When we’re little, everything in the world seems so much ‘bigger’ than it actually really is. How many times have we returned to a place we used to frequent as a child that used to seem so much larger than life when we were little, only to find it strangely shrunken down into nothing so special?
That ‘big-ness’ we experience is part of the magic of childhood, in some ways, but it can also lead to some big issues as adults, if we were never taught how to handle the ‘big-ness’ of our problems and fears by a caring adult.
A kid, left to themselves and their own imagination, will always imagine the worst, and fear the worst.
If a parent is late returning one night, and there is no caring adult on hand to help the kid express what’s bothering them, and then to teach them how to ‘self soothe’ and to manage their feelings of anxiety down, that kid will spend the whole night fearing the parent got murdered on the way home, God forbid.
(I had this fear a lot, as a kid, and then when I was a mum, it transferred itself to worrying about my kids, and I’ve had to do a whole bunch of work on it, for years, to shrink it down to anything approaching ‘manageable’.)
Or, say the kid has a headache. If they aren’t given the help required to really acknowledge that pain in a calm way, they’ll start fantasizing that they’ve got a brain tumor, God forbid, or some other serious and potentially fatal illness.
All the hypochondriacs out there, this is how it got started!
The ‘big’ fears and anxieties we had in childhood were never calmed down, explained away, soothed or shrunk by the adults in our lives, so our childhood brain took over the job of providing the commentary on what was really happening – and it made even the smallest mole hills seem like the biggest mountains.
So now, we’re adults. And now, life is full of issues and problems and challenges at every turn. And it’s full of yucky, spiteful and difficult people. And unreasonable expectations.
And we’re still trying to deal with all this stuff with the childish, primitive part of our brain that is completely overwhelmed by the ‘big-ness’ of everything it has to deal with and process.
So how does it react to all this?
It over-reacts. It goes ballistic at the drop of a hat. It runs away from every hint of a problem, or freezes up and goes blank, or reaches for the bottle, or the pills, or the internet.
And that’s totally understandable. But it’s not the ideal way of dealing with the challenges of life, especially if you actually want to be able to have calm, loving and nurturing relationships with other people, and to feel happy, satisfied and coping.
So what’s the answer?
At its most basic, it’s this: Try to make as many thing as possible ‘no big deal’.
To put this another way, it’s the art of trying to relate to life as an adult, and not from the mindset of a scared and anxious small child.
And this is really going to take some work, believe me.
Especially in today’s politically-correct world, where making things into a big deal has been raised to an art form.
But here’s what you should know about all those yucky people who are so quick to start escalating small mistakes, small mis-judgements, small errors into the biggest of ‘big deals’:
They are very immature personalities.
They literally never grew up. They are still stuck in a world-view that was formed in early childhood, and that has never expanded, developed or matured since.
And this is how crazy people think.
And we can’t let ourselves get caught up in that warped, dramatic, OTT view of things.
So, we forgot someone’s birthday, and they are going ballistic. It was a mistake, and mistakes happen. The upset person also sometimes forget important dates and events. This is actually not such a big deal.
So, you don’t want to invite a particular person to your dinner party. You don’t have to always invite them to your events and functions. It’s ok to see other people, mix in other groups. This is actually not such a big deal.
So, my kid didn’t get into the right school, or didn’t want to go to college, or wants to go around the world for a year, against my will. This is actually not such a big deal.
Ditto, for that weird ache you keep getting in your shoulder, ditto that you can’t afford to live in the neighborhood you really like, ditto that your latest project at work was a massive failure.
Stuff happens all the time that we don’t like, and that inconveniences us and upsets us and that can make life stressful and miserable for us.
This is life.
But the key to going with the flow, and coping, and still feeling happy most of the time, is to just keep playing down the things that are occurring, and to approach life as much as possible as a grown-up.
It’s not easy, it takes a lot of practice, and a lot of getting God involved in the process of trying to ‘grow ourselves up’, but the benefits are so tremendous. If you don’t know where to start, go HERE to take a look at all the articles and practical tips I’ve put up about C-PTSD.
I know, so many of us are addicted to that drama and excitement and rush of experiencing everything as ‘big’. And there is still a place for ‘big’ in our lives.
Just not at other people’s expense.
And not at the expense of our own peace of mind and health and happiness.
We can’t keep squandering all the energy required for a huge response on all those myriad, day-to-day small things. Because energy is finite, and there are far better things we could be using it for.
One of my correspondents asked me a really good question:
How can we actually forgive the people who have really hurt us, especially when we’re still suffering from the problems they’ve caused us?
It’s an excellent question for a number of reasons.
First, let’s just take a step back to say that there are many gurus and ‘spiritual guides’ out there who like to promote and encourage something that I call ‘superficial forgiveness’.
Superficial forgiveness is where the person who was hurt hasn’t really processed what occurred to them properly, and still has a lot of emotional unfinished business with the person who hurt them.
Yet, that person is ‘forced’ to ‘get over it’ as quickly as possible, because we live in a society that – at least superficially – is a very big believer in ‘forgive and forget’. It’s part of the overall cultural zombification process that tells us deeper emotions don’t matter, and that keeping up appearances and maintaining polite relations is the most important thing.
So what tends to happen is that when we get seriously or chronically hurt by someone, society encourages us to stuff down the very valid feelings we have of betrayal, anger, sadness and upset, and to move straight into ‘forgive and forget’ before we’re really ready to do that.
And when that happens, we end up in a very hard place where on the outside, we’re operating from that place of ‘superficial forgiveness’, but on the inside we still have a lot of anger and vengeful feelings that simply have never been recognized, and never been properly worked through and processed.
And this is one of the best short-cuts I know of to turning into an emotional zombie, and / or developing some severe mental health issues, and / or becoming chronically ill.
