The founder of chassidut, the Baal Shem Tov, taught that the whole world is a mirror.
It sounds like a very simple concept, but if a person can actually internalize this idea, it’s the key to real inner transformation.
The basic idea is this: Like attracts like.
If I myself am full of jealousy, hatred, anger, hypocrisy, arrogance and self-righteousness – just to list the things I’m currently working on myself – then I’m going to attract lots of that type of stuff into my own life, and it’s going to really annoy me.
Because God knows that we all have a blind spot when it comes to figuring out our own bad behavior and nasty character traits. We might be the most jealous person in the world, and still never realise just how much bad stuff we’re wishing on other people, because we’re secretly coveting what they have, or all their success.
Ditto, for anger and hate. While it’s usually much harder to hide things a really bad temper, and volcanic outbursts of rage, we’ll still make every effort to try to dress these bad character traits up as ‘justified’ in some way, and even ‘holy’.
And the same thing goes for all the other negative character traits that exist in the world. We’ll either ignore that we have them, justify them as being ‘good’, or make a bunch of other excuses for why our bad behavior and yucky traits really aren’t so bad, or so yucky, and why everything that’s happening in the world is really
just everyone else’s fault.
This is human nature.
So what does God do, to help us really figure out what we need to work on and change? He sends a whole bunch of difficult situations and ucky people into our lives, to give us a clue as to what we ourselves need to work on.
Whatever we’re noticing in others, that we can’t help but take ‘personally’ and get very upset about, on some level, we have the same problem.
There are no exceptions to this rule.
But then, people come along and they say: “I had awful, abusive parents. How can you say that the mirror principle applies to me?! I was 100% the victim, I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I was just a child!”
And honestly, there is a lot of truth to this argument. The small souls in our care are extremely easy to damage and hurt and twist out of shape psychologically, that’s part of why every parent has such a big responsibility to be working on acknowledging and then working on overcoming our own bad character traits with every fibre of our being.
But let’s explore what tends to happens to that poor, abused kid when they grow up, and they are no longer totally helpless and powerless.
The first thing to acknowledge is that if we ourselves were emotionally neglected, or flat-out abused in childhood, we have a huge wall to climb, in order to not repeat and pass on the same abusive behaviors to our children.
And this is where the mirror principal really starts to come into play, because people can so easily get stuck in a perception of themselves as the permanent ‘victim’ who is only ever sinned against, and who never does anything bad to anyone themselves.
While this mindset was probably true in childhood, it’s certainly no longer true when the person becomes an adult, and it’s definitely not true when that adult become a parent themselves.
But when a person consistently views themselves through the prism of being a ‘permanent victim’, they will never really acknowledge their own character flaws and problematic behavior.
And that’s why all the abusive people out there tend to believe that they are totally justified in their abuse of other people, including their own innocent children, because they are still seeing themselves as blameless victims.
Again, it’s completely understandable how this mindset comes about. But even so, God still wants us to get a grip on what’s really going on, and fix things, so we don’t pass the problem down to the next generation.
So now, let’s go back to the victimized kid who has now grown up.
Probably, she really doesn’t like herself very much. Probably, she has huge issues with toxic shame, which will kick in and overwhelm her every time she thinks she might have done something wrong. Probably, her fight / flight / freeze / fawn stress response will be permanently on high alert, and very easy to activate.
If someone or something triggers her into ‘fight’ – she’ll come out swinging and raging and hating.
If she gets triggered into ‘flight’ – she’ll run away into work, or doing kindnesses for all the neighbors, spending all her time in Facebook, or she’ll literally go AWOL and file for divorce.
If she gets triggered into ‘freeze’ – then that’s when depression and escapism come into the picture, whatever will close the world down around her, and let her hibernate inside her own head.
And if she gets triggered into ‘fawn’, then that’s when she’ll completely step outside of herself, and totally cut herself off from her true thoughts and feelings and emotions to try to give the other person what she thinks they want, so that they’ll leave her alone.
Let me ask you something:
What do you think it’s like, growing up with a person like this for a mother?
What is the child of this person experiencing?
And here is where we get into the real meat and potatoes of this post.
If that parent doesn’t like herself, then she’s also not going to like whatever she sees in the kid that reminds her of herself. And because so much of this is usually playing out under her emotional radar, she’s going to lash out the hardest at the kid’s characteristics that she herself has most repressed.
And each time she does that, she is being the abuser, not the victim.
Now, what about the toxic shame?
People have toxic shame because as a child, they were ridiculed or punished for making even minor, completely normal mistakes and errors. Instead of seeing that the thing they did, the action they did, was wrong, the parent gave this kid the sense that they themselves are fundamentally flawed, bad and worthless.
When you’re getting that message as a victimized kid, you tend to develop perfectionist tendencies, to try to minimize the times you’ll get carpeted – and then flooded with toxic shame - for making a mistake. Highly controlling behavior goes hand-in-hand with these perfectionistic tendencies, and again we can understand why.
A lack of ‘perfection’ will lead to punishment, and awful feelings of toxic shame. Trying to micro-manage the environment is a way of trying to minimize the likelihood of anything going ‘wrong’.
The problem is – no one is perfect. The problem is also, things can and do go wrong, even with all the meticulous planning in the world. With a lot of effort and focus, it’s maybe possible for the controlling, perfectionist person to keep the world running the way they want to when they’re in the office, or at the gym.
But at home? It’s a completely different story.
So now, what’s going on when that victimized kid grows up, and has their own family?
If they haven’t realized what’s going on internally with their own feelings of toxic shame, unreasonable perfectionism and need to control – they are going to ‘punish’ their own children harshly for making even minor, completely normal mistakes.
And so, the cycle starts again.
But if this parent still feels like they are the victim, they won’t own up to their own abusive tendencies and behavior towards their children. Often, what’s stopping abusers from putting their hands up to their bad behavior is the awful feeling of toxic shame that floods them whenever there is any hint that they might have done something wrong.
