One of the more curious things with the internet and all the stuff that comes with it, like i-Phones, Youtube, Facebook et al is that while the research I’m presenting here on spiritualselfhelp.org clearly suggests that the electromagnetic frequencies that this technology is operating on must have a direct, deleterious impact on the user’s mental and physical health, there is precious little official evidence that suggests that’s the case.
Or so it looks at first glance.
But if you start to dig a little deeper, and cast the net for research a little wider into countries like China, South Korea and Taiwan, you quickly find that there is actually a mountain of evidence that’s already accumulating around what’s now being termed ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’, or IAD for short.
Now, if you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll already know that I really don’t buy in to all the ‘disorders’ and mental illness labels the psychiatric establishment is so fond of pasting on to everyone.
The basis of all mental illness is a fight-flight-freeze-fawn stress response that’s got stuck, or stuck in permanent ‘on’ mode, typically due to some sort of chronic or massively acute trauma and / or neglect that was experienced in childhood.
THE BRAIN IS PLASTIC
The brain is plastic, and just as it was ‘trained’ by the traumatic experiences to start reacting in an unhelpful ‘mentally-ill’ way, it can be retrained via self-awareness, self-education, selc-compassion and a whole load of prayer to start operating again in a much healthier fashion.
But what the preliminary research from Internet Addiction Disorder appears to be showing is a couple of very disturbing things:
1) People with pre-existing issues like feelings of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem (aka ‘toxic shame’) and difficult interpersonal relationships are much more drawn to excessive internet use to boost their mood, escape from their problems, and ‘ease their pain’ - in exactly the same way you’d use any other substance or addictive past-time, like gambling, for example.
2) Being online all itself is also causing people to feel far more depressed / anxious / yucky / socially disordered / hostile, and is literally training the brain to re-act in ‘mentally ill’ ways that stimulate the more dysfunctional ‘primitive’ parts of the brain - and cut a person off from the types of activity that will strengthen their frontal lobes.
If you forgot why healthy, frequently-used frontal lobes are crucial for good mental health, here’s a quick infographic to remind you:
The long and short of it is, the more time a person spends online, the less time they have to devote to the sort of self-nurturing, self-developing activities described on the infographic, that will strengthen their frontal lobes and start to tame the more primitive parts of the brain responsible for an out-of-control stress response and addictions.
Even more strangely, is that while Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is getting so much attention amongst health professionals that a whole group of them were pushing to have it included in the latest DSM 5, the Western governments are surprisingly mute about the obvious and growing public health problem that is addiction to the internet, particularly amongst our teens.
Here’s some snippets of some of the latest scientific literature on Pubmed to show you that IAD is a real and growing problem, regardless of society’s attempts to completely ignore it.
The following is excerpted from:
Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice
Hilarie Cash,a,* Cosette D Rae,a Ann H Steel,a and Alexander Winklerb
THE OFFICIAL DEFINITION OF INTERNET ADDICTION DISORDER:
“[IAD] is accompanied by changes in mood, preoccupation with the Internet and digital media, the inability to control the amount of time spent interfacing with digital technology, the need for more time or a new game to achieve a desired mood, withdrawal symptoms when not engaged, and a continuation of the behavior despite family conflict, a diminishing social life and adverse work or academic consequences.”
HOW TO DIAGNOSE THE DISORDER:
“[T]he following five diagnostic criteria are required for a diagnosis of Internet addiction:
(1) Is preoccupied with the Internet (thinks about previous online activity or anticipate next online session);
(2) Needs to use the Internet with increased amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction;
(3) Has made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use;
(4) Is restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use;
(5) Has stayed online longer than originally intended.
Additionally, at least one of the following must also be present:
(6) Has jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet;
(7) Has lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet;
(8) Uses the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression) (emphasis mine).
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
There’s a crazy variation in official estimates, ranging from .3% to 38%.
I’m inclined to think that the 38% is much more realistic, for a number of reasons. Firstly, as I’ve been sharing with you here, this technology is profoundly affecting us at the physiological level, and can stimulate the mind and body - or relax it - in exactly the same sort of ways as chemical substances.
