For months now, I’ve been circling around the subject of how online anonymity and abusive behavior seems to be inextricably linked.
When the internet first started out in any serious way, say 15-20 years, ‘being anonymous’ was part of its whole mystique. Anonymous people could go into anonymous ‘chat rooms’ online (remember that era?) and say and do whatever they wanted, mostly disgusting and probably illegal.
Then, that was followed by the rise of anonymous bloggers, who mistakenly thought that no-one could ever track them down if they were using a fake name, or no name. That worked for a while, but then the governments fought back, and started what is becoming an ever-tighter crack-down on what’s being said online.
I remember one anonymous blog in the UK, called ‘Civil Serf’, where the spy agencies were basically brought in to track down the anonymous writer, as whoever he / she / it was, they were making HM Government look really bad.
(As someone who used to work there, I can tell you it was still falling far short of the gory truth.)
Then, anonymous blogs started to catch on in the orthodox Jewish world too - and all these closet atheists started ‘coming out’, anonymously, online, as hating their religion and their communities. Inevitably, sooner or later their neighbors figured out who they were, and many of these bloggers ended up having to shut up, or to put a real name to their writing – and leaving their communities, marriages, kids and home as a result.
Was it worth it?
I’d love to ask them that.
Then, social media and free-for-all comments on internet forums became the name of the game – and this is where ‘Anonymous Psychos Online’ season really began in earnest. So many people who wouldn’t say boo to a goose in person started unleashing all their pent up anger, rage, frustration, jealousy and generally disgusting negative, personality disorder-ed character traits all over social media.
Twitter was a blue sea of expletives and insults; Facebook walls were defaced by personal attacks, slander, insults – and of course, the inevitable expletives.
Online forums were just an excuse for people to start bashing other people and cutting strangers down to size. And for a year or two, venturing online was like banging open the doors of the OK Corral: you never knew when someone was going to challenge you to a duel, or just shoot you straight through the heart and have done.
Lucky for me, I was offline for most of this really yucky period of time. I had internet addiction issues, so I decided to have no WiFi in the house, and to just go to the library to do my emailing and post up my blog posts.
I did that for 7 years, and I’m so grateful, because it’s become increasingly obvious to me that:
This crucial break from the internet is what kept me sane, as a blogger and writer.
yAs part of the crackdown on the internet, which has some massive cons, as well as a few massive pros, that overtly abusive behavior is now being tolerated far less online. Most of the news channels have removed their comments sections. Most internet forums have ceased to be, or have beefed up their rules and regulations. Most comments today are moderated before they can go up – something the technology couldn’t do so well, initially.
Of course, a lot of this is leading to choking political correctness too, so it’s a double-edged sword. But there is now much less of a laisser faire attitude to abusing other people online, or being perceived to be abusing other people online, which is where all the politically correct minefields and arguments over ‘fake news’ are now exploding.
Because many psychos are now using political correctness as the excuse they need to carry on abusing other people, ostensibly for not being politically correct enough, and not thinking exactly the way they do about things.
But let’s get back to the discussion of Anonymous Psychos Online, because that’s what I really want to talk about today.
In a nutshell, where five years ago it was ‘standard’ for many people to be anonymous online, today, it’s increasingly a sign that there’s something not quite right going on.
If a person can’t put their real name, and their real identity, and their real circumstances to their comments and articles, that has to beg the question why?
What have they got to hide?
If they’re just commenting on other people’s stuff in a critical, confrontational way, then the answer is obvious: they want to hide behind an anonymous persona, because they don’t want to take responsibility for all the poisonous, factually incorrect, insulting and mentally-ill stuff they are putting out there.
Anonymous commentators just want to keep blasting away at other people’ issues, and the more ‘anonymous’ they are, the less fallout they think they’ll have to deal with from people calling them out on their own stuff.
It’s the online equivalent of a hit-and run.
A couple of years back, I got pulled into commenting anonymously myself once or twice, and I felt so ucky afterwards that I promised myself that in future, if I couldn’t use my real name to say something, that was a clear sign that I shouldn’t be saying it.
And that’s what got me pondering about how emotionally unhealthy a person would have to be to want to stay totally anonymous.
Again, if you’re anonymously posting up sweet, encouraging comments to people, that’s probably a different category.
I’m talking about the ‘permanently anonymous’ people who have been around the block so many times, they’ve insulted so many people with their abrasive, insulting comments, they’ve built up such a long list of enemies, and such a reputation for being completely cuckoo, that if they post up anything with their real name on it, they know:
So far, we’ve just been talking about the problems inherent with anonymous comments.
