Victim Blaming: Childhood Trauma, Mental Illness & Diagnostic Distractions?


In preparing this blog, I asked a friend and colleague, Matt Britts, who works with traumatized youth for her input. He sent me the response below, a response that yet again left me dismayed with the ways in which so many services end up failing people with mental illness and trauma histories. His response left me asking the same questions I have asked myself many times before:

Why, despite the fact that the vast majority of people diagnosed with a mental illness have suffered from some form of childhood trauma, is it still so difficult to talk about? Why, despite the enormous amount of research about the impact of trauma on the brain and subsequent effect on behaviour, does there seem to be such an extraordinary refusal for the implication of this research to change attitudes towards those who are mentally ill? Why, when our program and others like it have shown people can heal from the effects of trauma, are so many people left with the self-blame and the feeling they will never get better that my colleague writes about below?


I recently had a conversation with a sixteen-year-old client about the origins of her “mental illness”. Or, to put it more accurately, I recently held my tongue and denied this young woman an explanation as she cried and helplessly demanded, why? Why was she suffering when no one else in her family had a history of depression? Why couldn’t she manage her emotions, except by cutting herself? Why was she so filled with self-hatred and pain that the only solution she could see was suicide? Why her? What’s wrong with me, she repeatedly asked. She asked, and I couldn’t point to the sexual and emotional abuse she had been subjected to because of deep-seated organisational fears that the mere mention of childhood trauma would open a Pandora’s box of further distress. Further dysfunction, probably further diagnoses.

Despite the very large advances that have been made in combating the stigma surrounding mental illness, the stigma of childhood trauma still looms silently in the background. In the 1950’s, Bowlby and Ainsworth began the attachment research that would eventually  demonstrate the key role our early infant relationships play in shaping all our future ones. The most important point being that insecure attachment to primary caregivers becomes an enduring interpersonal pattern of dysfunctional relationships that persist throughout the lifespan. In 1998, Felitti et al. published the first peer-reviewed paper describing results from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Almost ten years ago, this seminal research analysed data from over 8000 adult participants to demonstrate an undeniable link between childhood trauma and adulthood risk of suicide, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse (Felitti et al., 1998). Since then the body of literature on the subject has grown exponentially. Data from the ACE study has also provided evidence for a dose-dependent relationship between exposure to childhood abuse and poor adulthood mental health outcomes (Edwards, Holden, Felitti & Anda, 2003). More recently, a longitudinal study in New Zealand showed similar relationships between childhood sexual abuse and mental health outcomes, psychological well-being and socio-economic status (Fergusson, McLeod & Horwood, 2013). Notably, 95% of the participants who experienced sexual abuse involving penetration reported, at least, one adverse mental health outcome, compared to only 56% of participants that did not experience sexual abuse in childhood (Fergusson et al., 2013).    

Yet all these scientific advances would appear to have had little impact on the deeply flawed mental illness discourse that is so omnipresent among the general public and scientific community alike. We still live in a society where many believe that hitting a child is an appropriate form of discipline. When these children hit another child on the playground, we don’t call it a learned behaviour. We call it a conduct disorder. When these children grow up and physically abuse their spouses, we call it an antisocial personality disorder, an intermittent explosive disorder. The same is true of the child subjected to emotional abuse or neglect. When they inevitably fail to function adaptively within relationships, to regulate their own emotions or develop a coherent sense of self, we don’t ask ‘what happened to you?’. We ask ‘what’s wrong with you?’, consult the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and conclude what is wrong is a form of innate characterological dysfunction termed borderline personality disorder. By the way, the prevalence of childhood trauma exposure within borderline personality disorder patients has been evidenced to be as high as 92% (Yen et al., 2002). Within individuals diagnosed with psychotic or affective disorders, it reaches 82% (Larsson et al., 2012). Individuals with psychiatric illnesses and a history of trauma also appear to display significantly higher functional impairment than the remainder of the sample (Cotter, Kaess & Yung, 2015).

This is a conversation that has been suppressed since Freud very briefly suggested the neuroses and hysteria he saw in his clients were a result of familial sexual abuse. In response to immense professional pressure, Freud reformulated his ideas into more socially palatable theories that essentially blamed the victim. The psychology of the 19th century had the Oedipus and Electra complexes as a convenient distraction from uncomfortable truths. Today’s psychology has antisocial, narcissistic and borderline personalities. Today’s solution should be readily available in a model of trauma-informed care that addresses the core issue behind the symptoms. Because questions of causation aside, the fact remains that individuals diagnosed with mental illness who receive treatment for their traumatic childhood experiences improve more than those who don’t (Bohus et al., 2013; Roberts, Roberts, Jones & Bisson, 2015; Van Minnen, Zoellner, Harned & Mills, 2015).  



Bohus, M., Dyer, A. S., Priebe, K., Krüger, A., Kleindienst, N., Schmahl, C., … & Steil, R. (2013). Dialectical behaviour therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder after childhood sexual abuse in patients with and without borderline personality disorder: A randomised controlled trial. Psychotherapy & Psychosomatics, 82(4), 221-233.

Cotter, J., Kaess, M., & Yung, A. R. (2015). Childhood trauma and functional disability in psychosis, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder: a review of the literature. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 32(01), 21-30.

Edwards, V. J., Holden, G. W., Felitti, V. J., & Anda, R. F. (2003). Relationship between multiple forms of childhood maltreatment and adult mental health in community respondents: Results from the adverse childhood experiences study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 160(8), 1453-1460.

Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., … & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245-258.

Fergusson, D. M., McLeod, G. F., & Horwood, L. J. (2013). Childhood sexual abuse and adult developmental outcomes: Findings from a 30-year longitudinal study in New Zealand. Child Abuse & Neglect, 37(9), 664-674.

Larsson, S., Andreassen, O. A., Aas, M., Røssberg, J. I., Mork, E., Steen, N. E., … & Melle, I. (2013). High prevalence of childhood trauma in patients with schizophrenia spectrum and affective disorder. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 54(2), 123-127.

Roberts, N. P., Roberts, P. A., Jones, N., & Bisson, J. I. (2015). Psychological interventions for post-traumatic stress disorder and comorbid substance use disorder: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, 38, 25-38.

van Minnen, A., Zoellner, L. A., Harned, M. S., & Mills, K. (2015). Changes in comorbid conditions after prolonged exposure for PTSD: A literature review. Current psychiatry reports, 17(3), 1-16.

Yen, S., Shea, M. T., Battle, C. L., Johnson, D. M., Zlotnick, C., Dolan-Sewell, R., … & Zanarini, M. C. (2002). Traumatic exposure and posttraumatic stress disorder in borderline, schizotypal, avoidant, and obsessive-compulsive personality disorders: Findings from the collaborative longitudinal personality disorders study. The Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 190(8), 510-518.


  1. Why are past experiences not talked of? The we-have-a-medicine/ magic pill industry is worth billions of dollars a year is why.
    Those who separate themselves from the mentally ill also need the idea-excuse of a DNA error or brain chemical imbalance to keep themselves apart from the ill, keep the illusion that medicine is being performed , not a persons soul is in conflict or damaged.

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    • Those who separate themselves from us also enjoy the idea of a DNA error or chemical imbalance in the brain because it shows how superior they are. They have healthy genes and perfect harmony in their brains, showing how above us subhumans they are in their sanity. Just like the German Aryans derived their nationalistic pride from hating the Jews.

      Some mentally “normal” people are insensitive, unimaginative, and lacking in humor. Therefore I guess they feel they need something to feel smug about.

      Seems society has a built in need to hate some group of scapegoats. Witches, Comanche “savages,” African-Americans, Communists, and now the Insane.

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  2. I think people are reluctant to go there because it rocks everyone’s world to call out abuse around them. Calling out abuse destroys the illusions people have clung to for so long, as familiar. Everyone’s self-image is tested and challenged. So the system protects itself aggressively, which can further devastate the victim of that abuse. That’s the nature of systemic abusive ill-making oppression.

    Breaking the cycle of abuse-victim is probably one of our most challenging psychological chores, but I feel it is the way out of oppression. Acknowledging it and calling it out is courageous and risk-taking, and, I believe, a vital step in resolving it; while denying abuse (or the internalization of abuse, post-traumatic stress) will only cause it to get bigger until it is once and for all acknowledged.

