Ranking My Traumatic History? No, I Am Not a Number

The “Angry Heart: Overcoming Borderline and Addictive Disorders” made me angry. In a “how dare they” kind of way.

Many parts of this book have been helpful, could be helpful, for anyone with a traumatic history. It has excellent techniques for stress reduction and taking responsibility for yourself. It also at times trivializes my life by trying to quantify my trauma. Some things don’t need numbers or comparisons.

I started to fill out the PTES (psychotraumatic exposure scale) on page 70. Rather I read the first line, and said “What?? Seriously??” out loud. I did not actually fill it out, but then skimmed the rest. I don’t want to figure out why my scanner is not working or figure out if I’m violating copyright laws anyway, so I’m just going to write a few examples here.

|yes or no|    how many months   |   Score

Level V   – Sexual and physical abuse (from parent, peer, sibling, other);  X 1=

– Sexual abuse only (from parent, peer, sibling, other)  do I add parent/sibling separately?;  (16 x12= 192);  X 1=192

Level IV – Physical abuse only;    do pets count? ;        X .8=

– Viewed physical or sexual abuse;        does porn count?;   X .8=


Level III – Parents emotionally belittled you on a regular basis;  yes; (most of 192) ;     X .6=100

– Parents emotionally manipulated you on a near daily basis;        yes        (18×12=216) ;   X .6=130

– Parents went through a bitter harsh divorce ;       yes        36 ;       X .6= 21


Level II – Same-sex parent avoided close relationship with you ;  yes;   216;   X .5= 108


Level I – Very little hugging, kissing, or other types of healthy affection; yes ;  216  ;    X .4=86


OK, so you are supposed to only count abuse under age 18, because according to this book we were responsible for the abuse in our early adulthood since we were in fact adults and could have chosen different situations by then. So I stopped my numbers at age 18, but the emotional abuse continued until I attempted suicide at age 25. Anyways, then you are supposed to add up your “scores” (isn’t that the most terrible word ever? Does this make you angry too?) and divide by 12 to get the years. If your ahem, score, is higher than your actual age, basically you are screwed. OK, the book didn’t say screwed, it says “If your total PTES score exceeds your actual age, you are probably experiencing some of the more severe borderline symptoms . . . urges to hurt yourself or serious addictions, trouble completing school or keeping a job.

So, if you’re good at math like me, you can see my score is way over my age, and I did not include every item here. The book also tries to prepare you for the terrible scale, by saying “If you find you cannot manage your feelings (for example you feel very angry as you recall unpleasant memories) take a time-out and relax with some music or a soda. I didn’t even read the scale, but was angry at that sentence telling me to chill with a soda if I can’t manage myself.

I can’t stand books that presume they know how I feel, and then trivialize those feelings with a scale and asinine suggestions. Oh, a soda, if I had only ever thought to just have a soda, I wouldn’t have any troubles. Thank you for the soda cure to managing my feelings.

So, if you remove large, insensitive portions of this book, some sections actually do make sense and provide some useful strategies to balancing energy, reducing stress, and putting things in to perspective. I really liked the self-diagnostic on page 200, to check why you had a mood swing.

And the PAS (positive affirmation slogans) are a great tool when stuck in a negative spiral. Here’s a few examples:

I can trust without fear

Feeling loved fills me with joy

I am safe. I am secure. I am good.

All my resentments are fading away.

I am calm and relaxed.

I will let fear pass over me and through me.

Stress is only temporary; I will prevail.

I will not hurt myself.

I will care for myself.

I do not obey my impulses.

I will keep my body and mind healthy.

Other inventories can be used to gather a person’s history, but I have never seen one rate my life events quite like this PTES. Here is a link to a  survey http://www.info-trauma.org/flash/media-e/diagnosisToolkit.pdf. That one was uncomfortable, but did not make me angry, no ratings, no scales.


11 thoughts on “Ranking My Traumatic History? No, I Am Not a Number

  1. Wow… soda… the answer to all our problems. Who knew? Why did I stop drinking it?

    And we are no longer abused after 18? Really? Glad to finally know that. I suppose the women murdered by their ex/husband/boyfriend chose for that to happen, even if they had restraining orders. Or what about the women raped… men, too, for that matter, because they could have done something about it…

    Well done on taking the good you could from the book and recognizing the idiocy.

    A woman once asked me how bad the abuse was, and then cut herself off saying, “I’m sorry. That was a stupid thing to ask. Abuse is abuse.” It was the first time anyone had ever said anything like that to me. I was in my 30s and trying to rationalize away what had happened as not being that bad.

    I’m impressed you didn’t shred the book. I would have.

    • Yes soda. Unbelievable.

