healing

8. Cultivate Detachment and Non-Identification (1)

© Infrakshun

“We live in a society where detachment is almost essential.”

— Philip K. Dick


Reading time: 15 – 18 mins

The quote above highlights a growing shift in the consciousness of Western populations – if not the globe – namely, the detachment and separation from our political system to offer any kind of resolution to domestic and international problems. The defeat of the remain camp in the Brexit exit poll to the election of Donald Trump are both symptoms of disillusionment with establishment politics. They represent a negative detachment of progressive politics not from rejecting the conservative “other,” but from an attachment to a dream of what ought to be, thus in direct oppostion to objective reality.

As Gilad Atzmon notes in his recent book Being in Time: A Post Political Manifesto (2016):

The Post-Political condition is an era defined by a complete failure of politics (Left, Right and Centre) and ‘Grand Ideological Narratives.’ Liberal Democracy, Marxism, communism, capitalism, and free markets are all empty, hollow signifiers as far as contemporary reality is concerned.

Total detachment describes the current relationship between ‘the political’ and ‘the human.’ We Westerners are becoming keenly aware that we have been reduced to consumers. The present role of ‘the political’ is to facilitate consumption. Our elected politicians are subservient to oligarchs, major market forces, big monopolies, corporations, conglomerates, banks and some sinister lobbies.

Liberal Democracy, that unique moment of mutual exchange between humans and the political, has failed to sustain itself. [1]

In the context of politics and culture, non-identification is essential if we are to separate from belief and move toward constructive solutions. Not to play the game of identity politics is to reject the idea that just because there is disagreement with a certain ideology does not mean prejudice against a race, sexuality, gender or religion. Identitarians would have us all categorised into rigid groups of tribal affiliations according to opinions, feelings and surface image rather than the logic and plausibility of the idea itself. Since identity is enmeshed in ideology and persona, to oppose an ideologue is to launch a personal attack. A specific defence mechanism is thus created to maintain this triad.

Examples of this would be:

  • Being white and male you are privileged and inherently racist
  • If you vote for Trump you are sexist, misogynist and a white supremacist Nazi.
  • Everyone knows there is a rape culture and if you deny it you support it.
  • If you disagree with pre-school education on transgender sexuality means you are transphobic
  • Criticising Islamic extremism means you are “Islamophobic”.
  • Criticising Israel’s human rights record against Palestinians means you are anti-Semitic
  • If you stand against police brutality you support radical anarchists like antifa
  • Institutionalised racism exists and police target black people as a result.
  • All those who criticise the science of human-global warming are “climate deniers”.
  • Being pro-Brexit and skeptical of the EU means you are xenophobic and right wing

Such identitarianism is spellbound by image and feeling rather than reason an logic. There is no room for nuance or complexity. With identify politics, radical feminism and social justice groupings, group identity and its beliefs take precedence over individual belief and autonomy. Any attack against the group is an attack against personal identity, the latter of which the individual give ups to further group cohesion. The ability to discriminate and critique based on reality rather than personal sensibility is lost. As such, it is a collective defence mechanism called “splitting” which we will look at later on.

To identify with someone’s pain or difficulties is to engage empathy. But when we identify with the ideology and belief – regardless of good intentions –  we limit our ability to see outside that ideology. It is then that empathy becomes politicised and distorted toward power and projection fuelled by the momentum of the group itself.

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Strive For Simplicity, Economise on Energy (6)

The Kiss (Lovers), Gustav Klimt, oil and gold leaf on canvas, , 1907–1908.

“Behind every shallow sexual interaction, there hides a person who does not want to see or be seen at a deeper level.”

Michael Mirdad, An Introduction To Tantra And Sacred Sexuality


Reading time: 30 mins

Brain Power

Before we continue exploring the vital role of simplifying and economising through attention to sexual energy let’s take a brief detour into the brain and the spaghetti junction of incessant thoughts.

An enormous amount of energy is expended in thinking deeply about a subject and still more when our thoughts are a product of stress and anxiety. Factor in low-grade fantasy and you have a major energy drain in the mind-body system. With such a breach, our perception, impressions – what we give out and receive – and ability to think critically is seriously impaired by subjective evaluations, warped still further by defensive mechanisms and stagnant beliefs.

