Jackie Kennedy’s ordeal: PTSD before there was PTSD

Barbara Leaming, biographer of Jackie Kennedy, on the First Lady’s  ordeal after her husband was killed by her side.

“She was also going over and over the details of what had happened in that car in Dallas. She was constantly trying to come up with some way that she could’ve saved her husband. She suffered with something a lot of soldiers talked about, survivors’ guilt: ‘It should’ve been me instead of Jack.’ She began to organize her whole life around trying to avoid triggers of flashbacks.”

via Jackie Kennedy May Have Had PTSD After JFK’s Death.


  1. Bill Clarke says:

    After her terrible experience in Dallas that day no doubt Jackie suffered from PTSD. I’m so sorry she and the nation had such a traumatic experience. In 1963 America it would have been even worse for Jackie because she wouldn’t have had anyone to talk to about her disorder much less be treated for it. And that makes one feel very alone.

    Interesting that Harold MacMillan suffered from PTSD and his condolence letter was a comfort to her. Good for him.

    It would also be interesting to see the letters between her and McNamara. Except for the assassination McNamara was the worse thing to happen to America in the 60s. Kissinger wins in the 70s.

    • Photon says:

      I am always reluctant to accept medical diagnoses from layman, particularly a biographer with no real history of medical knowledge. It seems easy and politically correct to claim that Mrs. Kennedy had PTSD, but a closer evaluation of her post-assassination depression is more consistent with a prolonged grief reaction, certainly not inappropriate considering the circumstances. She was hardly dysfunctional and was able to achieve what was not possible with the rest of the Kennedy families-raising two children alone and having them turn out to be successful without a hint of the scandal and legal issues associated with so many of their cousins. She continued to engage in productive personal relationships with two men and by all accounts was a successful editor despite having no financial need to work. Her final years with Maurice seem to have been happy ones; ironically although he seemed to be a much older man he was born about the same time as JFK.
      Perhaps we could better serve those who truly have PTSD by not using it as a “pop” diagnosis given to people who really don’t have it, despite the popular perception of what having PTSD means.

      • John R says:

        I doubt this makes it past the moderator, but here goes. Photon, considering how cheaply their conclusions can be purchased, I am equally reluctant to accept the opinions of “the experts.” Read the post again, judge it on merit alone, and discard the cheap shots directed towards the Kennedys, please.

      • leslie sharp says:

        photon: “I am always reluctant to accept medical diagnoses from layman …”

        Yet you seem well able to weigh in with your own diagnosis of grief vs. post traumatic stress disorder. Will you now present us with your psychiatric or psychoanalytic credentials?

        You use as proof that Ms. Kennedy did not suffer from PTSD the fact that she had a marriage (Onassis) and a significant relationship (Templeton) as if that is evidence that she was not suffering a serious anxiety disorder. What an insult to her gender. You are suggesting that if she could hold it together with a man, any man, well then by golly she’s okay, she’s just really really sad about her first husband … that would be the man whose brains were blown into her lap in the bright sun on a street in a US city where presumably she should have felt safe. Once her grief passed, all was okay, huh? While I think her children appeared to be well adjusted, I believe that might be attributed to the “village” that surrounded them prior to and after their father’s brutal murder. Jackie did not raise them alone.

        Your insensitivity tinged with misogyny in this instance boggles the mind, and your arrogance at the expense of decades long pain of others, gone untreated, is offensive.

        Jackie Kennedy married Onassis for love? Analyze that, photon.

        • Photon says:

          Actually Jackie did raise her kids alone.She had no great desire to expose them to their Kennedy cousins; she was much more comfortable with them associating with her sisters kids, to the point where Anthony Radzwill had a brother relationship with JFK,Jr. She never needed a man to hold it together-from 1964 to 1968 she was essentially alone and by all accounts was doing a great job raising her kids in New York- so who is the misogynist here? She was never the frail wallflower you seem to think she was; she was Black Jack Bouvier’s girl and was tough as nails-despite the public glamour.I frankly don’t see the PTSD evidence; of course the private anguish has only become public in recent years. The fact is that there is no evidence after she married Onassis that she had any significant issues remotely attributed to PTSD. I think that John,Jr.’s comments outside of her apartment building after her death reflect how she did it ” her way”, despite the great tragedies in her life. Could she have had PTSD? Not with the public evidence available.

