If I had to try to sum up the pattern my life has fallen into in the fewest words possible, I’d have to say roller coaster.
You know, lots of ups, tons of downs – and very little in between.
There are no ‘plateaus’ in roller coaster rides. Either it’s hard graft to try to reach the top – but you can’t enjoy that high place for even a second, because before the back of the caboose has even made it up there, the front is already falling off a cliff.
While it definitely makes for a fun 10 minutes at the fun fair (although honestly? I can’t stand roller coaster rides in real life, and they make me want to throw up) trying to live a whole life like that can get pretty taxing on the nerves.
So, over the course of the last say, 40 years or so, what tends to happen is that I will put maximum effort in to chugging away at a project, a job, a goal – until I burn out and crash.
Or until 5 seconds after it’s completed, where subconsciously I’ll start casting around for the drama, the excitement again that’s going to stop my life from being ‘boring’.
Ah boring. We’ll talk more about boring in a minute.
And of course, to stick with the roller coaster ride, ‘excitement’ and drama happens when you’re whooshing downhill at a million miles an hour, and you don’t really know if you’re going to smash into a million pieces or not. On the roller coaster of life, that bit is never obvious, there’s no guarantee of a safe landing.
Back in university when I was going through a very tough time mentally, I went to see one of the student counsellors. To this day, I still don’t know if she was excellent at her job, or really, really awful. I sat down, I talked to her for about 10 minutes – and she flat came out and told me I was manic depressive.
So then, I smiled my fake smile, and ran out of that place as fast as my legs could take me.
Was she wrong?
But even then, getting yourself lumbered with a ‘diagnosis’ just meant being pressured to take pills and talk to a bunch of people who mostly went into psychology because they are completely crazy themselves.
No ‘normal’ person from a ‘normal’, mentally-healthy family is interested in psychology. People are nearly always drawn to that field because they are messed-up and broken themselves, and they are trying to figure out what went wrong in their own families, and how to fix it.
So anyway, the ‘manic’ and ‘depressed’ thing was with me for many long years, until I discovered the practice of talking to God in my own words for an hour a day, and then the ‘clinically depressed’ part started to go away.
What sped it along was understanding that C-PTSD and very unhealthy relationships was underneath the depressions, where I was basically flashing back in to a despairing FREEZE emotional response that was my ‘go to’ coping mechanism in childhood.
The manic also calmed down – a lot – and transformed into determined motivation to do stuff. That’s mostly a good thing, and a blessing. But in recent months, God has been giving me so many clues that I’m still living my life with an underlying roller coaster pattern. Subconsciously, I seem to be always craving that excitement and drama that comes with disastrous, awful, destructive ‘downs’.
Why is this?
This happens when you grow up in highly unpredictable circumstances, around people who could flip from nice to nasty in a nanosecond. That dangerous unpredictability acts on the brain like emotional crack. You experience things that are so intense and that feel so dangerous and out of control, that ‘normal life’ pales beside it.
It’s the same reason why people like extreme sports and bungee jumping. That moment when the rubber snaps back and they don’t bash all their brains out on the floor below is mega-exhilarating and often euphoric – it’s the ‘high’ that comes from that low place.
But you can’t live a productive life pinging from highs to lows, and from ups and downs.
You need to plateau, you need that place in between.
And even when your conscious brain is craving stability and routine, the subconscious brain that got addicted to drama and excitement in childhood is always there in the background, working on its next subconscious ploy to flip your life into chaos and madness again.
Last week, I went to speak to my One Brain lady about why I can’t seem to function in that in-between place, where so many blessings and wondrous things grow. Why can’t I get there, I wanted to know? Why am I stuck pinging backwards and forth, like I’m caught in some celestial bungee jump that never ends?
Again, I’ve worked on this issue a lot over the years, from a bunch of different angles, but what gave me extra urgency to really try to nail it, at least enough, was that I’ve realized I’m passing on my tendencies to my children. Our life has been so ‘dramatic’ the last few years, that I can see they are also starting to crave that sort of crazy excitement.