Another important point to make is that we can only forgive something that we've actually acknowledged. For as long as we're in denial about what was truly done, or how we truly felt about it, we can't actually forgive.
So, what’s the solution?
This is what I believe works so much better than ‘superficial forgiveness’.
STEP 1: Acknowledge the hurt that was done to you, and validate your feelings.
Your feelings are subjective. We aren’t talking about an objective judgement of what has really happened here, and you don’t need to worry about ‘proving’ your case against the other person.
What you need to focus on is:
This stage can’t be skipped, and it’s the foundation for being able to really forgive further down the line. Where the hurt was profound, or long-lasting, or the result of an enormous betrayal (as is often the case when we’re talking about the parent-child relationship) – this part of the process can take a very long time.
Like, years, sometimes.
Why does it take so long in these situations? Because usually what happens is that the children of emotionally immature / absent and / or abusive parents aren’t allowed to experience their own feelings in a genuine way.
That’s far too threatening for an emotionally-dysfunctional parent.
So instead, the child is encouraged to view every interaction, thought, and feeling through the parent’s emotional lens, and that’s usually calibrated to make the parent come out looking as good as possible, at the child’s expense.
It’s a subtle, but incredibly effective form of brainwashing that sadly is so, so common in today’s world. And it can take the child years and years to really rid themselves of seeing the world simply as an extension of their own parents, and then to really feel all the things that they were never allowed to feel.
Like hurt, betrayal, sadness, jealousy, fear, and rage at how unfair it all is etc etc.
So dafka, when those people’s true feelings start to defrost, there’s a lot of repressed ‘uck’ that has to work its way out of the system, and be properly processed, before they can look to really forgive.
Another very important factor which can slow the process of real forgiveness up is how much of a threat the person who hurt us still poses. That’s one of the main reasons why it’s so much easier to forgive someone once they’ve passed away, because your subconscious is no longer scared for you to let your guard down around them – they’re dead! They can’t hurt you any more.
But, when people are still in a position of power, or still in a position to harm you in some way, or you still have that fear inside of you that it’s dangerous to come off red-alert around them – you’ll find it much, much harder to forgive them 100%.
So, now we’ve spelled out how crucially important STEP 1: Validate your own feelings really is, we can move on to:
STEP 2: How to really forgive the people who hurt us.
People are built in such a way, that we need to be able to ‘get things off our chest’ in some way, before we can really let go of things. But, when we’re dealing with people who have seriously hurt us, that’s usually impossible.
These people usually lack self-awareness, empathy and compassion to a very large degree, so confronting them with what they did to you will usually only lead to them lashing out, and trying to close you down any way they can.
That’s not going to end well for either of you.
So then, how can you get ‘closure’ without actually speaking to them?
The answer is to sit somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed, and to imagine talking to them in your head. Say everything you need to say – repeatedly! Yell, curse, accuse – whatever you need to do to ‘get it off your chest’.
And then, give them the opportunity to respond – still in your head.
Usually, they will start to explain a little about what’s really going on with them, and you’ll start to get some stunning insights into the internal demons the other person is battling.
Again, that doesn’t excuse or justify their bad behavior, but it does explain more of it, and it will help you to understand more about the huge challenges that other person actually has, internally.
If the hurt was huge or chronic, you may well have to repeat this process of ‘talking to them in your head’ a few times over, every time some new emotion, or some new aspect, comes up again in your life, that you have to deal with.
The goal is to get closure, to have your say, and ultimately, to forgive, and I’ve found that visualizing the person in your head, and saying whatever you need to say to them, is the single best way of doing this.
Now, you’re ready for STEP 3: Bring it back to God.
I know that people who come from religious traditions that don’t believe in reincarnation will find what I’m about to say challenging, but everything that happens to us down here is arranged by God, and is connected to fixing us, and our souls, on some level.
We have no idea what we did in a previous life, but if we got sent back down here in 2018, the odds are very good that we were the abusive parent last time round, we were the fraudster and thief, we were the cheating spouse, we were the cold-hearted murderer.
And if we didn’t make amends to our victims during that lifetime, then the only way to pay down and rectify those sins where we hurt other people is to experience the same sort of suffering ourselves.
Does this excuse the people who hurt us?
But, fundamentally, they are just being used as the stick in God’s hand, to rectify some wrong that we ourselves committed in a previous lifetime.
Again, for as long as you haven’t worked through the previous steps of:
You simply won’t be able to get to Step 3, which is where you can really see and internalize and accept that God was behind it all.
And that’s another reason why ‘superficial forgiveness’ is so poisonous and damaging, spiritually, because until and unless we have really worked the hurt through, as described above, we simply won’t be able to internalize that it’s all from God, and all for our good, somehow.
There are no quick fixes with these things, there are no short-cuts.
The people who are telling you to ‘forgive and forget’ are usually dealing with their own massive, and massively suppressed, mental and emotional health issues.
True forgiveness usually takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of inner work, courage and effort, and it’s predicated on first truly understanding what was done to you, and how badly it hurt you. Only then can you move on to really forgiving the other person, and then bringing it all back to God.
But when you finally do reach that stage of forgiving them 100%, it’s the best feeling in the world.
Don’t panic when you suddenly discover you have no idea what you yourself really thinks about a whole bunch of stuff, or that you have no idea what you really want to do with yourself, or why.
Instead, just turn your attention to taming your inner critters. The way to do this is to just start noticing how they react to your situations and experiences. Does the thought of having to give a big presentation, or attend a job interview send them scurrying back into their box, or climbing the walls?
What makes them soften up and relax a little? Long walks on the beach? Long talks with someone a little wiser? A little light reading or a hard work-out? As you get to know your critters better, you’ll soon start to figure out that certain people literally have them eating out of their hand, while others put their backs up and get them baring their teeth and growling up a storm.