    My question is: why do we always wait for a tragedy to occur before waking up to abuse? There are always red flags, which, in my experience, people tend to rationalize, dismiss, or deny–and rather aggressively, and often with a counter-attack, to discourage such grievances. That’s where significant change can happen, in our response to when people are claiming that abuse is actually taking place. How do we each respond to that? With compassion? Or defensively?

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  3. This is a fine article, excepting some of the language about “mental illness”. There is no mental illness, only different degrees of problems in living and relating. The complexity of emotional development that Mahler, Schore, Stern, Bowlby write about does not break down into neat “disorders” and “normality.”

    Why is it so hard to talk about childhood abuse and neglect? A few likely reasons:

    – Ineffective, immature, unskilled parents don’t want to face their own pain or guilt nor the sense of loss that would be evoked by realizing what a poor job they did with their psychotic or depressed child. By deluding themselves that a child has a brain-based illness, their denial and avoidance is enabled. This phenomenon is visible in many NAMI parents, who are often emotional children themselves. The equation for them is simple: Sacrifice your child at the alter of Big Pharma and psychiatry’s illusory “brain disease” model, so that you can deny that you contributed to making them have a breakdown and quiet them down with drugs.

    – In general, it is threatening to realize that so many parents are actually harmful to their children. We like to have the idealized image of responsible parents and obedient children. The reality, that many tens of millions of parents are abusing and neglecting their children, if acknowledged would be very threatening to our sense of stability and rightness in the world. In a way, it is horrifying and unthinkable that so many parents mistreat their own children; to really face this issue would cause psychotic anxiety in some adults. Of course, the denial of what is really going on and the drugging down of the children just makes things worse in the long run… so like with many things, this denial is adaptive and protective at first, but harmful later.

    – As the commenter above says, acknowledging childhood trauma and moving “treatment” in the direction of addressing this trauma and away from drugging/denial threatens the primary profit model of large corporations operating in this arena. Solving problems is far less profitable than creating lifelong drug-takers. These sociopathic entities and their minions, the psychiatrists, need to maintain the flow of new victims into the disease and drug model; therefore, they encourage the discourse which denies life problems’ connection to trauma while dreaming up discrete brain based illnesses that never even existed in the way they imagine. These dynamics are why abused people and their families should avoid psychiatrists like the plague.

    – The last reason would be that psychiatric victims are on average very weak in their ability to fight back. What I mean by that is that the most vulnerable, voiceless, mostly uneducated, poor, minority people are disproportionately the victims of abuse and induction into the disease-drugging model. Therefore it is easy for powerful forces in society including corporations and abusive adults to marginalize and silence them. Unlike other movements involving gay people, women, African-Americans, etc, the psychiatric survivor movement has stopped and started because it does not have such a large proportion of emotionally healthy strong people championing its interests.

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    • Poor parenting may be the main source of childhood trauma and mental distress but it is not the only source and innocent parents are rightly indignant when unfairly accused of hurting their children. Less blaming of poor parenting may assist with maintaining a focus on trauma as the soul cause of mental distress (especially childhood trauma). Mental distress is emotional suffering caused by childhood traumas and traumas caused by rape, war, bullies or a mental health system that misinterprets natural emotional suffering as a medical problem. Mental distress is a social welfare problem caused by emotional suffering from distressful experiences; it is not a medical problem caused by a brain or “mind” dysfunction.

      Best wishes, Steve

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      • My comment did not say that parenting is the only source of childhood trauma and mental distress Steve… but as you agreed it is almost certainly one of the primary causes.

        Identifying an agent of harm, i.e. parents, is different from simplistic blaming. There is a difference between what is said and what people do with what is said.

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        • I think it is also important to note that most parents who do harm to their kids don’t actually realize they are doing harm (though there are certainly a minority who do realize it and get some perverse satisfaction out of it). Most parents err by reproducing what was done to them or by following misguided professional advice that does damage to their kids. There are also sometimes personality mis-fits between parent and child that cause conflict or stress that can’t really be called abuse, but is still very painful for the child, often in ways s/he is unable to articulate.

          That being said, while parents are the most likely source of traumatization, there are still plenty of folks who can’t point to poor parenting as a causal factor. Our society at large adds a whole raft of additional stressors, such as attending school or daycare away from parents before being ready, needing to “get a job” to survive when not enough jobs are available or jobs don’t pay enough to live on, being part of an economy based on oppression of other people, and so on. It is somewhat short sighted to limit to specific individual traumatic events as a potential cause of mental/emotional distress, as there are broad social causes and cumulative impacts that can lead to the same “symptoms” via another path.

          Finally, I agree that blaming parents is very different from identifying their potential contributions to a person’s mental/emotional welfare. The first is dismissive and judgmental, while the second can be quite empowering (though painful) if done effectively. And denying such effects for the comfort of the parents or other adults is simply compounding the injuries done to the child. The kindest thing that can be done for injuries of this sort is for the parent to acknowledge the possibility that they may have done harm and listen to the viewpoint of the person who is suffering. Unfortunately, that is the exact opposite of what our current system encourages adults to do.

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    • “The last reason would be that psychiatric victims are on average very weak in their ability to fight back. What I mean by that is that the most vulnerable, voiceless, mostly uneducated, poor, minority people are disproportionately the victims of abuse and induction into the disease-drugging model. Therefore it is easy for powerful forces in society including corporations and abusive adults to marginalize and silence them.”

      I have the opposite perception, that victims of social abuse are actually quite powerful, to the point where these individuals and their truth can really threaten society, which is why the social powers do wage such an aggressive campaign to keep them marginalized and feeling shame. Making one’s self vulnerable is an act of courage and trust, which is what leads to personal growth.

      Once a person wakes up to how they’ve been, or are being, abused and oppressed–which can be quite insidious and subtle, but deeply felt and damaging over time–and that their familiar is neither sound nor healthful but only draining, chronically frustrating, and limiting, and it is more than obvious that change is vital for their emotional and/or physical survival, (and even more so, in order to thrive), then they will really and truly bring out the insecurities of the powers that be, and that’s when things can get ugly, because when these bullies get mad, they are ruthless. Inside a bully are massive insecurities that, when triggered, can explode into rage.

      How this can heal this on an individual and social level is my focus, and that is tricky because in order to do so, one needs to know their power. The stigma, to my mind, occurs when people are told they have no power, and this causes so much fear and feelings of lack of safety, chronically. That is a lot of stress to carry around. Plus it gives people a terribly low image, to feel they cannot protect themselves in life.

      That we are powerless is never true, everyone has power. But if one has been cut off from it thanks to these abusive messages one can internalize, then it can be very challenging to access it. That would be a matter of healing any internalized message that we are powerless, because it is a lie.

      That’s one of the pts effects of abuse, to believe one has no power to stop it. The ones that know how to stop the abuse in their lives are free. I believe this is where transformation occurs, when we learn to stop the bullies and abusers in our own lives, and ascend onto a path of creating what we need and desire, without the extra added and very burdensome ingredient of sabotage.

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      • Alex, the suffering people we do not hear from are far more numerous than those we do, I’d wager. The number of silent, pill-taking, non-functional “mentally ill” people must outnumber those who speak out by dozens if not hundreds, or even thousands, to one.

        But yes I agree that victims of abuse can be powerful if they speak up. However, to this point I feel that not enough have done so and far too many people are complicit in believing the disease model idea that have a mental illness and need to indefinitely keep taking their pills.

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        • Agreed on all counts, BPD.

          What I’m saying, however, is that I think that when an individual without social power displays personal power (that is, they do not fall for the illusions and lies of an abusive system) that is when they specifically become targets for abuse, diagnoses, drugging, restraints, and overall marginalization, as personal power is extremely threatening to the corrupt and brainwashing status quo, because the person is rightfully challenging the control and integrity of the authority.

          This is how the abusive system delivers the message, “You have no power here!” which is easily internalized either in a developmental stage or when lacking defenses due to drugging. That turns into a negative self-belief that can haunt until we rewrite it.

          Truth threatens corruption, and it doesn’t take wealth or position to know the truth. In fact, it most often comes from a more disadvantaged place in society.

          True, the more that speak up about their experiences of systemic abuse in the mental health system, the more this will ripple. As far as those who remain silent from fear, shame, or even just the inability to articulate their thoughts and feelings, I would hope that eventually these examples of courage and support would ripple to them, as well.