The brain is a big, jelly-like battery making up 2 per cent of our body weight. Even at rest, this incredible hub gobbles up a whopping 20% of the body’s energy. [1] It’s long been known that the brain uses more energy than any other human organ, – up to 20 per cent of the body’s total output., with two-thirds of that energy used to help neurons or nerve cells “fire” the remaining third devoted to general “housekeeping,” and cell-health maintenance. [2]

Each neuron has a small voltage 70 millivolts or 0.07 volts. That may not seem much when compared to the 1.5 volts of a AA battery or the 115 volts from a wall socket, but at the microscopic scale, which is where it functions, it’s pretty impressive. In fact, when you take into account that the brain is made of 80 billion neurological batteries each of which contains four times the electrostatic force that normally results in lightning during a thunderstorm.  [3]

Our brains pack a powerful punch.

And when the procreative urge gets in on the act, usually as a form of grounding all that “electrostatic” tension, then a massive explosion of neurochemicals occurs at the point of climax. Sexual saiety is the result – or offspring.

The point is, this is a major “charge” which has a major downside and may not only be exhausting your physiological responses and your nervous system but re-wiring the neurology of the brain toward habituation. We become addicts to what is a very narrow mental and biological mechanism rationalised by the intellect, fuelled by ignorance.

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Choose Constructive Emotions (And don’t forget your greatest asset) (3)

Approaching Shadow, 1954 by Chinese photographer Fan-Ho born in Shanghai, in 1931.

“Don’t be so negative! Think positive!”

— positive thinking evangelist


Reading time: 15-18 mins

How many times have you heard the above smiley command from people who have joined the positive psychology bandwagon? Apart from being a tad self-righteous the proclamation might also mask the person’s inability to process the negative realities of this world.

This “pursuit of happiness” tightly bound with numerous affirmations and fixated beliefs intent on to forcing happiness into being doesn’t deliver. If we do not achieve those heights of impossible joy then we sow the seeds of re-occurring resentment.

As we have explored, positive thinking is an important part of self-betterment, but it is literally only half the equation. There’s a huge caveat that goes unnoticed in the drive to cultivate a better outlook and a happier life. Deny the vital role of negative emotions in this process and and we court serious trouble.

In fact, this blind spot is probably one of the primary reasons for many of our global woes and needs to be fully understood before we immerse ourselves in the positive thinking belief system.

Success in cultivating positive emotions lies in the nature of the methods we use to attain them as much as it does the reasons we embark on such a discipline. If the methods and reasons are faulty, then success may be fleeting and come at a cost.

But “the optimism of the action is better than the pessimism of the thought” right?

No. Not always. In fact hardly ever.  If the pessimism of the thought is grounded in the reality of what is, then you can guarantee that the “optimism” and good intentions of the “action” will inevitably create more chaos than order.

As Barbara Ehrenreich described in characteristically blunt terms:

Americans have long prided themselves on being positive and optimistic — traits that reached a manic zenith in the early years of this millennium. Iraq would be a cakewalk! The Dow would reach 36,000! Housing prices could never decline! Optimism was not only patriotic but was also a Christian virtue, or so we learned from the proliferating preachers of the “prosperity gospel,” whose God wants to “prosper” you. In 2006, the runaway bestseller “The Secret” promised that you could have anything you wanted, anything at all, simply by using your mental powers to “attract” it. The poor listened to upbeat preachers like Joel Osteen and took out subprime mortgages. The rich paid for seminars led by motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and repackaged those mortgages into securities sold around the world. [1]

This distinctly American obsession with positive thinking tied to a delusional neo-liberal brand of capitalism means “to get what you want” in as little time as possible and with minimum effort; a lifestyle which has permeated virtually every social and cultural domain.

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Choose constructive emotions (and don’t forget your greatest asset) (2)

 

“Everything can be taken from a man but …The last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

— Viktor Frankel


Reading time: 10 mins

What is it you can tell yourself and that will ensure that every time you get in a negative loop you have constructive thoughts and actions which bypass that habit? Think of it as building new houses of emotion imbued with positive feelings in every wall and every beam. Make sure that you are not in an environment, relationship or work situation that continually places you in that loop. And if you are, ask yourself how much of those negative triggers are under your control to diminish? You’ll not be able change everything externally in your life but you can change how you react to these pressures and head off the kind of habitually negative thinking that harms you. Then you are laying the foundation for your life to change naturally. (Yes, really, you are). That requires faith and not a little persistence. But if you are able to cultivate feelings and emotions that work for you that’s when reality begins to change, even if it seems like a pipe dream.

I struggled with many things in my youth and beyond but passive aggression and an overly critical attitude were high up on the scale. This was due to intermittent depression rooted in a poor sense of self. It was only when I found constructive channels for release which took me away from my inner stress was I slowly able to heal. I could indeed choose positive emotions instead of wallowing in resentment and projected angst. In fact, we are choosing all the time, even if unconsciously.

