A few years’ ago, God did me a very big favor. Every time I was around someone with a very complicated inner landscape, my eyes would go funny.
The first few times it happened, I freaked out and started panicking that I’d developed some horrible disease that was going to leave my partially sighted, God-forbid, or worse. But then, after this had been going on for a few months, and after I’d been talking to God about it a lot, I suddenly got the insight that my eyes would only go funny around particular people, or in particular circumstances.
One of those people was my husband, so figuring out what was going on become a big imperative.
After many more months of pondering it, praying on it, thinking about it, I managed to narrow down ‘funny eye syndrome’ a bit more, and to realize that it would happen whenever I was around people who were suppressing strong, negative emotions.
By suppressing, I don’t mean that they knew what they were feeling, consciously, and were gritting their teeth, or keeping a stiff upper lip, although clearly that also would sometimes occur.
I mean that these negative emotions were so buried, so hidden - even from the person themselves! - that they had absolutely no idea what sort of tremendously powerful emotional vibes they were actually sending out into the atmosphere.
That was being soaked up by yours truly and making my eyes go funny.
Releasing the pressure
Over time, I figured out that the single best way to cure my funny eyes was by helping the person I was talking with to really acknowledge their deeper, nearly always extremely negative, true feelings.
This is so much easier said than done, as most people who make my eyes go funny are suffering from something called alexithymia, or an inability to really describe or get a handle on their feelings. This usually happens because a kid isn’t really ‘seen’ in their childhood by an emotionally-absent parent.
So when they get upset, or scared, or anxious, or concerned, there is no caring adult around to notice what’s going on with them, and to give them the word, the label, they need to shrink their huge feeling down into language, and make it manageable.
So then, these individuals grow up, and a fuzzy sense of frustration (that they would never think to label ‘anger’) is really the only feeling that can or will admit to experiencing.
But if you could rip the scab off that ‘frustration’, then a whole bunch of seething, immature, enormous negative emotions would come bubbling out. If that sounds like a scary prospect, you are now starting to understand why so many people who find it hard to relate to their negative emotions are so scared of anyone getting anywhere near close enough to prise off the ‘frustration’ lid.
Because a volcano is lurking underneath.
Sadly for me, or luckily for me, depending on how you look at it, pretending that nothing was really happening underneath got very, very hard when my eyes would suddenly go completely weird mid-conversation.
Someone would be telling me what they had for breakfast, or about their upcoming trip to the US to visit family, or about their kid’s new school, or they’re new job - and whammo, my eyes would de-focus and I’d be left squinting around, completely perplexed as to what was going on and thinking big thoughts about serious vitamin deficiencies.
Until I figured this out.
Which is when I realized that God had actually given me a secret back route into instantly figuring where the emotional body was buried, so to speak. Because a person can swear until they’re blue in the face that they’ve made their peace with so-and-so, or don’t care about such-and-such, or completely past whatever it is - but if my eyes have gone funny, I know they are lying.
Especially to themselves.
This is useful with husbands, but not so useful with everyone else
Now, with husbands this is actually a pretty wonderful, helpful thing, as thanks to the funny eyes, we’ve got to the bottom of so many issues that we probably never would have, otherwise.
But with other people? Well, it’s made things pretty complicated. And it’s a big part of the reason I got so anti-social for a while, because for the life of me I couldn’t work out how I was meant to be reacting when someone would be telling me about their wonderful family celebration, or how much they really wanted to just settle down with someone (when the exact opposite was true) while my ‘funny eyes’ would erupt off the Richter scale.
If a person isn’t telling themselves the truth about a particular situation, woe betide the person who is dumb enough to try to step in and deliver the message the other person is trying so hard to ignore and avoid.
I learnt the hard way that you can’t fix people with ‘the truth’, and if you try, you are only going to get your head completely blown off. And you probably deserve it.
So, for a long stretch of time it’s been easier to keep things superficial with most people for most of the time, because in 2018, so many people are dealing with huge negative emotions that they’re repressing, without even realizing what’s going on.
Why am I sharing this with you?
Because I have the feeling that the more you start to get in touch with your own real self, and the more you try to work through your own enormous, deeply-buried negative feelings, the more you’ll also start to notice how certain people, certain conversations, set you off, too.
Maybe, your eyes won’t go funny, but you might find your breathing goes a bit weird, or that your heart starts beating too fast, or you suddenly feel horribly hot and suffocated, or weak and faint, or your hands suddenly go ice-cold.