But now, they really are doing something wrong – even, lots of things wrong – that they can’t or won’t admit.
And having a person like that for a parent is extremely difficult and challenging for the child.
Once again, the victim has become an abuser.
NOW, WHAT ABOUT AN OUT-OF-CONTROL STRESS RESPONSE?
Ok, that awful, traumatic childhood we had means that we are primed to fight, run away, freeze and fall into depression, and / or turn into a disassociating people pleaser.
For sure, people only get like this because they went through some very challenging, difficult experiences.
But now they’re a grown up, and now they are the parent, the boss, the president, and they are tyrannizing the people around them with their awful rage fits; or ruining their relationships with their inability to really relate; or neglecting their kids, their responsibilities, their spouse because they are ‘frozen’ into a small, depressed bubble where they just can’t see past their own miserable headspace; or stuck in some plastic, unreal, unemotional version of who they think they should be.
What’s it like growing up with a parent like that?
And so, the cycle starts all over again, with the ‘victim’ becoming the abuser.
So now, how can we stop this awful cycle from continuing?
Enter: The Mirror Principle
When you grow up being constantly blamed and shamed for pointless nothings, or constantly ignored, or constantly attacked, or constantly made to feel bad for wanting normal things like love, affection and real conversations, you aren’t going to trust other people when they tell you ‘you’ve got a problem’.
And who can blame you?
You’ve heard that from the day you were born, because the ‘permanent victims’ in your life were trying to make all of their own problems and issues your fault.
But at the same time, you for sure still have a bunch of your own issues, that if you don’t get a handle on, are going to lead to you becoming an abusive ‘permanent victim’ in turn.
So, God arranges things so that you will be constantly surrounded by people who have the same bad character traits that you yourself have. Like it not, these are the people who you’ll be attracting into your space, and into your life.
Because like attracts like.
And now, you have a choice. Either, you can decide that you are still 100% perfect, and that you have absolutely nothing to work on yourself (which is the classic stance of a perfectionistic, permanent victim, and usually leads to a person being diagnosed with some sort of a personality disorder).
You can accept the mirror principle, and start to explore what God is trying to show you via the people in your life who are upsetting you.
THE 1% RULE
There is no such thing as being 100% right.
If you are caught up in some sort of distressing altercation with someone, or if someone’s behavior is upsetting you, then you own at least 1% of the problem.
There is at least 1% of the work to be done here, and you have to go and figure out how you may be treating others the way this yucky person is treating you, or acting in a similar way to the one you are so upset about, or harshly criticizing in others.
Let’s give an example, to try and make it easier to follow what I’m saying.
ANGRY HUSBAND, ANGRY MUM
Let’s say, you married someone with an awful temper. If the toilets aren’t cleaned just so, he’ll storm out in a rage. He’s constantly insulting you, and criticizing you. He can get enraged if the cable TV stops working, or if the car breaks down.
You’re scared of him, so you go into ‘people-pleasing’ mode to try to manage the situation.
Superficially, it looks like this man isn’t your mirror at all! You’re being super nice and accommodating as much as possible, while he’s raging and abusing.
But now, take a look at what’s going on with the kids.
This woman isn’t scared of her kids, and as the adult, she’s in the position of ‘power’ in the relationship. And sure enough, there’s an awful lot of anger being blasted in their direction.
She berates them for not doing their homework properly, blasts them for how they dress, and is constantly criticizing them and blowing up at them.
The mirror principle is playing out.
Is her anger as extreme as what she’s experiencing herself, from her husband? Arguably not. But she still has a lot of her own inner work to do, to overcome her anger and rage.
Now, if the woman in our example believes herself to be a ‘permanent victim’, she won’t understand that she actually has the same problem as her husband. She’ll blame him 100% for all the issues that are going on in the house, and she won’t take any responsibility for her own abusive behavior of her children, which she’ll tell herself is not a big deal, and justify as being ‘normal’.
In the meantime, her own relationship with her kids becomes extremely strained.
Now, the mirror principle is going to kick again, as the kids start to relate to the mother with more and more anger.
Again, God is giving her a chance to see what she herself needs to work on.
At least 1% of this problem is hers. At this point, she can either knuckle down to see how her own behavior and negative character traits are contributing to the problem, or she’ll pretend that she’s 100% perfect, the “permanent victim”, and that all her children’s anger issues are nothing to do with her.
We all have resistance to acknowledging our own faults and flaws.
If we have issues with ‘toxic shame’, then that resistance can so easily turn into an impenetrable mantra that “we can do no wrong”, and that we are always just the permanent victim.
But all of us are down here because we have work to do.
So next time you see something you don’t like, or experience some behavior that you find unusually upsetting or emotionally wrenching, take a moment to try to figure out what God is showing you about yourself, that you need to work on and fix.
Because I guarantee, at least 1% of the problem lies with us, and not the other guy.
Last week, one kid came back and announced there was a ‘funny smell’ in the house that she really didn’t like. After berating me for leaving the dishes to stew in the sink all day (yes, you thought that would never happen again after you left home, didn’t you?), she then grabbed the mop and went into major sponga mode.
This is quite an oddity in my house, as I’m so not into housework beyond the bare minimum required to not spark off a cholera epidemic. Also, I hate, hate, hate the smell of bleach and all those other ucky chemical products that sadly so many of us equate with ‘clean’.
But this kid was adamant: We needed to bleach everything.
Not only that, we needed to throw out all my gentle-smelling (and clearly more expensive…) dishwashing soap, and laundry detergent, to get some ‘real stuff’ in that was ‘normal’ and wouldn’t leave our house smelling like a place for old people.
