Bessel van der Kolk was a pioneer in studying the effects of SSRIs on PTSD and the first to link trauma to changes in brain processes and behaviors like self-injury in BPD patients.
He also explored how trauma impacts different developmental stages and the importance of caregiving systems.
He founded the National Child Traumatic Stress Network which supports 150 centers across the U.S.
His work includes studying treatments that stabilize physiology and improve cognitive function in trauma survivors using methods like EMDR yoga and MDMA.
He has trained many professionals worldwide and authored a bestselling book and over 150 scientific articles.
I have made a list of the best quotes by Bessel van der Kolk.
Top 10 Bessel van der Kolk Quotes
Communicating fully is the opposite of being traumatized. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
It takes enormous trust and courage to allow yourself to remember. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Our bodies are the texts that carry the memories and therefore remembering is no less than reincarnation. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Scared animals return home, regardless of whether home is safe or frightening. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
In the same way that people can drive each other mad, the company of people, and being understood by people, can also heal us. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Touch makes it possible to live in a body that can move in response to being moved. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Because humans are meaning-making creatures, we have a tendency to create some sort of image or story. ~ Bessel van der Kolk Quotes.
Trauma breeds further trauma; hurt people hurt other people. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Unlike other forms of psychological disorders, the core issue in trauma is reality. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
When you don’t feel real nothing matters, which makes it impossible to protect yourself from danger. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Powerful Bessel van der Kolk Quotes
Mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity but can also actively steer us in the right direction for self-care. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Terror increases the need for attachment, even if the source of comfort is also the source of terror. ~ Bessel van der Kolk Quotes.
There is something very empowering about having the experience of changing your brain’s activity with your mind. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Trauma has shut down their inner compass and robbed them of the imagination they need to create something better. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
One day he told me that he’d spent his adulthood trying to let go of his past, and he remarked how ironic it was that he had to get closer to it in order to let it go. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Modern neuroscience solidly supports Freud’s notion that many of our conscious thoughts are complex rationalizations for the flood of instincts, reflexes, motives, and deep-seated memories that emanate from the unconscious. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Our capacity to destroy one another is matched by our capacity to heal one another. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
If the people whom you naturally turn to for care and protection terrify or reject you, you learn to shut down and to ignore what you feel. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
The greatest hope for traumatized, abused, and neglected children is to receive a good education in schools where they are seen and known, where they learn to regulate themselves, and where they can develop a sense of agency. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Popular Bessel van der Kolk Quotes
Even traumatized patients who are making real contributions in teaching, business, medicine, or the arts and who are successfully raising their children expend a lot more energy on the everyday tasks of living than do ordinary mortals. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Dissociation is adaptive: it allows relatively normal functioning for the duration of the traumatic event and then leaves a large part of the personality unaffected by the trauma. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Mindfulness increases activation of the medial prefrontal cortex and decreases activation of structures like the amygdala that trigger our emotional responses. This increases our control over the emotional brain. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
The structures along the midline of the brain are devoted to your inner experience of yourself, those on the side are more concerned with your relationship with your surroundings. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
They learned to shut down their once overwhelming emotions, and, as a result, they no longer recognized what they were feeling. Few of them had any interest in therapy. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Agency starts with what scientists call interoception, our awareness of our subtle sensory, body-based feelings: the greater that awareness, the greater our potential to control our lives. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Long after the actual event has passed, the brain may keep sending signals to the body to escape a threat that no longer exists. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
When you activate your gut feelings and listen to your heartbreak – when you follow the interoceptive pathways to your innermost recesses – things begin to change. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
No matter how much insight and understanding we develop, the rational brain is basically impotent to talk the emotional brain out of its own reality. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Traumatized people are terrified to feel deeply. They are afraid to experience their emotions, because emotions lead to loss of control. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
When something reminds traumatized people of the past, their right brain reacts as if the traumatic event were happening in the present. ~ Bessel Van Der Kolk.
