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Volcanoes and Traumas!

11 Jul

It was pretty obvious when the tsunami hit Indonesia in the early 2000s that this horrific natural disaster would have far-reaching consequences — to the people who lived in this region, to their homes and economic well-being, and to the holiday visitors all taken totally unaware.

Like a tsunami or a volcano which remains dormant for years or decades, a trauma can “go underground,” with the trauma victim “carrying on as normal.” But the fact is that those who have suffered a trauma are severely handicapped in their ability to cope with life. The time between a trauma and the after-effects presented in therapy can be as short as one hour or as long as decades. There are innumerable events which can precipitate a trauma in anyone’s life:

  • an accident in which there is a loss of any kind, including loss of life, injury, loss or damage to property
  • any kind of natural disaster, including but not limited to fire, flooding, earthquake, volcanic eruption, mudslides, tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes
  • a war zone, including any violence experienced in an inner city environment
  • rape or incest
  • bullying, whether that be in person or in social media
  • numerous traumatic incidents during childhood and adolescence, including physical fighting or verbal abuse in the family
  • lack of emotional connection to others in the family
  • alcoholism or other addiction
  • a hostile work environment

Any and all of these experiences are of course experienced through an individual’s unique person — his/her personality type, psyche and physical constitution. A hallmark of PTSD is that the person feels that his/her very being is threatened by extinction. We can easily see this in the horrific events of war or in natural disasters. Yet when a person enters a hostile work environment most days of the week and remains there from early morning to late afternoon, he may feel that his inner being is being extinguished. He may have the same symptoms of post-traumatic stress as a survivor of an enemy attack. Let’s look at some of the symptoms:

  • flashbacks to the traumatic scene
  • hypervigilance and/or a startle response
  • triggers that reactivate the traumatic experience
  • dreams in which the distressing events recur
  • overreacting to others’ verbalizations
  • sleep disturbance
  • negative or depressive emotional state
  • inability to remember aspects of the traumatic event(s)

Counselors who have special training to help clients with post-traumatic stress usually employ EMDR and/or Brain Spotting. EMDR is an earlier technology developed in the early 1990s by Francine Shapiro. The letters stand for Eye Movement Desensization and Reprocessing. The client talks about the scenario which initiated the trauma, and the therapist gathers information, including

  1. What is the worst part of the scenario?
  2. What is the image (mental picture) you have of the experience?
  3. What thoughts do you have about it?
  4. What beliefs do you have about yourself in this situation?
  5. Where in your body do you feel discomfort as we talk about the trauma?
  6. On a scale of 1 – 10, where 10 is the highest imaginable discomfort, where are you right now?

The therapist then initiates eye movements or hand movements to begin release of the trauma from the client’s nervous system. After a series of biolateral movements, the client and the therapist debrief, noting if anything in any of the above modalities has changed. The therapist will then make an intervention and proceed with another series of eye or hand movements.

In Brain Spotting, the therapist will normally make use of biolateral sound delivered through headphones hooked up to an IPod or an IPhone. This is a newer technology developed by David Grand, who initially was an EMDR practitioner. In helping athletes overcome “mental blocks” which prevented them from achieving a new level in their sport, he discovered that if he lingered over a specific eye position, there was a release of trauma from the area of the brain associated with the eye position. After much research and study, he developed a course to teach therapists how to deliver brain spotting, which focuses on the body and specifically the nervous system as the “container” of trauma. Brain Spotting is truly an amazing and effective tool to aid trauma sufferers.

 

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“What Was That?”

1 Jul

“I don’t get it! What are you trying to say?” Sometimes when we are with a person we know fairly well, we are dumb-founded by a comment they make or a reaction they exhibit. We wonder where it is coming from. This is especially true when your friend seems to overreact to an event or a comment. Her reaction seems totally out of proportion.

You may not have thought that this was stemming from the other person’s nervous system. It can well be a psychophysiological response! Thus it’s not just attitude!

In the universe Earth is sometimes pommeled by an asteroid or a comet. Or the dust from a nuclear explosion obscures the sun so that there is no growing season for quite a while. Traumatic events like these occur from time to time. Some of them are man-made, such as the recent nuclear reactor failing to cool in Japan. Others occur naturally, such as a tsunami that hit Indonesia several years ago.