But then, you have the bloggers and online writers themselves, which is where the question of anonymity becomes even thornier.
Personally, I believe if you can’t write something that is non-fiction (even when it’s just a comment!) with your real name, you shouldn’t be doing it. (Fiction is a whole other story, and there is no moral issue with a ‘fictional’ person writing fiction.)
There are some clear exceptions to this, like dissidents in countries where they could be tortured or killed for saying things the people in power don’t want to be said (or heard…) (and the way things are going, this could soon be spreading to France and the US, too.)
I also think it’s OK to have occasional posts put up by ‘anonymous’ writers, or writers using a pseudonym, when they are covering extremely personal or emotional subjects in a non-fictional setting.
But I tell you why I’m against permanent anonymity, even in these cases, and that’s because there is something about writing anonymously online that encourages people to devolve into opinionated, narrow-minded, abusive psychos.
It seems to me to be a form of disassociation, where the blogger, the writer. develops an ‘online persona’ that is often completely disconnected from the reality of who that person really is, and how they are actually living their life.
If someone is only posting up cake recipes, then fair enough, who they really are actually doesn’t matter. But when people are having opinions about real things, or trying to persuade you of a certain viewpoint, or sharing ‘information’ that may or may not be true, may or not may be manufactured and manipulated, may or not be reflecting an obvious bias or vested interest – then you really need to know where that person is actually coming from.
Especially if the subject is at all contentious, or the person is setting themselves up as some sort of ‘expert’ or advisor who wants other people to listen to them.
If someone is aspiring to be a spiritual mentor, guru, relationship advisor, or religious leader, then you for sure have to know 100% what is actually going on in that person’s own life, before you can make an informed choice about whether they are a good, healthy and balanced source of information, influence and advice.
If you knew someone was divorced, would you pick them for advice on holding a marriage together? If you knew someone was emotionally abusive to their friends and families, is that the person you’d turn to for advice on how to deal with other people? If you knew someone’s parenting approach meant that a few of their kids had cut them out of their life as adults, would you still approach them for tips on how to handle Junior?
If you knew a person wasn’t practicing what they regularly preached – and often doing the exact opposite – would you still be lapping up their opinions, or taking their advice at all seriously?
I know I wouldn’t.
But that’s what is happening all the time, with anonymous bloggers and writers who split their supposed ‘wisdom’ and knowledge off from the reality of their actual lives.
There’s always more to say, and no doubt I will return to this subject again at some point.
But in the meantime, I put this little chart together, which basically sums up the main point of this post:
The more ‘anonymous’ a person is online, the more dysfunctional they probably are, and the more abusive and / or damaging they will probably end up being, to other people.
So caveat emptor.
As life seems to be filling up with more and more petty, pointless, bureaucratic rules, and ‘politically correct’ policing of what you can and can’t say, and can and can’t think, I find myself compelled to break more and more of these pointless rules, whenever I can get away with it.
I know, it’s probably not so good, but I was pondering recently why I have a compulsion to cross the road when there’s a red man, dafka, that I never had so strongly in the past. And it came to me that it’s a form of civic protest: I’m protesting the fact that the bureaucrats and PC mob are trying so hard to control every move I make, and every thought I’m trying to think.
Still, it’s probably not a good thing.
I already got caught and let off for talking on my phone in the car (I don’t have a smartphone, just a very basic phone that I put on speaker, but happened to be holding in my hand.) It’s so strange to me, though, because I see people who have their massive smartphones mounted on their car dashboard, or even, in the middle of their steering wheels, and I can’t believe that they aren’t distracting the driver.
Yet massive, talking smartphones that play movies on the dashboard are considered ‘safe’ and ‘legal’, while small phones on speaker you have in your hand are considered ‘unsafe’ and ‘illegal’. I’m not sure why there is a double-standard like this. Either all phone use by drivers is unsafe, or all phone use is OK.
So anyway, it was a Shabbat day in Jerusalem, when the streets are usually pretty quiet and very few people abide by the red man unless they really have to, and I came to a small crossing that led on to a normally busy intersection, that had the red man.
The intersection was deserted, save for an elderly woman in a Fiat Punto, who happened to be waiting at my light. So I looked all around, and took my first step on to the crossing – just as the old woman got the greenlight to drive. I stepped back on to the payment – and she wound down her window and spent a whole minute berating me.
I could see on her face she’d been waiting for an opportunity to berate someone all morning.
“Why?! Why?! Why?!” she screamed at me. “Why are you making me run you over?!”
I mumbled a sorry, but she had no intention of being mollified, and only drove off when she realized the light was about to go red again.
