Book Review: The Body Keeps the Score

The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk is a book about how the body continues to keep the score even if we try to ignore the alarm signals from the emotional brain.1

The rational brain is basically impotent to talk the emotional brain out of its own reality.2 If you are frightened and unwanted, your brain becomes specialized in managing feelings of fear and abandonment, but if you feel safe and loved, it specializes in exploration, play, and cooperation.3

Emotions assign value to experiences and are thus the foundation for reason.4 Emotions (from the Latin emovere—to move out) give shape and direction to whatever we do. If an organism is stuck in survival mode, its energies are focused on fighting off unseen enemies, which leaves no room for nurture, care, and love.5 Many mental health problems start as attempts to cope with the unbearable physical pain of our emotions.6

Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.7

Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart.8

Not being seen, not being known, and having nowhere to turn to feel safe is devastating at any age, but it is particularly destructive for young children, who are still trying to find their place in the world. If no one has ever looked at you with loving eyes or has rushed to help you, then you need to discover other ways of taking care of yourself. You are likely to experiment with anything—drugs, alcohol, binge eating, or cutting—that offers some kind of relief.9

If you cannot tolerate what you know or feel what you feel, the only option is denial and dissociation.10 Being in sync with oneself and others requires integration of our body-based senses.11 Our mind cannot help but make meaning out of what it knows.12 The only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves.13

Having a good support network is the single most powerful protection we have against becoming traumatized. Much of our brain is devoted to stay in tune with others.14 Many mental health problems start off as attempts to cope with emotions that become unbearable because of lack of adequate human contact and support.15

This is an excellent book!

1 Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, p.46.
2 Ibid., p.47.
3 Ibid., p.56.
4 Ibid., p.64.
5 Ibid., p.75.
6 Ibid., p.76.
7 Ibid., p.79.
8 Ibid..
9 Ibid., p.88.
10 Ibid., p.121.
11 Ibid., p.122.
12 Ibid., p.191.
13 Ibid., p.206.
14 Ibid., p.210.
14 Ibid., p.349.


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