Remember the two sets of thinking systems: system1 (instinctive and emotional) and system 2 thinking (logical; deliberative) and what Daniel Goleman called the “high and low roads” of emotional intelligence. We are literally a complex, tangled mass of biases and mechanical processes which make a mockery of free-will and independent thought. But we can get closer to those ideals. Our job is to ease into the marriage of the two and make them work for us. And to do that we need to be both internally considerate of our own experiences, pains and fears whilst affording the same external considerations to those with whom we live and work.

Learning to exert proper control over the wild horse emotions and chaotic feelings isn’t a bundle of fun but like unruly animals they can be gently tamed so that they begin to love their master rather than follow the bad parent of the ego who let’s them do anything at all for the next tasty treat.

A concurrent theme that appears throughout this whole blog is that we need a good social network present to keep us nourished. For example, snaps shots of positive social memories is an effective way to bring you back from the negative maelstrom. In combination with breathing this can help to re-connect with the biochemical component of that remembered reality. [1] 

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6. Choose constructive emotions (and don’t forget your greatest asset) (1)

By M.K. Styllinski

“The benefits of positive emotions don’t stop after a few minutes of good feelings subside. In fact, the biggest benefit that positive emotions provide is an enhanced ability to build skills and develop resources for use later in life.”

— Barbara Fredrickson
.

Reading time: 15 mins

Our emotions flow through everything we do and every personality type on show: from the “coldest” intellectual academic to the athlete striving to be the best. How we emote, whether we express negative or positive emotion depends how well we know ourselves and if we are prepared to find the balance between too much positivity (yes, it’s possible) and the more well-known excess of negativity.

There is no question that we can choose to have more constructive emotions whilst understanding that negative emotions are not “bad” just in need of balance so that the positive/negative polarities work as a team. It’s the distortion of our emotions which wreaks the havoc. There is nothing instrinsically wrong with us other than allowing our feelings to run wild, often to the point of pathology.

This is especially true of those suffering from trauma and/or the effects of childhood adversity as both tend to make emotions supercharged to threats via a hypersensitive parasympathetic nervous system. Pain, unconsciously expressed becomes the primary interface between reality and the self. We become a walking “pain body” geared to survival and the multitude of triggers from any real or perceived threat to our armour of “protection.” Regardless of whether we have unresolved pain and trauma to cultivate conscious awareness over our emotional mind is the key to regulating our life toward a happier and more constructive state of affairs.

I used “constructive” in the title instead of “positive” for this reason. The latter is frequently promoted whilst ignoring the benefits of regulated negative emotion. Like the word “spiritual,” positive thinking has become a loaded phrase for a number of reasons which we’ll get into later on. Suffice to say, understanding our own particular make-up of feelings and emotions and how they are channelled into every day life is crucial. Without a more harmonious interaction with situations and people with whom we interact (or more probably inter-react) imbalance can only get worse or we remain paralysed in an uncomfortable stasis.

Our emotions determine how we perceive the world, what biases and preferences are operating and what decisions and choices we make. Emotions are what make us human; they are an essential part of our nature without which we would be a robot or the iconic Vulcan Mr. Spock from the Star Trek series. But even he had cracks in his hyper-logic because he was half-human, half-Vulcan. As it stands, Mr. Spock did pretty well in navigating through the problems he and his crew encountered. He was efficient, incisive and highly adept at solving those obstacles. But he found human sensitivities beyond the rational perplexing, since overreaction and over-identification was literally alien to him. He wasn’t exactly the life and soul of a party as a result. Nonetheless, we need Mr.Spock’s laser-like logic to sit comfortably alongside a sense of humour, compassion and intuition if we are to achieve a steady balance in the face of the unknown.

So, what are emotions as opposed to feelings? Is there a difference? It would seem so.

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Practice Self-Control (2)

“Instant gratification takes too long.”

– Carrie Fisher

Reading time: 15 mins

Delaying gratification

The late Hollywood star Carrie Fisher certainly knew about instant gratification. Known for her biting wit and satirical bent the above quote was a comment on her own weaknesses but also described the nature of culture in the 21st Century. Gratification, in all its guises has proven to be the primary channel through which the human family escape reality and the darkness within.