Pay attention to those clues that God is sending you, especially if they’re popping up around a spouse or a kid.
Because those people, you probably can help, if you take a deep breath and prepare yourself mentally to face down an internal volcano of huge, suppressed feelings.
But everyone else, you probably can’t.
So the best bet is then just to smile and nod politely, and quickly change the subject.
The short answer is ‘yes’ - but only if you really get to grips with what is actually causing it, and understand what you have to do to overcome it.
There are many different types of psychological trauma that all of us experience all the time. If someone treats us cruelly, embarrasses us in public, steals from us, hurts us (physically, emotionally, financially, psychologically…) - all of these things can cause a psychological trauma to the person that’s experiencing them.
The intensity of that trauma will depend on the following main factors:
So, assuming the worst case scenarios across all categories - it was a repeated, deep hurt that was inflicted by someone very close to you, and it happened at a very inauspicious age in relation to the developing brain - HOW THE HECK DO YOU GET OVER IT?!?!?
The first thing to say is that the brain is plastic, and just as it was ‘trained’ or conditioned or wired to react in a traumatised fashion, it can be re-trained, re-conditioned and re-wired to start to act in a more helpful fashion.
Self-education is a very important part of this process, and I highly recommend the following books:
Pete Walker’s: Complex PTSD - from surviving to thriving - is a great, easy to read book that really sets things out very clearly, and gives a wealth of concrete advice and practical tips for HOW to start retraining your brain.
You can see his website here:
Pete Walker, M.A. Psychotherapy
As a starting point, take a look at his 13 steps for managing flashbacks (which I ‘riffed’ on to do the following infographic:)
Another excellent book to read, although some people find it a little ‘scholarly’, is Bessel Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score.
This article is a good introduction to the book’s main approach:
The lifelong cost of burying our traumatic experiences
The key thing to understand is that trauma changes the physiological processes in the brain, and causes people to become oversensitised, jumpy, ‘stressed out’, overwhelmed etc.
Trauma is often ‘stuck’ in the body, and has to be viscerally released, not just talked about endlessly for years in therapy.
I’ve pulled together a whole bunch of suggestions that tackle psychological trauma across all three levels of body, mind and soul on my website, and you can see that here:
c-ptsd 101: I've got c-ptsd! now what do i do to get rid of it?
But the short answer is that it CAN be overcome, once you know what actually caused it, how it’s really affecting you, and what types of things you really need to do to overcome it.
Finally, we’ve arrived at the core post of this whole journey: how to properly acknowledge, tackle and ultimately overcome C-PTSD.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that the spiritual self-help approach to mental and physical health issues always need to tackle the problem across the three levels of:
Most of the posts I’ve written about C-PTSD have been focussing on the mind / emotions level, but let’s see if we can now pull everything together to give a clear picture of how you can tackle C-PTSD,
and with God’s help, eventually overcome it.
TIPS TO TACKLE C-PTSD AT THE BODY LEVEL
The key thing to remember here is that traumatised people are physically very stressed and tense people.
The more primitive parts of their brain is continually sending them messages that the world is a scary, threatening, dangerous place, which means:
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD BODY:
NOTE: If someone experienced any form of physical abuse, then even touch can be a very triggering event for them. In these situations, ‘pet therapy’, or having a safe bond with a dog, horse, or other ‘loving’ animal can be an important first step to desensitising the C-PTSD body to physical touch.
(Click the blue for more details and / or information for how to do each of these things):
Other things to try include:
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD MIND / EMOTIONS
We’ve covered this a great deal over the last few posts, but let’s pull it all together now.
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD SOUL
But that’s not all! Taking the time to centre and ground yourself every day, and to talk to God about everything that’s going on in your life also strengthens the functioning of your frontal lobes, which acts like the ‘brake’ on your more primitive impulses and feelings.
The stronger your frontal lobes get, the harder it is for your primitive brain to ‘hijack’ you and send you spinning off into an emotional flashback. So the more you talk to God, the safer you’ll feel, the more ‘in control’ of yourself you’ll feel, and the easier you’ll find it to ride out and overcome the five C-PTSD reactions listed in the previous section.
To learn how to talk to God, download your free guide HERE, or buy the How, What and Why of Talking to God HERE.
Before we return to our discussion about the more standard aspects of C-PTSD - and especially, what can you actually really DO, in real time, to start dealing with it and ameliorating it, I just wanted to spend one more post looking at inherited trauma, and encouraging you to think about whether you're really just dealing with someone else's problem, without even knowing it.
