the Queen’s Gambit – comment

For those who have followed the beautiful miniseries “The Queen’s Gambit”. After reading many comments about it, I would like to contribute with mine: how it relates to trauma, developmental trauma and healing from them.Excuse the mistakes you may find, English is a language that I am still learning.
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I finally watch the rest of the miniseries. What a treat!!! Especially it is not often that we can watch something so informed around trauma.

What I saw in this last episode was a concentrate of the makers when someone is releasing the deadly grips of trauma. It was too black and white, processing too fast, showing nothing around the healing process for my taste to really portray reality, but none the less, it had the quality of creating a map of what one can look for as they, or someone else, are breaking out of trauma or developmental trauma, like the one Beth is suffering from.

In the case of developmental trauma, there can be a traumatic event at the source – Beth being violently exposed to the suicide of her mother – but not always. The developmental trauma is more about a person, predominately a child/teen, who haven’t been parented through secure attachment patterns, and end up devoid of many healthy social skills. In fact, their wirings/patterns are more about dissociation/numbing; sudden emotional outburst: anxiety, anger, tears; shame/isolation; inability to trust; addiction/self-harm as a way to auto-regulate; the endless repetition/reenactment of the core wound. What is beautifully shown in Beth coming out of age in the first 6 episodes.

At the same time, suffering from trauma doesn’t mean that the person cannot have resilience; Beth is feisty around and against anything and everything that might challenge her sanity, even though sometimes it’s by dissociating herself from her nightmarish story – taking pills or drinking to forget the past, relax her brain, and/or enhance her mental abilities. She is stubbornly aligning herself with those – Jolene, the janitor, her adoptive mother – refusing/opposing the ways/beliefs/systems that aren’t being accountable or truly caring, anyone that can’t see her, and much less within her full context, and the context of the period. At the same time, this dissociation is the protection she needs, as she is unable to healthily/constructively face her demons, having been raised without appropriate guidance and/or skills.

Then, within one episode, the seventh and final one, while she is revisiting her relationship with a large number of the previous characters, we can observe how she is disentangling the nightmarish memories that are hijacking her.

One of the very important protagonists in this process, in my perspective, is Jolene. Even thought she showed up after a very long period of absence, that may seem quite random, feels more to me like a powerful moment of synchronicity. Having followed Beth from afar, and intuitively knowing that she is in a mess after the death of her adoptive mother, she comes back with what seems a clear agenda, to bring Beth out of her isolation.

At another major turning point, Jolene is the one, once again, to dismantle Beth’s belief that she is like her biological mother, irreversibly mentally ill. She offers her the possibility to imagine a radically different future for herself, and to be able to do so, challenge her to stop her self-destructive addictions. She powerfully and humbly incarnates the one who truly sees her friend for the brilliant person she always was, as well as the one prone to addiction from very early on.

That said, the problem with the way Jolene is portrayed as an adult is as if she hasn’t suffered from trauma herself. From difficult events, yes, but not from trauma. The difference between the two? In the case of trauma, the person’s brain has been rewired in such a way that it is stuck in the past, living it in loops, frozen in time, unable to process and move out of the traumatic situation. But in fact, we know very little of Jolene’s story, except that she knew that she wouldn’t be adopted because of the colour of her skin. That is what it makes it so controversial since the ferocious systemic racism and poverty that black peoples were/are facing are among the most prominent sources of developmental trauma in the US, as brilliantly demonstrated by the researches/studies of the trauma specialist Bessel van der Kolk.

Now coming back to Beth, we have to understand that unless they feel cared and safe enough, the traumatize brain/person cannot reset themself. And heal. And healing from developmental trauma will be very different from healing from a short/middle term illness/crisis, at least not those who haven’t been traumatizing. In the last case, most of the time, but not all the time, there is a before and an after the ordeal, meaning the person will be able to go back in a healthy way to their family, work, friends, etc. In the case of a person suffering from developmental trauma, because they haven’t been properly parented, they haven’t developed/processed/integrated many of the social skills needed to live, love and thrive; their fear/distrust, hypo or hyper arousal keeping them in a survival state. So in their case, too often, there haven’t been a before, or at least a before they should/wish/make sense to go back to.

But in this last episode, Beth, cracked open by Jolene, is able to progressively revisit her past relationships. We see her anger fading slowly and being replaced by a vulnerability – when she burst in tears in the arms of Jolene after going back to the orphanage -, a tenderness – toward her older competitors, Townes the journalist, Harry the superintendent -; a capacity to renew with Benny after having been drastically pushed out of his life. We see her coming out of her usual emotionally cold ways of being, of relating; one of the signs that the grips of trauma are loosening. She is discovering/feeling that the whole world is not there to get her ; that there are people around who really care for her, in proper or confusing ways, but still – – I love the caring and generosity from which the boys offer her a support group in her most challenging time. And this is a major gain: since it is part of the inversion of the destructive power of trauma.

All that being said, what is really missing from the miniseries, for me, is the part between being hijacked by the past and releasing it. As it is well research now, someone cannot talk themself out of trauma.

In fact, in most cases, talking about it reinforce the brain patterns which are already overpowering enough. The most helpful ways to break through are somatic practices; somatic, as in relating to the body, especially as distinct from the mind – Oxford Languages; practices, as in a modality that you keep doing and doing and doing to have access to the benefits – inspired by therapist and trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem.

Was chess could have been a real healing practices for her? I don’t know. The self can reset themself in so many uncharted ways, I wouldn’t dismiss it as a possibility. What I know though, from my own researches/trainings, practices and coming out of my own developmental trauma, is that, in the most transformative cases, the work has been a conscious one, through time, done relentlessly, with a perseverance that not only will make it possible for the trauma to be released, but to support the stamina needed to create the unfulfilled, because it hasn’t existed before; what will generate/sustain what needs to be accomplished, the very welcome new radical healthy manifestations of our deepest dreams. Those dreams that are maintaining our heart vibrant, as well as the heart of each human and other-than-human beings. Of All there is.