And that’s the last thing that I want for my kids.
So, to cut a long story short, we worked on a lot of things from childhood via One Brain and BodySpin, and I came out of that session feeling like I’d been run over by a truck. I’ve been pretty ill the last 2 weeks, and I know it’s all connected to trying to clean up all these deep, dysfunctional emotional states.
(It’s a post for another time, but inflammation in the body also affects the brain’s functioning, and can also be behind a lot of things that are often referred to as ‘mental illnesses’.)
But I also came out of that session knowing I had some hitbodedut homework to do, in my talking to God sessions. If I just plain aim for the ‘up’ the ‘high’, that is inevitably going to lead to the destructive down.
I need the middle place, the place where I’m neither totally apathetic and can’t be bothered with anything, or totally burning the candle at both ends to try to get things done and achieved. It’s only today that I realized where I’m actually aiming for: energized stability.
That’s the state I’m after. Where life is stable, and I’m not plunging myself down rabbit holes all the time just for the fun of it, but where I have energy and excitement and enthusiasm for life. And let’s be clear, I’ve never experienced that place in my whole life. I can’t get to it by myself, because I don’t know how to find it, where it is on the emotional map.
But God knows.
And I’m asking Him to show me how to make energized stability the touchstone of my life, going forward, just as a free present, just as a gift, in the same way He’s given me so many other emotional health presents.
None of us can pick the circumstances we’re born into, or how our brains happen to get hardwired into unhelpful patterns into unhelpful patterns when we’re younger.
But all this can change.
As long as we hold our hands up, admit we aren’t perfect, and get God involved in the process of fixing our problems.
After I wrote this post, I got a mental picture of what I’m really aiming at here: The highs and lows are competition, trying to be ‘the best’, trying to be the winner, the number one – and the flip side, of feeling like a ‘loser’, and the worst.
These are the ups and downs of the roller coaster.
Where I’m aiming at now is like a train chugging along the tracks at the bottom of these peaks and troughs. It’s low to the ground – representing humility. I’m not better than anyone else. But it’s also moving forward at a steady pace and covering a lot of ground. The engine isn’t straining to go uphill, and it’s not hurtling out of control on the descents.
It’s just moving steadily forward, at the bottom of the peaks.
Bring it on!
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.
One of the most fundamental things to understand about C-PTSD – and basically any issue that is causing an individual to have some intense ‘friction’ with other people – is that any person who frequently beats themselves up is almost certainly going to be beating other people up, too.
Pete Walker, in his excellent book: C-PTSD: From surviving to thriving, gives a very insightful explanation for why this occurs:
“The ‘inner critic’ is the part of your mind that views you as flawed and unworthy. The outer critic is the part that views everyone else as flawed and unworthy….The outer critic… uses the same programs of perfectionism and endangerment against others that your inner critic uses against yourself... Via it’s all-or-none programming, the outer critic rejects others because they are never perfect, and cannot be guaranteed to be safe.”
Perfectionism, where we hold ourselves and others to impossibly-high standards is pretty self-explanatory. By ‘endangerment’, Walker means that C-PTSD people are always on the look-out for ‘clues’ that other people are going to ultimately be as toxic and damaging for them as their very difficult relatives were.
Of course, everyone, even nice, relatively sane, kind, generous, patient people will have a ‘off’ day, and occasionally react in a less than optimal way. We’re all humans, remember, and NO ONE is perfectly-mannered or switched-on all the time.
The problem for C-PTSD people is that because their primary caregivers were overwhelmingly ‘negative’ and damaging to be around so much of the time – i.e. genuinely caring, attentive and empathetic behaviour was very much the exception, not the rule – they view every imperfect ‘lapse’ as a sign that really, that otherwise ‘nice’ person is going to end up treating them just as badly as their difficult, abusive or absent parent did / does.