The following list of questions comes from Mark Wolynn's site, HERE.
Take a look down the list, and if you start to realise that you're answering 'yes' to quite a few questions (or even just a few 'biggies...) then explore the option that you may well have some inherited trauma to work through and deal with.
If that's the case, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Wolynn's book: It didn't start with you, and work through his exercises.
If you want to find the answers to what may be slowing you down or holding you back in life, God will certainly show them to you if you even just take the tiniest step towards finding the truth.
Three Generations of Family History
Below are some family history questions to consider before we work together. You don’t need to write anything down or send anything in advance. You may need to do a little research, however, by asking your parents or other family members. Don’t worry if there are answers you can’t get. What you already know will be enough.
The short answer is that TRAUMA CAN BE INHERITED.
There's two ways this can work. Way one is actually now the basis of a whole scientific field in and of itself known as epigenetics.
(Click the blue to go through to a simple explanation of what epigenetics is, in more detail.)
For the purposes of this blog, we can say this: only 2% of the information contained in our DNA is 'fixed'. The other 98% is changeable, and considerably affected by outside circumstances, especially traumatic or difficult circumstances that we - or close family members - experienced that wasn't processed, and got 'embedded' in the body somehow.
To give one example of this:
Say someone has a relative who went through the Holocaust. It's such an unspeakable tragedy, the person could never really access it or work it through. But their whole life can now be lived as a 'response' to what they experienced, i.e., they'll hoard food even if they're wealthy, they have a tremendous fear of bad things happening to people, they trust no-one, they are hyper-vigilant and always on guard for things to turn 'bad' or dangerous, etc.
These behaviours all trigger the stress response we've been discussing over the last few points, and very quickly, that person's physiology is 'hardwired' to react to the world as a scary, dangerous, horrible, traumatic place.
They then hand down these physiological 'reactions' to their descendants, who never went through the Holocaust but live their lives as though they did.
There's a great book called: "It didn't start with you: How inherited trauma can shape our lives and how to break the cycle" by Mark Wolynn that describes this phenomenon very nicely.
Here's the bumpf from the back of his book, which sums up what we're discussing here:
It Didn’t Start With You shows how the traumas of our parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents can live in our unexplained depression, anxiety, fears, phobias, obsessive thoughts and physical symptoms—what scientists are now calling “secondary PTSD.”
Documenting the latest epigenetic research—how traumatic memories are transmitted through chemical changes in DNA—and the latest advances in neuroscience and the science of language, It Didn’t Start With You is an accessible and pragmatic guide to breaking inherited family patterns.
WHAT IS INHERITED FAMILY TRAUMA?
Simply put, many of us relive the tragedies from previous generations and rarely make the link.
Examples from the book include:
It didn't start with you - blog
THE SOUL DIMENSION TO C-PTSD
So, the physical mechanism of epigenetics - where the expression of our genes is changed by our circumstances and inherited trauma - is one way you can inherit C-PTSD. But the other way is 100% spiritual, and we'll talk about that in the next post.
That's what someone asked me on Quora, and here's how I responded:
The truth is that both depression and derealization are actually symptoms of being traumatized.
Here's what's going on: when people experience some sort of acutely stressful or threatening situation (like a car crash, terrorist attack or mugging, for example), OR, when they experience some sort of chronic, ongoing stressful or threatening situation (like being around emotionally abusive people, for example) – they often develop what’s called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short.
When the fear of being severely hurt / abused / neglected / is chronic and ongoing (as opposed to a dramatic ‘one-off’ event), then the person is said to have developed something called ‘Complex PTSD’, or C-PTSD, for short.
One of the very common symptoms associated with a PTSD-type response is that the traumatized person starts to feel disconnected from the world around them, as though either it’s not real, or that they aren’t real – that’s the derealization that you’re describing.
The ‘Mohawk’ of Self-Awareness
Physiologically, this is happening because the part of the brain that’s most involved in the body awareness is literally taken off-line by severely traumatic experiences. In his excellent book ‘The Body Keeps the Score’, Bessel Van Der Kolk describes this part of the brain as the ‘mohawk of self-awareness.’
If you take a look at the diagram above, you’ll see the five parts of the brain that are responsible for registering sensations coming in from the outside, and for effectively feeling ‘real’. To quote Van Der Kolk, these five regions are:
“The posterior cingulate…gives us a physical sense of where we are…the insula…relays messages from the viscera to the emotional centres; the parietal lobes which integrate sensory information; and the anterior cingulate, which coordinates emotions and thinking.”