It’s addictive, mamash - and for people who want to make money, the best way of keeping their customers and punters queuing up and coming back for more is to make your offering addictive, physiologically (just ask the Columbian crack barons.)
The second reason I think the higher estimate is more realistic (and probably still not even really reflecting the true extent of the problem) is that you only have to look around your house, your family, your office, to see everyone is addicted to their devices.
This is not rocket science, but simple, every-day observation.
And the last reason I think the higher number is closer to the mark is because there’s a number of additional studies that suggest that is the case, some of which I’ll bring here:
SOME MORE RESEARCH ABOUT THE PREVELANCE OF IAD
“Internationally, up to 15.1% of intensive Internet use among adolescents is dysfunctional.”
It should be noted here that ‘dysfunctional’ use is classified as more than six hours of non-work related internet / gaming / online use a day. So any kid who is only spending 5 hours online every single day wouldn’t be classified as ‘dysfunctional’, in this study.
Effect of Gender and Physical Activity on Internet Addiction in Medical Students.
(The mind boggles as to how much internet you’d have to consume a day to qualify for an ‘extreme’ addiction…)
EVIDENCE THAT USING THE INTERNET IS SERIOUSLY AFFECTING OUR MOODS AND PHYSIOLOGY
Again, I’ve already been laying out the scientific basis for how electromagnetic fields can and do severely affect how the human mind and physiology reacts and behaves, affecting everything from hormones to stress levels and even, the amount of oxygen in the blood.
Western medicine is still a long way behind the curve of accepting something as out there that internet use (and its associated electromagnetic frequencies) could be stuffing up human health and giving people heart problems, headaches, and other physical symptoms of major subliminal stress and tension.
But here’s what some of the studies have to say between the links between internet use, and mental and emotional disorders:
“Poor self-rated health, unhappiness, and depression were significantly related with Internet addiction in male and female teens. Depressed girls had a much higher risk of internet addiction than boys who were experiencing similar feelings of depression.”
This last one is more than 12 years' old now. I can only imagine how 'bad' the picture would be today, when i-Phones are everywhere.
SUMMING THINGS UP
I could carry on writing this for another three years (as excessive research online is also another symptom of chronic internet addiction...), there’s just so much stuff out there making direct links between things like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, hostility, ADHD, self-harm and a whole bunch of other emotional issues and spending a lot of time watching the big (and small…) screen.
Remember, the baseline for ‘excessive use’ is fixed at anything over six hours a day - which makes the true scope of the problem much, much greater than anything that is being formally recognized or dealt with even by the people who are publicly talking about the so-called ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’, or IAD.
As a society, we have a huge problem on our hands. The more time we spend plugged in, tuned in, wired up, addicted to our screens, the more the hard-wiring of the brain and the body’s delicate physiological systems are being impacted, and messed-up.
If you look for the research to back this statement up, you’ll find it in reams.
But what you won’t find is any real solution to the problem, not least because most people are blissfully unaware of just how much internet use is directly impacting their physical and mental health.
So it falls to each of us, as individuals, to begin to turn this tanker around by turning off as much as possible, and actively looking for ways to scale back our unnecessary activities online.
It’s much easier said than done, as the internet is truly addictive, and breaking free of it is not an easy proposition. But it can be done! And BH, in the next post I’ll share some practical steps you can start to implement to minimize your time online as painlessly as possible.
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.
It's amazing how many people's lives are being ruined by the indiscriminate prescription of addictive medications. The story you're about to read is straight from the horse's mouth, and was written by a brave individual who hopes to save others the heartache and suffering she and her family endured, when her husband was prescribed benzos without any warning or advice from the doctors about how addictive and 'bad' they could be, long-term.
This is the story of how my husband went from being an extremely healthy, happy person (the sort who drinks spinach / flaxseed shakes for breakfast, who never even takes Tylenol, who is an athlete, extroverted and outgoing), to a different person, anxious and addicted to prescription pills.
One day, he got a phone call: “Due to "corporate restructuring", your department is being eliminated. We’re so sorry, but we'll send the details re. compensation, etc." It was as if the floor had suddenly vanished, leaving my husband lying flat on his back, wondering what had just happened.