That drive for the instant “hit” gets ever stronger the moment it is satiated. This leads to the following statistics:

    • Obesity: About 36 percent of American adults are obese — more than 1 in 3. And, globally, more than 1 in 10 humans are obese.
    • General substance abuse: Nearly 21 million Americans ages 12 and older had a substance use problem in 2015.
    • Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for an average of 88,000 deaths each year.
    • Sex: The National Council on Sexual Addiction Compulsivity estimated that 6%-8% of Americans are sex addicts, which is 18 million – 24 million people.
    • Pornography: More than 80% of women who have porn addiction take it offline. Women, far more than men, are likely to act out their behaviors in real life, such as having multiple partners, casual sex, or affairs.
    • Gambling: Over 80 percent of American adults gamble on a yearly basis. [1]

The above are extremes. But for every addiction that becomes full-blown there’s another one germinating in the wings. We don’t have to be a gambler or substance abuser to know that we have a problem with controlling our desires and impulses. Often it’s a very fine line between addiction and what is considered “normal.” Equally we can be addicted to all kinds of covert negative behaviours which cry out for limitations and order. “Think before you speak” might be the most obvious and applicable to most of us. Practicing self-control means that you’re able to delay ego-gratification without going into an emotional tailspin. Do this often enough and it becomes an asset, thereby improving the quality of your life.

Stanford professor Mischel has spent his life exploring this very topic and provided some very interesting data that proves self-control is a key component of individual mastery. His psychological studies date back to the 1960s and involved children with an average age of 4 – 5 years old. Mischel and his research team published their findings in 1972 as Cognitive and Attentional Mechanisms in delay of gratification and it remains the most influential experiment on self-control available. These experiments were refined and improved over the decades, but the basic format remained the same. Popularly known as “The Marshmallow Test” from the book of the same name, Mischel’s discoveries and conclusions make fascinating reading, so we’ll return to some of suggestions on building self-control later on. Meantime, let’s look at what this ground-breaking experiment was about.

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3. Practice Self-Control (1)

By M.K. Styllinski

“No man is free who is not master of himself.”

— Epictetus


Reading time: 10-12 minutes

Let’s get the definition out of the way so we can get to the meat of the issue:

“Self-control [is] the ability to inhibit competing urges, impulses, behaviors, or desires and delay gratification in order to pursue future goals”

Self-control is probably the bane of everyone’s life to some degree of another – how to exert self-control and the faith that such a discipline can increase one’s quality of life in the long-term. There is the kind of self-control that most of us have in order to get through the day and exist as a functioning member of society. Without it, we’d end up in a psych ward or closely resembling many of our esteemed leaders…Many of the most repellent movers and shakers of our world are masters at giving the illusion of self-control in public, but allow all kinds of masks to fall once no prying eyes are around. Indeed, as they ascend the corporate, political elevator they don’t have to worry about controlling themselves, they live for the power to control others.

While many of us ordinary folk may not lust for power, we have are own mini-power differentials taking place everyday as we struggle to balance what we want with what we need, if not for our highest good then for a more peaceful life. We know that reciprocating the insistent charms of a sexy guy or girl at the office might be great for one’s sex instinct and appeals to our sense of adventure but not so good if you’re wife or husband trusts you implicitly. Our love for that person, our conscience and sense of responsibility will generally drown out that biological response – if it’s strong enough. If pre-disposed to alcohol as means to self-medicate, having that last drink will always end up being a binge session if we don’t listen to that memory and impose order as a protection against certain chaos (and a hellish hangover).  Allowing another family member to push our buttons for one thousandth time so that we react in kind is similarly about adopting limitation and internal order in the face of emotional heat that would otherwise taint the whole household. Once the trigger point or hot button has been pressed with a background of stress and tension, other issues tend to come bubbling up and it’s next to impossible to put that fiery genie back in its bottle. Sure, you’ll make up and apologise (if you’re lucky) but such reactions over time tend to wear down the will to try.

The problems come when a sufficient amount of intrapsychic storms have been allowed to build up and begin to uproot what was once stable. A battle with a past addiction or the waiting shadows in a family with a history of repressed emotions can be released, seemingly from nowhere. Psychic carnage is just one step away should we relinquish that self-restraint. But that’s what usually happens because we haven’t been taught any preventive measures, nor had our parents. And our education system only manages to increase the level of ignorance when it comes to self-knowledge and mastering ourselves at the most basic level. Schools and their overdevelopment of intellectual rigour replaces emotional intelligence and social awareness. Since the process of thinking and expressing a thought is riven with emotion it’s hardly surprising that we end up in a boiling vat of reaction when under pressure from every quarter.

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Heal Your Past (3)

“Wisdom is nothing more than healed pain.”