When they did brain-scanning experiments with traumatized people, they found that most of these areas of the brain were completely off-line. The only part that was functioning in any small way was the posterior cingulate, which literally stops you from walking into walls, etc. (BTW, this is also why traumatized people are routinely clumsy and physically awkward.)
So to recap, the parts of the brain that are responsible for sensing the world, and for helping the person orient themselves in their surroundings etc, is usually almost completely shut down traumatized people
Again, this happens to people who have PTSD, and C-PTSD, and most of the people with C-PTSD usually got that way because they experienced chronic abuse and neglect at some point in their lives, very often when they were children.
The Connection to Depression
So now, how is all this connected to depression?
First of all, let’s explain what’s going on from a physiological stand-point.
When people are traumatized and have some sort of PTSD / C-PTSD, that can lead to feelings of derealization (as described above).
When someone is feeling permanently traumatized / shocked / stressed-out at the physiological level, that means that their body’s fight-flight-freeze mechanism is effectively jammed in ‘shock’ mode.
Some traumatized people will react with ‘fight’ to external stimuli that are triggering them – i.e. always irritable, angry, on the defensive, aggressive, in your face.
Others will react with ‘flight’ – i.e. escapism, running away from difficult situations and relationships, tuning-out mentally etc.
Then, there’s the most problematic state of all, which is ‘freeze’. Freeze is what happens when neither fight or flight worked to solve the problem, and the body sends the mind the signal to shut-down and go into a sort of mental ‘stand-by’ mode, where only the most basic systems continue to operate, and the person often spaces-out or disassociates from what the very difficult thing they are experiencing.
‘Freeze’ is effectively clinical depression.
Just to bring this point home, recent research was done that showed that so-called ‘silent’ forms of child abuse like emotional abuse and severe neglect cause depression.
How do you solve the problem?
Anything you do to solve the trauma will positively affect both the derealization and the depression, which are both effectively symptoms of the PTSD / C-PTSD.
Trauma is causing both the depression and the derealization, and once you take care of that at its root, these symptoms – and any others associated with the trauma – will reduce and disappear over time.
If you've been following this website for a while, then you'll already know that there's a growing consensus among people who don't have vested interests in pushing the 'chemical imbalance' theory of mental illness that trauma is the MAIN underlying reason for pretty much any mental illness you care to mention.
Although the vested interests are still fighting to keep this information under wraps, more and more research is building up to prove the point, and you can find a lot of it in Bessel van Der Kolk's excellent book: The body keeps the score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma.
In that book, Van Der Kolk (who is a psychiatrist specialising in trauma) explains:
“I made a review of all the patients I had treated. Almost all had in some way been trapped or immobilized, unable to take action to stave off the inevitable. Their fight / flight response had been thwarted, and the result was either extreme agitation or collapse.”
In this post, I want to share some of 'headline' findings, so you can start to see for yourself how traumatic experiences cause mental health problems, and how healing the physiological response to trauma is the key to achieving good mental health.
Ready? Here we go!
STRESS HORMONES AND PTSD
A group of researchers including Steve Southwick and John Krystal and Yale, Arieh Shalev at Hadassah, Frank Putnam at NIMH, and Roger Pitman at Harvard found that traumatized people keep on secreting large amounts of stress hormones long after the actual danger has passed.
Meanwhile, researcher Rachel Yehuda at Mount Sinai found that people with PTSD have low levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol triggers the ‘all clear’ message that the danger has passed, and the stress response can be called off by the body. This message doesn’t get sent in people with PTSD.
When people have been traumatized, and have PTSD, it means that their fight / flight / freeze response is permanently switched on, and their stress hormones (particularly adrenaline) spike higher than normal to perceived threats, and either don’t return to normal baseline levels at all, or take a very long time to reduce back down to normal. This excess of stress hormones swirling around their bodies causes feelings of agitation and panic, and can lead to any number of mental and physical health issues, over the longer term, which usually form the basis of psychosis.
ADDICTED TO EXCITEMENT
For example, many traumatized people seek out experiences that non-traumatised people would find repellent, bizarre or unpleasant. PTSD people often complain about feeling empty or bored when their lives aren’t full of stress, danger or conflict, so they frequently engage in risk-taking and 'crazy' types of behaviour to fill that hole.
