune of the podcast is entitled ‘Here Forever’. While preparing the launch, this fragment seemed to present itself to me. Here forever – forever here. To know that there are people you can always count on and perhaps to be such a person yourself for others… that is what creates a deep sense of security, the feeling that you are welcome with everything that belongs to you, just like you are. For many people, that appears to raise hope and confidence and resilience. The Raising Resilience podcast is therefore also a powerful plea to be alert together to what the youngest in our society need to grow up joyful and happy, on the way to an unlimitedly liveable future. We hope that you will enjoy the specia stories and insights with us and who knows, we may welcome you as a guest in due course!

Book review ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ by Viktor E. Frankl, Part 2 (final)

Last week, we made a start with a review of Viktor Frankl’s ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ and discussed what was dealt with in Part 1 of the book. Different aspects of finding meaning are the topic of Part 2 of the book, where logotherapy is discussed in a nutshell.

Logotherapy is sometimes called the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy. Where Sigmund Freud focused on ‘the will to pleasure’ (psychoanalysis) and Alfred Adler on ‘the will to power’ (individual psychology), Viktor Frankl focused on ‘the will to  meaning’ (logotherapy), as meaning in life turns out to be the primary motivational force for most people. This is also what the increasingly mainstream concept of Positive Health notices. Of its six dimensions (Bodily Functions, Mental Functions & Perceptions, Spiritual Dimension, Quality of life, Social & Societal Participation, and Daily Functioning) the spiritual aspects turn out to be most often mentioned as what really matters. People can have chronic health issues, but as long as those are fairly well dealt with and they have meaning and purpose in life, they generally consider themselves healthy. If physical health is overall good, but meaning is missing, people give much more despondent descriptions of how they are. The more meaning people can discern in their lives, the bigger the chances that health and happiness flow from that. Those are then not goals in themselves, but the consequence of having found meaning and purpose in life and of being able to contribute to something bigger than one’s own life. In Nietzsche’s words, quoted by Frankl: ‘He who has a why to live for, can bear almost any how’ (p.109, author’s italics).

Without such a sense of meaning, Frankl writes, people can experience ‘existential frustration’. Not feeling challenged, but bored and useless, is understandably hard, he maintains, and deserves attention, instead of medication:

Existential frustration is in itself neither pathological nor pathogenic. A man’s concern, even his despair, over the worthwhileness of life is an existential distress but by no means a mental disease. It may well be that interpreting the first in terms of the latter motivates a doctor to bury his patient’s existential despair under a heap of tranquilizing drugs (p.108, author’s italics).

In other words: healthcare providers should take the worries of their patients seriously when it comes to them not seeing enough or even any meaning in life anymore. Frankl sees three different layers of meaning in life: ‘1) by creating a work or doing a deed (work); 2) by experiencing something or encountering someone (love); and 3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering (mental strength)’ (p.115). The sense of meaninglessness, ‘resulting from a frustration of our existential needs which (…) has become a universal phenomenon in our industrial societies’ (p.141) can create an ‘existential vacuum’, often more widespread in places where spiritual, ceremonial, professional and familial traditions have gone lost. This can lead people ‘to do what other people do (conformism) or (…) what other people wish [them] to do (totalitarianism)’ (p.111).
Logotherapy’s aim is ‘neither teaching nor preaching’ (p.114), but to help people broaden their views and find their own meaning in life and thus the logotherapist ‘will never permit the patient to pass to the doctor the responsibility of judging’. A beautiful explanation is this one: ‘A painter tries to convey to us a picture of the world as he sees it; an ophthalmologist tries to enable us to see the world as it really is’ (p.114,115). Logotherapy encourages clients to find the potential meaning of their life and Frankl terms this ‘the self-transcendence of human existence’. Only when we can truly feel and see this, we will be able to reach self-actualisation, ‘as a side-effect of self-transcendence’ (p. 115). This especially applies to difficult circumstances, when things look hopeless.