I learnt a lot from that exchange.
The first thing I learned is that people really do only criticize in others what they have a problem with themselves. This old woman clearly also had negative character traits, a problem with waiting patiently, and a difficulty in giving way to other people.
Clear as clear can be.
The second thing I learned is that it wasn’t so much what she said that got my goat – because essentially, she was right, and I was in the wrong.
The problem was totally with how she was saying it.
I understood after the first 10 seconds that she was far more interested in putting me down and venting than she was in pointing out my error for the benefit of humanity.
Again, this is a common issue with people who maintain a façade of being perfect. These people lack empathy and compassion for other people’s flaws and failures because they live in the illusion that they themselves are perfect, ‘good people’, who never do anything wrong.
The third thing I learned is that God wants me to work on my own negative character traits, and particularly the trait of waiting patiently and giving way. Sometimes, it’s so hard to wait at a meaningless red light that takes forever to go green, especially when there are no cars in sight.
But while I chafe at being told what to do by bureaucrats, when God is giving me directions, I do my best to listen. It’s a practice in patience, a test of humility.
And if that’s what’s going on, then I will do my best to try to fight the urge to sprint across the road when the red man appears to slow me down.
These days, it seems like you need a bunch of letters after your name to have a right to an opinion on anything.
“You can’t eat carbs for breakfast! The latest research shows that eating carbs for breakfast will severely impact your digestive system and make you sluggish and slow the whole day.”
“But, I really like my Weetabix…”
“Who are you to have an opinion like that?! What’s your alma mater? What do you know, really? I’m telling you that carbs are bad for breakfast - and I’ve devoted the last 10 years of my life to researching this issue - and you’re still telling me that you enjoy wheat-based cereals first thing in the morning?! Why should I take you seriously? Who are you, to be arguing against the science?”
All the experts out there are pretty busy these days telling us what to eat for optimal gut health, and what gloopy stuff to smear on our skins to combat wrinkles, or zits, and how to raise our kids so they won’t turn into psychos.
The list goes on and on.
Uhoh. Here comes one now.
“Wait a minute, who gave you permission to write about all this emotional health stuff? Where’s your credentials? Where did you study? Who are you, anyway?!”
Hopefully, we’ll get to a much deeper answer to that question as this series of posts unfolds, but you should know that regardless of all the experts out there who are trying to convince you that you can’t so much as pick up a pair of slacks or buy a new toothbrush without their ‘expert’ advice and opinion, really there is only expert you should be listening to on a regular basis: yourself.
Not because you have a million shiny PhD diplomas hanging on your wall (although that’s nice if you do); and not because you’re a self-made millionaire, or a fashion icon, or a pillar of society, or because you happen to bake the best pecan pie this side of the Atlantic.
All that stuff is nice, sure, but the reason you are the real expert about your own life is because you got given that job to do, and every ability you need to carry it off properly. This book isn’t about teaching new truths or new wisdoms that you’ve never heard of before. It’s about revealing that truth deep inside of yourself that you actually already know and recognize to be your own.
Really, you know better than anyone else in the world what you should be doing with yourself, what’s good for you, what you should be aiming for and getting the heck away from. And you for sure know what to have for breakfast.
So this series of posts isn’t so much a journey of discovery as a journey of helping you to reclaim what is already yours, and to find what you already possess deep within.
In our superficial world, so many of the people who should know better - like fitness instructors, naturopaths, and other ‘alt-health experts’ - like to make a very big deal about healthy eating. On the one hand, they are absolutely right that the quality and quantity of the food we eat does profoundly affect our feelings of health and well-being.
MSG, for example, is known to strip the myelin sheaths from nerves in the brain, which can literally lead to brain damage. Also, if we aren’t absorbing enough B-vitamins (which is not the same thing as just eating enough B-vitamins), that can also leave us feeling very tired, depressed and overwhelmed.
So yes, eating healthy is definitely a good thing, and should be followed as much as possible without developing any fanatical food tendencies.
But here’s the thing: no part of the body is more responsive to emotional stress, and particularly trauma-induced emotional stress, than the stomach and the alimentary canal. That means that repressed emotions are nearly always at the bottom of eating issues, so ‘willpower’ by itself simply can’t fix the problem at its root.
I’ll set out a little of the science explaining what is going on physiologically in the body and why at the end of the post, but first, let’s take a look at some of the common ways this link between eating habits and C-PTSD can play out.