          • leslie sharp says:

            FADE to music “I Did It My Way?”

            You avoided analysis of Jackie’s decision to marry Aristotle Onassis. I ask again, was it for love?

            Will you provide the names of the experts or insiders that inform you Jackie Kennedy “had no great desire to expose them to their Kennedy cousins; she was much more comfortable with them associating with her sisters kids …” These would be the children of Prince Radziwill, a paid lobbyist who capitalized on Jackie’s marriage in an attempt to restore the fortunes of GAF after the US Government seized them as a result of their collusion with IG Farben with an active role in the holocaust? With all respects to the Radziwill children, give me an afternoon with those ‘little Kennedy hellions’ any day.

            “She was never the frail wallflower you seem to think she was. . .”

            Please identify specifically where in my comments I seem to think she was a frail wallflower. On the contrary, I argue that she suffered from the trauma of 11.22.63, an event you seem determined to relegate to little more than a messy appendectomy gone wrong, albeit in public; and now you insist – presumably from that proverbial expert perch – that she recuperated from the stress within a couple of years, and without a man no less. An expert analyst might posit that intense jealousy prompts your ongoing attempt to diminish John Kennedy’s impact on America. You certainly seem fond of his widow, to your credit.

            “she was Black Jack Bouvier’s girl . . ” An additional presentation of misogyny.

            I join others in asking for your credentials in psychiatry or psychoanalysis photon lest I conclude you are indeed the charlatan you appear to be – or worse, a composite of a number of deliberately destructive individuals posing as experts tucked away in a room with a boiler.

          • Vanessa says:

            You’ve made my day with this post Leslie. 🙂

          • leslie sharp says:

            Vanessa, it’s perplexing that photon parades the credentials of others yet seems reluctant to provide his own. Maybe he’s toying with us, but if so, why? To what end? This site has a solid foundation in its intention to be taken seriously – why indulge shenanigans?

            And speaking of mischief (perhaps my own!) where is John McAdams?

          • Vanessa says:

            Hi Leslie

            It was all good but the bit about his jealousy of JFK was pure gold. I’m still laughing.

            I fear we are going to suffer for it though. 🙂 Photon, come out, come out wherever you are. We are still waiting to hear what your credentials are. Perhaps a psychiatric nurse?

            I believe the Prof is enjoying an extended holiday (ahem).

          • Photon says:

            Can you document any action or statement ( even in confidence) by Jackie Kennedy after 1965 consistant with PTSD?
            What did she see in Onassis? Who knows? What did Maria Callas see in him? More to the point, what did the woman who came just before Jackie see in him? The woman who thought that Onassis was going marry her? The woman who was the closest person to Jackie Kennedy-Princess Lee Radziwill? If it was a marriage of convenience , so what?
            Mrs. Kennedy’s documented comments about personal matters are few and far between after the death of Onassis. How one could make a diagnosis of PTSD based on those comments escapes me-particularly after reviewing Carly Simon’s recollections of private conversations that she had with Mrs. Kennedy.
            PTSD is the ” pop” diagnosis of the current time, just like ” chronic fatigue syndrome” was 20 years ago. The baseless claim that certain people exposed to trauma have the syndrome when there is no objective evidence to prove that they actually have it is unfair and detrimental to those individuals who have a genuine diagnosis of PTSD.

          • Ronnie Wayne says:

            I think the Professor doesn’t want anything (new) “Out there” that might negatively influence his chances of reinstatement.


          • leslie sharp says:

            photon, you feel qualified to offer a subjective analysis as do I.
            If you hold credentials in the field, would you please present them here, otherwise we are pretty much on the same footing in this debate, with the minor exception that you are male (assuming you are only one person commenting on this site).

            Unless you have credentials in the field you are only speculating on the emotional and psychological state of Jackie Kennedy following the assassination. Why in your view would it be politically correct to identify her PTSD?