(Clearly, this kid has never been in a real ‘place for old people’ because if she had, she’d know that bleach is far more likely to be the parfum du jour than natural pomegranate fragrance. But I digress.)
As she scrubbed and cleaned, and washed up, and re-tidied a million different things, and barked out a few orders about things I needed to do to get the house looking ‘normal’ (yes, you thought that would never happen again after you left home, didn’t you?) – I started to literally choke on all the chemical fumes she was mopping all over the place.
And then, I had a choice.
On the one hand, I could put my foot down, and go into that tired old ‘my house, my rules’ routine that has done so much to sour relations between parents and their kids down the generations.
Or, I could decide to practice some self-sacrifice, and allow my kid to turn my home into Clorox central for an hour or two.
I pondered it for a moment, while I stuck my head out the window to breathe – and decided I was going to go for a long walk. Even though it was raining.
My kid clearly needed to sponga like a maniac, and I wasn’t going to get into a fight with her about it.
Over the next week, the weird smell apparently remained.
Every time my kid stepped in through the door, she’d take a sniff, pull a face – and start obsessively mopping and cleaning again.
(Yes I know, what am I complaining about, right?)
Then, she started writing me notes of things we were lacking that ‘normal’ houses had, like a nice clock on the wall; and curtains; and proper cloths to mop the floor with.
I started to realise: There is something much, much deeper going on underneath all this.
And I resolved to go and discuss it with my One Brain women next time I went to see her, in a few days’ time.
Long story short, we figured out that this kid was giving me a strong message that she needed a place. That she needed to feel at home, on her own terms. That she needed to be really seen, and really heard, and not just fobbed off, ignored, squashed or made fun of.
And the way it was expressing itself was by filling my house full of all that ucky chemical stuff I so hate and detest.
Once I realized what was really going on, I came home, and told the kid this:
“Kid, I love you. I really hate the smell of the bleach, but if you need to do this at the moment, it’s OK. I don’t know where the funny smell is coming from, or what’s causing it (because no-one else except this kid could smell anything) – but I will help you to sort the house out anyway you want, to the best of my ability.”
We had a hug, we both felt much happier – and then I had to go out for another walk before the bleach fumes knocked me out.
Two days after this happened, I discovered that one wall of the covered back porch was literally furry with mold.
We use that place for storage, so I hardly ever go there, and it also wasn’t easy to see the mold as there was so many other things crammed into the space.
But the kid had been demanding I clean it up and make a little order over there, so I finally got around to it.
My kids’ room opens out on to that porch, and it seems to me, the source of the funny smell had finally been located.
I scrubbed the walls yesterday, and I’m waiting for the landlady’s permission to re-do it with some mold-resistant paint.
To put it another way: the kid was right.
And it’s amazing how many times that happens, when we parents actually make some space for them in our homes and our lives.
The answer is both absolutely yes, and absolutely not.
Why absolutely yes?
Firstly because so many people today have C-PTSD, whether they know it or not, that having typical C-PTSD reactions to life is really far more normal than most people still realize or understand.
C-PTSD doesn’t just happen when you experience terrible, overt abuse as a child, God forbid. As Pete Walker points out in his excellent book: Complex-PTSD, From Surviving to Thriving, sometimes the hardest cases of C-PTSD occur where no obvious child abuse was happening.
It’s just that the parents were…completely absent. AWOL, emotionally. It was a home, a family, where no-one ever really discussed feelings, where the emphasis was put on keeping up superficial appearances, where children (and everyone else) were always expected to swallow down their true feelings, their true thoughts, and to not rock the boat.
Often, these homes had some sort of tragic or difficult circumstances, or some enormous loss that had been experienced in the past, that had been swept under the rug, and which no-one wanted to talk about or discuss.
So the kids grew up in this hermetically-sealed ‘plastic’ atmosphere where they picked up the very strong unspoken message that having feelings, or trying to express your inner dimension, or talking about anything more than very superficial subjects, was dangerous, somehow, and should be completely avoided.
The best way I can think of to try to put across what happens in these types of homes is via Stromae’s video for ‘Papaoutai’ (‘Where are you, dad?’), in the post below, where the kid is trying so, so hard to pierce through the parent’s ‘plastic’ exterior – but in the end gives up, and becomes an unfeeling robot himself.
THE RISE OF THE SCREEN
Screens compound the problem of emotional neglect and emotional absenteeism, and also cause it. The compound it, because when people feel uncomfortable ‘being them’ around other people, they take refuge behind the screen – the TV, the internet, the text message or tweet.
But of course it also causes the problem, because when a parent is so wrapped up in the SCREEN, they have no time or attention to spare for the kid, who then experiences an emotionally AWOL parent, and in turn grows up with C-PTSD issues caused by emotional neglect.
So, part one is: most people today have some form of C-PTSD, whether they realise or not, and that is what is behind most people’s mental and emotional difficulties today.
So, you’re in good company!
Part Two: Let’s look more at whether someone with C-PTSD can live a ‘normal’ life.
The answer is yes and no.
If you understand that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ for anyone, and that each of us are unique, and that each life will run along it’s unique course, then it stands to reason that you can’t live a ‘normal’ life – and neither can anyone else.
But, if you’re talking more about whether you can still live a fulfilled and satisfying life; and whether you can get to a point where you can diminish the C-PTSD enough to really start enjoying life and being happy, and fulfilling your potential – then the answer is definitely yes.
Again, it’s hard to really go into massive details on a Quora answer, so let’s try to boil things down, to give concrete, solid steps of how to do this, as briefly as possible.
1) GET EDUCATED ABOUT WHAT REALLY CAUSED THE C-PTSD, AND HOW IT’S AFFECTING YOU IN MYRIAD WAYS
The single best way of doing this is to read Pete Walker’s excellent book.
It can be hard reading – and I personally don’t agree with Pete’s approach of keeping hold of his anger against his parents long-term (more on this in a moment) – but Pete does an unparalleled job of explaining the different types of dysfunctional family dynamics that actually cause C-PTSD.