Over the next few months, my husband and I went through six different stages, in dealing with the fall-out:
Stage 1: Disbelief.
"What do you mean, fired? You're upper management! You've been there 15 years!".
It felt like a game show or Candid Camera prank ... this couldn't be real.
Stage 2: Shock, insomnia. Not knowing what to do. Sitting on the couch, staring at nothing.
Instead of regrouping, thinking about updating the resume and networking, he could not process what happened. People were calling, stopping by, reaching out to help, but he would look at them, dazed, as if seeing them for the first time. He developed a tremor in his hand, and was unable to sleep more than 3 hours a night.
Stage 3: Anxiety, depression.
Lack of sleep began to have severe effects. We went to our family doctor for sleeping pills, trying a few before finding one that helped.
Even with better sleep, however, he was not the same. He felt so lost. I spent time online, and discovered that sudden job loss ranked as one of the top four life stresses (after death, divorce and serious illness).
Most people in this situation begin to recover from the shock after a few weeks of it "sinking in," but that did not happen. Instead, he began to slide into a depressed state. In over 20 years of marriage, I think the last time I can recall my husband crying was on 9/11. Now, it was becoming a near-daily occurrence.
Stage 4: ‘Professional’ help.
Our doctor recommended a psychiatrist. For the first visit, I went along, as my husband felt too anxious to drive. Out of desperation he agreed to begin taking pills for anxiety and depression. We toyed around with dosage, until finding what seemed to help.
Stage 5: Side effects.
We were completely unaware at the time of the addictive nature of the drugs (benzodiazepenes) that had been prescribed for my husband. We assumed the doctor would only prescribe what was safe.
However, my husband was on the meds for a few months, not short term. We were uninformed about how addictive it would be, and the side effects. He began getting terrible headaches every day, which he described as a clamp being squeezed around the front of his head. He was jittery and forgetful. He felt his heart beating very rapidly at times.
After four months of this, he decided he wanted off. The crying spells had greatly lessened, but the strong feeling of pressure in his head all day long was driving him crazy. He was at this point going on job interviews, yet feeling unable to concentrate or focus.
Stage 6: Talking to God
I suggested to my husband that he should maybe try talking to God. He is a logical, rational sort, so the idea of "talking to G-d" as one would speak openly with a dear friend, did not appeal to him at all
Still, I would read to him every day from a book called ‘The Garden of Emuna’, about how everything that happens to us, happens for a reason. Even when is seems to make no sense. Even if it causes suffering. Not only that, but it is all for our ultimate benefit. God knows what’s best for us, and we should not only accept it, but thank Him for it, since it is ultimately for our benefit.
That got my husband's attention:
"Are you suggesting that I actually thank God for being fired?" he asked, incredulous.
When I nodded, he continued. ..
"Okay. I'll try that. Thank you, God, for giving me this long unemployment. Thanks for taking away the job I loved, our main source of income. Thanks for giving me a psych doctor that is so expensive, we have to pay for it out of our savings. Thank you for the pills. Thanks for turning my life upside-down and causing me to feel the absolute worst I have ever felt. Thank you for the feeling that my skull is bring crushed by a giant clamp. Thank you for making me a total, good for nothing, pathetic loser who can't support his family. There. How's that? Did I get everything?"
Eventually, it occurred to my husband that he had nothing to lose by talking to God, so he started doing it every day, and even wrote out his own little script.
Aside from personal prayer, we realized that he must get off of the medications, whose side effects were becoming debilitating.
What I most want to convey to others who might be in this situation, is that certain meds are highly addictive, and the withdrawal symptoms can be brutal.
The horrible headaches my husband suffered for months when lowering doses to withdraw, were overwhelming. He’s an experienced marathon runner, and very in tune with his body. To feel like his brain was not under his control was disturbing. He has a high tolerance for pain and discomfort, but the crushing pressure in his head was unlike anything he'd ever felt.
I hope anyone who is prescribed a benzodiazapene drug will do their research, and be aware of the side effects. Know that they are highly addictive, and withdrawal can be very difficult.
Even though my husband was on a low dose, and followed a slow-tapered withdrawal, he had a hellish time. In retrospect, I wish we had taken a non-addictive sleeping pill, and known about the dangers of the drugs he was prescribed.