For what then [when fate cannot be changed] matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation (…) we are challenged to change ourselves (p.116).

We are called upon, however, to relieve suffering if possible, because to ‘suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic’ (p. 117). What is needed for this is to find the ‘super-meaning’, not ‘to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear [the] incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms. Logos is deeper than logic’ (p.122, author’s italics).
We can never be fully free from difficult conditions, so true freedom, in Frankl’s view, is the ‘freedom to take a stand toward the conditions’ (p.132), a route towards self-determination. This is typically human, because: ‘Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary’ (p.133). If meaninglessness drives us crazy, it merely proves our humanness, Frankl says. This ties in with a quote from Krishnamurti’s work: ‘It is no sign of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.’  That is not to say it is always easy. We can, for many different reasons, fall prey to ‘give-up-itis’ (p.141), losing all hope because we no longer focus on the remaining meaningfulness of life. Thus, we may lose all ability to deal with the suffering.
There is, however, a ‘difference between being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness’ (p.152). Bearing whatever fate with dignity means rising above and growing beyond ourselves and thus increasing peace and wellbeing in the world.

That is hopeful, indeed. Compassionately exploring with people who grieve and suffer, the things that still make their life worthwhile may support them in finding the way back to their purpose and happiness. Seeing all this so impressively well laid-out by someone with a history like Frankl’s, is a humbling read.

Book review ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ by Viktor E. Frankl

A little booklet it is, in its 2004 paperback version, but a crucial message it contains and so a classic it became. Originally, the book was written and published in 1946 with the title ‘Ein Psycholog erlebt das Konzentrationslager’ (‘A Psychologist Survives the Concentration Camp’) and then in 1978, with the English translation, it got its new title, that aptly summarises the book: how to find meaning in even the most ghastly plights.
Viktor Frankl was born in Vienna in 1905 and died there in 1997. He studied Medicine there, specialising in neurology and psychiatry. He focused on depression and suicide and the knowledge and insights this brought him, he took with him when he was deported first to Theresienstadt (1942) and later to Auschwitz and Dachau (1944). The book basically consists of two parts. Part 1 is an account of his stay and travails in the concentration camps and Part 2 is an explanation of ‘logotherapy’, the psychotherapeutic method he developed already before the Second World War, but that he meticulously described and practised post-war after his return to Vienna.

Logotherapy is sometimes called the ‘Theory of Meaning’, because at its core it deals with the question of how to find meaning (logos meaning ‘word’ or ‘meaning’), to remain resilient in the face of adversity and injustice. There may be many reasons to lose hope and faith, and one may be robbed of personal freedom, but there is one freedom, in Frankl’s view, that cannot be taken away from any person: the choice to decide how to respond to external circumstances. In the context of ACEs this is quite relevant, seeing that the essence of trauma is losing the connection to one’s true self. If there are ways to nurture that connection and remain authentic, it is important to share those with people who have (had) to go through dire circumstances.
At first, Frankl wanted to write the book anonymously, but he changed his mind and felt he had to ‘have the courage to state [his] convictions openly’ (p.20).

His first-hand description of the proceedings in the camps is impressive. Most readers will have something of a general knowledge about what these tragic places were like, but the clarity with which Frankl looks back at it, is admirable. Those circumstances were so dreadful that he writes one can hardly blame people ‘for trying to dope themselves’ (p.24), either with alcohol or by any other possible means.
He describes the phases people would go through upon entering the camp: shock (at first paired with painful emotions like longing, pity, horror, and disgust), apathy (emotional death, not caring anymore, an attempt at self-protection), and lastly the psychological response after liberation.
This third and last stage was difficult in the sense that joy had to be ‘relearned’: ‘The pressure which had been on [the prisoner’s] mind for years was released at last [and] his desire to speak was irresistible’ (p.96). Frankl describes this process as ‘from that war of nerves to mental peace’ again (p.97). Ideally this is done very slowly, step by step, so as to prevent ‘moral deformity’ in the form of revenge being taken and doing harm to (properties of) offenders.
We can see a parallel here with other kinds of trauma: feeling happy again, letting go of pain and loss, can be difficult, if those have been your developmental habitat for a lifetime.