      Well, the book was about moving out of the painful life they refer to as the borderline zone, and while I get they were trying to empower readers with a sense of control and show they have the choice to get better, it sure sounded like they were blaming me for my own pain instead. I think it was well intentioned, but poorly executed.

      I have done the same thing, trying to rationalize, it wasn’t that bad right? I don’t want it to be that bad, but denial did not help me. Either does comparison. You got it, abuse is abuse. No need for levels.

      I didn’t shred the book because it belonged to the library, but I shook it around a bit while giving it mean looks! Enough for Hubby to wonder, lol.

  2. Wow you do have quite the level head, I think I would’ve stopped reading that book long before I got to the “rating scale”. The soda comment would surely have done me in…. Great that you found some positive in it though. I find that with a lot self help books. Once you strip away the “just go to your happy place and have a soda” nonsense there’s often a little good left over. Glad to hear you were patient enough to find it. 🙂

    • I would have given up on it in the past, but now I can work through any piece of self-help and come through as me, and take only the parts I need. If I weren’t in such a good place, I think that book could have been devastating to me, so glad I did not read it years ago.

  3. More than one book flew across the room when I encountered similar garbage. I would sometimes be just raging angry from the trite comments like, “You just need to stop feeling sorry for yourself.” Or the one that can really boil my blood, “You just want to get attention.” Really, I guarantee you there are easier and less painful ways to get attention. However, I did find it helpful when I found a test that rated stress levels. Then gave you a ball park average compared to other people as to how stressed out you are at the time of taking the test. My counselor wanted to have a clue with me. I had no memories to share. So he had me read books, to watch my reaction. I didn’t react. Each book was a more severe child abuse case. I would bring back the book and ask, “What do you want me to learn from it?” Well from the post I suspect that you learned that their are some people that are totally clueless about the reality of severe abuse and yours are not the garden variety type of challenges. You are not a number but you are an amazing woman handed tough challenges. What authors of books like that don’t understand are that chains that bind are invisible but just as powerful as any metal chain and last into the adult years simply because sometimes we are unaware of a choice. I believe becoming an emotional chain breaker is one of the greatest challenges. Hugs. Thanks for sharing the good parts and picking the best nuggets out of the garbage.

    • Sometimes I wonder if I could write a helpful book some day, one full of compassion and understanding and hope. I have heard those exact statements from family and friends, I surely don’t need to hear from a book. My dad used those against me to, to belittle what he did to me. I guess that’s why these books make me so angry.

      Wow, so you actually needed triggering to remember your past? Fascinating how our minds work to protect us.

      I like that chain imagery, that works for me. I’m breaking those old chains and forming new healthy links to my real world, not that terrible world my dad created for me.

  4. From what you have shared here, I would HATE that book. Thank heavens I didn’t read it when I was going through my worst depression, I am sure I would have taken the abuse test, concluded I was utterly hopeless, and then I would have had an even greater urge to do myself in.

    Years ago I had the terrible misfortune of meeting two therapists who thought just like the authors of that book apparently do. I wonder if these fellows all acquired their degrees from the same Psychotherapy-for-Dummies mail-order course. (Psychology by Numbers, would that be similar to the old Paint by Numbers kits for the artistically impaired?)

    In both cases I went to my first, and only, appointment with these quacks, poured out my story of mulitple traumas and abuses going back to my very first childhood memories and continuing on into the abusive adult relationships that my insane childhood had groomed me for ~ and these great white male doctors responded by very condescendingly telling me, in so many words, that with a history like mine I was undoubtedly far too sick for them to waste their valuable time on. To their “credit,” the idea that I ought not to let the door hit me on the ass as I was rushed out of their hallowed offices was only implied, not implicitly stated.

    Evil comes in all kinds of disguises, cold-hearted ignorance in the guise of a caring therapist being one of the very worst.


    PS: I happened to be drinking a soda when I read this post, but I still got royally T’d off at the writers of this book.

    • I thought the same thing, wow, this book would have had me crying, shaking and suicidal in the past. Yes, I used to think it was hopeless, that happiness was just not meant for me. Doing that scale back then would have been more proof for me. Doing it now though, showed me that I respect myself and have gained some healthy perspective and distance. So the book helped me, but not in the ways the author intended.

      I had some of those condescending doctors, made me feel like a foolish little girl that just couldn’t get my act together. It took so long to find someone who could actually help me heal and put the shattered pieces back in place. So sorry you have suffered in our mental health system too.

  5. To reduce someone’s traumatic experiences to a “score”. Yes, it makes me angry too. It’s worrying to think that such people are in charge of helping sufferers. I would imagine that they do more damage than good.

    • Exactly. To put a ranking on my trauma, as that abuse is worth more points, and then to call it a score was totally insulting to me. I get that professionals may need a way to compare patients to learn about treatment methods, but I think this had no place in a self-help book targeting people who are in pain.

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