And, he does an excellent job of explaining how most of the ‘melt-downs’ that C-PTSD people have, where they get whooshed back into some very negative and hard-to-deal with states of mind are actually just flashbacks to a child-hood state of mind that was never properly processed.
Pete gives a lot of practical tools to show you how to start processing these ‘undigested’ emotional states, and if you follow his instructions, you will start to see a lot of the C-PTSD symptoms start to abate and diminish in both frequency and intensity.
2) LEARN HOW TO LET GO OF YOUR ANGER AT PARENTS (and the others who hurt you), AND FORGIVE
I can’t stress enough, that stage 2 can only be attempted once you’ve 100% internalized and accepted just how bad it really was for you, as a child, and you’ve validated your childhood emotions and experiences 100%.
If you try to jump to forgiveness before you’ve really bottomed-out how dysfunctional family dynamics and behaviors really caused your issues, and your C-PTSD, you will get stuck in the problem.
There are no short-cuts:
First, face up to what really happened to your ‘inner child’, to your younger self, and make no excuses for the bad behavior that was doled out to. Feel all the upset and anger you need to feel to start to heal, and to ensure that you’ll take care of yourself properly from now on, and give yourself what’s required, emotionally.
Repressed emotions are part and parcel of the C-PTSD.
Once they are released and properly digested and internalized, the triggers that spark them off will start to fade and dissolve – and you’ll find yourself coping with life, and its challenges, in a much healthier, easier way.
And part of doing this is to really feel what you weren’t allowed to feel as a kid, and to experience what was too hard to experience as a kid, and to learn the lessons from it, and to take the steps required to protect yourself going forward.
But - don’t stay in that angry place!
Don’t feel like a victim for the rest of your life, because holding on to all that negativity after you’ve validated it, learned from it, and made the changes you need to protect yourself in the future will only keep you stuck in the past.
And the past is not a place where it’s good for people with C-PTSD to dwell, any more than is absolutely necessary to properly progress through stage 1, above.
OF course, it’s easier said than done to really forgive. Practically, how can we do this?
The first bit of advice is to read another excellent book by Mark Wolynn, called: It didn’t start with you: How inherited family trauma shapes who we are and how to end the cycle. (see the vid above).
This book brings some of the science to explain how trauma, traumatic reactions and responses, can literally be passed down the genes to descendants, via a process called epigenetics.
To give one obvious example, the book explains how the grandchild of holocaust survivors can ‘react’ in the same way as someone who went through the holocaust, even though they may have been born 50 or 60 years after the end of World War II.
The grandkid literally has PTSD, C-PTSD – but they have no conscious memory of where it’s coming from!
And when the trauma is ‘in the genes’, i.e. coded into the body’s DNA, that can make for some hugely overwhelming, monstrous reactions that seem to come out of nowhere – until you really make the links that Wolynn makes in his book.
THE NEXT THING TO DO IS LOOK INTO FINDING A GOOD ONE BRAIN PRACTITIONER IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD.
One brain uses muscle testing to ‘find’ where the trauma is actually being stored in a person’s body, and subconscious, and memories, and can literally get rid of specific segments of it in just one or two sessions.
It’s particularly effective for trauma that occurred before the adult brain really developed (or that you’ve inherited, and thus have no conscious recollection of).
Because the One Brain therapist will muscle test to locate what age the trauma occurred at, and if they can’t find it in your lifetime, they’ll go backwards, up to 7 generations, to see which ancestor’s trauma ‘issue’ you’ve inherited, physically.
I know it sounds weird – Wolynn’s book explains the science in an easy –to-understand way, and I can only tell you that I know of many, many people who it’s helped, to get rid of C-PTSD symptoms and triggers that were very firmly embedded, and making their life miserable.
The One Brain main website is HERE.
I've written a lot about C-PTSD here on the website, and you can see some of the pertinent posts about how to overcome C-PTSD below:
c-ptsd 101: I've got c-ptsd! now what do i do to get rid of it?
c-ptsd 101: how 'inherited trauma' can give you c-ptsd
c-ptsd 101: how to raise emotionally-healthy kids
c-ptsd 101: how to tame the inner critic
Below, is the 'masterlist' I put together for how to tackle C-PTSD across all three levels of body, mind and soul:
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 grey 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
HOW TO CALM DOWN A C-PTSD SOUL
TO SUM UP:
No-one is normal, so give up on that idea.
But, you can definitely live a happy, fulfilled and emotionally-healthy life, once you learn where the C-PTSD is really coming from, how it’s really affecting you, and to learn the lessons the negative emotions are really coming to teach us.
Validate your own feelings and experiences 100% - and then do your best to forgive the people who hurt you (while still protecting yourself 100%, and staying with a realistic picture of the true circumstances and situations you find yourself in).
If you need more help (and most people do), consider One Brain, to help you get rid of the traumatic memories that may be embedded deep in your subconscious mind, or even, inherited from your ancestors.
It’s not easy, but you will definitely see things move and improve if you stick with it, and just keep picking yourself up every time you fall down.
One of my girls has been having an uphill battle with her acne for about a year and a half now. She had a few, mild, zits at 14, but in the month before she was due to start ulpana, the term for boarding school for religious girls in Israel, her spots suddenly and aggressively transformed into full-blown acne.
I knew it was related to her stress and worry about going to the new school – and sadly, her first year there was so stressful, and the food they serve in the ulpana is so very bad, that the acne became a permanent feature of her life.
It’s really, really hard to have disfiguring spots when you’re a 14 year old girl.
So, we tried this cream, that gel, this wash. I paid for all sorts of people to squeeze blackheads out of her face.