Relating to your deeper feelings as critters that need to be house-trained can give you a very helpful handle on how to deal with being plunged into feelings of frozen overwhelm or hepped-up over-excitement. But where critters beat dogs hands down is that with a bit of practice, you can actually get them to talk.
Actually, that’s not exactly true. The critters are talking to us all the time, just we haven’t tuned our ears to hear them. But listening to what they are saying can quickly become one of the most profoundly satisfying and useful skills you’ll ever learn in your life. Because critters often hold some of the most valuable pieces of insight and wisdom.
Up until now, you couldn’t hear them because the backseat driver was filling your head with all its dictates, and arguments and worries and concerns. The critters couldn’t really get a look in, unless they went ballistic one day and bit someone’s head off (and let’s face it, that used to happen much more than we like to admit. That’s part of the reason we shoved them in the Porta-Pet in the first place.)
And initially, you may have to take them out for walks muzzled, until you really learn their moods and their foibles, and what sorts of things can set them off and trigger an attack stance. Over time, if you observe them carefully, and really start to listen to what they’re telling you, and showing you with their reactions, you’ll start to build the most rewarding relationship of your life.
The more you care for your critters and tend to their needs, the more they’ll come to trust you, and to go to bat for you when you need them.
Your critters have a much keener sense of smell than you do; they can sense danger - and also snuffle out genuine opportunities and hidden treasures - a million times better than you can.
But you have to be the one holding the leash and taking them for a walk, and not the other way around.
Over time, you’ll discover that you’ve come to know your critters so well, and that you’ve trained them so ably, you very rarely have to worry about them losing their heads and chewing their way through the neighbors’ prize dahlias. Instead, you’ll be able to easily put their talents and abilities at your disposal - as long as you learn their limitations, and respect their requirements.
If your critters hate big, loud, superficial parties, don’t take them to those things even if it seems like a great idea. If they hate being cooped in a stuffy accountant’s cubby hole, you’ll have to find a different job to do, or a different way of doing your job, that will take the critters into account.
If the critters hate sitting through a six hour Thanksgiving feast with your nearest and dearest, you’ll have to decide to either box them back up out the way for the afternoon (and then deal with the consequences of doing that later) or bring them along but leave at the first sign they’re getting a little antsy.
You’ll learn so much about life if you start to listen more to your critters. But that doesn’t mean they’re always right, or completely infallible. When you’re out searching for clues, or trying to track something or someone down, the bloodhound will be invaluable. But no-one sane ever takes their dog’s advice about what stocks to invest.
So don’t expect more from your critters than they’re capable of giving you.
Learn their strengths, respect their weaknesses and you’ll be rewarded many times over.
But don’t expect your backseat driver to like your critters, or the other way around.
One of the backseat drivers’ favorite ploys is to spend a few moments inflaming and inciting your critters, until all hell breaks loose and they’re pooping all over the place and otherwise wrecking the joint. At that point, the backseat driver will try to convince you that you can’t deal with these critters by yourself - I mean, look at the terrible mess and destruction they’re causing!! - and that you really need him, the backseat driver, to get things back under control.
How’s he going to do this? By banning the critters to the back of beyond, crating them up and shipping them out.
That’s how they got into that Porta-Pet crate in the first place, and that’s why they’re going so bug-eyed and wild now you’re finally trying to spring them out again.
From their side of things, whenever the critters have to deal with the backseat driver again, it’ll bring out the very worst in them. Whether they deal by gnashing their teeth, running away or freezing in place - maybe, a combination of all of these things - depends on a whole bunch of things.
But the more you’ve invested in your relationship with your critters, they more they trust you, and the more you really understand and value them, the easier it’ll be to get things back under control again when they do go a little beserk again. And that is inevitably going to happen, because animals inevitably act like animals, not angels.
So to sum up where we’ve got to:
The more you get to hang out with your critters, the more you’ll start to find that you want to hang out with people who like, even love them just as much as you do. Or at the very least, who can tolerate them without blowing a gasket.
There will still be times when you have to Porta-Pet them, but increasingly you’ll find that you’ll want to keep those occasions to a bare minimum, and to also keep those times as short as possible.
Because while you can function superficially without your critters, your critters can’t stay sane for long without you, and they’ll be sure to let you know how much they missed you when you get around to visiting them again.
It’s a great feeling to finally feel yourself properly in the driving seat. You set the destination, you decide where you want to go and how and why, there’s no-one holding you back now, or ordering you around.
Which is when most people discover the next hurdle on the path: now they are starting to get some mental clarity, and a break from the backseat driver’s incessant instructions, nagging, small talk and general freak-outs about all things large and small, they find
they have no idea where they want to go. Or why. Or how they actually feel about the process of trying to get there.
It’s like that 17 year old who finally gets around to asking the cute girl out for a date, and after months of planning and hoping and waiting finds he has absolutely nothing to say to her when the big day comes around.
If you’re not prepared for this part of the journey, it can easily tip you head-over-heels and have you scrambling to invite the backseat driver back into the car again, so you can get past that panicked feeling of having no frigging clue about what you actually want to do in life, or how.
“Sure, I had all plans to drive down South and visit a bunch of cool canyons but now that I can actually just go right ahead and do, I’ve got cold feet. I’m not sure I want to spend a month of my time on a road-trip right now. I’m scared of what I’m going to find if I go. I’m even more scared of what I might come back to.
“Maybe, this emotional freedom is more hassle than it’s worth, and it’s easier to go back to just following orders and dreaming about freedom in theory…”
This is a really normal response, to that first taste of freedom.
That's why so many long-term prisoners baulk when they're finally released, and will do anything they can to get themselves back into jail as quickly as possible.