          However, there are so many forces at play here, and so many smoke and mirrors, I imagine that it would be impossible to reach everyone. Still, we can certainly do the best we can, and keep speaking our truth, regardless of anything.

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          • I agree, people who aren’t easily cowed or who are very sensitive to hypocrisy and injustice are the most likely to display “symptoms” and to be psychiatrized into submission. Those who “See the man behind the curtain” are the most dangerous to our society’s ruling elite, who are, as you say, VERY insecure about their positions of power!

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          • Going against the grain to follow one’s truth will often look like “symptoms” in a sick society; whereas, in reality, what is being witnessed is one person’s uniquely creative process. How dehumanizing for a person’s creativity to be stigmatized. That’s exactly what I would call a social ill, the epitome of it. And, indeed, it occurs with alarming frequency to extremely creative and individually-minded children, in an uptight society.

            I think when we honor our own process without judgment, we are more inclined to embrace diversity. It always starts within.

            As for submission, I’d just plain stay away from anyone who supports the legal power of an alleged “institution of health” to do such a thing to someone trying to heal, that is unsafe from the get-go. I can only shake my head in disbelief at such a notion, even though I know it all too well to be true.

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        • I was abused, mostly emotionally, by parents growing up and have been pathologized with the depression label as an adult, with over twenty years of taking psychiatric medications (which didn’t help and I believe only made things worse) I wrote three articles about my experience in a local Northern California newspaper. I contacted a number of anti psychiatry authors, psychologists psychiatrists, psychiatric survivor advocates, and Mad In America by email telling them about my articles to see if anyone was interested in printing them elsewhere………Not one reply…….With Mad in America’s contact person I even tried to intentionally provoke a response by insinuating that Mad in America’s website is only interested in printing articles by professionals and not psychiatric survivors, but still no response.
          So some of us patients are trying to be heard and are being ignored by the mental health establishment.

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          • KWB, You have my sympathies. I have also tried to write about recovery story for MIA but been unable to, supposedly because MIA feels uncomfortable with publishing my story anonymously. According to the editors, would have been fine with my story if I had been willing to go through with it under my real name, but that is not something I can do due to liability at my job.

            This position is, however, somewhat hypocritical on the part of Mad In America editors: the reason is that they have recently published not one, but two articles by other anonymous psych survivors, i.e. J. Doe (about benzo withdrawal) and Serafina (about the mental health court system). And the reason for anonymity in both was the same as the one I wanted, i.e. to protect the writers’ employment prospects and reputation. Therefore, the process by which MIA chooses to publish articles by people with lived experience is unclear, inconsistently applied, and seemingly capricious. When the editor likes another psych survivor, they publish their story anonymously, with me, who they apparently don’t like so much, I cannot be published anonymously.

            A reason behind this may be that MIA editors may be uncomfortable with the bluntness of my comments; I do not pull any punches in what I say and am severely anti-psychiatry. But that is not a reason to reject a story that is well-written and serves a good purpose, as mine was. Right now, MIA is in a bit of a drought and could use more articles. So guess what people, I’m still here and my story is still available for publication. To MIA editors, you know where to reach me.

            Your favorite commenter, “Edward”

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          • I do not pull any punches in what I say and am severely anti-psychiatry.

            I hope you don’t believe this is why MIA declined. For one, many people who blog are unabashedly anti-psychiatry. Two, from what I can see you’re sometimes anti-psychiatry, other times not so much depending on who you’re trying to convince of what.

            Plus, trying to publicly pressure people to print something is hardly the way to get what you want. Too many people here have personal agendas they want to promote and I’m sure the staff takes this into account as well.

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          • Oldhead,

            Get real, everyone here has personal agendas. To be human is to be self-interested on some level.

            You’re entitled to opinion about “the right way” to get people to print something; but I feel different; exposing inconsistent, capricious practices is valid in my book.

            Try going a little easier on everyone else; you mainly pipe up when you want to criticize the 5% of what others say that you disagree with, rather than supporting the 95% of what you might have in common with them. It gets old…. pun not intended.

            As for being antipsychiatry, not everyone agrees with your definition of what antipsychiatry is; few people are pure enough for you…

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          • OK BPDT if you insist:

            exposing inconsistent, capricious practices is valid in my book.

            Also against the guidelines I think, if you’re referring to MIA editorial policies.

            Try going a little easier on everyone else; you mainly pipe up when you want to criticize the 5% of what others say that you disagree with, rather than supporting the 95% of what you might have in common with them.

            “Go a little easier?” I’m not being “hard” on anyone, including you, whatever that’s supposed to mean. I’m not responding to people most of the time anyway, but the statements they make. You must be feeling insecure today.

            Anyway, why would I waste my time repeating and applauding what someone just said if I agree with it? Repetitious and boring. My approach is more to point out what I think someone may be missing.

            As for being antipsychiatry, not everyone agrees with your definition of what antipsychiatry is; few people are pure enough for you…

            Or perhaps as consistent. However, until people decide to take on the collective responsibility of defining what it means to be anti-psychiatry “my” definition remains pretty basic: “Against” means “opposed to.”

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    • ” Ineffective, immature, unskilled parents don’t want to face their own pain or guilt nor the sense of loss that would be evoked by realizing what a poor job they did with their psychotic or depressed child. By deluding themselves that a child has a brain-based illness, their denial and avoidance is enabled.”

      Blanket statements such as these illustrate yet another reason for the the reluctance to discuss the part that early childhood trauma plays in mental illness. That would be psychiatry’s ignoble tradition of parent-blaming in the absence of any knowledge or understanding. Bettelheim’s indictment of the parents of autistic children is one example, but not the only one. Freudians also used to blame parents (i.e., mothers) for causing their sons to become gay; at least until the APA removed homosexuality from its DSM listing of disorders. And there was the schizophrenogenic mother of Frieda Reichmann, whatever that means…Was this mother cold and rejecting? Intrusive and overprotective? Both? Neither? And what exactly did she do to drive her otherwise healthy child to madness? To make extraordinary charges such as these, shouldn’t one be able to back them up with science? Yet another contribution of Freudian psychiatry was the Munchhausen by Proxy syndrome that facilitated the persecution of innocent parents who were accused of harming their children or faking their symptoms to get attention for themselves.

      What is badly needed on MIA is an open and honest exploration of all that can bring about mental illness, a discussion that is free of dogma, egos and guild interests. Does parenting matter? OF COURSE IT DOES.and there most certainly should be no taboo on discussing parenting and nurture and their role in mental illness. But other things matter, too, because EVERYTHING matters. Nature, nurture, the larger society and the environment all play a role. Biology as a factor in mental illness should not be a taboo subject either, as it is becoming increasingly clear that biology is a significant factor in mental illness and biology can be a big part of the solution (e.g., micronutrients, diet, gut health, sunlight, earthing). The problem with the current system is not biology; the problem is coercion, corruption, greed and guild interests that rely on industry science. The response to corrupted industry science is to insist on real, honest science (including science that validates the importance of early childhood experience), not Freudian dogma and myth-making.

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      • GetitRight, autism and homosexuality are not great comparisons on this topic… we don’t have much data indicating that parental abuse and trauma cause those ways of being. But when it comes to psychoses and severe depression, there is a mountain of evidence covered in the article above showing that poor parenting is a major factor contributing to the development of these problems in young (and older) people. John Read’s research shows that children who get beaten and raped by their parents are several times more likely to get labeled schizophrenic than kids who don’t have this experience. So the data is now coming in, and we cannot deny that parents contribute to kids getting labeled “schizophrenic”, whatever that even means.

        And infantile parents do not usually want to speak up about beating, neglecting, or emotionally abusing their child. Who would? It’s a source of a lot of shame and guilt, even though it needn’t be if one understands that abuse/neglect is often transmitted from generation to generation, with no one first person being the one to affix blame to. But better to speak openly about it and for parents to acknowledge that abuse happens and that it’s often factors outside of their control (at the time) that led to them treating their child in ways they would wish could have been done different.

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          • No, I mean that via abuse and neglect, some parents contribute to the child having a greater likelihood of having delusions and hallucinations, while generally behaving in a “disturbing” (to some) way… this unwanted behavior in the child in turn makes the shrinks more likely to label them as schizophrenic.