I cannot speak for everyone who is on these benzodiazepine drugs. Every situation is different. I will only will say, we would NEVER have gone that route, if we had known beforehand about the strong the side effects, and how terrible the withdrawal experience would be. I can understand why many people get stuck taking these pills for the rest of their lives, now that I see firsthand how hard it is to successfully stop taking them.
In the end, thank G-d, he was able to wean off of the medication, and return to his regular self. I should say a newer, improved version of himself - one with a heightened sense of gratitude for good health, and family. He has kept talking to God as part of his life. Has found a new job that, in hindsight, he likes better than the old one.
Though it was an extremely difficult journey that stretched the better part of a year, I am grateful to say he is out of the tunnel now, out of the darkness, and standing once again in the daylight. Looking back, we realize that God had a plan. We only needed to trust Him.
As sometimes happens, I’ve recently been having an epiphany about emotional abuse, and how bad it actually really is.
Emotional abuse (what’s sometimes also referred to as ‘psychological abuse’) takes many forms and is all too prevalent in modern society. As more and more governments have (rightly) outlawed corporal punishment, more and more abusive parents have resorted to psychological devastating tactics instead, to control and manipulate their children.
OK, they’re not actually beating them up with their fists any more, but the blows you can land with insults, mockery, threats and criticism can actually do even more deep and lasting damage, because you’re attacking someone’s soul, not their body.
My own ‘aha!’ moment came a few days’ back when I was pondering on why I’m finding it so upsetting that a distant relative has stopped returning my phone calls and emails. After a couple of years’ trying to figure out what I might have done to upset them, (and repeated attempts at apologizing for whatever it might have been) – I suddenly realized last week that the silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse.
We all do things wrong from time to time, me included. Emotionally healthy people can accept that, and they can explain to someone else why they were hurt, and what needs to happen for the problem to be resolved. Emotionally healthy people can also forgive others, and not hold grudges for years.
But when you’re not dealing with an emotionally-healthy person? Then, you can get tied up in knots of guilt and beating yourself up for making mistakes, and not being perfect, and not being able to always give other people what they want and expect from you – and the emotionally abusive person will encourage this behavior in a myriad ways.
Because they want you to feel bad, and inferior, and worthless and unforgivable, because it puts them in a permanent position of control and superiority.
Once I realized what’s actually going on with my emotionally abusive relative, it was like a huge weight dropped off my shoulders. I’m not bad! I’m not evil! I’m not to blame for the fact that they cut me out of their life without any explanation or chance to make amends for whatever it is I’m meant to have done to them!
Phew, what a relief!
Thank God they’re not talking to me!
So this week, I’m on a mission to explain what emotional abuse actually is, why it’s so prevalent, and why it’s so bad, and what you can do to start getting away from its pernicious effects in every area of your life.
In the next post, I’ve got an infographic treat for you on the subject, so keep your eyes peeled!
Our frontal lobes are the home of the human ability to empathize with, and feel compassion for, other people. But there’s a particular area of the frontal lobes, called ‘mirror neurons’ that are crucial for developing our ability to empathise, imitate, synchronise our behavior with others, and to communicate.
(All these things are malfunctioning, in some way, when someone gets diagnosed as having a personality disorder.)
Mirror Neurons were discovered in an experiment done in 1994 by a group of Italian scientists. (G. Rizzolatti and L. Craighero ‘The Mirror Neuron System’, Annual Review of Neuroscience 27 (2004).
Writing in The Body Keeps the Score, author Bessel Van Der Kolk explains that: “One writer compared mirror neurons to ‘neural WiFi’ – we pick up not only another person’s movements but their emotional state and intentions as well.”
When the people we’re mirroring are healthy, happy, upbeat etc, that’s great. When they’re not, the mirror neurons are the ones that pick up on their negativity and bad character traits like anger, depression and self-hatred etc.
How mirror neurons are connected to personality disorders
When people aren’t being ‘mirrored’ or truly seen by others, and treated as though their needs, concerns and desires don’t count for anything, one of two things typically happens: either their mirror neurons never really activate, leaving them with a chronic lack of empathy and compassion for others (because they can’t feel them, or pick up on how the people are genuinely feeling.)