EMOTIONAL NEGLECT AND OVER-EATING
If someone grows up in a home with emotionally-absent parents, it’s very unlikely that any expression of strong, negative emotion (especially by the child) will be tolerated. This is usually because the parents themselves are disconnected from their own negative emotions, and find themselves being triggered into a very distressing fight-flight-freeze-fawn response when faced with their child’s strong emotions.
Their inner critic (aka the evil inclination) will also waste no time piling on a whole bunch of toxic shame and fear on the triggered parent, causing them to react in a very harsh way to their child’s display of negative emotion.
If the parent is a ‘fight’ type, they’ll lash out with angry words, fists, or both. If ‘flight’, they’ll literally run away from the kid, and remember something ‘urgent’ they have to do. If ‘freeze’, they’ll turn their music / movie up to full volume, or do whatever else they need to do to ‘drown out’ the problem like pouring a whisky or popping a pill. And if they’re ‘fawn’ types, they’ll nip next door to go and baby-sit for their poor, struggling neighbour instead of dealing with their own poor, struggling kid.
Point is, when a kid gets taught that feeling strong emotions, and especially strong negative emotions, is somehow dangerous, bad, ‘wrong’, or will unleash punishment upon them, they quickly learn to stop doing that.
There are many ways that strong negative feelings can be pushed down, or ‘repressed’, but two key habits are holding the breath, and trying to ‘self-soothe’ the negative feeling with food, instead. But because the feeling is being pushed down, instead of being acknowledged and aired-out, it can sometimes take an awful lot of food to try and keep it ‘under the surface’!
When this same ‘negative feeling’ is triggered in someone with C-PTSD as an adult, they will automatically reach for the cake / chocolate / carbs to continue trying to keep it ‘down’. It has nothing whatsoever to do with willpower, and everything to do with a triggered reaction to stress that causes a ‘negative feeling’ to emerge, that the person has learnt must be squashed at all costs.
Once the person with C-PTSD slowly learns how to acknowledge the negative feelings they are repressing, and learns safe ways of expressing those feelings in a way that won’t overwhelm them, the need for the food disappears by itself.
LOSS OF APPETITE AND FEAR
Another very common trauma-based reaction to eating occurs when a traumatised person loses their appetite. This is a physiological reaction to fear, and again, people with C-PTSD are often hair-triggered to over-react to perceived threats in their environment.
While someone who doesn’t have C-PTSD won’t be taken out by their boss’s bad mood, a traumatised person may well take it as a sign that the boss doesn’t like them, and that their job is on the line etc, with all the attendant fear and stress that will then trigger internally.
FOOD IS THE FIRST ATTEMPT TO ‘SELF-SOOTHE’
I’m giving just two of the more common ways C-PTSD can affect our eating habits here, but psychiatrist John Bradshaw really summed things up when he said: “Almost everyone who grows up in a dysfunctional family has an eating disorder.”
The main point of this post is that if you’re having serious issues with food, it’s almost certainly a sign that there were aspects of your childhood and your family dynamics that left you traumatised, and with some form of C-PTSD to deal with.
Food is the first way we were able to try to ‘self-soothe’ when we felt abandoned, bewildered, lost, hurt or terrified as a very small child. As adults, we need to try to unclog all the negative feelings that are hiding underneath our issues with food, and to teach ourselves how to ‘self-soothe’ in healthier ways.
(At the end of this series on C-PTSD, I will do a post, or even a couple of posts, discussing the practical ways to do this, BH.)
FOOD, STRESS AND THE VAGUS NERVE
Ok, so now we’re ready to understand a bit more WHY the digestive system can get so out of whack when we’ve been traumatised. The plain English version is that when we get stressed / fearful / threatened / attacked our bodies tense up as a result, and the first place that ‘tenses’ is the alimentary canal.
That’s why people can get butterflies in the stomach, stomach aches, or diarrhoea when they feel stressed / scared / anxious.
Biologically, there’s a long nerve in the body called the VAGUS NERVE that connects the brain, lungs, heart, stomach and intestines. This vagus nerve governs the body’s viscera, and it reacts very strongly to the cues we’re given from the external environment, such as faces, expressions, body language etc.
Researcher Stephen Porges first coined the term: ‘neuroception’ to describe the physiological process of evaluating the relative danger and safety we feel in our environment that primarily occurs in what’s called THE VENTRAL VAGAL COMPLEX, or VVC.
When we’re socially engaged with others in a positive, healthy way, the Ventral Vagal Complex sends messages to our heart and lungs to slow the heart rate and breathe more deeply, helping us to feel calm, peaceful, happy and relaxed.