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      • Well said. It’s about time someone spoke up to counter the “received wisdom” that parents are usually to blame for their child’s mental illness. Being gay, apparently, is no longer considered the result of poor parenting and childhood trauma, so why is it still okay to say that “schizophrenia” and psychotic illnesses are? Who decides this? Why is autism apparently no longer accepted as the result of poor parenting and childhood trauma, as was once widely claimed, but “schizophrenia” still is. There is no scientific proof for any of these assertions, but there’s an awful lot of opinion making based on people’s own past history. What may be true for one person may not be at all true for someone else. It’s all about which groups or individuals come to dominate the conversation.

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        • Well, as usual I can have a lot to say about this subject, and I’ve allowed my perspective to evolve quite a bit, thanks to these rich and very honest discussions. I’ve also been working with families quite a bit, and of course, like you say, Rossa, all are different; the truths of each family are as diverse as snowflakes, each one unique and different.

          Main reason I’m piping in is because of the reference to being Gay, and as a Gay man who continues as such, and as a person who considers himself to have been mentally ill and then healed from it (that’s my story, and there are reasons I label my experience as such), the one trait that each of these can have in common is how we feel about ourselves, despite how others perceive us.

          A Gay person or a mentally ill person, just like anyone who is easily discriminated against due to the stigma and prejudices of society, has the daunting and empowering task of knowing themselves to a much more powerful degree than all that negative stigmatizing crap which others project onto them. We are who we are.

          Families, teachers, peers, therapists, society-at-large, can all challenge us to accept ourselves as we are. Others are more validating and supportive, that is, unconditionally loving.

          Nobody’s perfect and everyone is always doing the best they know how at any given moment, I truly believe this. As we continue to learn, grow and evolve, we do better, including with our self-compassion. I do not think this ever ends. We can always do better, I think that’s a very beautiful human quality, our power of evolution.

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          • I’d also like to add that this comparison of how we label people and the origins of what caused what does seem to confuse the issue of social abuse in present time. To discuss aspects of mental illness and autism in comparison with being Gay feels a bit off to me, somehow.

            Everyone is marginalized in their own way. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel this deep down inside, that they are ‘different.’ Some people just hide it well because they don’t like to go against the crowd, for fear of being ostracized; whereas some people really don’t care about the mainstream norms and opinions, Personally, I think the latter leads to better health and well-being, and certainly freedom and creativity; but for others this may not be true. Going against the norm can cause people great distress.

            I really think it’s about embracing diversity, and to grow out of the insecurities that often accompany our differences, and the judgments that come with others’ differences. That would be hardy evolution, and people wouldn’t get so enraged because they are constantly being demeaned and rendered powerless in the community. That would piss anyone off, justifiably.

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        • Of course, the real mistake is taking a phenomenon and labeling it “schizophrenia” and deciding that all such phenomena are caused by the same thing without any evidence to suggest that is true. I like to use the analogy of a rash. What a confusion we’d be in if we decided that all rashes have a common cause and must have a common solution! All we could do would be to try out drugs that suppress skin irritation, and in cases where it didn’t work or wore off, call it a “treatment-resistant rash.”

          Rashes, like most conditions, can be caused by a lot of different things, ranging from poison ivy, which will go away on its own without any treatment at all, to syphillis, which will eventually kill you after driving you crazy by eating away your brain function bit by bit. It sure would be good to know which of these you have before starting any treatment approach!

          So parents sometimes contribute to their child’s mental stress and deterioration (actually, quite frequently), but sometimes it has nothing to do with parents at all. Why we’d expect all cases of some arbitrary selection of “symptoms” voted on by a committee of biased middle-class mostly white men to all or even most have the same cause is beyond my comprehension.

          —- Steve

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          • Steve,
            I really agree with your opinion on the invention of “illnesses” like “schizophrenia”.

            I notice people often make a very big thing about Recovery from trauma – but it is possible to recover from extreme life experience. People recover all the time regardless of the source of the trauma; and this is what I would emphasise.

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        • There is scientific proof Rossa about psychosis being often caused by parents (among many other things) – the article even notes that the ACE study (and John Read’s research) give strong evidence for psychosis being caused by abuse and maltreatment, and parents are the people that often, not always, abuse or maltreat their kids…

          This is different than autism or being gay, which are more linked to innate genetic predispositions.

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        • WTF are you talking about ? “Parents are usually to blame for their childs mental illness”.
          The child is blamed. The child has a brain chemical imbalance . The child must be on medication (not the parents). The parents do not take the blame, if they did , they would take the magical medications.
          My uneducated parents believe whatever a doctors tells them, and believe their defective DNA made me, their child mentally defective-ill.
          What groups or individuals dominate the conversation? The ones who are not locked up ( people call hospitalized) and the ones who are not poisoned silent (people call given medicine).

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          • Too true. Psychiatry and the “mental health” industry often colludes with abusive, neglectful or just plain unaware parents to exacerbate the damage already done. This has been talked about long ago in family therapy circles, casting blame on the “identified patient” and letting the rest of the family off the hook, but that’s exactly what the DSM and the current model does to kids who have been abused or harmed by their parents or other adults in their lives.

            —- Steve

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      • “…. autism and homosexuality are not great comparisons on this topic… we don’t have much data indicating that parental abuse and trauma cause those ways of being.”

        BPD, this misses the gist of my comments which was not to equate mental illness with autism or homosexuality, but to note that psychiatry and psychiatrists have the habit of opining and blaming without knowing what they are talking about. For example, Bettelheim had no basis for attributing autism to poor mothering, and he certainly had no basis for concluding that autism was due to the mother wishing her child had never been born. I am not familiar with the methodology of John Read’s work and cannot comment on what his data prove (e.g., causation vs. correlation). I do not need to be convinced that child abuse is a monstrous thing and that parenting and nurture matters; it clearly does, and that is simple enough. But the etiology of mental illness is complex and multifactorial and, absent evidence to the contrary, it does not follow that the parents did it. The fact that discussion of early childhood trauma has fallen out of fashion is most regrettable, but let’s put the blame where it belongs.

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        • Here’s some data for you:

          At a group level, risk of becoming psychotic 2.4 times greater after sexual abuse (20 studies), 2.9 times greater after physical abuse (13 studies), 3.4 times greater after emotional abuse (6 studies), 2.9 times greater after neglect (7 studies) 2.4 times greater after bullying (6), 1.7 times greater after parental death (8 studies). Not all but much of this sexual, physical, and emotional abuse comes from parents; therefore parents can and do cause psychosis:

          More interesting data:

          Most people labeled schizophrenic believe adverse interpersonal and social experiences caused them to become distressed:

          No evidence of genetic predisposition to “schizophrenia”:

          People experiencing 5 different types of abuse abuse 193 times more likely to become psychotic:

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          • No one is saying parents always are a primary cause of psychosis, but often, their harmful behavior or their lack of knowledge about how to effectively parent is indeed a factor causing a psychotic breakdown. No one wants to acknowledge this, because we’d like to believe every parent is a good parent that loves their child, but it just ain’t the truth.

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        • If it makes you feel better, I don’t believe my parents have much if any responsibility for my “mental health” issues. I blame the bullies in high school who sexually harassed me for two years. It may not sound like much, but it was very traumatizing to me as a teenager. I would come home and cry almost every afternoon.

          At 20, after two or three years I was still suffering from social anxiety issues in college. Dr. M. put me on an anti-depressant. When I told him it was making me psychotic he denied it despite what was obvious in the pill manual. After I had gone 3 weeks without sleeping they had me locked up and drugged with toxic levels of Haldol that gave me multiple seizures every day. I wish I had never seen that quack Dr. M. My life would have been a lot better. I might have had to take a year off from college.

          As it was, my xenophobic dorm mom kicked me out under the pretense that I was not meds compliant. Finally I’ve made the decision to quit taking my meds! I only wish I had done it 22 years ago.

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  4. Victim blaming is an oxymoron. I think a better way of putting it would be re-victimization. If a person is repeatably being victimized, perhaps that person is seriously in need of a change of circumstance. Victims by definition are innocent, blaming them is repeat victimization. A complement of the blame game, is the victim role, and we’ve got more than enough drama queens, particularly in the “mental illness” industry, to go around.

    To lay childhood trauma on top of a “mental illness” diagnosis is to saddle a person with a great deal of excessive baggage. Perhaps they are, and perhaps they aren’t, one and the same thing. When this diagnosis is given, and this inference made, you are giving a person a way out of their responsibilities. “Victim blaming” is one thing, milking the “mental illness” excuse for all that it is worth is another. “Mental illness” can be used as a catch all excuse against assuming those responsibilities that come with adulthood. If we are going to “blame mental illness”, come back when you catch the culprit. No, I don’t think “cat flu” or “bad genes” did it. Yes, sometimes the matter have more to do with the fog produced by psycho-active drugs than anything else.