— Robert Gary Lee


Reading time: 20-25 mins

Before any kind of deeper transformation can take place we have to address the past and any “blockages” to growth which may be holding us back. Those of us who have trauma or childhood adversity does not mean we haven’t been successful in life or made our mark in the world. We all cope in a multitude of different ways. But our personal lives are often entirely separate to our business interests. We might be a corporate leviathan, where success hides our shadow selves and the hidden trauma that rises to the surface in relationships and family life. Or conversely, family and relationships take precedent and fulfilment in our careers eludes us.

Whatever the variables, the only measure of value derives from how well we have been able to transmute our hidden shadows; that which has been adapted to the demands of daily life and often purposely buried or “forgotten.” Anyone who sincerely wishes to grow their conscience cannot leave the past unknown. It has a direct relationship to how well we cope with the uncertainty and unpredictability that hails from the future. By releasing our past demons we are slowly able to fully inhabit the present. This eventually allows us to face the future which unfolds from that new presence.

Healing means the incremental release of new energy that was previously used to service a false self. Such a persona exists through a normalised habit of shoring up the perceived breaches in our many defence mechanisms. That’s the nature of a self built from survival. It’s not the real self thus has no authentic foundations. And as anyone who has done any refurbishment on a house without having the right knowledge, you can go through money like water down a drain, until you are forced to take out a huge loan from people and situations who have that requisite money (energy). It’s much like being held hostage by a debt we could never repay without conscious attention to the roots of that pain. As each year goes by the interest on that debt increases until we will be forced to address it anyway. You become bankrupt and homeless.

Healing Developmental Trauma

One of the most effective methods of restoring a healthy mind-body connection away from trauma and childhood adversity is the NeuroAffective Relational Model ™ (NARM) a new form of somatically-sourced, multidisciplinary psychotherapy that synthesizes the latest peer-reviewed research and practice in the fields of mind and body healing.  While placing importance on the clear understanding of past events it’s focus is on how best we can attune to the present moment and facilitate our capacity to connect to that which naturally heals. This brings us back from feedback loop of disregulation to a process of conscious self-regulation. The latter means listening to our mind and body so that we can have healthy stress instead of stress that harms us. (Again, healthy stress isn’t the issue, it’s our reaction to it. And when we are overloaded with stress that crystallizes into trauma revisited over years, then this is obviously something far different. Habitual reaction to pain can completely deform the mind/body connection leading to chronic disregulation.

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Heal Your Past (2)

“Not every story has a happy ending, … but the discoveries of science, the teachings of the heart, and the revelations of the soul all assure us that no human being is ever beyond redemption. The possibility of renewal exists so long as life exists. How to support that possibility in others and in ourselves is the ultimate question.”

Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction


Reading time: 15 mins

The Body as Barometer of Psychological states

If you are one of those who wish to reduce the amount of baggage your are carrying around then we have to address the feelings which have been locked away for so long. You had your reasons no doubt. We all have to function in life: get through college/university; work nights; support our partner, and/or children and innumerable pressures and responsibilities. Eventually suppressed memories, if allowed to languish in the unconscious, cause all kinds of havoc over time. The only route to expression these shadows are permitted is through a slow titration of toxic influence which affects the mind causing psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or dissociative disorders. However, it is the body which accumulates this psychic toxicity over many years and which manifests as specific auto-immune diseases. This is logical and common sense.

As physician and author Dr. Gabor Maté tells us: “If emotional patterns are a response to the psychological and social environment, disease in an individual always tells us about the multigenerational family of origin and the broader culture in which that person’s life unfolds.” Which is why it is so important to discover not only your possible genetic heritage but what bio-psychosocial predispositions have been passed down the line prior to your own childhood. How have the psychic echos from your ancestors and your own suppressed negative emotions melded to form who you are today?

“The effects of trauma become multigenerational through repeated psychological dysfunctions. The new science of epigenetics is identifying the mechanisms that even affect gene functioning. The children of Holocaust survivors, for example, have altered genetic mechanisms leading to abnormal stress hormone levels. Animal studies are showing that the physiological effects of trauma can be passed on even to the third generation.” [1]

Maté explains further:

“The pathway from stressful emotions, often unconscious, to physical disease was often driven home to me as a family physician and palliative care practitioner, although nothing in my medical education even remotely hinted at such links. People I saw with chronic disease of all kinds—from malignancies or autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or ulcerative colitis to persistent skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, and neurological disorders like Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and even dementia—were characterized by certain unmistakable emotional life patterns. Among these was the chronic repression of so-called negative emotions, especially of healthy anger, … an overriding sense of duty, role, and responsibility; an undue concern for the emotional needs of others while ignoring one’s own; and, finally, a core belief—again, often unconscious—that one is responsible for how other people feel and that one must never disappoint others. The expression “the good die young” has—sadly—more validity than we sometimes appreciate.” [2]