            Call me weak and of lesser character but as a woman, I believe it would be highly traumatic, not just a sad occurrence, to have my husband’s brains blown into my lap on a city street surrounded by law enforcement.

            ‘raising two children alone . . ‘ I remember no evidence that she raised her children alone.

            ‘She continued to engage in productive personal relationships with two men’ Onassis was born in 1906, two decades plus three years before Jackie. Do you honestly argue that she was not seeking security of the highest order?

            Perhaps we could better serve those who truly have PTSD by not holding an icon up in comparison to suggest ‘if only you could be like Jackie; grieve your trauma, then get over it and move on.’

          • leslie sharp says:

            Vanessa, in case you’ve missed this. (I certainly did for the last 48 hours.)

            Not wishing to dance on anyone’s professional grave, but I doubt Marquette took this decision lightly:


          • Vanessa says:

            Thank you Leslie. I had definitely missed that. Oh my lord.

  2. Ronnie Wayne says:

    PTSD. An affliction of those traumatized in war, as most commonly accepted. Having your spouse die in and accident in which you were riding with them would be traumatizing. Having their brains blown out and onto you in the course of a murder of them in a convertible on a public street during a parade for them could have equal effect.

    • Clarence Carlson says:

      Agreed. I have a friend whose PTSD stems from his tour in Viet Nam as a corpsman assigned to a Marine line unit. He raised a family, has been married to the same woman for many decades and had an exemplary work record. It took him something like 35 years to come to grips with it. As you mention wartime is not the only etiology of PTSD and it seems likely that Jackie did indeed suffer from it.

      • Bill Clarke says:

        Clarence Carlson January 26, 2015 at 4:48 pm

        Clarence, I don’t believe that is too unusual. One of my best friends was a two tour grunt and then helicopter pilot. He has a Silver Star, came back to school and got a Ph.D., still married to the same woman. He waited 38 years before his wife finally convinced him to seek help. I know many others with a similar story with a 20 year or so wait.

        War is certainly not the only cause of PTSD.

  3. It is the very goal of PSYOPs to generate PTSD in the general population. That is why Kennedy was shot in open daylight on a street lined with bystanders, rather than killed by some covert method that would be vastly easier to get away with.

    Gaeton Fonzi quotes Vince Salandria: “Instead, they picked the shooting gallery that was Dealey Plaza and did it in the most barbarous and openly arrogant manner. The cover story was transparent and designed not to hold, to fall apart at the slightest scrutiny. The forces that killed Kennedy wanted the message clear: ‘We are in control and no one – not the President, nor Congress, nor any elected official – no one can do anything about it.’ It was a message to the people that their Government was powerless.”

    • Robert Harper says:

      Thank you for this post. Salandria and Castro – in his public statements within 24 hours, “got it.” It’s taken the rest of us decades to get there.

      Also–good point made earlier that PTSD and PSYOPSon a mass scale was merged.If it could be said that a society suffered PTSD, it happened here in 1963.

      It is beyond question – and almost vulgar to suggest otherwise – that Jackie suffered in the way MacMillan knew she would.In spite of that, she, a young woman of 32 years, behaved and performed on a level unseen before or since.

  4. Jacques Ellul speaks to ‘compartmentalization’ as far as the language aspects of this in The Technological Society, in his dissertation on “Specialized Lexicons” in various technical fields.

    The specialized meanings of words, often those with a completely different definition in the general lexicon, can prevent not only the lay public from deciphering their works, but also experts in other fields who have divergent meanings of their own for some of these terms. As Ellul points out we end up with a veritable ‘Tower of Babble’ in a high tech society where people are literally speaking in different languages. This problem is exacerbated by the continued arc of specialization as science and technology advances.

    Do not think for a moment that this techno-lingual phenomena is something new for the 21st century. Ellul wrote this tome THE TECHNOLOGICAL SOCIETY in the 1960’s. Of course each decade the situation exponentially worsens, And it’s effects are clearly on display here on this and many other forum s in the confusion we see in getting points across to one another.

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