    I’m drafting my own DSM categorizing the “sicknesses” for all those “sick”–people is the polite way to put it–who make their bread and butter in the “mental illness” industry. It’s, all in all, a pretty lop-sided affair, with a degree of comfort and respectability at one end of the spectrum, the professional staff end, and a very large degree of degradation, suffering, and struggle at the other, the “professional” patient end. My point is, the state hospital is very good university, just as is the street, but not for your conventional (corporate constructed) idea of success. Given the rapid decline of the middle classes under western corporatocracy, coming up with other ideas of success beyond becoming a corporate CEO (or being chosen electable head of state by the corporate elite) and, in one way or another, winning casino capitalism’s big lottery, are long overdue.

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    • Okay. Oxymoron was not the right word to use in this instance. Blaming the victim is not a contradiction in terms, not an oxymoron. Victim blaming is, quite literally, adding insult to injury. The oxymoron could be used to describe the person coming to the aid of the injured party, and who then further handicaps them with a guilt trip. One could describe, in some cases, the person so doing so as a harmful helper (or do I mean helpful harmer?). The characterization of the person who would, in coming to the aid of the victim, wittingly or unwittingly, further that victimization. Getting people out of the victim trap. Well, there you go. The system itself can become a trap from which a person must break free, at least, if that person doesn’t want to continue at performing typical rituals of degradation enacted by the system.

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  5. Given the very high numbers of so called “mentally ill” that actually are ACEs victims, or child abuse victims – “the prevalence of childhood trauma exposure within borderline personality disorder patients has been evidenced to be as high as 92% (Yen et al., 2002). Within individuals diagnosed with psychotic or affective disorders, it reaches 82% (Larsson et al., 2012).” It seems quite obvious to me that covering up child abuse is very big business in this country, and doing just that is the primary function of today’s psychiatric industry. Which, to me, is just shocking and sick.

    And it was confessed to me by an ethical pastor that psychiatrists / psychologists misdiagnosing and massively tranquilizing people to cover up child abuse for the mainstream religions is known as “the dirty little secret of the two original educated professions.” This is historically one of the promised functions of the psychiatric industry – and obviously they’re following through on this promise. And the police, the lawyers, the judges, know all about it and go along with this appallingly paternalistic system.

    As to, “the fact remains that individuals diagnosed with mental illness who receive treatment for their traumatic childhood experiences improve more than those who don’t.” I would have to say this depends on what kind of treatment they get. Because the truth of the matter is antidepressants and “antipsychotics do not cure concerns of child abuse” – and prescribing drugs is all today’s psychiatrists know how to do. Acknowledging and talking about the issue, and helping to bring about justice if possible, would be a much more helpful solution.

    But that is exactly the opposite of what today’s psychiatrists do. Once the medical evidence of the abuse of my child was handed over, and I informed my psychiatrist about this, he became terrified, and tried to re-drug me. I was much better off, however, since I now understood for certain why my soon to be ex-pastor had bullied me from day two in his church. And then that psychiatrist tried to get my child drugged, and shipped into the “system.” Despite the fact my child was doing much better, he’d gone from remedial reading in first grade to getting straight A’s, and eventually 100% on his state standardized tests. Then my child went on to be the valedictorian of his high school class and is doing well in college now.

    Love, caring, and empathy can help an abused child heal. Psychiatric drugs do not. And this leaves us with the question. Since the primary function of today’s psychiatric industry does indeed seem to be covering up child abuse, by defaming and turning these innocent victims into “mental” patients with the psych drugs. Is this a societal function that benefits most in our society? Or would our society, as a whole, be better off if we began arresting the child molesters and got rid of the child abuse covering up industry? Or at least change it from an iatrogenic illness creation system, to a system of actual help. Swallow that red pill, and learn how sick our current society truly is. But denying the problem, is not the solution.

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  6. Many of the people who deny childhood problems as the reason for the inability to work, or have trouble working due to sadness are victims of it themselves.

    They believe that since they made it despite their abuse, others should as well and stop complaining.

    These people use their money or position in life as a reason as to why they won’t accept pity or empathy, and why they deny compassion to others who want compassion and are different than them, not weaker or stronger, just different.

    How do we discourage this type of thinking for those who want or need help coping with childhood problems?

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    • If you look at the history of how we deal with trauma in this country we find that interest in trauma waxes and wanes. It usually builds up right after a major war experience and then disappears again for a long time. It’s also interesting that what usually happens a lot of times is that society in general stigmatizes and blames the trauma survivors. There has been no real effort in this country to help people who’ve suffered things like childhood trauma. An abused kid usually has to tell an average of six to seven people before an adult actually believes that something did happen and that the kid is telling the truth. And then, the child is often told that what happened to her or him is actually her or his fault, or that they deserved the abuse, or that they “asked” for it to happen to them. This is usually told to them by adults who should be protecting and watching over them. Mothers whose husbands have sexually abused the children (and if they’ve abused one they’ve usually abused all of them in the family, sooner or later) often say that the child is lying just to cause trouble for the father. It goes on and on. And the abuse is carried out by very respectable people. About three years ago the Toronto police department finally were able to arrest a child pornography ring that they’d been after for five years. The ring involved 349 adults who were lawyers, priests, ministers, doctors, nurses, teachers, police, you name it and most of the respectable professions were listed in this ring. They’d molested over 400 children whose lives will never be the same ever again. The abuse of children, leading to major trauma, is rampant in our society and yet almost no one does a damned thing about it. Once in a while a child abuser is sent to prison and sometimes the inmates, with the blessing of the guards, maim or kill the offender. Usually however, almost no one is ever prosecuted and put in prison where they rightfully belong. We froth at the mouth about a case like that involving Jerry Sandusky (look at how long it took to bring him down even though numerous people had observed him doing sexual things to kids) but then everything dies down and we go merrily on our way. All very interesting.

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      • Victims of abuse usually become abusers themselves without treatment, so we ought to look at this in a compassionate way. These people did not just spring up out of nowhere, and them being in positions of power like lawyers, doctors, police, etc..just goes to show its a deeper problem within society.

        I think as a society we all become victims of the harsh judgement we impose upon others. None of us without sin, or perfect, so I think we need to focus on a system that is more rehabilitative rather than punishing.

        If society can see justice in rehabilitation rather than punishment, we can put an end to the cycle of abuse that exists in very usual families and comes in all forms whether emotional which is legal, to physical with is illegal.

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        • Actually, a lot of abuse victims don’t become abusive as adults, and are in fact dedicated to not repeat what was done to them. That being said, you are right that many abusers were abused themselves as kids. What is unfortunate is that as our society as a whole looks the other way or minimizes the impact of abuse, it makes it more likely for abuse victims to turn to abuse as a way of coping with their history of pain, because awareness and acceptance of that pain seems to be critical to healing from the damage.

          But I do want it to be clear that this is not the only choice, and many abuse victims make a different choice for themselves. Some of them have been among the most caring and loving people I’ve ever met, because they KNOW what it’s like to be a kid and not be heard or respected, and do their damnedest to make sure they never put their own kids in such a situation.

          — Steve

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          • As I said, with treatment many abuse victims don’t become abusers themselves.

            Though without treatment such as talk therapy, or even medications where there is a shortage of therapists worldwide, those abuse victims are more likely to become abusers themselves.

            It’s a cycle that must be broken by more investments in the right therapies, not quick fixes like medications although they should be an option if therapists aren’t around.

            It might not be popular to say this here, but some people are just so overwhelmingly sad and angry, that years of therapy may have to be accompanied by some medications for the sake of these people’s families peace of mind.

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    • THANK-YOU!, for the Namidearest link! Just spent a couple hours there….
      My only sadness, is that it seems to have a very low viewership count, and not active for a year or 2….
      I hope EVERYBODY who reads these comments goes there….
      A couple years ago, I was arrested on fabricated, bogus “criminal charges”. Part of why was an attempt by the local Police Prosecutor to get me hauled off in shackles to the State loony bin….One of the arresting police officers also raises money for NAMI, and the local CMHC….
      The lies of the pseudoscience drug racket known as biopsychiatry, and it’s pimp, NAMI, have insinuated themselves deeply into modern American culture. Never underestimate what a small group of rich and powerful white men with toxic drugs can do to perpetuate social control and disfunction. NAMI *itself* is a manifestation of abuse…..Thank-you, “The_cat”. Good to see one of your posts again! Happy Friday!