But, if we experience some sort of ‘threat’ or danger, the first place that registers is on our faces and in our voices: we start sending out ‘help!’ signals to our environment, to see who is going to respond, step in, and help us to feel safe again.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
If no-one responds to our first cries for help – in whichever way they manifest themselves – then the body’s Fight or Flight response comes online next.
This is regulated by the Limbic System, and is under the jurisdiction of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The heart beats faster, we breathe more shallowly to innervate our body with oxygen, preparing us to run away from the problem or fight it off.
If this next stage doesn’t work to solve our problem and help us escape the ‘danger’ or threat we’ve identified, then the last ‘emergency’ physiological reaction (FREEZE) kicks in, which is governed by the body’s: DORSAL VAGAL COMPLEX. This system of nerves goes down below the diaphragm, to the stomach, kidneys and intestines.
It dramatically reduces the body’s metabolism, leading to a state of FREEZE, dissociation or collapse. To quote Bessel Van der Kolk, writing in The Body Keeps the Score:
“This system is most likely to engage when we are physically immobilized, as when we are pinned down by an attacker or when a child has no escape from a terrifying caregiver…Once this system takes over, other people and even we ourselves, cease to matter.”
THE BIOLOGY of C-PTSD
When someone is being traumatized, or when they are having a ‘flashback’ to an experience of being traumatized, as very commonly happens with adults with C-PTSD, this is how the body responds:
First, the frontal lobes of the brain shut down, which is what’s sometimes called ‘disengaged executive functioning’. At the same time, the body’s pituary gland starts sending out messages to the whole of the body that it has to be primed to defend itself, and protect itself at all costs.
These messages are sent to:
1. The facial muscles – that contort into a threatening, angry expression designed to ‘scare off’ attackers.
2. They thyroid gland.
3. To the heart, lung and larynx, priming these organs to start producing more oxygen (shallow breathing) ready for fight-or-flight.
4. To the stomach and GI tract – effectively stealing the energetic ‘juice’ required for non-essential digestion of food, causing the stomach processes to slow down or stop completely.
5. To the adrenal glands – triggering the release of stress hormones. All of this causes some severe disruption to the body’s healthy functioning, leading to any number of unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even unbearable physical sensations, feelings and issues.
The traumatized person can be so busy trying to ‘manage’ their physiological symptoms and pain – which have often been going on for years and years, so that they often don’t even register their ‘permanent stomachache’ etc consciously – that it leaves very little energy over for anything else, both physically and emotionally.
Again, to quote Bessel van der Kolk: “Attempts to maintain control over unbearable physiological reactions can result in a whole range of physical symptoms, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and other autoimmune diseases….
“Being able to move and do something to protect oneself is a critical factor in determining whether or not a horrible experience will leave long-lasting scars.”
And of course, small children are the least able to move or do something to protect themselves, which is why so many of the people who grow up in dysfunctional families develop C-PTSD, and why so many people with C-PTSD have eating disorders and other digestive and physical issues.
Before we continue with our discussion about C-PTSD, I just wanted to talk a little about the phenomenon of ‘projection’, which will help you understand one of the most puzzling aspects of dealing with emotionally disturbed individuals.
On some level of another, emotional disturbance occurs when a person isn’t acknowledging the truth of who they really are, how they really behave, and what they really think.
Now, this characterizes all of us from time to time. All of us have things we’re in denial about, or facets of our personalities that we’d rather not acknowledge, or things we do that we try to play down or minimize. That’s human nature.
The more emotionally and spiritually ‘transparent’ we are, the better our emotional and mental health usually is - and vice versa. By the time you get into the murky area of things like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Anti-social Behavior Disorder (AsBD), Disassociative Identity Disorder and schizophrenia, for example, that healthy ‘transparency’ has become so opaque it’s literally led to a breakdown in the affected person’s grasp of reality.
When a person can’t honestly accept and acknowledge facets of their own personalities, thoughts and behaviours, they start PROJECTING these things on to other people - which can be completely head-wrecking, until you understand what’s really happening
Here’s an example: a restaurant in Hawaii put up a notice saying no “Trump fascists” would be served on its premises. That restaurant owner is acting in precisely the ‘fascist’ way they’re accusing Trump supporters of doing - which is classic projection.
Multi-billionaire George Soros accusing Trump of being a ‘wannabe dictator’ is also a classic case of projection. Now, I’m not saying that projection and emotional disturbance only happens by liberals and left-wingers, because it’s a problem that crops up all over the place. But what I have noticed is that there an awful lot of ‘projection’ stories hitting the headlines in the wake of Trump’s win, as one emotionally-disturbed celeb after another is using Trump’s win to vent their own emotional issues.