I even spent an afternoon concocting all sorts of ‘natural’ treatments for her, from my essential oils collection. After a day or two, four days max, she’d get discouraged and just stop whatever the new thing was we were trying to do for her face.
So then, I agreed with my husband that we’d spend whatever it took to take her to a professional aesthetician, to get the acne reduced. It took around 5,000 shekels (no, that’s not a typo…) and we’re still paying it off every month.
Sadly, the debt is outliving the positive effects of the treatment.
For six months, the acne did reduce a little, and did seem to be dying down. But as soon as we stopped – it came back again.
Which is when my daughter started talking about Acutane / Roacutane, or ‘Roktan’, as they call it in Israel, and my heart sank.
Because that stuff is poisonous, and a whole bunch of people launched lawsuits against its maker, Hoffman LaRoche, claiming that Acutane had caused them to develop serious Irritable Bowel issues – one guy even had to have his colon removed.
And let’s not even talk about all the terrible birth defects associated with its use, which was another serious concern for me, as the mother of a teenager girl.
And let’s not even talk about all the other, awful side effects, that so many people like to claim are not so bad, or not so widespread. This comes from Wikipedia:
“Isotretinoin is the only non-psychiatric drug on the FDA's top 10 list of drugs associated with depression and is also within the top 10 for suicide attempts. A black box warning for suicide, depression and psychosis has been present on isotretinoin's packaging in the United States since 2005.”
(Isotretinoin is the generic name of the compound previously branded as Acutane, or ‘Roktan’.)
I sat down with my daughter, and explained to her: Roktan has a terrifyingly large number of awful side-effects. Let’s go through them in detail, and then if you still feel you want to explore it, we’ll take it from there.
Acne is really, really hard to live with, so I didn’t want to take my daughter’s free choice away when it came to deciding how to deal with it, but I also really, really didn’t want her to go the drug route.
Which is when God really helped me out.
My daughter had a friend dorming with her with bad acne who’d first been put on long-term doses of oral antibiotics, which had worked for a while.
And then, the zits came back.
(As a side note, my hairdresser was also put on oral antibiotics for acne, and stayed on them for a year and a half. This stopped when her legs started to puff up and swell, when her skin turned a yucky yellow and she started to feel really, really ill – at the age of 22. The antibiotics almost caused her liver to fail, and the Dr who’d prescribed them for acne never once thought to mention that it could be potentially fatal to continue them long term. But I digress.)
So then, the doctors put this roommate on ‘Roktan’ – which is where my daughter had first heard about it. “Her skin is like a baby’s! All her spots have gone!” my daughter told me, two months into the girl’s treatment.
So, we sat down and went through all the horrifying side-effects of Roktan – and by the end my daughter told me: “My friend has got most of those.” The friend’s eyes were puffy and blurry; her skin had started to spontaneously bleed when she waded into the Dead Sea whilst on a school trip. She was hyper-sensitive to sun (a big deal, when you live somewhere like Israel); her back and stomach hurt really badly, all of the time.
But her zits had gone!
So at least that.
But thankfully for my daughter, it was enough of a wake-up call to convince her that ‘Roktan’ was not the answer to the acne. So in the meantime, she started trying to eat a little bit healthier. She started trying to make the links herself, between suppressed feelings of worry and anxiety and massive flare-ups in her face.
And slowly, slowly, the zits are starting to come around.
In the meantime, the poor girl who’d been ‘cured’ by Roktan found that her zits returned as soon as she stopped treatment. The latest I heard is that she’s still having a number of bad side effects even though she stopped taking the drug two months ago, and has been off school now for a week, while the doctors are trying to figure things out.
One thing they are sure of, and have already clearly told the girls’ parents: It’s not related to the acne drug!!!
In the meantime, what can we learn from all this?
Let’s try to sum it up:
And that last one holds true even if the Roktan works, because the zits are just signposts to some deeper issue, or deeper work, that’s required for the person to really feel happy and spiritually-fulfilled in life.
So in the meantime, I’m continuing to buy my kid any cream she wants for her face, and to splash out on any treatment she wants to try (that isn’t potentially extremely dangerous).
I’m praying on her, I’m encouraging her, I’m buying her nice clothes.
In short, whatever I can do to ease her burden, and ease her test, I’m trying to do that, and in the meantime, her state of mind is really good, considering how hard the test actually is.
But “Roktan” is off the table, and so is long-term oral antibiotics. Because even if they do work, the long-term risks to my kid’s health are just too great to be worth the gamble.
And thank God, now she actually saw what happened to her friend, and learned about the scope of the side-effects involved, she thinks so, too.
Before we begin, just to note, I will be writing a whole bunch more about how internet and smartphone technology and programming can negatively affect human health, across all three levels of body, mind and soul. Getting educated about the real dangers involved with the internet is a huge part of finding the inner strength and resolve necessary to start to implement some of the practical things I’m talking about below.
But this post is much more about easy, practical things you can do right now to start to reclaim your happiness, brain and eye-balls from the internet. So, let’s begin:
STAGE 1: LEARN MORE ABOUT THE DANGERS OF BEING ‘PLUGGED IN’ 24/7
As mentioned, I’ve started to write up this stuff here on spiritualselfhelp.org, and a few good places to start the education process about how human health really works are the following articles:
The main things to bear in mind is that human biology is enormously affected by exposure to electromagnetic frequencies and energy waves. Every electric appliance - from the simple lightbulb on up - emits some sort of energy.
Some things ‘vibrate’ at a frequency that is very close to the innate vibration of the human body, and these things can have the biggest effect on our hormones, biological functioning and brain waves.
Guess what? Internet, TV, FM radio and cell-phones all vibrate in a range that effectively turns the human body into a living ‘antenna’, and can potentially severely disrupt our bio-cycles and brainwaves on just about every level.