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  7. Another predictable MIA article-with-comments for — with a couple exceptions — people who like to filter experience through the limitations of “mental illness” terminology and throw around psychiatric/psychoanalytic psychobabble to make themselves feel like experts on something.

    As for the main point, obviously the recognition and study of trauma as a real and widespread factor of life under capitalism is not going to be getting any corporate funding. Why can’t this just be pointed out instead of beating around the bush?

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  8. What I am finding, though, is that the communities that are promoting trauma-informed care are all mental health providers. My thought is, OK, so we all have trauma, what do we DO about it? And if you want to “spread the gospel of ACES” what is the most effective way? Is it harping on biology? Because, I mean, harping on “mental illness” biology did such a good job in helping people have compassion about mental illness, right?

    See my dicussion here on the ACES forum.

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    • My thought is, OK, so we all have trauma, what do we DO about it?

      Recognize it for what it is and try to deal with that without further mystification?

      Just as important, what are the external social/political roots and how do we prevent trauma currently in the works?

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      • If this country got rid of the ACEs / child abuse covering up bio-psychiatric industry, and started arresting the child abusers, this would be a step in the right direction.

        My ex-pastor’s neighborhood had the highest high school suicide rate in the nation once my abused child was in high school. Likely because the cops wouldn’t do anything about psychiatric / pastoral cover ups of child abuse, the lawyers wouldn’t do anything, the judges were a part of the problem, not the solution, the DCFS was part of the problem, the bishops were a part of the problem:

        As were the IL governmental officials, including the former speaker of the House:

        I’m quite certain we need to get rid of an industry that’s primary function is seemingly covering up child abuse, via psychiatric defamation and iatrogenic illness creation, and starting to arrest the child molesters again.

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      • I agree, you can’t deal with the trauma of poverty without political organising around it. You can’t deal with the trauma of racism with out black conscousness (and where is that expressed on MiA?). You can’t deal with the trauma of homophobia without going to those Pride marches and throwing a few bricks like the stonewall rioters did.

        You can’t deal with the trauma of child abuse, in all it’s various forms, without political and social organising. dParents who are struggling need support but children need to know that smacking them is illegal in some contires and should be everywhere.

        I remember going on public rallies and speak outs in Traflagar Square organised by CROSS – the Campaign for the Rights Of Survivors of Sexual Assault. A women stood up and said it is torture to be forced to take psychiatric drugs against your will and it is torture to see your friends forced to take them too. CROSS disbanded after a couple of years but NAPAC succeded them and as a result of thier and other campaigning there has been a lot of change in the UK around this issue, though there is a lot more to do.

        Once you recognise that the vast majority mental distress comes from injustice the only way of preventing it is to fight those injustices and to ally oneself with people and organisations that do.

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        • It’s true what you say, John. But even with all the the protection in place abuse can still continue.
          A lot of the sufferers have also moved beyond the abusive situations and what bothers them now, is distress from the past.
          Its still possible recover though.
          There are also probably loads of privileged and well heeled people in the community that are living with invisible past trauma.

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          • Absolutely, Fiachra, “the solution isn’t pretend medicine and tranquilizers.” As an oral surgeon, who was the doctor who finally saved me, by allowing me to quote him and embarrass my last idiot psychiatrist, stated, “Antipsychotics don’t cure concerns of child abuse.” Especially, once the medical evidence of the child abuse had been handed over, I’ll add.

            “Pretend medicine and tranquilizers” only cover up crimes and mistakes, they do not fix the etiology of the problems. Which seems to be that the psychiatric industry has apparently spent the past sixty years, since their Nazi escapes, writing up a “bible” of “mental illnesses” describing the iatrogenic illnesses created by their drugs. Which they harbor delusions are “genetic,” rather than recognizing as completely iatrogenic, illnesses. And the psychiatric industry has switched from claiming Jews are “mentally ill,” to claiming child abuse survivors, and their concerned family members, are “mentally ill.”

            I do understand that this could be such an embarrassment to the entire psychiatric industry, that they may want to murder everyone who realizes this, which they do seem to have been trying to do for the past several decades.

            But I hope they will wake up, and realize the errors of their ways soon. Albeit, I do also recognize the “cognitive dissidence” preventing this acknowledgment of the truth.

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      • I find that my trauma is more better dealt with, when I furtherest the furtherest mystificate it. Un-mystificated trauma is so unsavory, wouldn’t you agree, “oldhead”?
        And, the externalization roots need frequent cross-fertilization, to prevent corporate, capitalistic cognitive stagnation, right, “oldhead”? The socially-external paternal-roots are far more mystifical important trauma adjuvants co-added to the dialectic imperative of “oldheads” trenchant, topical commentary. The post-proletariat deconstructivization of the works, vis-a-vis “in”, or “on”, or “among”, is surely one of “oldheads” greatest contribution to early 21st Century trollery ever to be found in a crackpot capitalist trauma prevention cohesionoid.
        Too bad PhRMa can’t put you in a bottle and market you, “oldhead”. You’d make a great pseudo-anti psychotic(“not”, or null hypothesis). You ROCK, “oldhead”!

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  9. Sometimes, I think madness serves as the only way to exit a harsh reality (I’m thinking of the current US here, btw). Disability comes to mind. How else can most people take a breather and recover from life?

    I’m not saying its intentional, calculated…”I will be diagnosed xyz so I can live off disability and have some time,” although SSI has become the new welfare, so that does happen. I’m saying…well, the role of mental patient/victim of madness isn’t a one size fits all role. Sometimes, its nothing but condemnation. Sometimes, it has perks, both in society as a whole and within smaller communities and within the family. The nature of the patient role will vary based on a bunch of factors, it seems (race, age, gender, social class, education level, diagnosis).

    Oh, and while we’re talking about trauma=mental problems…what about the trauma mental health “professionals” deliberately inflict on people/”patients” ? They do it to make us/them more “manageable” and, I think, create lifelong victims/”consumers” of Mental Health, Inc.

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  10. I used to sit in a mental health day centre and listen to people drop hints about surviving childhood sexual assault, family violence and witnessing current domestic violence and then see the staff offer a few platitudes, a cup of tea and ask if they wanted to join the knitting class.

    The day centre did not want to change. They will not change until some of us start getting very angry in very coordinated, well thought out ways.

    I believe Robert Whittiker and Mad in America will have very little impact unless the information presented is backed up with well thought out direct action campaigns led by the mad.

    Invade the wards, banner drops from hospital admin blocks, die ins at chemists. I see little prospect of change unless those tactics are adopted.

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    • I believe that you are totally right. I thought that we could change things from the inside, slowly but surely, but have found that the system just runs over you and overwhelms you. The system will sit there in the form of committee meetings and everyone at the meeting will be very polite as you stand and state alternative views to the present “treatment” and when you’re finished there will be total silence and then everything will go on in the meeting as if you’d said nothing at all.

      Dialoging and appealing to people’s rational sense of what’s proper, good, and valuable for people gets you absolutely nowhere. Being reasonable gets you nowhere at all and the system will eventually smother you. It will be nice to me because I’m a “peer” with lived experience but I’ve come to realize that all they really want me for is my figurehead value and status that they can use to say that they are “recovery” oriented because they have me on staff. The system smiles and nods its head yes when I suggest things that I think would be valuable and useful for people in the state “hospital” where I work and then nothing gets done and nothing happens and things go on as they always have gone on.

      The system has to be terrorized a little bit, maybe even traumatized somewhat before its attention will change. I believe that your direct action is the only answer. African Americans had to do sit-ins and be chased by dogs and knocked down with fire hoses. Gay people had to pick up bricks and rocks and lob them at the police who were harassing them at Stonewall. A civil War had to be fought in the United States to make the slave owners free the captives that they held. And we’re going to have to march into the state “hospitals” and the “mental health clinics” and we have to occupy those spaces for ourselves.