This is such a hard proposition for most C-PTSD to deal with (especially when they haven’t yet figured out that they actually have C-PTSD….) that it makes regular interactions with other people far too scary. It’s much easier to rubbish everyone else, and focus on their faults, in order to keep a ‘safe’ distance, than to let your guard down, and risk getting sucker-punched again.
Which is why so many of the C-PTSD people who are at the very beginning of their healing process frequently find it so very difficult to maintain good relationships with others, for any period of time.
Of course, this can be fixed! So don’t despair, and don’t give up of turning things around and developing much more forgiving, genuine, authentic and healthy relationships with others, but the starting point of the healing journey has to be awareness of what’s really happening because of the C-PTSD, and why.
The take-away point from this post is that for as long as you’re continuing to expect unreasonable perfectionism, and to be very hard on yourself, you will inevitably also be incredibly hard on other people and their ‘normal’ lapses into imperfect behavior – including your kids and spouse.
THE FOUR STRESS TYPES
Another thing to add here is that your main ‘stress’ type – i.e. FIGHT/FLIGHT/FREEZE/FAWN – will also very much affect how the dynamic between inner / outer critic really plays out in your life, in real time. (See the infographic.)
FIGHT types nearly always polarise over to constant ‘outer criticism’, and controlling behaviours of others, and very rarely acknowledge that this is attitude is a corollary of having an enormous inner critic at play. Fight types are very prickly, to prevent people coming too close, but will also expect 100% compliance for their wishes, viewing anything less as complete betrayal and ‘abandonment’.
(Yes, that’s why ‘fight’ stress reactions are typically underneath so many so-called ‘personality disorders’ and anti-social behaviour.)
FLIGHT types tend to flip the most between the two poles of inner and outer critic – and are typically the ones most caught up in ‘comparisons’ with other people and competitions to see who’s doing the best or worse. When they’re ‘winning’ – they’ll be highly judgmental of others. When they’re ‘losing’ – they’ll be highly critical of themselves.
FREEZE types often fall into making blanket statements about the whole of humanity being bad, untrustworthy, rotten and unfixable. Again, this is a defensive move which gives the FREEZE C-PTSD person the justification they need for retreating away from the outside world, and wrapping themselves entirely up in their own misery and imagination. (Again, ‘FREEZE’ types are typically identified as having issues with depression.)
Again, the outer criticism is married to a very harsh ‘inner critic’ that makes the FREEZE person feel completely worthless and pointless.
FAWN types rarely risk making openly critical statements of others, whatever the justification. They tend to be the most self-critical of all four groups. But, that doesn’t mean that FAWN types only ever beat themselves up, because as we’ve learned, if you’re regularly beating yourself up, than it’s GUARANTEED that you will also regularly be beating others up too, especially your kids and spouse.
Because FAWN types hate confrontation, most of their ‘outer critic’ attacks will be conducted via passive-aggressiveness, where other people are ‘silently blamed’ and railed against for causing all the issues.
Passive-aggressiveness can be very tricky to deal with, as it’s often so hidden away. Here’s some of the more common examples of passive-aggressive behaviour identified by Pete Walker:
Again, the main take-away point from today’s post is simply the understanding that ‘inner critics’ always come along with ‘outer critics’ – and that both are unhealthy ‘evil inclination’ behaviors. Being able to evaluate ours, and others, behaviour is clearly a very crucial skill required for good emotional health.
That’s the whole idea between the Jewish concept of making a daily accounting of our thoughts, words and actions, to see which ones may have been a little ‘off’, and require some work, or rectification. But healthy, compassionate self-evaluation is worlds away from beating ourselves up for not being perfect.
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 little while ago, I bumped into an old friend of mine from the motherland, who used to be one of the most creative, deep, spiritual and loving people I think I’d ever met. Of course, being ‘deep’ like that doesn’t come easy, especially in today’s world, and this person had gone through a lot of depressive periods and other forms of emotional turmoil.
Depression sucks, and is a very hard situation to accept and deal with. BUT - and it is a big but, depression also comes for a reason, a very good reason, and the key to resolving it is to accept what’s actually triggering it off in the first place, and to take steps to properly deal with it.