This can lead to a whole bunch of negative mental and physical health issues including:
And all this is really just the tip of the iceberg! I am working on getting more and more of the science together to solidly back these statements up, but in the meantime, you can sum it up like this:
The more time we spend online, the greater the potential risks to our mental and physical health.
And that goes double for our kids, whose brains are still developing and getting ‘hardwired’.
So learning about how human health really works, and the real effects of internet and smart-phone use on human physiology is stage 1.
Some books you may want to read on the subject include:
STAGE 2: FOCUS ON MINIMISING THE SMARTPHONE USE FIRST
Smartphones are particularly problematic because as THIS article shows, where a simple cell phone only emits the problematic energy waves when a person is actually talking on it, smartphones emit this potentially dangerous energy ALL THE TIME, even when you’re just carrying it around in your purse or pocket.
Smartphones also enable addiction to the internet in a much more drastic way, because we take them around with us everywhere, and so we can get stuck checking our emails, or news sites, literally every couple of minutes.
So the first priority is to try to get the smartphone use down as much as possible.
Clearly, the best way of doing that is to switch over to a simple phone, and that really might be an option that could work for some people, and especially for children. The more parents stand firm on this issue, the easier it will be for other parents to stop buying their children smartphones.
But many people today feel that they need things like Whatsapp, or that they need to be able to check their emails for work, etc. So what can those people do, to try to minimize the smartphone problem?
Here’s some suggestions:
Again, you can learn far more about tagging by going HERE.
I don’t have a smartphone myself, so if you, dear reader, have any other helpful suggestions for how to minimize its use, please feel free to share your tips in the comments section, below.
STAGE 3: SET LIMITS TO HOW MUCH TIME YOU LET YOURSELF SURF EVERYDAY
One of the best ways of doing this is to oust wi-fi from your home and to use an internet stick instead, so that your computer is not automatically connected to the internet whenever you switch it on.
If that’s not practical - and for a lot of people, especially if they have a lot of people with their own computers in the home who want to be online simultaneously, it isn’t - then explore some of the following programs that let you set times when the wifi signal is turned OFF on your PC, so you can use it without being able to surf:
STAGE 4: MINIMISE VIEWING ON-LINE
The more pernicious effects on a person’s mood and mental state occurs when we actually watch moving images online.
A person who’s reading things on the internet will still be affected by the technology’s energy waves, but far less than a person who’s actually doing things like viewing movies and other video clips.
Images, and particularly moving images, impact our brains in a much more dramatic, and often negative, way. But if you still want to view things you find online, here’s some practical suggestions for how to minimize the problem:
STAGE 5: LOOK TO MOVING MORE OF YOUR LIFE OFF-LINE AND INTO THE REAL WORLD
While I’m sticking this here, as the last stage, it’s really the main way of overcoming internet addiction at its root.
We become addicted to checking the news, or Facebook, or watching movies on Youtube etc because on some level we’re using virtual reality as an escape from our real lives, and in particular, from facing up to our often painful inner reality.
The more frustration, loneliness, self-hatred, repressed feelings, difficult relationships etc a person has - the more time they’ll spend online.
Practically speaking, you might want to consider:
It also requires a strong connection to God, because we only run away from ourselves, and our lives, and our relationships in the first place because we find them so difficult to deal with, and emotionally overwhelming and painful.
We need to firmly hold God’s hand to really have the strength to face up to our ‘reality’, and to accept it, and to deal with it.
Take a look at this book:
The How, what and why of talking to God - for some practical tips on how to start talking to God on a regular basis.
SUMMING THINGS UP:
Minimizing our time online, and particularly our smartphone use, is the main challenge facing our generation, and it’s really a huge problem that realistically can’t be solved overnight.
It’s a good time to point out here that the technology itself is profoundly addictive, and is having an enormous impact on human physiology.
THAT’s why it’s so hard to kick the surfing habit! And what makes this even more complicated is that the industry itself - and the scientific community it funds - is misleading us all about the true dangers involved with the unfettered use of this technology, which is effectively electronic crack.
So, please go easy on yourself, don’t beat yourself up AT ALL if you’re struggling to move things more offline, and keep just asking God, our ‘Higher Power’ for help.
Pick whatever things you think you can do from the list of stuff to try above, and then pat yourself on the back for even just wanting to do things differently. This is an enormous challenge for all of us in 2017, and even a tiny step you take in the right direction can potentially start to change everything around.
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.
Seeing as most of us are probably coming off a week or two of vacation and ‘family time’, I thought it would be timely to devote a post to ‘family outing flashbacks’.
From my experience, these tend to take two main forms:
1) An urgent need to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE at any price, and to avoid spending time as a family unit in the claustrophobic area called ‘your home’.
And / or
2) A violent dislike of going anywhere with your family, even for short day trips out.
Family outings contain the seeds of so many potentially traumatic triggers because there’s a lot of factors in the mix that can be very challenging for C-PTSD people, especially around the issues of controlling / being in control, and having to be in close proximity to others who may trigger feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, being invisible, and anger and depression (amongst other things).
And that’s just if you’re the kid!
If you’re the parent, there’s also the big risk that you may find yourself controlling, bossing other people around and ‘laying down the law’ in a way that suits you and what you want to do, but that severely curtails the healthy self-expression of other people in your family.
So, how can we traverse the potential minefield of taking a family outing and still avoid all these C-PTSD-inducing triggers? Here’s some suggestions:
1) Accept that flashbacks are going to happen - As soon as you realize you’re going into a meltdown about your family vacations being a mess, and your family life being stressful, and that you’re not a good enough mother or parent, etc, and that everyone is going to grow up so warped and unhappy because you DID or DIDN’T do [fill in the blank] on vacation…. press pause and acknowledge you’ve gone straight back into flashback mode, and aren’t thinking rationally.
Only proceed with your vacation plans once you’ve calmed down, followed these steps and have moved out of flashback mode.