      But I don’t think that we’ll ever do any of this because for some reason most of us are very hesitant to stand up and be seen and be heard. One person can’t do this on their own, two people can’t do it by themselves. I know that there are thousands of us out there who are survivors of the system but very few of us will speak up or do anything constructive. We can get hundreds of us to go to the state capitol and wear our special shirts showing that we’re in the system and we believe the message that’s fed to us that we’re ill forever and need to always take the toxic drugs. But we can’t get one person to stand in front of the state “hospital” and demonstrate and protest about what goes on inside of the place. We have no movement as such at this point in time. We talk a lot about what should be done but nothing is done to back that talk up.

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      • “Dialoging and appealing to people’s rational sense of what’s proper, good, and valuable for people gets you absolutely nowhere. Being reasonable gets you nowhere at all and the system will eventually smother you.”

        You’re describing the essence of a sick and toxic society. When there is no reasonability, just as they refuse to respect personal choice and boundaries, then people become enraged, despondent, and feel powerless–which I think would be a totally normal and reasonable response to being demeaned and marginalized. Yet it is most certainly not the road to inner peace and well-being. That will only occur in the absence of such toxicity.

        What happens after that is the direct result of the powers that be being invasive, unsafe, and unreasonable to begin with, threatening people’s health and survival, one way or another. We are hard pressed to set a better example. In that sense, I wouldn’t underestimate the power of one.

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  11. I find so much of the content on M.I.A. to be baffling in that it gives with one hand and takes away with the other. You CANNOT challenge the validity of psychiatric labelling while simultaneously applying the same pathologising language to do so.
    To refer to a weeping and abused 16 year old as most likely facing into a future of further dysfunction’ you are compounding the worst type of stigma by the language you choose to use.
    If you begin by referring to ‘a child subjected to emotional abuse or neglect’ by following it up with the statement that they ‘inevitably fail to function adaptively within relationships, to regulate their own emotions or develop a coherent sense of self’ you are compounding the same pathological view of traumatised people that the worst kind of mainstream psychiatry holds.
    The reality is that many who have labels like ‘borderline’ are being further harmed by the blatant refusal of ‘critical’ professionals to challenge their own practices of also pathologising traumatised populations. Because what is being referenced above is a DSM stereotype of a ‘borderline’ and does not accurately represent the lived reality of many who have been smeared with these labels.
    It further damages and dehumanises us to insist, as psychiatry does, that there is some coherent ‘clinical picture’ in what in reality in a hugely heterogeneous group of (mostly) women.
    For those of who attempt to survive despite having had the core of who they are negated and poisoned by abusive language, the least you can do if you really want to be of help, is to not solidify it’s validity by perpetuating it’s reductive view of how people cope in the aftermath of trauma.
    We are human beings and we are all different. Stop lumping us all into these stinking piles of ‘dysfunction’ under the guise of ‘helping’ us.

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  12. It’s just awful stuff and has the same hopeless, damaging impact on those labelled that any DSM speak would have. Trauma informed doesn’t equal pathology free it seems.
    To doom survivors to ‘enduring interpersonal pattern of dysfunctional relationships that persist throughout the lifespan’ is just horrible. What’s worse is that no matter how many times M.I.A. contributors or their own staff are challenged on this point, it’s just routinely ignored.
    I’ve emailed them and ask for all of my comments to be removed and for the posting account to be deleted or for how I can do that myself.
    They really aren’t interested in us, we’re just the non people that get endlessly labelled, analysed, discussed and objectified. I’ve had enough.

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    • I think you’re using too broad a brush here. MIA staff are varied in their opinions and approaches; most importantly they don’t try to manipulate or censor the discussions. You may be confusing the staff with the writers.

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      • M.I.A. won’t even exist at a not too distant point in the future as it has no idea who its audience are. It’s chock full of this kind of ‘clinicalisation’ of human experience. Many survivors read this and felt dreadful. It’s as damning as any DSM roll call of hopelessness and pathology.
        This site is not taken seriously by mainstream mental health or anyone with any power to change systems of oppression. They laugh at it as marginal and wacky.
        It alienates survivors with ‘news’ items about ‘mental illness’ and prints endless articles like the one above where the model or the interpretation changes but the pathology remains.
        The editorial staff curate much of the content and while some of the articles are good, both the writers and the staff regularly ignore critical feedback. Its no different to any oppressive system, its simply a bunch of people who think they’re ‘radical’, but they’re no less interested in the democratisaion of these issues than Rober Spitzer.
        Nobody reads these comment threads and nobody really cares. So I’d find a more productive hobby than debating into a void with people who aren’t really listening anyway. Life is short.

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        • This site is not taken seriously by mainstream mental health or anyone with any power to change systems of oppression. They laugh at it as marginal and wacky.

          Not sure where you get that from, but if so I’m sure it’s nervous laughter.

          It alienates survivors with ‘news’ items about ‘mental illness’ and prints endless articles like the one above where the model or the interpretation changes but the pathology remains.

          This is all too often true. I think it’s a fact that MIA originates from a liberal/progressive “mental health” perspective which is starting to confront the limitations of its relevance, which in my mind provides much fuel for creative ferment. I disagree that MIA is unaware of its audience (a hodgepodge) or of its size. But there’s no pressure to participate.

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        • Isis,
          I want to weigh in with a message of support also; first, to thank you for your contributions here which are quite valid.

          Regarding this, “insecure attachment to primary caregivers becomes an enduring interpersonal pattern of dysfunctional relationships that persist throughout the lifespan.” – this is a poorly worded statement, but I understand how it would be worrying. It implies that insecure attachment is inevitably and deterministically lifelong and unchangeable, but this idea (which is partly an assumption) is not true at all… as we know from other reading, people who’ve undergone severe trauma at one point in time can change their life for the better in all sorts of ways and the change can be enduring.

          But that is a very poorly worded statement on the part of the article’s author, and if you are reading this, here’s a challenge from me to you (the article author) to change it.

          I agree that the laughter at MIA may be nervous laughter, as Oldhead said. I was recently reading that psychiatry is increasingly in trouble due to a lack of young people willing to train as new psychiatrists: the shortage is real, and it is in part due to an increasingly negative perception of psychiatry as a disrespected, harmful, unevidenced pseudoscience. MIA contributes to that, and professionals notice. Each of our words is only a drop or two, but altogether our little stream does erode the denial.

          I agree with you that MIA authors can and arguably should stop using terms like “mental illness”, “bipolar disorder”, “schizophrenia”, and other medicalized shams that distort and make a mockery of human subjectivity. You may have seen that every few articles I make these critiques as well.

          I do think MIA staff and authors are a little bit better than Robert Spitzer (was). He was a hardcore believer in the DSM’s fake categories. But agree with you that MIA authors should stop pandering to the medical model. People need to have the balls to speak about human suffering as it is really experienced, not as the powers that be want them to.

          People do read these comment threads and that is why I and oldhead are here responding. I hope you will keep commenting here. If you ever need support feel free to email me also, you can find my contact info on my site ( bpdtransformation (dot) wordpress (dot) com )

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          • Further, the phrase that bothered you (about dysfunctional patterns) should be put into context. John Bowlby, whose work I’ve read, was writing about abused children who never get good social support or therapy and for that reason (unfortunately) stayed isolated or in dysfunctional relationships due to those deficits. But Bowlby was also a psychoanalytic psychotherapist who knew from experience and believed that traumatized people could change their problematic patterns and become lastingly well if given sufficient support and a hopeful view about what is possible with support. His research on what people need to be emotionally well formed the basis for many later writers, like Gerald Adler and James Masterson, who wrote about how traumatized people could accomplish this and change their dysfunctional patterns into better ones.

            I hope this context is useful.

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          • Keep in mind that BPDT still harbors the illusion that we are actually involved in a scientific exploration of some sort, hence the constant reference to psychological “studies” as things that should be determining factors in our conclusions. It’s probably a limitation of his race/class perspective, or maybe just a preference for academic debate. Otherwise he’s ok. 🙂

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          • I’m sorry, I really don’t mean to be rude but I’ve no idea why I’d email a complete stranger for ‘support’ or why you feel it’s appropriate to say this to a woman to you don’t know on public threads. It’s unwelcome and a unboundaried.
            And, no, I won’t be commenting on M.I.A. in the future. I don’t even visit the site any more. This article was circulated on Twitter as an example of how not to talk about trauma survivors.
            I have emailed and asked for my comments to be removed from the site but, as is the way with M.I.A., they don”t get back.
            I’m not interested in debating the merits of the article of of anything related to it.
            Please don’t respond to this msg, if you don’t mind and lets just leave it at that.

