This one is dedicated to my froggies! Not only are we talking about a french figure today, it’s also the first post (so far) written first in french and then translated. Sure we’ll see how I get on. Okay, here comes nothing!
Boris Cyrulnik is a neurologist, psychologist and ethologist. Above it all he is clearly a Humanist, and of the extra kind variety. He makes silly little jokes and smiles often during his lectures, a different style in comparison to my other imaginary BFF. We’ll learn that he is also a survivor of the Holocaust, escaping in extremis by hiding in the lavatories, taking the name and the persona of a simple farmer boy, Jean Laborde. His parents, unfortunately, didn’t get the chance to see him again.
Today, Cyrulnik is known for vulgarizing the notion of Resilience. And wtf is that now, says you. To put it simply: how to resume a form of self-development after a “psychological death” i.e a trauma.
The notion of psychological trauma is youngish, it dates from the 19th century. And believe it or not, the birth of the non-Freudian definition of trauma really happened after the Vietnam war.
In 1975, the veterans are reintegrating society, exhausted, traumatised, they are considered as “cowards” if they show an ounce of emotion: they are slapped in the face, send to prison, ghettoised and generally treated like shit. The suicide rate is alarming. The Feminist movement and particularly Joan Baez began to shed some light on the mistreatment of the Vietnam veterans. On the other side of the Atlantic, John Bowlby, Cyrulnik’s “master and inspiration” has been making waves since the beginning of the 50’s, post WWII, with his works on the link between attachment and emotional resilience. But we’ll get back to that.
Cuz once that notion of psychological trauma gets integrated in the vocab, a ton of misconceptions appeared on its tail. Mainly, the fact that trauma was considered like something final, something that one doesn’t come back from. Until comes along the notion of resilience, this capacity of bouncing back, a sort of psychological reorganisation. Some like to call it “rebirth”. I find that a bit much myself. But I get it, we’re talking about resetting the psyche after all.
Cyrulnik says: “ We’re not totally subjected to the events that breaks us, we do have a degree of liberty […] we can seek answers, try to figure it out, ultimately that’s what is enabling us to grow” This is taken from his lecture “Biology of Attachment” that he gave here in Lyon I University in 2014. Put your french on, and see for yourself. It’s about acting on the environment which is acting on us. Make that vicious circle a virtuous one.
So here we are, back to what we were talking about last week, the error of separating environment from individual. “Papa Freud”, as Cyrulnik likes to call him, was above all a neurologist. He likes to remind us that fact regularly during his lectures, maybe as a way to detach himself from some Freudian conceptions that were… not very conclusive. We can debate all day about that, but let’s do it on another day 😉
Anyway, back in the 19th century, Freud enunciates that we cannot separate Body & Soul, “soul” in the secular sense of the term of course. But we knew that already, thanks Sig. He then adds “ […] it’s the environment’ structure that modifies the ways our mind and our bodies work.” Today’s neurosciences confirm this, proof that Feud wasn’t entirely full of it.
All this bring us to the famous concept of Development Tutors (plant props, pour moi) and when/if trauma happens, Resilience Tutors. I’m all for a good nature analogy.
The Development Tutors are evidently the mother, the father, the “stars” orbiting around like the brothers and sisters and the rest of the family, friends, neighbours and the neighbourhood with its culture: the environment. I like to call it the breeding ground, but you can call it whatever works for ya!
Cuz guess what? It’s not always the mother’s fault. Or the father’s. What I particularly admire in both Maté and Cyrulnik is that they never ever blame one or the other. It’s not the parent’s individuality that’s the cause of their child’s mind’s alterations (20 000 synapses created per minute in the first few years!), it’s his/her “woes”. Meaning his/her environment, culture, life experiences and perceptions of life.
Dear mum, dad, #wecool.
Thankfully we’re not just a seed, there’s also the breeding ground! And in case of trauma, if the breeding ground allows it, the resilience tutors plant themselves. So yeah, we tend to over-invest those others significant figures: friends, hobbies, first loves… adolescence, like. We learn to dose all this along the way.
And there it is, the metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly, from ugly duckling to swans. And all these tutors enable growth. Resilience, ladies and gentlemen! We’ve all been resilient in our lives, one way or another and to whatever degree. And that’s pretty great, well done us.
The most important point, for me, is this notion of hope. ‘”Acting on the environment acting on us”. As individuals, we can all make that circle change from vicious to virtuous. And that’s even greater, amirite?
Next week, we’ll be talking about AIR, but not the band. Les Assises Internationales du Roman, which closed its doors at Les Subsistances this sunday. A series of free or affordable (a fiver, just like us!) talks and Q&As with a variety of novelists. Gwan the culture in Lyon!
In the meantime, lettuce take deep breaths and look up. Blue sky is never gone, it’s just having a little game of hide n’ seek for itself above the fog.
This post was translated from French. Original post here