You’re being stampeded into a panic about what’s out there, and you’re probably also stressing about how you’re going to cope, and feeling pretty overwhelmed by all the things that you kind of relied on the backseat driver to take care of for you.
This is when it starts to dawn on you that kicking that guy out of the car was empowering, but maybe also the dumbest thing you ever did in your life. Because now there is no-one else to blame, there is nothing else to hide behind and the buck stops with you.
If you’re not prepared for that heady kick-back from your first real taste of freedom, it can knock you out cold. So many people turn tail and run when they’re finally given the key to open the door, and get out there a little, but that’s only because no-one ever told them that this feeling of overwhelming panic is just a stage.
If you sit quietly, and wait it out, it’ll pass. For some people, it may take a few minutes for the freak out to start to fade away, for others it may be more like a couple of hours, or a couple of days. But it won’t be more than that, and if you can get through this stage, you’ll be through maybe the biggest milestone on your quest for emotional freedom.
It’s like when you bring that cute puppy home from the pound in its plastic travel crate. The first time you open that box up, that cute critter is going to power out of there like Usain Bolt.
It’s going to run up the walls, wee in the corners and generally make you wish you’d just said ‘no’ to all the wheedling to get a dog.
Alternatively, it’ll push its way back, far, far back, against the wall of the carry crate, and not hell nor high water will get that animal to venture out into the wide open space of your yard. But just leave the door open, go about your business, and slowly but surely, he’ll start sniffing around and when he gets a little hungry, or he needs to attend to some present business, he’ll come out and make your acquaintance.
Whichever way your own internal ‘critter response’ is going to play out, trying to stuff the dog back in the box and shipping it straight back to the pound is not the answer.
You wanted that dog in your life because you wanted the benefit of getting your face all licked off when you open the door after a hard day’s hustle, and you wanted something warm and cuddly to hang out with and talk to. Maybe, you also wanted Buster in your life to give you a greater sense of security, and like someone, something, has got your back.
A dog can do a lot of good things for you. Persevering through those often difficult few days and weeks when you’re starting to get to know each other, and starting to figure out what each of you can bring to the relationship, and how best to relate to each other takes time and a lot of patience.
The same is true with your internal ‘critter response’. Those guys have been all boxed-up inside of you while the backseat driver’s been calling the shots for years. Now that you’re finally swinging the cage open, you can expect to feel messy and chaotic for a while, or panicked and all crumpled up at the back, scared to put a foot wrong.
But with a bit of coaxing, a bit of training, and a lot of patience, your critter response will turn around from crazy-making overwhelm, to giving you the best, most loyal and lickable best friend you ever had in your life.
Ok, let’s recap where we’ve got to so far on our road-map to real mental health:
1) There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with you. All of your problems are being caused by the backseat driver.
2) The backseat driver is working night and day to fill your heads with needless and frivolous confusions, doubts, worries, criticisms, worst-case scenarios that never happen and a general view of the world as bad, dangerous and nasty.
3) The backseat driver’s greatest achievement is convincing us that he is really us. He talks in our voice, he addresses us as himself, he uses our own phrases and foibles against us.
4) The true essence of a person is not defined by what job they do, where they live, how much money they make, who they love or who loves them, what they succeeded at, what they failed at, or what they look like.
5) A person’s true essence is made up of every thought, word and deed they actually put out into the world, both good and bad. We can only really know what our true essence actually was at the very end of the journey.
Now we have those ground rules set down, it’s time to take a look at what we can do to try to turf that backseat driver out of the car, or at least, to get him muffled enough of the time that we can actually start enjoying our lives a whole lot more. The first thing is to just start noticing he’s there.
Notice what chatter he’s filling with you head with when you pick up the phone to make a call:
“Uhoh, my mind’s gone blank. I’ve got nothing to say. I’m going to sound really stupid. They’re going to think I’m retarded. I can’t the words out properly.”
When you’re browsing in a store:
“That sweater is so pretty. But it’s costs a fortune. It probably won’t look so nice on my anyway. I’m just going to end up looking like some fat version of Taylor Swift if I try to fit into that. I wish my arm-flab didn’t jiggle so much. Man, my legs are so hairy, and I look like a guy. I need to take better care of myself. I can’t do it. I haven’t got the time to work out, I haven’t got the money to really buy the clothes that would suit me. Man, it’s really hot in here, I’m finding it hard to breathe…”
Little wonder you’re finding it hard to breathe in the store! You popped in to try on a sweater and now the backseat driver is having a field day finding more and more reasons why you should hate
yourself and how you look!
He also starts up when you’re trying to decide what new car, or new sofa you want to buy:
“The brown leather looks nice…but it’s scuff really easily…and start to look shabby after a year or two…but it’s got a 10 year guarantee and it’s from Italy so maybe that’s ok…but look at the price they are charging for that! I could buy two sofas for that…and if I make the wrong decision I’m going to have to live with it for years…and I’ll get so blamed if I pick a duff couch…and spend our hard-earned money on something that’s going to look bad so fast…but this company has a great reputation, and it’s got a 10 year guarantee…”
Round and round it goes for days, week, months and for some unfortunate individuals, even years.
Years of indecision, worry and guilt that they might ‘pick wrong’ and suffer the consequences for eternity.
See what that backseat driver is doing here? He’s turning everything into a ridiculously big deal. He’s blowing everything out of proportion and painting a picture of ‘reality’ that is anything but real.
The only way to really attain true inner peace is to stop paying attention to the backseat driver.
Try this: next time he starts up, asks yourself what you’d think if a real person came over to you and started telling you all this stuff. Do they sound balanced? Sane? Rational? Like someone you’d really want to pay attention to and take seriously?