The biggest part of the book, however, is focused on the second stage, that of apathy and how to either deal with or prevent it. Some people were able to achieve ‘spiritual life to deepen’ (p.47), Frankl writes:

They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of a less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of a robust nature (p.47).

He describes it as the ‘survival of the sensitive’. What under normal circumstances might be described as dissociation could under severe adversity be seen as identification with the riches of inner life by drawing on previous experiences such as love and joy and gratitude, humour and curiosity. All of this is what we could see as ‘the wisdom of trauma’, using the mind’s abilities to survive the unbearable present. It also means that the more abundant those previous positive experiences are, the greater the likelihood of people being able to draw on them, or, put differently, to manifest resilience. Frankl says: ‘An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior’ (p.32). In line with this were prisoners’ efforts to disappear in the crowd, so as not to draw attention to themselves, whereas in normal life, people may love to be seen and recognised for their unique individuality. Tiny pockets of privacy and solitude were considered pure luxury, moments to connect to Self again (p.61).

Yet, humans are not merely the product of biopsychosocial factors, Frankl states, pointing to the emotional, spiritual dimension of mankind. Throughout all of life, ‘everything can be taken from a man, but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstance, to choose one’s own way. (…) It is this spiritual freedom – which cannot be taken away – that makes life meaningful and purposeful’ (p.75,76). Remaining ‘brave, dignified and unselfish’ (p. 76) within the suffering, while nurturing hope and faith for better times to come, can give a deeper meaning to life. It can even lead a person to reach immense personal and spiritual growth.

Next week, we will discuss Part 2 of the book.

The lived experience, Episode 9 – This week: Hester, Part 3 (final)

Last week Hester told about her period of illness. Today she takes a closer look at a number of forms of therapy and we read about where she is now.

She says that although she could not find her healing in the mainstream care system, the alternative circuit also regularly failed to improve her health or even caused damage. Some therapists used her difficult situation to feed their own spiritual egos. They asked her to grant them an experience of success; one even advised that she take her own life. It meant that in her desperation she also had to be alert to people abusing of her health issues: “I find that dangerous, such an attitude in which you, as a traumatised client, have to protect yourself against the therapist. Then you will not come to a pure form of healing.” However, the regular healthcare providers offered no way out either. They repeatedly came up with only one solution: more medication. “When I refused and said that I wanted help, but not endlessly more medicines, they refused help and I was deregistered from all kinds of circles. Then there was only one thing left for me: to completely turn inward. I had a conversation with ‘Above’ and felt that I still had something to do in this world, but my life energy was drained, gone, exhausted. I considered lying down in bed and to just wait until I would die, because no one had a solution. Believe it or not, but then I approached people from a holistic reflection circle and told my story, in tears. They organised not just a local, but a national meditation for me. Then peace came to me. I felt that I wanted to go back to the bioresonance therapist I had been to before. His guidance and approach, including that of the toxic load, finally helped me and saved me. My doctor, however, was sceptical. He called it all placebo effect, but until then, he had also not been able to help me.

My illness has made it necessary for me to deeply feel everything that has happened in my life. I think I can say I have seen the deepest darkness and now understand how things have had their impact. Then the pain let go of me and at the moment I am doing very well. My energy is limited, but it is nothing compared to how it was and I am extremely grateful for where I am now. Doctor Sarno’s pain reset method certainly helped me with that. I remain alert to how the past can still have an impact on how I feel or experience things, but all of that has a completely different character now, compared to before. I think I have lived through that enough now. That does not alter the fact that my body is still tired quite quickly and that I then get symptoms that I deserve to take seriously, even if my head actually wants to continue with something. There is still a certain vulnerability, but I can live with that now.”