Depression is triggered by a couple of things:
There’s just one problem: accepting that your mum / dad / sister / husband etc is the one making you feel like you want to just disappear out of the world for good, or like you don’t exist in the world, and that no-one really loves your or cares about you, is not easy.
In fact it’s usually so difficult to accept that your ‘nearest and dearest’ are literally making you emotionally ill and even suicidal with their emotionally neglectful and / or abusive behaviour, that most people prefer flat-out denial and Prozac.
Thankfully, the pharmaceutical companies and corrupt psychiatry have an alternative theory for depression that is much easier for most people to swallow: it’s just a chemical imbalance, silly! Take this little pill, continue to carry on hanging out with your abusive family members, and don’t worry about a thing!
There’s just one problem with this theory (OK, I’m lying. There’s actually loads of problems with this theory, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself…) - it’s completely false. There’s not a single shred of scientific evidence to back up any claim that any emotional difficulty, from the most severe issues like schizophrenia, all the way through to depression, anxiety and ADHD are caused by any ‘chemical imbalances’.
(There’s so much to say about this issue, and I’ve written about it in more detail elsewhere. Try HERE for a good first place to start, and also use the search box on this site to find more articles on this subject.)
But the point of this post is this: When someone takes a pill, even a prescribed pill, to make their emotional pain go away, then they have become a drug addict. Spiritually, there is no difference between a drug addict who’s shooting up heroin, and a drug addict who’s downing a bottle of Johnnie Walker, or smoking their pot, and a drug addict who’s throwing back the Xanax, Zoloft or Prozac.
Let’s remember that PRESCRIBED DRUGS are killing 30,000 people a year in the US alone, with the late popstar Prince being one of the more recent victims of prescription medicine gone mad.
When I saw my old acquaintance, all the light in her eyes had gone. Even in her worst times, her eyes had shone with pain and sadness, but also with feeling, humanity and spiritual depth. That light now was gone. What had happened?
The answer was: Prozac.
After years of fighting off all the ‘helpful’ advice from other people about how to handle her depressions, she’d finally caved in and gone the drug addict route of dealing with the problem. It was just that much easier than acknowledging how dysfunctional her family life and relationships actually were.
Of course, she didn’t say that. All she said is that the anti-depressants were working a treat, and she felt great, really good, the best ever, actually. But the light was gone from her eyes, and I just couldn’t catch hold of my old friend any more in anything more than the most superficial way.
Because the first thing that disappears when you take pscyhotropic drugs - even prescribed drugs - is your connection to God, and your soul.
But that’s not all: whatever we don’t fix in ourselves simply gets passed on down the line, and compounded, for our kids. When people are drug addicts, they emotionally neglect their nearest and dearest. When people are drug addicts, they become emotionally abusive to others, simply because they’ve lost their normal human sensitivity to what is appropriate behaviour.
As well as the spiritual coldness, my old friend had also developed a mocking manner of speaking to others, too. After five minutes of trying to talk to her, I really just wanted to run away as fast as my legs could carry me, because she made me feel really, really uncomfortable.
Ahhh, what a mess our world is. When God is out of the picture, so much suffering and destruction occurs in the void. My old friend feels ‘great’, but she’s now treating other people like dirt, and is completely oblivious to that fact, because the pills she’s taking have dulled her true feelings, including her empathy and compassion.
Anti-depressants are meant to change how the brain works. That’s the whole point. Changing how the brain works is also a classical description of brain damage, and there we have the problem in a nutshell: anti-depressants cause brain damage, and change people’s personalities.
Not for the first time in my life, I saw how Prozac doesn’t just ‘disappear’ the external signs of depression, it also ‘disappears’ the essence of the person themselves.
But when God is in the picture, it can always come back.
Someone asked for my response to this question over on Quora, and here's what I replied:
I really feel for you, but here’s the thing: killing yourself actually isn’t going to make your problems go away, it’s just going to make things worse.