Since the brain is directly connected to the immune system it makes logical sense to posit that there is an intimate relationship to the correct functioning of both. And since negative thoughts and emotions represent a different energetic frequency than more positive ones, they can naturally begin to affect whatever area of the body – such toxic memories stored. Repressed emotions over the long-term have a deleterious effect on the body’s organs, hormonal apparatus and nervous and immune systems. Deep-seated anger, shame, fear and the constant flood of stress chemicals can literally cause chronic or acute illness as a result of the immune system breaking down. This is when emotional shadows break free and express their toxicity in the body, rather than being safely exorcised through therapy. This is particularly true for all manner of addictions, which helps to calm the horrible truth in the short-term but makes things much worse as denied emotions are replaced with self-medication through substance abuse or toxic relationships.

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1. Heal Your Past (1)

By M.K. Styllinski

“I’ve always thought that we are what we remember, and the less we
remember, the less we are.”

— Carlos Ruiz Zafon, author

—————-

“The paradox of trauma is that it has both the power to destroy and the
power to transform and resurrect.”

— author and creator of somatic experiencing, Peter A. Levine


Reading time: 25 mins

The above photo illustrates well the relationship to healing and the mind-body complex. We often place useless band-aids over the wall we have erected within ourselves and the promise of a more fulfilling life. Trauma, hurt and an array of psychic wounds are bricked up and plastered over so that we might pretend all is well and struggle on regardless. After all, it can be frightening to address deep-seated issues we know are holding us back. It can be even more disruptive to acknowledge we need help or that we need to go beyond just surviving. (Assuming that is, that such a wall hasn’t blocked out any awareness that there is a problem).

The triumph of the spirit over adversity resonates to everyone because we admire and relate to the person who has faced seemingly insurmountable odds and returned from the Dark Night Of the Soul to offer healing redemption for all. They become beacons of guidance that lights the way on our own path so that we may learn from and thereby transcend the trials and tribulations which emerge in our own lives. When someone is not only victorious but shows how we can be the same, they become an example.

One of the very first things we must do to obtain a more fulfilling and meaningful life is to heal the past. It is our accmululation of knowledge which allows us to “anticipate, protect and know ourselves.” [1] The will to survive and those survival mechanisms – our in-built means of protection against the threat of death – can then be placed in proper context so that they do not overwhelm us; where our views of the world are not violated through a lack of knowledge and adaptation. We can reduce the propensity for trauma in this trauma-inducing world. Without understanding this we cannot move ahead. Without seeing challenges as opportunities to grow and develop a creative complexity that enriches life. We must simplify our lives so that greater complexity can eventually arrive when we have the character to handle it. The “bliss” of chosen ignorance numbs the pain but stagnates potential.

The nature of trauma is a complex one. It is not just children who suffered from abuse or grew up in dysfunctional families that take on post-traumatic stress and the continuance of dissociation in adult life. There are many incidences in the lives of young children which induce trauma purely due to the fact that they are here, existing in this beautiful and horror-laden material world. Parents are often entirely clueless that their children have even suffered trauma that has overwhelmed any capacity to cope and laid down potential problems for the future. What’s more, infants and children do not have the mental or emotional maturity to mak sense of or communicate what has happened to them. At a certain age, they must stew in the juices of trauma and survive as best they can.

Take these imaginary examples:

Jenny is four-years-old. She has had an operation the evening before to remove her tonsils and has woken up in a strange room all alone. She vaguely remembers something about an operation and her parents reassuring faces that it would all be okay. But it’s dark and an odd blue glow envelops the room. Alien noises come from the large window to her right and a low hum to her left. It smells like the bathroom, and when she’d cut her knee her mother would put a plaster on it. She is scared and her throat is very, VERY painful. Such pain is entirely new to her and she feels a rising panic. Why is she alone? Where are Mummy and Daddy? Her heart rate rises. She hears voices outside and sees a yellow-orange glow spilling through the bottom of the door. She doesn’t recognise the people. Why is he alone in a strange room? Why isn’t the light on? Shadows leap and twist and turn in the corners. Her heart beats faster still. She tries to move but she can’t. The blankets and sheets are so tight and he feels so weak. Tears begin to stream from the corner of her eyes and he starts to sweat. Maybe he was naughty too many times and didn’t pay attention to what Mummy said. Maybe they decided to leave her here? She would be a good girl in future…She would be good…If only they would come back…She tries to cry out but only soft gurgle escapes.

