Too Scared to Cry: Psychic Trauma in Childhood

Too Scared to Cry: Psychic Trauma in Childhood

Too Scared to Cry: Psychic Trauma in Childhood

Too Scared to Cry: Psychic Trauma in Childhood


Winner of the Blanche Ittleson Award for her research on childhood trauma, clinical professor of psychiatry Terr examines the many ways that trauma has changed not only the children she's treated, but all of us. She demonstrates that traumatized children can be helped, showing that there is hope for the innocent victims of our frightening world.


When I was young my mother allowed me to go to the Saturday afternoon matinee movies at one of two theaters within walking distance of our house. Sometimes I went with a friend. Other times I went alone. One Saturday on an "alone" day I watched a newsreel of the U.S. Army entering Hiroshima. The Americans were wearing space suits not unlike what the actors wore on Green Lantern and other such Saturday serials. I remember how Hiroshima looked on the screen -- I can see it now as I write. The city was scorched white and leveled to the ground. There was a tower still standing, although that did not impress me. What got to me was a shadow.

The newsreel people had found a foot bridge at ground zero or near to it -- and the bridge had been bleached of all color. But a man's shadow lay obliquely across the bridge. He must have been walking there, the movie announcer said, when the bomb vaporized him. (Vaporized!) We know he was there, however, the announcer went on, because the man's shadow had protected the bridge at the instant of highest intensity. (Protected!)

I took it all in. And I understood what I saw. It was either the most horrifying thing I have ever seen -- or I was young enough to more fully absorb the horrors. At any rate, Hiroshima entered me by way of the eyes, by dint of a shadow. That shadow still lives today in my mind.

At nine, I recognized a psychological symptom when I had one -- and indeed, I did have one then. From the moment I saw that newsreel, if a light was turned on in the middle of the night or if a sudden noise awoke me from sleep, my heart would start pounding at once even before I awoke. I would breathe in gasps, sweat, and say to myself -- "This is it. The bomb." I would lie there for a minute -- until I could orient myself -- and I would wait to be vaporized.

I still have that symptom today. I suppose it's not so bad anymore. I can roll over and touch Ab in bed. I do not sleep quite as soundly as I used to, so the startling is -- not as intense as it once was. But the symptom still exists . . .

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