Of course, projection also happens much closer to home, too. If you want to know what an emotionally-ill person really thinks about themselves, pay close attention to all the insults and put-downs they start shooting your way, especially those that are completely off the mark, seem completely out of context or are just plain bizarre.
Say, you’re a gourmet chef and someone starts ranting at you that you couldn’t even make a decent piece of toast. The chances of that statement being true about a gourmet chef are practically nil, so you know you’re dealing with a pure piece of projection. But the projection can be much harder to spot if you’re being accused of a problem you really do have yourself.
For example, if you’re being accused of not doing enough ‘soul-searching’ by someone with zero interest in spiritual issues, that’s obviously projection, but it could also still have a crumb of truth in it. Some effort will need to be made to figure out how much of that statement is pure projection, and how much is actually relevant.
Another point to make about projection is that whatever we’re accusing other of doing (at least directly, to their faces) is nearly always an indication of something we ourselves need to work on.
The more I’ve been trying to work through my own issues like arrogance and anger, for example, the less those traits are disturbing me when I see them in others, and the less likely I am to comment on them in a critical way.
God created the whole world as one big mirror, to show us what we ourselves need to work on and fix. Any trait or behavior you see in someone else that hits a nerve is something you yourself need to deal with, and work on. If it’s not agitating you, it’s not your problem in the same way, even if it’s still objectively nasty, bad and mean behavior.
You could write a whole book on this subject, but I’ll stop there.
In the meantime, here’s some rough rules of thumb for dealing with projection:
I personally now almost enjoy my abusive correspondence (almost….) as each fresh batch of emails gives me a clearer picture of their state of mind, which is sometimes even entertaining (almost…)
The last thing to say about projection is that God is still hiding messages for us inside all the projected statements from the emotionally-disturbed people we know, but it’s very rarely the ‘face value’ message of what we’re being told.
Over the last few years as I’ve been doing more and more research, in both Jewish and secular sources, about what’s causing the epidemic of emotional illness the world is currently engulfed in, I’ve discovered that ‘trauma’, that most over-used word, is at the heart of most people’s mental health problems.
While most people in 2017 probably have a rough idea that going through a disturbing, dangerous, or severely damaging experience can very well leave an emotional scar on a person’s psyche, most of us still have no idea what trauma actually is, what it actually does to people, or how it manifests itself in our everyday lives.
To try and fill that gap, I’ve decided to do a few posts on Spiritual Self-Help that explains all this stuff as simply as possible. I have a feeling that once more people start to get exposed to descriptions of trauma, and especially what’s called ‘Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’, or C-PTSD, in plain English, a bank-load of pennies may start dropping all over the place about what is actually causing so many of the problems in our own lives and families.
I’m deliberately going to keep these posts simple, easy to read, and brief.
The ideas themselves are big, and can require a lot of energy to digest. We’ll build each post, each definition up slowly, until hopefully you’ll have a whole picture of what trauma is, what it does, how it affects you, and what you need to do to start healing it and really enjoying your life again.
Today, let’s start with the first building block: What causes trauma?
Answer: The type of trauma that is severe enough to lead to emotional illnesses is caused by a life-threatening experience, or an ongoing chronic situation of mistreatment, neglect and abuse which causes the person (usually a child) to feel utterly helpless to defend themselves, and completely unprotected in what they perceive to be a dangerous world.
To put this in different words, trauma can be caused by:
I’d love your feedback on what would be helpful to you, so please drop me an email or leave me a comment with what could help you the most, on your own personal journey to better mental and emotional health.
The single biggest thing that’s prevents us from dealing with the painful circumstances in our lives, and growing from them, and healing from them, is a lack of acceptance.
This lack of acceptance impacts us in two main ways:
For as long as we keep buying in to the ideas that our parents are ‘perfect’, or that our family life was ‘wonderful’, or that we somehow ‘deserved’ all the slaps, insults, manipulation and emotional neglect that were doled out in our childhood, that keeps us away from accepting ourselves, our true selves, that has an alternative view of things.
Inside each of us, there’s a small child that still can’t understand what they did that was so wrong that they had to go through whatever they had to go through. Young children idolize their parents as a defence mechanism, but when the parent is the source of pain instead of the source of comfort, denial of what’s really going on, and what was really experienced, becomes the adult child’s biggest emotional obstacle to living a happy, healthy life.
This is for two reasons:
It’s also true that parents can’t always supply what’s required. Accepting the limitations of parents, many of whom are also still trapped in the ‘fantasy world’ view of what they actually experienced as children, is also a big part of acceptance.