After twenty minutes Jenny is beside herself soaked in sweat and salty tears and the pain-killers administered by the nurse on duty have worn off. It is only when the nurse arrives to check on Jenny at the allocated time that she calls the parents in. Amidst the jolly, cheerful atmosphere of relief and the complete ignorance of this little girl’s hour and a half of emotional and physical trauma goes unrecognised. Her mother mentions that her daughter’s face and hair is damp, her eyes red and that she looks very hot. The nurse takes her temperature and finds it a little above normal. “No worries. It’s all good. I’ll top up her pain relief and she can go home before lunch.” The nurse adjusts the drip and strokes Jenny’s forehead. Her parents sit on either side of the bed holding her hands. The father stares at his daughter. “She seems very quiet. Are you sure she’s okay? Jenny? You all right sweetie? On her way out the nurse responds: “She’s bound to be a bit groggy and spaced out. She’ll be fine.” Jenny stares ahead, pale, glassy-eyed, unresponsive … and traumatised. Where once distant voices seemed reassuring they would now signify loneliness, pain and abandonment.

***

Six-year-old Jonah and his parents are visiting Auntie Janet and Uncle Bob on their dairy farm in the country. Since they live in the city this is a trip Jonah has been looking forward to. He loves the countryside and his Aunt and Uncle. He has been mucking around with his cousin Jimmy who is 12 years old – much older than him. Jonah had never felt very comfortable around Jimmy and he was always so rude to his parents. He didn’t understand why Jimmy was always so mean. Jimmy has been told by his parents to show Jonah around the farm, very much against his will. Reluctantly he takes his cousin along who follows behind struggling to keep up.

They look at the tractors and all the farm equipment and he shows Jonah the cows in the milking stands and a warehouse full of corn feed. Then Jimmy has an idea. “Want to see the hay-loft?”

“Sure!” Jonah replies, trying to appear enthusiastic and unafraid.

Jimmy takes him to an old barn and stands in front of a long ladder attached to the facing wall stretching up about 15 ft up into loft full of sweet-smelling hay. From Jonah’s perspective, the ladder might as well reach to mars.

“Get up there”. Jimmy suddenly barks.

Hmmm?

“Get up that ladder!”

“I — I can’t climb up there.”

Jimmy draws closer. “Chicken. You’re just a weak little chicken. Get up that ladder NOW! If you don’t I swear to God…” He shoves his fist in front of the little boy’s face. Jonah’s eyes widen. He is shocked at the anger from his cousin seemingly from nowhere. Why is he being like this? He hesitantly places his hands on the ladder and slowly begins to climb, his fear rising at each step. Jimmy is behind him. “Faster!” he bellows. By the time Jonah reaches half way his mouth is dry and he is shaking with fear. He has never felt this fear before, his whole body shivering like he is very, very cold. But he doesn’t want to show Jimmy he is so afraid. He can’t show his fear. When they reach the top. Jonah unbuttons his blue duffle coat and sits on a hay bale. Jimmy sits on another opposite and fixes him with a malevolent gaze. Jonah looks at the floor and tries to recover.  Jimmy produces a knife from his pocket and turns it over in his hands.

“I could kill you up here and no one would ever know.”

Jonah feels cold and stares at his cousin incredulously. Jimmy suddenly throws the knife just to one side of his leg and it sticks in the hay-bale with a “thunk”. Jonah feels the world shrinking, he can hear the blood rushing in his ears and his heart beating as if it would break through his rib-cage. Then he begins to feel nothing. He is numb, switched off and nothing matters anymore. He can hear Jimmy yabbering obscenities but he, Jonah has gone somewhere else. Soon, Jimmy forces him down the ladder again, and this time, though Jonah is afraid and he begins to sweat, something has broken inside and he doesn’t really care if he lives or dies. Jonah manages to tell his parents what happened. But it doesn’t come out right, sounding like a mischevious game. When he tells them about the knife however, their smiles disappear. They call for Jimmy but he is nowhere to be found. By the time they have reached home they have forgotten the incident. Jonah realises that his parents don’t consider it important enough to follow up, so Jonah convinces himself it didn’t mean anything. He would never mention it again. He goes to bed early that night feeling very tired and lays in a fetal position under the covers. The little boy doesn’t know that he is traumatised the effects of which will remain in his unconscious and locked into his body for decades.