AND / OR they are overwhelmed by other people’s negative emotional states, and find it very difficult to put in the necessary barriers and boundaries required to keep other people’s negative moods out of their own headspace.
The people in the second category often struggle greatly with difficult emotional states, without realizing that the emotions they are feeling aren’t actually they’re own – they are picking up someone else’s bad mood via their mirror neurons.
(In case you were wondering, YES, this is all directly linked to how people develop so-called ‘personality disorders’. The first group lack compassion and empathy for others, which are the hallmarks of things like Narcissistic Personality Disorder and ASPD; the second group are overwhelmed with other people's emotions, making them prime candidates for a Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis, or 'schizo' label.)
Social relationships can impact our mental health
Now, our body viscerally reacts to the voices and faces of the people we’re spending time with. Even subtle changes in someone’s tone of voice, body language, or facial expression can trigger-off some severe physiological reactions in us.
To put this another way, social relationships, or how people relate to us, can have a HUGE impact on our mental health, via the physiological reactions they trigger in us with even the subtlest shift in expression, tone or body language. Our body picks up immediately the physical cues we are being sent by others, so we can quickly ascertain at the ‘gut’ level if someone is comfortable, threatening, scared, angry, welcoming etc.
To quote Van Der Kolk again: “Our mirror neurons register their inner experience and our own bodies make internal adjustments to whatever we notice.”
Our conscious mind often focusses in on the actual words that are being said, but our bodies are picking up a whole bunch of clues at the subconscious level that tells us what’s really going on. So if you feel uncomfortable around a certain person, it’s not all in your mind. On some level, you’re registering that this person is suspicious, threatening, frightened, difficult, or ‘unhappy’ on some level, and you begin to mirror that unease back at them.
What happens when you’re mirroring a disturbed parent?
Mirror neurons are operational and start picking up external signals immediately after birth – researchers have found them active even in 6 hour old babies.
When parents and babies are in sync emotionally, they’re also in sync physically – and vice versa. Van der Kolk explains that: “Babies can’t regulate their own emotional states, much less the changes in heart rate, hormone levels, and nervous system activity that accompany emotions.”
So when the parent is synchronized with their baby, and mirroring back their need for reassurance, calming, feeling safe, the baby mimics the physiology and emotional reactions of their parent. When this is disrupted, the first place it shows up is in the baby’s physiology – leading to disturbed sleep, disturbed eating patterns, ‘colic’ and general crying and unease.
But when the baby is NOT being mirrored, or given attention in that calm, reassuring way? Then the baby is being conditioned to believe that nothing they can do will bring the help, attention or caring they need, regardless of what they do to try to change things (the infamous ‘sense of agency’).
These babies are effectively being conditioned to give up, when they hit obstacles, stress and challenges later on in life. (Again, this is directly linked with the ‘FREEZE’ response that causes feelings of clinical depression.)
A quick way to tell if your mirror neurons are functioning OK
When your mirror neurons are healthy and functioning, when someone makes direct eye contact, the pre-frontal cortex starts the assessment process of the person who is looking at you, and then your mirror neurons kick in to assess what sort of interaction this person probably presents to you – friendly or aggressive, suspicious or reassuring, loving or angry etc.
(Mirror neurons pick up the intentions of other people, and can act as a very accurate ‘early warning system’ when we don’t allow our social programming, and fears about being ‘rude’, turn them off).
When people have severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), brain scanning experiments showed that their prefrontal cortexes don’t activate when someone looks directly at them – which is the part of the brain responsible for social engagement.
Instead, people with PTSD / off-line mirror neurons will look away instead, and go straight into an emotional ‘fight or flight’ response to being seen. This is often why, to quote Van Der Kolk for the last time: “Many traumatized people feel chronically out of sync with the people around them’.
It’s very hard to feel like you fit in, and to overcome your innate feelings of loneliness and isolation when even meeting someone’s gaze can potentially throw you into a ‘fight-flight-freeze’ response.
This is also a big part of why so many people today feel socially anxious, and I hope to tell you more about this when I return to this topic again, in future posts.
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