This takes a bit of practice, and the main barrier to starting to put that much-needed distance between you and the backseat driver is to understand that he is not you. Where he came from and what he’s doing in your headspace we’ll get to a bit later on, but for now this is the main work to do:
Stop taking that backseat guy so seriously.
“If you take the next left, it will get you to the store 10 minutes faster…Hey, you’re revving too much, the engine can’t take it! The aircon is up to high I’m getting chilblains just sitting here…do you know how much gas that thing sucks out of the tank? This trip’s gonna end up costing you a fortune…You’re going to get stuck behind that tanker going uphill, you should indicate now and get into the middle lane…the cops usually park right behind that next bend with a speed-o-meter, hit the brakes so you don’t get fined…”
Few things are more irritating than having a back-seat driver along for the ride. There they sit, picking holes in your driving style, your sense of direction, even your choice of music. Ask the backseat driver why they do what they do, and they’ll tell you straight out: they’re just trying to be helpful. And they really believe it!
But going anywhere with a backseat driver is invariably exhausting and draining. They don’t shut up… they’re forever looking for one more thing to worry over, one more thing to criticize you about, one more way to make you feel small, stupid and entirely reliant on them and their superior advice and experience.
Backseat drivers take all the fun out of the journey.
Now, it’s hard enough to deal with a real-live person stuck in the back of your car trying to call all the shots and not giving you anytime or space to think things through for yourself in a calm, relaxed fashion. But there’s a big secret you should know about yourself: You’ve got a back-seat driver calling the shots in your own head 24 / 7 and you never get away from them.
And that’s not all. This backseat driver is so cunning, it’s managed to convince you that the person who’s doling out all the criticism, and worry, and doubt and harsh judgments about you and the rest of humanity is actually…you.
“I’m such an idiot! I can’t believe I forget to call the insurance guy to renew the policy on time. Now, I’m going to have to re-do all the paperwork from scratch, I’m so retarded!”
Or, try this:
“I can’t believe I was dumb enough to try to avoid paying the tax I owed. Now, I’m stressing about it all the time and I sit in the office convinced the IRS are going to burst through my door any minute and arrest me. They’ll splash the story all over the local press and my wife will divorce me…”
Or how about this:
“Man, why did I eat all those fries and pizza? I really feel like I’m going to throw up now! I’ve got no self-control, I can’t seem to get a grip on my life, I’m such a loser.”
He's convinced us that HE is really US!
Do you see what’s happening here? The backseat driver has us convinced that he is really us. He talks in our voice, he uses our catch-phrases, he knows all our secret fears and weaknesses, and he has absolutely no qualms about using them against us to get us to do what he wants.
And what is it that this internal back-seat driver really wants from us? In a word: control. He wants to control the way we see our lives, and the way we relate to other people, and the way we react to the different circumstances we get sent to deal with.
He wants to convince us that the world is full of bogey-man waiting to get us, and monsters under our bed who want to spirit us away to the netherworld, and nasty people who are just itching to kidnap our children and steal our lifesavings.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking to yourself: “But isn’t that true? Isn’t that a rational opinion to hold, that the world is a dangerous place and home to milllions and even billions of psychos, derango-s and otherwise criminally insane, crazy people?”
Let’s be clear no-one is arguing with the idea that the world is full of loony-tunes. Everyone walking around on planet earth has got their own issues to deal with, and their own craziness to face down. But top of the crazy-making list is this:
People think that their backseat driver is really them.
That’s why they have ceded almost all their power, control and inner vitality over to that little crazy guy sitting behind them who is calling all the shots in their lives.
So what can we really do, to try to get rid of this pernicious backseat driver who seems to have opinions about everything and everyone, and who makes judgment calls 24/7 and doesn’t give us a moment’s peace and quiet, even (or maybe especially…) when we’re trying to settle down for the night?
Just as we’ve got into our favorite pair of pyjamas and started to drowse off over an interesting bit of bedtime reading and reached to turn the bedside light off - that’s when it starts reminding us that we forgot to hang the washing up, and it’s going black and moldy in the machine. Or that we forgot to respond to that niggly work email, and now all the endless possible responses are going to be cycling through our head, bothering us and stopping us from going to sleep all night long.
Let’s be clear that this crazy little backseat driving guy is really good at what he does, he’s an expert in keeping our heads too stuffed up with worries and problems and doubts and arguments and criticisms to really take a breath and to actually think.
But it’s time to turf him out of pole position, and to reclaim control of the vehicle once again
As the orthodox Jewish world seems to be hurtling towards encouraging more and more orthodox women and girls to start posting more pictures of themselves online and in other publications, I thought it would be timely to take a look at the links even the non-Jewish world is starting to flag up between so-called ‘selfie’ culture and a whole host of emotional issues and problems.
Let’s start with some scientific studies examining the huge impact ‘selfies’ is already having on young women’s self-esteem and body image.
Back in 2014, a Dr David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust and The Priory Hospital, started sounding the alarm that about the alarming link between the rise of ‘selfie culture’ and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Dr Veale said:
“Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take and post selfies on social media sites.”
In 2016, researcher Katia Mifsud undertook a study for the University of Malta which found that respondents with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) were:
Before we continue, here’s a definition of what ‘Body Dysmorphic Disorder’ actually is:
Body dysmorphic disorder: A psychiatric disorder characterized by excessive preoccupation with imagined defects in physical appearance. It is classified as an anxiety disorder, and it is believed to be a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Also known as somatoform disorder and dysmorphophobia.
As posting pictures online and ‘selfies’ has become de rigeur in the non-Jewish world, more and more people are falling prey to Body Dysmorphic Disorder, caught up in the overwhelming focus on ‘externals’ and ‘how they look’ instead of who they really are, as a person.
Is this really something we want to be promoting in the orthodox Jewish world for Jewish women and girls, under the banner of ‘progress and equality’?