***

Sarah is four-years-old and its her first time on the school mini-bus. She started kindergarten this morning and is on her way home. She has a backpack and an extra sandwich provided by her mother whom she knows that she will be there to pick her up. He mother told her it would be a very short trip and that she would have picked her up if she’d had a car but there was no other way around it. Sarah didn’t like to be away from her mother and would rather be playing with her toys in her comfy, cosy bedroom. Tears were just below the surface. She is surrounded by a lot of big, noisy school children and she is afraid. Everything is so loud! She looks out of the window and thinks about Alfie her dog and his big pink tongue. She wished he was here with her – he would make it all right. It isn’t long before the bus judders to a halt and everyone piles out in a mass of shouting, bustling bodies. Sarah remains in her seat not sure if she should follow. Her heart begins to thump and she wanders down to the driver and pulls on his sleeve.

Hey, sweet-pea, this your stop?

Sarah stares at him wide-eyed. She nods…”Mom’s coming to pick me up.”

Well, okay then, you better get out here. You don’t want to be going into town.”

She nods again, brushes the hair from her eyes and adjusts her Power Rangers backpack. Turning to the doors she gingerly clambers down the steps and onto the warm pavement. The mini-bus pulls away. The other children have departed and there is not a soul to be seen. Sarah find herself alone.

Her heart begins to thump faster and her breathes become shorter. Sarah wanders over to the bus shelter and waits. She sits on the long plastic seat her legs straight out in front of her. Her mother will be here soon and the the thought calms her down. She bobs her shiny shoes up and down as if in happy confirmation. Sarah absently looks at the occasional passer-by hoping that the person is her mom. Each time, it is a stranger and each time she is disappointed she becomes more agitated. After half an hour Sarah’s chin begins to wobble and she calls for her Mom. She breathes rapidly looking around wildly in the vain hope if spotting her mother. Everything looks so strange. She doesn’t recognise anything or anyone. She frowns and screws up her face and begins to cry punctuated by cries for Mom. After one hour Sarah is calling her mother’s name only occasionally and plaintively between wracking sobs. But still no one comes. The street is empty.

She goes and sits on the side of the pavement as the sun begins to go down in the hope that someone – anyone will take her to her home. She sees a man walk hurriedly past on the other side of the street and is trapped between desperate wish for him to help her and her equally desperate fear of a stranger. She looks at all the homes and doesn’t even consider knocking on someone’s door. Everything is alien and therefore threatening. After an hour and a half, Sarah has cried herself dry. She is fiddling with her backpack and tracing her finger around the stitching repeating the process again and again. She barely looks up when her mom arrives and gathers her up weeping with relief. Sarah has been collected at last but this little girl has transported her mind somewhere else. There are no tears and not much recognition. She is in a state of detachment and drowsy acceptance of her fate. She is traumatised. The next morning Sarah will appear much better but the trauma of that event will have etched its itself into her mind and body with repercussions for the future.

These examples illustrate how precarious and vulnerable children are to the everyday trials of life growing up. It is impossible to avoid negative events as they are simply a part of what makes us human. But what we can do is build our knowledge base so that these inevitable challenges do not define us in later life, where traumatic experiences lie undetected and unresolved, keeping us unnecessarily locked in within the confines of the traumatic memory that claimed us through no fault of our own.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE)

Fully remembering our personal history can be a painful process – almost unbearable for some. But it must be done to bring us back to ourselves. As that wise old bird Hippocrates noted: “Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” Depending on the level of repression/suppression of emotions, time may heal. But trauma and adversity may just “freeze” the system in complex ways. As co-director of the The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) Vincent Felitti MD notes: “Contrary to conventional belief, time does not heal all wounds, since humans convert traumatic emotional experiences in childhood into organic disease later in life.” [2]

Donna Jackson Nakazawa’s book Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal is an excellent place to start in discovering how to evaluate ACE and to implement the solutions provided. The studies and their questionnaire scaling shows, with surprising accuracy, that the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences an individual had, predicted the amount of medical care that person would require as an adult:

  • Individuals who had faced 4 or more categories of ACEs were twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer as individuals who hadn’t experienced childhood adversity.
  • For each ACE Score a woman had, her risk of being hospitalized with an autoimmune disease rose by 20 percent.
  • Someone with an ACE Score of 4 was 460 percent more likely to suffer from depression than someone with an ACE Score of 0.
  • An ACE Score greater than or equal to 6 shortened an individual’s lifespan by almost 20 years. [3]

So, why such dramatic results?

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