But the one doesn’t cancel out the other: Kids deserve all those things, and parents are frequently unable to provide them. Accepting both parts of this equation leads to true inner peace and healing, (especially for us parents.)
There’s another, deeper, degree of acceptance too, and that’s accepting that whatever horrible things occurred, whatever bad experiences we had, it was all part of God’s plan for our life. When this spiritual acceptance is absent, people can get sucked into a vortex of bitterness and anger that can be very difficult to exit. Spiritual acceptance teaches that whatever is broken can be fixed. Whatever is lacking can be filled - but only if God is in the picture.
Without this spiritual acceptance, it can also be very difficult to accept ourselves, especially when we hit our own faults and flaws. When a person can’t accept and acknowledge their own flaws and issues, that’s when they expect others to ‘overlook’ the problem and act as though everything is fine.
And we’re back into that pattern of not accepting reality again, except this time we’re the one asking others to put our need to see ourselves as ‘perfect’ ahead of their own need to recognize the very flawed reality they're experiencing.
Acceptance of reality is the key to getting everything to change. And that’s only truly possible when God is in the picture.
But not the standard type of ‘Vietnam-war vet’ experience of PTSD, more something that’s now referred to as Complex PTSD.
The following quote comes from Ace Tray’s answer to this question on Quora:
What distinguishes complex PTSD from PTSD?
Unlike formally recognized PTSD diagnoses, C-PTSD doesn't stem from a singular event, but is instead the result of sustained abuse and powerlessness, from which the victim has little hope of escape.
"C-PTSD occurs when the hyper-vigilance of PTSD is accompanied by a breakdown in the ability to self-regulate," said Julian Ford, a psychology and law professor who heads the Center for Trauma Recovery at the University of Connecticut. "Intense emotions or emotional deadness will overwhelm the person's ability to cope. Mentally, they will suffer lapses in consciousness or in problem solving or judgment. And interpersonally, they will have extreme conflict in or withdraw from relationships."
The distinction between PTSD and C-PTSD was first introduced by Harvard Medical School professor Judith Herman in her 1992 book Trauma & Recovery. Her research found that the effects of chronic neglect, stress, and subjugation were creating an entire class of people—including survivors of sexual abuse and domestic abuse; persecuted racial, religious, and ethnic groups; and former hostages—whose trauma didn't fit the profile for PTSD diagnoses because it had been sustained over time.
PTSD manifests as a range of things, including depression, disassociation (‘spacing out’) depersonalisation (feeling like you don’t exist, you’re not real), panic attacks, social anxiety, anxiety generally, and a whole bunch of other things that DEFINITELY happen when you spend any amount of time around emotionally abusive people.
The following infographic hopefully sums it up a little more clearly:
But the short answer is absolutely, positively yes.
After the last post, where I pointed out how Big Pharma has completely corrupted modern psychiatry (particularly in the US) and misled millions of people into believing that their brains are ‘broken’, and that only being permanently on the pills can ‘fix’ them, someone tweeted me the following:
“It’s attitudes like yours that are causing the huge rise in suicides.”
Now, I found this tweet odd for a few reasons: Firstly, I wasn’t quite sure what ‘attitude’ my correspondent was referring to. Presumably, it was the ‘attitude’ that refused to buy into the lie that people are permanently ‘broken’ and irredeemably flawed if they have mental and emotional issues.
My attitude on that subject is that everyone can get past mental health issues, albeit with some huge effort, patience, self-love and prayer, and that the main thin causing emotional problems is a broken heart, not a broken brain. And broken hearts can mend, without drugs, once the person affected knows what’s really caused the problem.
The next thing I found strange about the tweet was the suggestion that saying drugs are bad could cause a huge rise in suicides. I haven’t checked the stats recently, but any rise in suicide rates is undoubtedly being mirrored by a similar rise in the number of people being prescribed anti-depressants.
This is one of the things that psychiatrists and drug companies have gone all out to fudge and obfuscate, but anti-depressants can double the risk of someone committing suicide, especially if they’re an adolescent.
Even just chemically-speaking, studies have shown that many anti-depressants cause people to have much stronger suicidal urges than otherwise, and to encourage them to take that final, drastic step towards turning their suicidal thoughts into suicidal actions.
With more people on anti-depressants than ever, if pills really do cure the problem of people’s depression - as the drug companies and the shrinks are lining up to tell us every 5 minutes - then surely the suicide rate should be going down, and not shooting through the roof?