Because you are a SOUL stuck in a body, and it’s your SOUL that’s in pain at the moment. And if you kill yourself, all that pain is just going to come alone with you to the next place, except you won’t be able to do anything to alleviate it, and you’ll see, with 100% clarity, why killing yourself was not the answer and actually only made things worse.
When people don’t believe in the spiritual dimension of things, and when they don’t believe that there is a reason that they’re alive, and that life isn’t just about materialistic things like buying big houses and earning tons of cash, or eating out every night, or other external signs of ‘success’, then suicide can seem like a sensible option in some ways, for the reasons you’ve outlined.
You’re hurting, you’re emotionally burnt-out, you’re despairing that it’s all going to turn around, you have no idea why you have to suffer so much, or why you have to go through all this.
But once you start to include the soul dimension, the picture alters radically.
Human beings are down here to work on our souls, to work on our bad character traits, to build the world in the unique way that only we can do it, and to get to know God. That’s it.
All the suffering we have, all the horrible things we experience, all the big (and small….) difficulties we have in life, it’s all aiming at the stuff I just wrote down in that previous paragraph.
God gave you all the really hard circumstances you’re in right now.
To bring the best out of you, and to encourage you to see past all the materialism and lies of the modern world and to get to know your Creator, and your inner dimension, or soul.
THAT’S the whole point of what’s going on. But if you kill yourself - you blew it. So when you get up to the next world, and the Heavenly court starts evaluating how you did in life, that’s when you’re going to understand just how big a mistake you actually made, by killing yourself.
And guess what? There’s more!
Because you didn’t do the job you came down here to do (i.e., connect to God, build the world and work on improving your character and overcoming your negative traits) - you’re going to get sent back down again, to try to fix that problem.
And because you killed yourself last time, your next life is going to be EVEN MORE DIFFICULT, because now you’ll also have to rectify all the mess you made in this lifetime, too, by killing yourself.
So, dear anonymous, PLEASE don’t kill yourself. It won’t help you.
What will help you, probably immediately, is to go somewhere quiet and to start trying to talk to God, about what’s really going on in your life, and why it has to be so hard.
Every hardship we have always has a message in it somewhere, that we need to work on something, or that we need to fix something, or change our beliefs, thoughts or actions in someway.
Maybe, you need to work on liking yourself more? Or, on developing more gratitude for all the blessings you undoubtedly still have in your life, no matter how much it sucks right now. Maybe, you need to figure out how to start feeling like your life has more meaning, and what things you could do to build a sense of happiness, optimism and purpose?
These days, we are all old souls. We’ve all been around the block many, many times, and we all have a lot of stuff we need to fix, particularly in how we treat our fellow man, and how we relate to God.
There’s a lot of work to do, and most of us have been pushing that work off for millenia, which is why modern life is just so darned difficult for so many people in 2016.
But killing yourself will only compound the problem - as you’ll very quickly discover if you actually do it, God forbid.
No-one can live life for you, no-one can turn things around if you won’t do that yourself, and take responsibility for yourself and what happens next. You still have so much to do in the world. YOU have a job down here, and you need to figure out what that is, and get on with it.
And as soon as you do that - and get God more involved in the picture - I guarantee that you’ll see a ray of light that will get stronger every day.
Having a kid tell us that they’re struggling is really hard for a parent to hear. Whether we admit it or not, all of us have a ‘guilt reflex’ that kicks in, and starts blaming us for the problem (and it’s often right - but more on that in a moment).
The trouble is, that then means that we want to shut down the cause of the pain and discomfort and guilt we’re feeling, which often means that subtly or otherwise, we give our kids signals to shut up and go away. That only has to happen a few times, before our kids give up on telling us things that we may find upsetting, or letting us into their inner lives.
When this becomes the ‘norm’ for the parent / child relationship, it can cause so much destruction, loneliness and heartache.
But this happens to even the best of parents, sometimes.
The parental guilt reflex is very strong in most of us, because on some level, we know that we affect our kids’ wellbeing and happiness more than anything or anyone else.