Even the non-Jewish world is starting to realize there is a huge selfie-induced problem with people posting too many images of themselves online, and becoming overly-obsessed with their external appearance. This comes from the official BDD website:
Body Dysmorphic Disorder affects 1.7% to 2.4% of the general population — about 1 in 50 people. This means that more than 5 million people to about 7.5 million people in the United States alone have BDD. BDD is about as common as obsessive-compulsive disorder and more common than disorders such as anorexia nervosa and schizophrenia.
Again, we take all psych stats and statements with a huge pinch of salt, but we can still clearly see that there is a huge problem that's developed around BDD, and it's of fairly recent origin.
Let’s go back to the scientific studies, to see what else they are telling us about how social media is promoting some very unhealthy emotional attitudes to how people relate to themselves.
Dr Giuseppe Riva recently published a study called: ‘Risk and maintenance factors for young women’s DSM-5 eating disorders’. This study found that:
Self-objectification (thinking about and monitoring the body’s appearance from an external observer’s perspective) was the largest contributor to both Eating Disorder onset and maintenance.
To put this into plainer English, the more a young woman was focused on how her body appeared to other people, the higher her chances of developing an Eating Disorder in the first place, and also for her Eating Disorder-ed behavior to continue. In other comments that he made to VICE magazine (horrible name, but actually a really good article), Dr Riva explained how social media is promoting the problem of ‘self-objectification’. He said:
"This is particularly true for Snapchat and Instagram, which provide a mirror-like vision of young women, which is also altered and shared. This behavior supports the vision that a social body—self-objectified—is more relevant than the real felt body."
In case you don’t know how Instagram and Snapchat actually work (I didn’t until I started researching all this stuff) both apps let users retouch their snaps and selfies with a variety of filters. Spots and birthmarks can be erased, wrinkles retouched, even the shape of the face altered, to give your selfie that ‘perfect’ appearance.
Apparently, things are getting so bad with these apps that many users now refuse to have any picture taken that they can’t ‘retouch’ and make ‘perfect’ - which brings us on to the next mental illness selfies can feed in to: narcissism.
I’ve written so much about narcissism, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NDP) on spiritualselfhelp.org and in other places. The bottom line is that it’s learned behavior and can be unlearned (with an awful lot of effort, prayer and understanding of what’s really causing it and how.)
But there is no question that social media encourages people to behave in a very narrow-minded, self-aggrandising and un-empathetic way, all of which can fuel the fire of narcissistic traits, and turn the latent narcissistic ‘tendencies’ that we all have, to a greater of lesser degree, into a real problem.
This comes from an excellent article on the RAWHIDE website (which sadly has pictures of women in it, so I can’t link to their excellent infographic), but here’s their take on what they call ‘social media narcissism;”
Social media narcissism may be displayed through many of the following traits:
Again, this is an over-simplification of the real reasons why people want to post pictures of themselves online, and compulsively get attention from strangers and other people they don’t know based on how they look.
But the point is this: the whole social media / selfie culture that encourages both men and women to obsess over appearance instead of being concerned by substance, and that glorifies people’s looks over their personalities, abilities and deeds is clearly leading to some huge spikes in emotional and mental issues, including:
So why oh why would the orthodox Jewish world want to encourage our teens and women to start doing more of this stuff, and to start putting more emphasis on having pictures of themselves posted up all over the place?
The mind boggles.
So, for sure you’ve noticed how just about everyone you know, including yourself (if you’re honest…) is starting to exhibit some extreme mood swings and strong emotions, right? Here’s just a small selection of what I’ve heard and / or seen going on around me in the last little while:
One normally very calm, sweet and forgiving person told me they had such an uncharacteristic rage fit with a rude shopping assistant that they left the store shaking with anger, and it took them hours and hours to calm down again afterwards…
Another person snapped and violently attacked their spouse…
Another person got plunged into the biggest pit of despair and overwhelm about a problem that, yes is a problem, but not SUCH a big problem to merit such a enormous reaction…
Someone else got so overwhelmed by feelings of existential loneliness that they proposed marriage to someone they barely knew (thank God, the person turned them down…)
I could go on, but I’m sure you have your own examples of extreme, unusual reactions, decisions and behaviours going on all around you, and also inside you.
So what the heck is going on?!?
There’s a number of answers to this question, and the more spiritual answers you’ll find over on my other blog, at www.emunaroma.com. But on this blog, I try to concentrate on the more tangible explanations, or the visible processes that God is using to create a particular reaction or set of circumstances.
So what I think is going on, within that paradigm, is that the huge, unexplained body that’s currently in our solar system, and that goes by the various names of ‘Planet X’, ‘Nibiru’, ‘Kochav Yaacov’, or some other comet nomenclature is hugely affecting the bio-electrical structure of our planet - and the humans who live here.
(Again, I know this can sound pretty bizarre and ‘out there’ if you haven’t already been introduced to how the universe, world and human health actually really works, so if that’s you, you may want to take a look at these articles before you continue:)
We’re all kind of feeling ‘subliminally stressed’ at the moment, as our bio-electrical systems are being disrupted by the increased ions, protons, whatever they are in the atmosphere, that are part and parcel of what’s called the ‘solar wind’, or the energy that comes streaming in our direction from the sun.
If you take a look at THIS article, you’ll see how the universe really works, and is electrical in nature, and how when there’s a large comet / planet circling around our solar system, that causes the electrical activity between all the other bodies in the solar system, including the sun and planet earth, to go haywire.
So in a nutshell, the same phenomena that’s causing all these hurricanes in the US and the Caribbean (and even in the UK…), and unusually destructive wildfires all over the world, and massive earthquakes in Italy and Mexico, and floods in the Indian subcontinent, and exploding volcanoes in the ‘ring of fire’ in the Pacific, and also all the earthquake swarms being noted in the US and elsewhere - it’s also affecting us, you and me, on a micro level.