But another reason my correspondent’s tweet was either extremely ignorant or extremely misleading is because the ‘broken brain’ model being peddled by the psychiatric drug dealers is causing so much suffering to so many people, many of whom are mislead into going on to these ‘wonder pills’ to ‘cure’ their problems, only to find over the medium-long-term that their problems have multiplied and worsened.
At this point, they go back for a different, or an additional pill, or they get their dose ‘upped’ - and this continues either until the side- effects become so unpleasant the patient just can’t hack it any more, or they turn into a drugged-up spiritual zombie who doesn’t feel depressed, because they don’t feel anything any more, including any joie de vivre, connection to others, love, appreciation or hope. I.e., all the things that make us feel glad to be alive.
Often at this stage, the patient is told that their depression has become ‘treatment resistant’ - ie, the drugs aren’t helping, and there is nothing more the shrinks can suggest. Clearly, the drugs aren’t helping because they aren’t addressing the true causes of depression in the first place, namely a broken heart, not a broken brain.
At this stage, the poor patient is stuck with worsening symptoms, an addiction to pills, an inability to cope with their worsening situation, and often a huge number of very unpleasant additional physical and mental health issues, that are politely called ‘side-affects’.
If you continued to buy into the ‘broken brain’ paradigm being peddled by the shrinks, this is the point where you’d fall into utter despair and seriously think about ending it all. Mental health issues like overwhelming anxieties and panic are so unpleasant, a person would do almost anything to put an end to their suffering.
But if you knew right from the beginning that your suffering was rooted in traumatic experiences, and / or growing up in an abusive and / or emotionally-neglectful environment - i.e. your heart was broken by the things you’d experienced, and your brain was fine - then that would change the whole picture.
You’d have some hope that things could change. You’d have some motivation to make that happen. You’d be empowered to dig deep, hang on to God, and to face your inner demons head on. In short, you’d have every reason to keep going, and to live.
Giving people hope that they aren’t permanently broken, and that healing is possible without pills, is not causing anyone to kill themselves, quite the opposite. By contrast, telling people they are defective, ‘broken-brained’ people who are permanently disabled and in need of medication for the rest of their lives is guaranteed to cause many, many people to lose the will to live.
So it’s not my attitude problem that’s causing the huge rise in suicides; it’s all those people who continue to peddle false theories of mental health that tells people they have chemical imbalances, broken brains and no hope of improving by themselves, without medication.
Recently, I came across the work of Dr Paul Ekman PHD, who spent many long years refining the art of reading people's true feelings and emotions via their facial expressions.
If you didn't grow up in an emotionally-dysfunctional family (and you should know that makes you a pretty rare person!) - then your ability to accurately read other people's true feelings from their facial expressions should be pretty good.
If you grew up in a dysfunctional family where your safety and / or well-being depended on being able to read people's true feelings accurately, then your ability to accurately read other people quite possibly borders on the supernatural. (More on this another time, but researchers have found that a lot of the people who were physically beaten up as children, if they didn't get completely emotionally 'wiped out', actually developed super-sensitive abilities to read other people, and to sense their true feelings.)
If you grew up in a dysfunctional family where you had to pretend 'everything is fine', and that 'everyone is happy', and that 'it's all good' - even when it definitely wasn't, then this post is really for you, because your ability to match emotion to facial expression got disconnected in that environment.
You felt like someone was angry, (correctly...) but they told you they weren't. You felt as though someone was unhappy / stressed/ scared / panicked etc - but they told you they weren't.
So now, you probably have no clue about how the people around you really feel, and even more problematic, you probably have very little clue about how you yourself feel. But help is at hand. Ekman has put together a course that can teach you how to accurately read other people's emotions, and particularly what he calls their 'microexpressions' in an hour.
Here's how his site describes the different types of expressions that appear on a human face:
TypesMacro: normal expressions usually last between ½-second and 4 seconds. They often repeat, and fit with what is said and the sound of the person’s voice.
Micro: These are very brief, usually lasting between 1/15 and 1/25 of a second. They often display a concealed emotion and are the result of suppression or repression.
False: A deliberately-made simulation of an emotion not being felt.
Masked: A false expression made to cover a macro expression.
For months, I've been looking for the word to try to accurately describe the expression on a certain person's face who really creeps me out and upsets me. One look at this page on Ekman's site solved the mystery for me: it's contempt!
It struck me that if more of us could figure this stuff out just by glancing at someone's face, it would make life a heck of a lot easier to know who and what we're dealing with. Ekman also has a number of books that you can buy on Amazon, and I highly recommend taking a look, because micro, false and masked expressions are all around us.
People's characters really are written all over their faces, just we don't always know what we're looking at.