So now, let’s take a deeper look at what’s really going on here, and see if we can come up with some useful guidelines for how to really help our depressed children.
Adults are adept at hiding their true feelings, especially in the west where emotions have been pathologised. That’s why sometimes, God uses our kids to send us messages about where we’re really holding that we often don’t want to look at, accept or consider.
So the first thing to check is: which parent might also be depressed, and why?
Once the parent starts working on their own emotional issues, the issues tend to clear up really fast in their kids, too.
2. Find out why the kid feels depressed
Again, this bit can be SO hard, because of the parental guilt reflex. If you feel you’re going to blow up at your kid, get hyper-defensive, feel anger or crippling guilt, then you may need to enlist someone with more objectivity and perspective to do this part of the process.
But people usually feel depressed because they feel that what they think and feel doesn’t count, or that they’re worthless, or that no-one really cares about them - which are all REALLY hard things for even the most caring parent to hear!
Yet giving the child a chance to express themselves truthfully - and to say even the icky things that no parent wants to hear - without being attacked or ‘punished’ for expressing themselves, is a crucial part of the healing process.
Most of us can’t handle that so well (especially if the guilt reflex is kicking in, and we feel on some level the kid may actually be right.)
But for the child’s own mental health, they need to be able to express themselves truthfully, in a loving, 100% accepting atmosphere. If the parent can’t provide that (and hey, that’s OK to admit) - then find a good counsellor or friend WHO IS NOT GOING TO PUSH YOUR KID DOWN THE ANTI-DEPRESSANT ROUTE.
That last part is crucial.
No chemical imbalance has ever been found to cause depression, or any other mental illness, despite it being such a popular ‘theory’ of psychiatrists (who make most of their income from their exclusive ability to prescribe psychotropic drugs for mental illnesses.)
When kids get pushed onto anti-depressants to ‘make their problems go away’, instead of being encouraged to really speak out what they truly feel, and to re-connect to their families, and to deal with their negative emotions in a productive way, it’s setting them up for a lifetime of worsening mental and physical health issues.
I’m including some research articles, plus one documentary (bottom link) that you may want to check out for yourself:
Negative Effects of Antidepressants | Mad in America
Depression Screening in Children is Not Supported by Research
Antidepressants Often Prescribed to Enforce Heteronormativity
Depression Pills Made Me Unfit To Be A Mother
3. Don’t feel you have to ‘fix’ the problem immediately
Oftentimes, we parents feel as though we have to try and ‘fix’ our kids issues, or even prevent them from having issues in the first place.
While it’s understandable and well-intended, this approach actually does far more damage than good. Life is full of issues, and ups and downs, and negative emotions, and less-than-ideal responses.
When we send our kids a message that they ‘can’t’ be depressed, or that they have huge issues if they feel down, or that their ‘brain is broken’ (i.e. they have a chemical imbalance), we’re piling on guilt, anxiety and worry onto an already crowded platform of negative feelings.
The truth is: we all feel depressed sometimes. That’s part of life.
If the parent is operating from their own guilt reflex, then even without realising it their main focus will be on getting the problem to ‘go away’ ASAP (which is why medication also sometimes looks so darned appealing). But especially with depression, that’s only going to make things worse.
Instead, if we encourage our kid (and ourselves), and we do the work to find out what’s really triggering it, and what ‘message’ we’re being given via our negative emotions and depression about what needs to be looked at, changed or improved in our lives, then we’re teaching our children a magnificent lesson in how to stay mentally and emotionally healthy over their lifetime.
People with depression need to be empowered, in some way, to stop feeling like helpless ‘victims’ of circumstance. A key way to do that is to help them figure out WHO or WHAT is causing them to feel that way in the first place, and then to figure out how that scenario can be changed or improved.
4. Make sure the physical side of things is covered
If your child isn’t exercising enough, not sleeping enough, not eating enough of the right sort of food (around their inevitable intake of junk food…) - then that can also seriously contribute to feeling depressed.