2) Make decisions as a family and be prepared to compromise - Easier said then done, I know, but healthy interactions are based on the art of compromise. No-one can have it all ‘their way’ all of the time unless they’re a dictator, narcissist or psycho, so be prepared to back down on some of your own preferences.
10 common areas that require compromise and that should be discussed and clarified beforehand include:
3) Figure out WHY you want to go on an outing.
This maybe sounds obvious, but so many people do family outing because they think they SHOULD, and not because they really want to. If after discussing all the details it becomes clear that a family outing is just not really workable or doable at the moment, then don’t do it! If a kid really doesn’t want to go, don’t force them!
If there’s something you really hate doing but you’re feeling pressured into it - either find a way to make it acceptable, or don’t do it.
4) Allow yourself to not go on a family outing.
So many of us have C-PTSD issues around family outings as adults precisely because we often experienced some very difficult, horrible situations while we were meant to be ‘enjoying’ the family time.
If it’s not going to build your relationship with your family, or if it’s going to put you and others under tremendous amounts of emotional stress and pressure, skip the outing and do something else less intense and more productive.
I know ‘everyone else’ is still doing it - but you only have to take one look at the long faces, the stressed expressions, and the arguments and tension going on around all these family outings to realize that often, it’s a much nicer idea in theory than it really is in practice.
One of the most challenging things of coming to terms with C-PTSD is the knowledge that you will almost certainly pass at least some of your issues over to your children.
This happens for a few different reasons, like:
1) You often aren’t aware of all the ‘stuff’ that you’re doing wrong, or not doing right as a result of your own C-PTSD for years and years, which means you pass along a lot of funny ideas, fears, knee-jerk reactions and unhelpful behaviors to your kids before the penny even drops that something is not quite right, here.
When many people start to make the link between their own experiences in childhood and their C-PTSD tendencies as adults, it can hit them like a hammer-blow to realize that they’ve been treated their own children in many of the same unhealthy, C-PTSD-inducing ways.
2) The C-PTSD itself causes us to lose perspective about ‘how bad’ we’re really doing, as parents.
Don’t forget that C-PTSD is often characterized by:
So then on top of dealing with our own C-PTSD, we often then get caught in a double-bind of having to deal with searing guilt, shame and self-loathing about the fact that we may have not treated our children 100% perfectly, and passed many of our C-PTSD tendencies on to them.
SO HOW CAN WE DEAL WITH THIS IN A SANE WAY, AND GET PAST THE OVERWHELMING FEELINGS OF PARENTAL GUILT AND SHAME?
Here’s what’s worked for me:
1) Put God firmly in the picture.
There are no ‘accidents’ going on here. Everything is planned down to the smallest, minute detail, and God has designed the situations that both we and our kids needs, in order to really meet our full spiritual potential.
(Clearly, this doesn’t give you a ‘get out of jail free’ card to abuse your children whenever you feel like it, as part of their ‘spiritual tikkun’. There is a huge difference between trying and wanting to treat our children properly and occasionally falling down (like we all do) and making absolutely no effort to acknowledge and tackle our negative character traits, and how they are impacting our children.)
Just like our C-PTSD issues ultimately brought out the best in us, and helped us to develop some humility and hopefully also a much stronger connection to God, it will do the same thing for our kids, too.
2) Accept the reality of the situation without running away.
This is to counter our ‘extreme perfectionist’, who wants everything to be 100% perfect, 100% of the time, and who gets very upset with us (and our children….) if we can’t deliver that on the parenting front.
Again, perfectionism is a key C-PTSD-induced trait. Real people aren’t perfect. Being ‘imperfect’ is 100% fine, as long as we don’t start blaming ourselves for being awful people and beating ourselves up all the time for ‘ruining’ our kids.
If / when we fall into those tendencies, we’ll start feeling even more frustrated, angry and bad-termpered, which will ironically cause us to lash out a whole bunch more at our kids (and ourselves…).
So accept your imperfection as happily as you can! ‘Perfect’ parents are the ones who are doing the MOST damage to their kids.
As a general rule of thumb, if you can admit your imperfections to your children and regularly apologize to them when you’re out of order, your kids will grow up emotionally healthy, even if you’re not a 100% ‘perfect’ parent.
3) Identify how much of your parental guilt is justified, and how much is a C-PTSD-induced emotional flashback.
When you start blaming yourself for ‘ruining’ your kids, or start feeling toxic shame or guilt for being a ‘bad’ parent, it’s crucially important that you recognize that this reaction is a C-PTSD-induced emotional flashback, and needs to be dealt with accordingly.
You can read more about emotional flashbacks HERE, but the main thing to remember is that the horrible feelings we feel when we flashback are usually NOT related to the situation we’re dealing with in the current moment.
Sure, we FEEL like a monster, like a disgusting human being, like a piece of trash, because we forgot to pick the kid up on time, or had a ‘rage fit’ at them for spilling the juice. But really, we just ‘flashed-back’ to the overwhelming feelings we had from childhood, that are now ‘dressed up’ in the present situation.
The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can move out of the ‘flashback’ space, calm down, apologize, and get on with life in a much more equitable manner.
One of the hardest things for a C-PTSD parent is that we’re often governed by instinctive, and intense knee-jerk reactions to situations that then also traumatize and sensitize our own children in an unhealthy way.
To give a common example of this: C-PTSD people are usually hyper-vigilant and ‘on edge’, fearing danger and disaster around every corner.
A C-PTSD parent can easily freak-out about the danger of broken glass, for example, in a way that then creates a lot of trauma around ‘broken glass’ for the next generation.
And so it can continue….
The key is to separate the REACTION from the SITUATION, and to try to calm things down as quickly as possible. This is definitely work, but it can be done, and even just having the mindfulness that you’re freaking out irrationally can be very helpful to recognize, and also to share with your children.