More than anything else, being able to feel safe with other people defines mental health;. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Wise Bessel van der Kolk Quotes
It stopped the dissociation. I can use my feelings; I’m not running away from them. I’m not held hostage by them. I can’t turn them off and on, but I can put them away. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Emotion is not opposed to reason; our emotions assign value to experiences and thus are the foundation of reason. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Trauma, whether it is the result of something done to you or something you yourself have done, almost always makes it difficult to engage in intimate relationships. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
We are a hopeful species. Working with trauma is as much about remembering how we survived as it is about what is broken. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
It is amazing how many psychological problems involve difficulties with sleep, appetite, touch, digestion, and arousal. Any effective treatment for trauma has to address these basic housekeeping functions of the body. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Victims are members of society whose problems represent the memory of suffering, rage, and pain in a world that longs to forget. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Most seem to have made an unconscious decision that it is better to keep visiting doctors and treating ailments that don’t heal than to do the painful work of facing the demons of the past. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Famous Bessel van der Kolk Quotes
Being traumatized means continuing to organize your life as if the trauma were still going on – unchanged and immutable – as every new encounter or event is contaminated by the past. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Without imagination there is no hope, no chance to envision a better future, no place to go, no goal to reach. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
There can be no growth without curiosity and no adaptability without being able to explore, through trial and error, who you are and what matters to you. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
The best way to overcome ingrained patterns of submission is to restore a physical capacity to engage and defend. ~ Bessel Van Der Kolk.
It is especially challenging for traumatized people to discern when they are actually safe and to be able to activate their defenses when they are in danger. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
The challenge is not so much learning to accept the terrible things that have happened but learning how to gain mastery over one’s internal sensations and emotions. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
I wish I could separate trauma from politics, but as long as we continue to live in denial and treat only trauma while ignoring its origins, we are bound to fail. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
The greatest sources of our suffering are the lies we tell ourselves. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
One tragic example of this orientation is the rampant prescription of painkillers, which now kill more people each year in the United States than guns or car accidents. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Recent research has swept away the simple idea that having a particular gene produces a particular result. It turns out that many genes work together to influence a single outcome. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
The more you stay focused on your breathing, the more you will benefit, particularly if you pay attention until the very end of the out breath and then wait a moment before you inhale again. As you continue to breathe and notice the air moving in and out of your lungs you may think about the role that oxygen plays in nourishing your body and bathing your tissues with the energy you need to feel alive and engaged. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Feeling out of control, survivors of trauma often begin to fear that they are damaged to the core and beyond redemption. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Tom’s need to live out his life as a memorial to his comrades. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
As my friend Ed Tronick taught me a long time ago, the brain is a cultural organ – experience shapes the brain. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
If you do something to a patient that you would not do to your friends or children, consider whether you are unwittingly replicating a trauma from the patient’s past. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Being traumatized is not just an issue of being stuck in the past; it is just as much a problem of not being fully alive in the present. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Ultimate Bessel van der Kolk Quotes
Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Once you pay attention to your physical sensations, the next step is to label them, as in When I feel anxious, I feel a crushing sensation in my chest. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
It is one thing to process memories of trauma, but it is an entirely different matter to confront the inner void – the holes in the soul that result from not having been wanted, not having been seen, and not having been allowed to speak the truth. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Marlantes tells us that his road to recovery required learning to tell the truth, even if that truth was brutally painful. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Best Bessel van der Kolk Quotes
If an organism is stuck in survival mode, its energies are focused on fighting off unseen enemies, which leaves no room for nurture, care, and love. For us humans, it means that as long as the mind is defending itself against invisible assaults, our closest bonds are threatened, along with our ability to imagine, plan, play, learn, and pay attention to other people’s needs. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Mindfulness has been shown to have a positive effect on numerous psychiatric, psychosomatic, and stress-related symptoms, including depression and chronic pain. ~ Bessel Van Der Kolk.
As long as we feel safely held in the hearts and minds of the people who love us, we will climb mountains and cross deserts and stay up all night to finish projects. ~ Bessel van der Kolk Quotes.
If you criticize others, they don’t dare to hurt you. If you are perfect, nobody can criticize you. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
I discovered that my professional training, with its focus on understanding and insight, had largely ignored the relevance of the living, breathing body, the foundation of ourselves. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
The stress hormones of traumatized people, in contrast, take much longer to return to baseline and spike quickly and disproportionately in response to mildly stressful stimuli. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
If you mistake someone’s solution for a problem to be eliminated, not only are they likely to fail treatment, as often happens in addiction programs, but other problems may emerge. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Therapy won’t work as long as people keep being pulled back into the past. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Trauma affects the entire human organism – body, mind, and brain. In PTSD the body continues to defend against a threat that belongs to the past. Healing from PTSD means being able to terminate this continued stress mobilization and restoring the entire organism to safety. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
Children whose parents are reliable sources of comfort and strength have a lifetime advantage – a kind of buffer against the worst that fate can hand them. ~ Bessel van der Kolk.
So these were the 72 top Bessel van der Kolk quotes on body and trauma from the foremost authority in trauma.