Again, the mirroring principle will probably kick in here again, and you may want to consider if the parents are also sleeping enough, eating right and getting enough exercise.
30 minutes of exercise, three times a week, is scientifically proven to be more effective at overcoming depression, permanently, than medications.
Vitamin B12 is also a biggy, for overcoming depression (and a bunch of other mental illnesses…)
Vitamin B12 Deficiency and Brain Health | Blog | Kelly Brogan MD
5. Like yourself
This bit is also really crucial, both because your kid is just your mirror, spiritually-speaking, and also because if you don’t like yourself, your guilt reflex will kick-in big time and will skew your parenting response in a way that’s very unhelpful to both you and your kid.
Tell yourself: “I am doing the best I can!”
Also accept that sometimes, that best really isn’t very good (and that’s true for all parents, even the best ones, because none of us are angels.)
When we parents like ourselves more, and we know that we really aren’t trying to hurt our kids on purpose, or mess them up (even though of course that’s happening a lot…), then we are much gentler and forgiving with ourselves - and also with our kids.
We’re in this process called ‘life’ together. The more we can see that we’re good, the more we’ll also see the good in our kids, which is probably the single biggest ‘key’ to ensuring their mental health and wellbeing.
Dear reader, you’re a great mum or dad!
We’re all down here to work on ourselves and to fix ourselves, and the parents who can admit that they’re flawed, and struggling, and (at least occasionally…) ‘wrong’ are the ones that paradoxically raise the happiest and healthiest kids.
My kids know I am a really rubbish parent in a myriad of ways. They also know that I try my best, and often fail. They also know that I really love them. They also know that I’m (occasionally…) selfish, self-absorbed, mean, lazy, clueless [fill in the blank].
When I can fix this stuff, I do.
When I can’t, I try to apologise, and ask God to help me fill in the bits that are missing (and believe me, there’s a lot).
So it’s crucial to like yourself so that you know that even if your kid needs to say something ‘icky’ to you, in order to clear things up and get back on an even keel, or even if there’s stuff that needs improving or fixing, or even if you yourself have been struggling emotionally, that you are still a great person, and it’s not the end of the world.
That’s the single biggest present you could give yourself, and your children.
TO SUM UP:
Check out my book: Causes and Cures of Depression
Depression, including clinical depression, is caused by spending too much time around negative, critical and emotionally abusive people who make you feel worthless and invisible.
(See THIS for scientific back-up for that statement.)
So let’s start with the DON’Ts first:
Now, the DOs.
According to Chinese Medicine principles, depression is caused by a weakness in the Spleen Meridian. (See HERE for more background on that.)
The following things will strengthen your Spleen Meridian, and work on the physical state of inner exhaustion that leads to the symptoms typically associated with clinical depression:
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.
Thanks for the question!
Existential depression happens when we get disconnected from our spiritual side, and our true purpose in life, and from God (sorry, I said the 'G' word...)
When life is framed in term of material achievement, then it can be precisely when we achieve that materialistic pinnacle of success that we suddenly realize that it's not all it's cracked up to be, and it didn't really solve our problems.
That's why so many of the materially 'successful' people in life commit suicide, go mad, or retreat into substance abuse (sometimes covertly, other times in a very obvious way.)
They won the lottery - and it still didn't take away that gnawing feeling that life is empty and meaningless.
So what does?
The following things:
By contrast, when we make an effort to decode the hints that God is sending us via all the different facets of our interactions and experiences, absolutely everything in life becomes meaningful, because we know it's a tailor-made message from God, about something we need to work on, change or fix.
When people live with the reality that this world is just a temporary corridor, and that the real successes and achievements are the internal ones - like overcoming things like our anger, jealousy, ingratitude and hatred (OK, I have many more things to work on, on my own list, but hey, I have to keep some of my dignity...) - THEN the existential depression finally disappears, even if the 'externals' are not so good, or even downright bad.
Check out my book 'The Happy Workshop: An 8 week journey to real, lasting happiness' - click HERE to buy it on Amazon.
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