4) Don’t forget that kids are our mirrors.
And then use that knowledge to have more compassion for yourself. Inside, you still feel like a confused, lost, lonely small kid sometimes, especially when you’re caught in a flashback. Use that knowledge to have compassion on yourself when you’re losing it.
Recognise that when you’re yelling at your kid, or blaming them, or guilting them, or whatever it is - you’re really still just yelling at yourself.
The more compassion you have for yourself, and your human frailties and issues, the more compassion you’ll naturally start to have for your kids, too.
If they’re struggling, that’s a sign that on the inside, you’re also still struggling. And it’s not your fault or their fault, it’s just a ‘message’ from Upstairs that there’s still some work to do to fix the problem.
So the main person to work on and worry about is YOU, not your kids. Once you’re nicer to yourself, you’ll automatically be much nicer, gentler and more accepting of your kids, too.
5) Don’t fall into despair.
Don’t give up! These issues are very difficult, and have been going on literally for generations. But when God is in the picture, EVERYTHING that’s broken can be fixed, albeit with a lot of struggle and prayer.
Again, the rule of thumb is that if you believe YOU broke something, believe YOU can fix it. When it comes to our children, we CAN fix it, but sometimes we have to eat a lot of humble pie, and do a lot of apologizing and a lot of acknowledging our flaws and issues before we get there.
Our children are very forgiving, and they genuinely love and accept us. The problem usually is that WE are not forgiving of ourselves, and we don’t genuinely love and accept ourselves.
That’s the C-PTSD reality.
But don’t despair of having a good relationship with your children. Sure, they will have their problems and struggles as a result of our imperfect parenting - that’s the way God made the world.
We are all down here to work on ourselves and to fix our character flaws.
But don’t let the inner critic tear you down for that, because it’s a normal and natural part of the world that every parent will mess up their kid in some way.
If you can show your kids how to practice acceptance, awareness, humility, and self-compassion, and how to connect back to God when the ‘troubles’ strike, then you are giving them the biggest present of all.
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.
A person who’s been traumatized enough to develop C-PTSD generally behaves and reacts in a very different way from a person who isn’t traumatized.
Again, if we take a look at our 4 main ‘stress’ responses (below), we’ll see that depending on which stress response the person with C-PTSD has got stuck in, they’ll either react to perceived danger, threats and ‘abandonment’ by others by:
The problem comes when we get STUCK polarized in one particular stress response, and when that stress response is repeatedly triggered by very bland, inane and minor things that truly don’t pose any real danger or threat to us.
So now we come to today’s topic: why traumatized people make mountains out of molehills.
Most people with C-PTSD get that way because they grew up with emotionally-absent parents (who may or may not also have regularly mistreated them in some additional, more tangible, way too.)
When a small child doesn’t have an adult in their life they can trust to ‘watch their back’, or help to soothe and calm them when they’re going through their tough times, or when they are left to fend for themselves and to solve their own problems, this creates a lot of anxiety, panic and fear in their internal landscape.
Imagine how scary even something simple like crossing a road is for a small child, if they’d be left to do it all by themselves without age-appropriate instructions, guidance or support. Small children are naturally full of fears, and it’s the job of the parents to help them to navigate through life, and to learn the skills and acquire the knowledge they need to manage new tasks and situations, and then to thrive.
Even from our own lives, we all know how much easier something is to learn when we have someone on hand to show us, and to answer our questions about what’s going ‘wrong’, or not working problem.
For example, a few years’ back, I tried to teach my self to sew some basic stuff on a borrowed sewing machine, using a ‘how to sew’ book for instructions. Dear reader, it was mostly an exercise in mental torture. I felt so anxious about not knowing how to thread the needle propet knowing how to get the zig-zag stitch to work, where to place the foot of the sewing machine, how to leave enough of a hem - and that’s even before getting down to actually making something! After a couple of months, I gave up.
A few weeks’ ago, I decided to try again but this time, I found a sewing teacher to go to - and it’s made all the difference in the world! Why? Because whenever I hit a snag with the cotton, or the material, or the sewing, I can ask for experienced, patient help to resolve it. I’m not on my own trying to figure everything out, so nothing feels like the unmitigated disaster it used to when I was trying to sew alone.
And the same applies to traumatized people with C-PTSD.
When we’re small, if we don’t have a caring adult to reassure us that the cut on our finger really isn’t serious, we panic that it’s going to go green and fall off.
If we go through a ‘down’ and we don’t have someone sharing their experiences of how this is just a normal, temporary (if unpleasant…) stage in life that everyone goes through, we start to believe that we’re always going to feel this depressed, or bad, or lonely.
If there is no-one there to give us the right perspective about our inevitable failures and mistakes in life, and worse, who even punish us, shame us, blame us and criticize us for making normal mistakes and having normal failures, we will be fear-stricken whenever trying something new, or something we could concievably ‘do wrong’.
(Of course, the trouble is this applies to pretty much everything!)
To put this into ‘real world’ terms, these feelings of panic, anxiety, overwhelm and depression can hit you as an adult whenever:
Once again, the world IS objectively a very scary place for a young child to have to fend for themselves in, so those feelings were 100% normal at that point in time.
But now, that fear, panic and anxiety has hardwired itself into your brain, and is being triggered by even the smallest issues you experience as an adult.
Depending on what your main ‘stress response’ is, you’ll find yourself fighting, running away, shutting down, or trying to frantically buy affection as a result.
THIS is why people with C-PTSD so often find themselves reacting to molehills as though they were mountains. They’ve ‘flashed back’ to a young, immature part of themselves who was never taught how to put things into proper perspective, or how to self-soothe in a healthy way and calm themselves down, and they are stuck reacting to the world in that mode even as a grown up.
So how can we overcome this particular aspect of C-PTSD? Stay tuned for the next post, when I’ll set out some practical ideas for you.