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  13. The only way the mental ‘health’ system will ever work or do much to help anyone is when it is run by people who have lived it. It’s like AA , only a person who has lived alcohol dependency can really understand it.

    How is a person who has what it takes to make it through medical school going to understand a person that can barely get through a day ?? They may be able to help , I would hope something is learned in all that school but I think recovered people have something they are missing.

    From what I saw mental heath care is 90% paperwork so once a year the state can come in and call themselves useful wile making the care many people get about as helpful as spending time in waiting area of the local DMV.

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    • I actually think people of compassion whether they have been through mental illness or not can help a lot.

      There are many people who have the mentality if I can do this so can you, but they fail to realize everyone is different and for one person to tolerate struggle, its totally different than another.

      The ones who are healthy are more likely to show sympathy as they aren’t broken by mental illness, and become hardened. Though this goes both ways, people who never have been deeply sad may intentionally choose to not have compassion either.

      Empathy can be practiced by anyone who wants too.


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  14. you can’t deal with the trauma of poverty without political organising around it. You can’t deal with the trauma of racism with out black conscousness (and where is that expressed on MiA?).

    That’s the essence of the contradiction at MIA. Where does trauma originate? Short answer = capitalism. Whose interests do the subjugation and abuse of women and children ultimately serve? Capitalists.

    Those who are seriously interested in abolishing psychiatric oppression need to understand that our struggle is one part of a larger one against the barbaric prison system and the systematic suppression of domestic dissent. It is not a struggle to convince “mental health” professionals that they should be more progressive. As such we can only go on reinventing the wheel here so long before it becomes redundant and irrelevant.

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    • Oldhead, I cannot figure out how to reply to your comment far above in the web of nested comments. I basically agree with your points. I am just saying that traumas of various kinds appear to be related to an increased chance of getting labeled with a (to the person, often meaningless) diagnosis. On the other hand, I do think that psychotic mental states are real and do have commonalities between different people; these people are still individuals, but they do have in common that they are often suffering and in terror a lot more than most people. I understand these things not from the broken disease model, but through the psychoanalytic model of emotional development. It is a much more human, empathic, respectful understanding, and I think that you would like it if you read it. Harold Searles, Lawrence Hedges, Ira Steinman, and Vamik Volkan are some of the good writers in that area.

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      • I have no need for a “model.” I’m not trying to theorize or hypothesize, the only thing to figure out is what it will take for people to wake up and resist. Or better yet, walk away.

        I do think that psychotic mental states are real

        And when you still insist on making statements like this after all this time I can only assume you just don’t get it. I think it will require a personal epiphany.

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        • Oldhead,
          It’s hard to talk to someone who’s as black or white about things as you are on this issue. I am only saying that experiences of extreme fear and rage, often accompanied by delusions or hallucinations as a way of warding off overwhelming feelings, are in fact real experiences that people have. If you can’t understand that, it looks like we will just have to disagree; I reject your presumptuous notion that I need to have an epiphany. Maybe you need to wake up to the idea that not all conceptual models of reality are invalid or oppressive.

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          • I am only saying that experiences of extreme fear and rage, often accompanied by delusions or hallucinations as a way of warding off overwhelming feelings, are in fact real experiences that people have.

            No one’s arguing with that, I think this is what they like to call a “straw man” argument around here. I guess you seriously don’t know what I’m talking about. Actually, you are not always just saying that, just as often you describe such experiences as “psychotic.”

            What I’m trying to point out is that it’s not just a matter of categories being mislabeled, but of them not existing period. Maybe I’m just not being articulate enough. Check out Bonnie Burstow’s discussions about decontextualization of behavior, she might explain it better.

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          • I basically agree… categorical divisions of emotional/living problems do not truly exist. Even describing them as variable continuums is fraught with difficulty, in a human world which is relativistic and operates in an unpredictable quantumlike chaotic way. The language of psychiatrists/psychologists, which I sometimes adopt due to lack of a better language, is based in a materialistic, deterministic, Newtonian, black and white medicalized way of thinking about human life that does not reflect how people really experience their worlds.

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  15. It happens way too often that human beings have horrific traumas placed on them by people close to them that should love them but instead put them through ongoing beyond belief torture scenarios. This can happen at the youngest of ages and can involve a whole family of ‘parents’ and children and others outside the ‘family’ that just happen to ‘meet’ the ‘patriarch ‘ depending on his mood and what he feels he can get away with at the time . Compliance is demanded and talking about what is going on to outsiders is strictly discouraged by all means necessary. Siblings can also be forced to torture each other . It’s a miracle to come out alive from these places . When a small child spontaneously divides and jumps from personality to personality to spontaneously survive such an environment for some guild to be available as a coverup and dispenser of further torture for profit including ,labels , poison pills , est speaks volumes about the people in the society in which this occurs . Then when as an adult having gone through this for too long as a child , sez “they’d never want to lose the ability to shift personality’s” . Who has a right to say otherwise or call it a disease or give it a label . I’d say congratulate them for having survived an impossible situation far more dangerous then any astronaut’s journey to outer space. They deserve at least reparations not more torture . Psychotic my ass .

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  16. I don’t know who would give anybody the idea that life was going to be a non-traumatic experience. “Mental illness” labels are a way to dismiss personality. Trauma theory is not much of an improvement in that people are asking why people don’t leave the system, and they’ve come up with averse childhood experiences. I see it another way, and the question I have is what makes the person different who is resilient, who “recovers” his or her “sanity”, despite averse childhood experiences.

    The system, even “trauma informed”, is not a very effective defense against trauma, especially as “mental health treatment” is traumatic, when it isn’t, as it often is, trauma itself, and “mental health care providers” might more aptly be called “trauma providers”. Is there a masochistic element to trauma? I don’t know, you tell me. Have trauma recipients developed such an addiction for trauma that, within the trauma supplying system, they have a difficult, some would say almost impossible, time leaving their trauma providers?

    This is another way of saying, I imagine, wouldn’t it be preferable, if when you find a person on the failure train you could be able to help that person switch tracks, and to have him or her take the success train for a change instead? When a person has been on the failure track from a very early age, the obvious can sometimes seem less obvious than it is. I wouldn’t think that averse childhood experiences must lead automatically into an over abundance of averse adult experiences but, of course, without a change of trains that is exactly what happens in many instances. Groomed for success has it’s corollary in mussed for failure. When the human condition is mistaken for the inhumane condition, you get that sort of thing.

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    • You made think of something. When I first realized at a young age that something wasnt quite right with me, I sought help via a recommendation of a doctor. I go through series of idiotic attention tests and pointless questionnaires only to get a subscription of Wellbutrin.

      Not once was asked any deep personal questions about my life, what I thought, or anything remotely human to human. Instead, It was a cold clinically experience. I think all I needed was a really good humanistic therapist but the damn doctor treated me like I had a brain disease because I was depressed.

      It seems commonsense that when a person complains of depression or anxiety that the first thing you do is dive into their psyche and heart and see where the gold is. Most likely, they are confused about themselves, what to do, relationships or whatever. Life is confusing in the 21st century. But, Psychiatry in some odd slight of hand has managed to erase the individual from the equation. Michelle Foucault warned of this. We have become just bones and brains to psychiatrists.

      I think we should start a movement to remove the prefix “psyche” from the title of psychiatrists since they dont even deal with the soul, mind or spirit. They are just glorified pharmacists. A computer could do there job and even better.

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      • Many people still think of psychiatrists as people you sit down and discuss your problems with in an effort to gain insight. This quaint image is nurtured by TV, which I doubt often shows someone going to a shrink with a problem only to be hustled out of the office with a prescription. At any rate, if this “talking shrink” was ever the norm it is the rare exception nowadays.

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    • Frank

      You are totally correct. Being a trauma informed system only means that you are aware that the people you are dealing with could very well be trauma survivors. So, your job is to not “trigger” them so that they’re re-traumatized. Being trauma informed does not mean that people are helped to deal with their trauma issues if they want to be helped. There is no real relief offered to people if they want it. The “mental health system” isn’t going to offer any relief because that takes a lot of hard work and time to deal with people issues properly. And then there’s the problem of where the “consumers” would come from for the system to make money off of if people were helped with their issues so that they could go on with their lives. Too much money is being made off of the “consumers” for the consumers to be given any real help that leads to their healing and well-being. Call me cynical if you want.

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