Criticisms of The Contemporary Approach To Trauma

by Daniel Oakes | March 10, 2021

start of a deadlift

Axiomatically, the world already has or will hold a tragedy for everyone. As someone who has seen a psychologist and achieved (if you can call it that) nearly all of the “trauma points” on a “trauma checklist,” I can categorically state that Rip's old fashioned approach to trauma – to “step over it” – is far more effective and far less disabling than pandering to every negative emotion one might feel on a daily basis. Yet this is the contemporary approach to trauma.

Why are we encouraged to “explore” our traumas rather than occupy ourselves with the many distractions that 2021 can provide? Well, I've got two theories: the first is that the shitty situations we find ourselves in aren't really true traumas (the sort of things that the very quiet World War I and II vets experienced), but narcissistic self-indulgences which are happily fueled by therapists who need a “special commitment” (several months of payment) from their willing clients.

The second theory is that we've simply got our approach to trauma all wrong, and those people like Rip's dad who lived through the Great Depression and World War II had a better answer to life's inevitable woes: to realize that we all suffer hardships, and we should instead try to approach the day with as much positivism as we possibly can in the time that we have – or just shut up about it.

Children seem to be the best at dealing with trauma because they don't have time to ruminate. For example, when I was a child I was sexually abused, bullied, beaten by my stepdad, and I never really thought much about it until my teacher asked me how I “coped” with life. Suddenly, I was dwelling on the events: Was life hard? Was I troubled? Was I a victim? It seemed like these questions were the real trauma. It was the reflection on the trauma that seemed to cause the suffering, not the actual “traumatic events” themselves.

All this is not to say, as they pompously intone in therapy, that I'm “discounting” traumatic experience and its effects. As Rip says, “shitty things happen to everybody.” I suffer with a great deal of anxiety and low self-esteem, for example. But I can tell you what has helped me more than taking a bath and spending thousands on therapy to discuss my feelings: focusing on aggression – fixing a psychological bayonet in my mind and focusing on, as Jordan Peterson would say, “Slaying the Dragon,” or as Rip would say, “Finish the last rep.” The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas put it this way:

Do not go gentle into that good night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

“Raging against the dying of the light” sounds more like what Starting Strength espouses than what any therapist advises. When I approach a heavy weight I have to be aggressive to some degree and rage against gravity. I know that one day I will lose the fight, but under the bar I'm being trained to understand this fact, and taught to step over the tragedies of life.

I still do “mindfulness” and “take baths” and ruminate when I'm asked. But I also want a 400 lb deadlift. I know which one of these things will help me the most in this tragic world.  

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