In response to her remark about ‘not being able to feel well’, we talk about the question of who she used to turn to as a child if she had strong feelings. She thinks and says: “Do you know that I don’t remember…?” Somehow that says a lot, that for her, no one clearly comes to mind with whom she can link a sense of security. “I didn’t have many friends either; our family was so closed off, such a small world, that we were not really prepared for what it takes to meaningfully connect with other people outside the home. It’s not so bad anymore, but I still prefer the one-on-one meeting; superficiality does not make me happy.”

From her need for depth, she sometimes still falls into the trap of doing more than her body can handle: “I could call that a bad habit – certainly. From my willpower I think that I can go on for a while and recover again tomorrow and that remains a quest…” She falls silent for a moment and thinks. “A quest… how can I really sink into my body, less in my head, and find that relaxation there, really feel that it is good and safe and then let go of the stress? Learning that is an ongoing process, which I sometimes feel resistance to. When will it be ready? At the same time I realise that sometimes I still don’t really know what I’m feeling, so that definitely takes practice. And what also requires practice is that when I am tired and feel restless, I also take real rest and do not numb the unrest with ‘crap’ from, for example, social media. That is often a struggle: numbing one unrest with another… not good, but silence is hard for me. It makes me rebellious, because it gives me the impression that my life is still too boring, and so I look for stimuli, when I actually need rest. By now I know that I can feel, but I do not always feel in a sound way. Then I override with my head what my body has to say. With all that has happened, I now understand a lot better that a lot of my behaviour was necessary to get me out of the situation I was in, with all the ancestral dynamics involved.”

After all the personal aspects, we zoom out to the social perspective. I ask if she feels that the influence of childhood is given enough attention. “No, I think there is too little recognition for it. Even in a trauma centre where I was, the views on trauma turned out to be completely outdated. I think that the insights that experience experts could provide in all kinds of organisations, are very valuable. We just need more knowledge about what it means to experience and heal from trauma. As you said, there is a difference between ‘healing’ and ‘curing’, and while I am not completely cured, I am certainly healed. The impact of pre- and perinatal trauma, the influence of growing up in a dysfunctional family, ancestral trauma… there is still a lot of work to be done to make all of this widely known!

I have also experienced things on a spiritual level that I don’t want to make public now, but really… we are spiritual beings as humans and that is something that often gets snowed under in protocols and fixed structures. Many approaches in mainstream healthcare are very cognitively oriented, but trauma runs so deep… With your cognition, you cannot reach that at all. That requires something completely different. You may need complementary care for that, but as said… there the spiritual egos are so big sometimes that it is dangerous. I have also sometimes felt really not taken seriously in that field. And when you finally do get treatment from someone, you sometimes have to wait weeks or months for follow-up treatment; that I also find very problematic. In the meantime, nobody knows how you are doing and sometimes you have nowhere to go if a previous session has released a lot that deserves guidance.”

When we talk about what a child needs in the early phase, she immediately has a clear picture: “An environment that is as open as possible, where everything is allowed to be there, where there is no judgment on what you feel and say and on what concerns you emotionally… where there is understanding for you. And in addition, I think it is important that we do not forget about the body. There may also be a toxic load that needs to be cleaned up.”

We end with our three basic questions.
What gives you hope?
“That we as humans are so strong that you can even get out of such an almost hopeless situation as I was in.”

What is number 1 on your bucket list?
She beams and smiles when she replies: “Aaah, yes… publishing those children’s books! Hopefully I will find someone who can support me!”

And what are you currently very excited about or what do you want to be working on?
“That is not difficult either! I am currently doing a spiritual course, four online workshops and I love that. I do it at my own pace, but enjoy that I can do it that way and that I am now again able to!”

We wrap up. Hester indicates that she really enjoyed sharing her story in detail with someone who can receive it as it is, who listens to it and takes it seriously. “I don’t know if I want to go to therapy again; I think that this new phase and the quiet integration of everything I have learned in the previous stage will suffice for me for now. I am especially grateful that I am where I am now, again, after such a crisis, and it was good to be able to talk about it in peace!”