It’s making us feel increasingly ‘subliminally stressed’, which means we’re going into FIGHT-FLIGHT-FREEZE-FAWN mode without even realizing it, and that we have much less patience, generosity, kindness or self-awareness than usual.
We’re all walking around with hair-triggers, prepared to let anyone and everyone have it.
Why is God doing this?
Because He wants us to stop running away from our repressed negative emotions and bad character traits, and to actually acknowledge them and deal with them properly.
You, lady, have an anger issue! That’s why you keep sending out such atrocious emails to people, and commenting so acerbically on other people’s blogs.
You, sir, are sunk in despair and apathy! That’s why you drink so much and spend so much of your time glued to the telly, watching YouTube vids on your massive 50 inch screen.
You, madam, really hate and resent your parents, and you never, ever dealt with it! That’s why now, you find it so hard to enjoy your own family life, and you have a nervous breakdown every time another family get-together looms.
And so on and so forth.
But right now, God’s decided that we can’t run away from this stuff anymore. It’s time to look it squarely in the face, acknowledge the problems, and try to fix them.
And if we don’t do that, then at least in our lives, the ‘crazy days’ we’re experiencing are only going to come more furious, and more frequently.
The late Dr John Sarno, MD, was considered to be quite a maverick by the medical establishment. Over the last few decades of his life, his research and practice into the causes and cures of backache led him to the remarkable viewpoint that MOST of the body’s aches and pains were caused by EMOTIONAL ISSUES, and not physical wear-and-tear on the body.
Despite running a number of well-designed clinical trials which proved his thesis, and despite having thousands and thousands of ‘cured’ patients that the medical establishment had pretty much given up on, his peers in Western medicine still regarded Dr Sarno as something of a lunatic.
I mean, everyone knows that backaches (and hip aches, and neck aches and a few other things besides) only happen because of a physical cause or accident. The person strained themselves, stretched themselves, bent down funny, herniated a disk, wore-out a hip bone… Case closed, there’s nothing more to discuss.
Except…Western medicine is plain wrong on that score, as I’ve been going on about for years’ now, not least in a couple of my books: Talk to God and Fix Your Health: The Real Reasons Why We Get Sick and How to Stay Healthy, and How Your Emotions Are Making You Sick.
Chinese medicine and other reputable energy medicine practices like applied kinesiology have been making the link between ‘emotions’ and ‘physical health’ for millennia. But Western medicine, with its frankly lunatic need to see human beings as chemical compositions and bits of animated meat, has been so ‘anti’ the idea that a person’s emotions, or spiritual dimension, has anything to do with their physical health, that even medical doctors touting excellent research can’t really persuade them otherwise.
So, what is it that Dr Sarno actually says about it all?
(The best thing is to go and read one of his books, like ‘Healing back pain: the mind-body connection’, but let’s see if I can sum it up for you below).
CHRONIC BACK PAIN IS NOT USUALLY CAUSED BY STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS
First, he identified that in nearly all cases chronic back pain was NOT being caused by herniated disks, slipped disks, dissolving disks or other ‘structural’ issues. He discovered that in nearly all cases, a person’s back pain started up in response to some sort of notable stress, that got ‘somatized’ as back pain.
Somatization basically means that the human brain takes a big emotional pain that it doesn’t really want to deal with or face on the conscious level, and turns it into a physical pain instead.
He discovered that people were having massive attacks of debilitating back pain after having enormous problems at work, or in their marriages and families, or when someone they loved died, or when they were facing enormous financial issues, to name some of the most common reasons.
He also discovered that a particular type of person, one that he characterized as being ‘a worrier, overly-conscientious and responsible, compulsive and perfectionist’ was distinctly more prone to chronic and severe physical aches and pains.
But that still didn’t answer the question of HOW the body was transforming these ‘emotional pains’ into physical pains, which is the next question Dr Sarno set out to answer. He came up with what I’ll call a ‘Western Medical’ description of the problem, and identified a syndrome that he called Tension Myoneural Syndrome, or TMS for short.
He discovered that TMS could affect three different types of tissue:
He also discovered that most patients - 40% in one survey he conducted - believed that their chronic back pain began thanks to some sort of fall or physical accident that had happened a long time ago.
Sarno began to take issue with this belief, because as he notes in his book:
“Our body parts tend to heal very quickly when they are injured. Even the largest bone in the body, the femur, only takes six weeks to heal. And during that process, there is pain for only a very short time. It’s illogical to think that an injury that occurred two months ago might still be causing pain, not to mention one or two or ten years ago. And yet people have been so thoroughly indoctrinated with the idea of persistent injury that they accept it without question.”
So Sarno started to look for an alternative explanation for what was causing the feeling of pain. After many years of exploring the question, he came to the conclusion that oxygen deprivation and the autonomic nervous system (ANS) was at the root of the problem.
UNDERSTANDING THE AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM (ANS)
The autonomic nervous system, or ANS, is controlled by the primitive part of the brain that is responsible for all of the body’s involuntary functions, like breathing, digestion, heart-rate, sleep and - yes you guessed it! - the fight / flight / freeze / fawn stress response that I like to write so much about here, on spiritual self-help.
Sarno realized that the ANS controls the body’s blood flow - with exquisite, detailed precision - increasing and decreasing the blood flow to whatever part of the body it wishes.
When a part of the body gets less blood flow than it should- something that’s called ischemia in Western medical parlance - it also gets less oxygen. When human tissue gets lets oxygen than it requires, that causes a whole bunch of physical symptoms like pain, numbness, tingling and weakness.