THE ROLE OF THE AMYGDALA
The amygdala (two almond-shaped clusters of cells on either side of the brain) determines whether something is a threat or not, but in a very crude at-a-glance way.
Van Der Kolk did a brain-scanning experiment with volunteers who had experienced trauma, to see which parts of the brain were aroused or shut down by traumatic experiences. Intense emotions activate the limbic system, and particularly the part of the limbic system known as the amygdala.
The amygdala warns of pending danger or threat, and activates the body’s stress response, or fight-or-flight response. Van Der Kolk’s study clearly showed that when traumatized people are presented with triggering images, sounds or thoughts related to their traumatic experiences, it sparks the amygdala off again – even if it’s years or decades after the event.
The amygdala acts as a ‘fear centre’ in the brain. When it’s activated, that sets off a progression of cascading stress hormones and nerve impulses that increases blood pressure, hastens the beating of the heart, and ups oxygen intake (the sympathetic nervous system is associated with the ‘in’ breath), ready for fight and flight.
Even when a person’s body and emotional brain register a threat, some people are so traumatized they simply go into denial, where the conscious mind goes on as though nothing has happened.
But the stress hormones still cascade through their bodies, the stress response is still primed by the emotional brain – just they don’t respond to it all, in any conscious way. Again, this is often a prime cause of physical and mental illnesses.
To quote Van Der Kolk again:
“Medications, drugs and alcohol can also temporarily dull or obliterate unbearable sensations and feelings. But the body continues to keep the score.”
Broca’s area is one of the speech centres of the brain (located in the left frontal lobe). When it isn’t functioning properly, or the blood supply is decreased or cut off to that area, you can’t express your thoughts and feelings as words.
In Van Der Kolk’s brain scanning experiments, the Broca area went ‘offline’ every time a trauma victim was experiencing a flashback. In his words:
“All trauma is preverbal.”
One of the defining hallmarks of trauma is that what you experienced can’t really be communicated to others, even many years’ after the event. While the body is thrown back into the physical aspects of the traumatic event or memory – the fear, rage and helplessness of being caught up in ‘inescapable shock’ – and you have an overwhelming urge to run away or punch someone, you still can’t describe why.
Again, this situation can easily cause people to feel like - and even act like - they're literally going mad.
LEFT BRAIN VS RIGHT BRAIN
The left brain is logical and rational – it remembers facts, statistics, timelines, other ‘organisational’ details. The right brain remembers sounds, physical sensations, smells and emotions. To quote Van Der Kolk:
“Deactivation of the left hemisphere has a direct impact on the capacity to organize experience into logical sequences, and translate shifting feelings and perceptions into words…Without sequencing, we can’t identify cause and effect, grasp the long-term effects of our actions, or create coherent plans for the future.”
Again, this behaviour is clearly underneath a whole bunch of serious mental issues, ranging from depression and anxiety, through to personality disorders like Narcissism, BPD and ASPD, right up to things like DID, and the more severe mental disorders.
When old trauma is triggered in the present, the right brain reacts as though the trauma is happening again RIGHT NOW! As the left brain is usually shut down or not working very well (as occurred in the original traumatic state) the traumatized person doesn’t register that they are reacting to something from the past. They feel angry, petrified, frozen, incandescent or ashamed – but they have no idea why. Which is when they start to look for scapegoats in the present – people and situations - to blame for how they’re feeling.
Trauma seriously interferes with self-awareness, because the right and left brains stop working together.
Again, this has a number of huge implications for a person's mental state and healthy mental and emotional functioning.
TO SUM UP:
There are a number of gentle, effective and holistic approaches that are being developed to tackle trauma, which include:
You can find some easy, self-administered techniques for calming down fight or flight by clicking here:
energy exercises to defuse the 'fight or flight' response
Lastly, the infographic at the top of the post shows how the 3 main parts of the brain work together, and how the rational brain (number 3 in the diagram) is responsible for most of our 'executive functioning and thinking'.
As mentioned above, when a person experiences severe trauma, their rational brain goes 'offline' - and that's probably what's causing the symptoms of psychosis / mental illness.
Remove the traumatic response, and the rational brain will 'reconnect' to the rest of the system, and the person will start to feel a whole lot happier and in control.
That, in a nutshell, is how you really cure mental illnesses of all stripes. And when this information starts to really get around a bit more, then it won't be much longer until the drug companies and the psychiatrists go out of business.