Sarno identified that repressed anger and repressed anxiety were the main emotions causing the ANS to pull the ‘oxygen deprivation’ stunt in the body (and it’s no coincidence that these are the main emotions traumatized people try to repress, as discussed in detail in other posts.)
WHAT TYPES OF PHYSICAL CONDITIONS COULD BE TRACED TO TMS / EMOTIONAL CAUSES?
Next, Sarno identified some of the most common ‘illnesses’ that he believed were also being caused by a TMS / oxygen deprivation response to emotional triggers. As well as straight-up ‘pain’, these also included:
He also identified a number of ‘diagnoses’ that were usually given by medical doctors to ‘explain’ much of the pain his patients were experiencing as a result of the emotional-based problem of TMS, including:
Herniated discs, pinched nerves, the Facet Syndrome, arthritis of the spine, transitional verterbra, spondylosis, spina bifida occulta, spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, osteoarthritis of the hip, chondromalacia, bone spurs, bursitis, tendonitis, coccydynia, neuroma, plantar fasciitis, mononeuritis multiplex, Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ), inflammation, and soft tissue disorders including fibromyalgia (fibrositis, myofibrositis and myofasciitis).
Yes, these things may be observed in the body, but Sarno stressed again and again: this isn’t what’s causing the pain!!! The pain was coming from unresolved emotional issues that the brain was ‘hiding’ away as a physical pain problem via decreased blood flow / reduced oxygenation.
SO, WHAT’S THE CURE?
This next part of the story is my favorite bit. Sarno discovered that the main cure for his patients’ many forms of chronic pain was simply to understand that the unconscious mind was using them to ‘hide’ some sort of emotional pain, usually related to repressed anger and / or repressed anxiety.
In Sarno’s experience, even just two hours of ‘education’ about the emotional causes of their pain was enough to actually permanently ‘cure’ the problem - with the proviso that his patients HAD to believe in the diagnosis that the root of their pain was emotional, and not structural.
And his success rates were phenomenal!
In one study done in 1987 with a group of 109 patients who’d all been clearly diagnosed with ‘herniated disk’, 88 percent reported that they were ‘free, or nearly free of pain’ and enjoying unrestricted physical activity, 10 percent said they were ‘improved, with some pain, and some restricted activity’ and 2 per cent - the two that had the most severe and persistent psychological issues - reported no change.
WHY DOES JUST KNOWING THE PROBLEM IS EMOTIONAL CURE THE PAIN?
Sarno was of the view that the unconscious mind was using physical pain to ‘divert attention’ away from emotions that the person felt overwhelmed by, or didn’t want to face or acknowledge. As soon as the patient ‘blew the cover’ of the physical pain by accepting that it was caused by an emotional issue (usually repressed anger or repressed anxiety) - the body could no longer use the physical pain as a diversion tactic, so it quickly stopped doing it.
Again, his books are full of letters from the thousands and thousands of people who Sarno successfully treated with this approach, most of whom had completely exhausted every other avenue of help and relief.
THE LAST WORD: SURGERY AS A PLACEBO EFFECT
As a last word, I just wanted to mention Sarno’s conviction that most surgery for these conditions - when it worked - was simply because it was acting as a sort of ‘placebo’ affect for the patient.
He reported that while many of his patients experienced some sort of temporary relief from their original pain (in those cases where it actually worked), typically the pain or problem would resurface in some other area, as the unconscious mind continued its diversion tactics to keep the person away from painful and overwhelming negative emotions.
Again, there’s so much to say about this subject but for now, I recommend that people take a look at Dr Sarno’s books for themselves (and maybe also the two I authored, mentioned above) and next time they have one of the physical issues listed here, to take a deep breath and ask themselves:
What am I angry or anxious about, that maybe I'm finding it hard to admit?
The short answer is ‘yes’ - but only if you really get to grips with what is actually causing it, and understand what you have to do to overcome it.
There are many different types of psychological trauma that all of us experience all the time. If someone treats us cruelly, embarrasses us in public, steals from us, hurts us (physically, emotionally, financially, psychologically…) - all of these things can cause a psychological trauma to the person that’s experiencing them.
The intensity of that trauma will depend on the following main factors:
So, assuming the worst case scenarios across all categories - it was a repeated, deep hurt that was inflicted by someone very close to you, and it happened at a very inauspicious age in relation to the developing brain - HOW THE HECK DO YOU GET OVER IT?!?!?
The first thing to say is that the brain is plastic, and just as it was ‘trained’ or conditioned or wired to react in a traumatised fashion, it can be re-trained, re-conditioned and re-wired to start to act in a more helpful fashion.
Self-education is a very important part of this process, and I highly recommend the following books:
Pete Walker’s: Complex PTSD - from surviving to thriving - is a great, easy to read book that really sets things out very clearly, and gives a wealth of concrete advice and practical tips for HOW to start retraining your brain.
You can see his website here:
Pete Walker, M.A. Psychotherapy
As a starting point, take a look at his 13 steps for managing flashbacks (which I ‘riffed’ on to do the following infographic:)
Another excellent book to read, although some people find it a little ‘scholarly’, is Bessel Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score.
This article is a good introduction to the book’s main approach:
The lifelong cost of burying our traumatic experiences
The key thing to understand is that trauma changes the physiological processes in the brain, and causes people to become oversensitised, jumpy, ‘stressed out’, overwhelmed etc.
Trauma is often ‘stuck’ in the body, and has to be viscerally released, not just talked about endlessly for years in therapy.
I’ve pulled together a whole bunch of suggestions that tackle psychological trauma across all three levels of body, mind and soul on my website, and you can see that here:
c-ptsd 101: I've got c-ptsd! now what do i do to get rid of it?
But the short answer is that it CAN be overcome, once you know what actually caused it, how it’s really affecting you, and what types of things you really need to do to overcome it.
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