In the microcosm of our individual lives events of parallel proportions sometimes occur. And people are able to recover equilibrium to a greater or lesser degree. For example, following the death of his wife, John was unable to go back to the home they had jointly shared. He chose instead to stay with one child, then another, and finally stayed with a sibling for a while. After short-term counseling he was able to go home, get connected with a grief group, and begin his former activities. If all continues to go in that direction, he will reestablish connections with friends and community and once again have a satisfying life.

However, many individuals have a much more difficult time developing resiliency after a loss or trauma. Grief and trauma tend to “piggyback” — that is, we do not handle¬†more grief and trauma better because we are used to it! Unless we actually do the hard work of grieving or of releasing our trauma, it will remain within our psyche and continue to influence how we think, how we feel, and how we interact with others.

Trauma, as opposed to “pure grief,” sets up the nervous system to overreact to everyday events. What is so insidious about trauma is that it becomes embedded in the nervous system and the person is no longer aware of the traumatic event or events. Most often this kind of trauma may refer to events that occurred decades ago! And trauma does not have to mean a single, unspeakable event. Thus trauma could be a one-time occurrence, for example, a molestation or rape by a previously well-loved and trusted individual OR it could be a series of horrific events. An example of this might be growing up in a home with drug and/or alcohol abuse in which there are nightly bouts between parents involving screaming and possible physical violence. This particular scenario might be likened to living in an inner city or even in a ghetto in Syria.

Often people come into therapy for their marriage, but what they are really dealing with is the trauma suffered by one or both spouses earlier in life. The nervous system has held onto this trauma, unbeknownst to them. But when a spouse makes a suggestion, all hell may break loose! The reaction may be totally out of proportion to the original comment, thus “What was that?” Partners are left dumb-founded and at a loss to understand what has happened in this interchange.¬† To an observer, it may become clear that there was a trigger, a word, a gesture, which set off the reactionary response.

Fortunately, for trauma survivors there is an excellent prognosis. There are several methods to help release the trauma from the nervous system. I will plan to tell you about two of them in my next blog!

 

 

You’ve Got Attitude!

27 Jun

Well, what is your attitude?! Today I am writing about Your Attitude, your stance, in everyday life. It seems to me that “attitude” is a rather complex phenomenon composed of Perception, Belief System, and Behavior.
How we perceive anything depends on our physical relationship to the object or person we are perceiving. It also depends on similar events we have cataloged in our memory bank, which obviously color what we are currently perceiving.
Our individual perception of an event or a person also depends on stored, unconscious memories which directly (not through a thought process) affect our current perception. In the unconscious are held all stereotypes, which of course we never examine via our prefrontal cortex — unless we are made aware of them.
Individual perception is also dependent on personality type to some extent. The Myers Briggs Personality Indicator notes two opposite classes of perception: Sensing (S) and Intuition (N). People who innately prefer Sensing (about 75% of Americans) perceive a reality composed of information coming in from all five senses in great detail. Those who perceive using Intuition have a more diffuse overview of the entire situation or gamut.

Your belief system is again often unconsciously held. It may be a combination of themes from childhood; that is, from experiences at home, at school, at church or in temple, and in the community. From our parents and care givers we may have adopted — or rejected — certain values which were important to them, including beliefs about the role of courage, compassion, persistence, work ethic, and not least about raising our own children.

Beliefs which are positive build up the individual, give him or her a strong faith in the universe and in herself. They also promote a sense of hope in how things will turn out and a positivity about himself in the world. They result in a strong character ready to take on all challenges which present themselves. On the other hand, people who grow up in a depressive or hostile atmosphere may demonstrate a negative belief system, comprised of cant’s and hopelessness.

We can see two types of attitudes in formation:

  1. the positive, can do attitude and
  2. the negative, glass half empty attitude.

Each of these attitudes brings with it certain behaviors, which affect everyone involved with the person with “the attitude.” Positive persons with strong, helpful belief systems energize and inspire others. Negative, depressive persons drain others’ energy. After having spent some time with a negative person, one feels exhausted. Perhaps one has proposed a number of options to “help” this person, only to be given a long list of why each wouldn’t work. The glass remains half empty for those with a negative attitude.

There are a number of excellent options in the world of therapy for these depressive individuals and not just medication. Cognitive behavioral therapists work directly and intently with negative thought patterns and belief systems to move perception to “the glass is half full”! There are affirmation cards, journals, written exercises, challenges to negative perceptions, and so on.

There are also deeper methods which help release from the nervous system traumas that have lain undisturbed to do their “dirty work” for years and sometimes decades. I will write more about them in my next blog on “You’ve Got Attitude!”

Some Little-Known Facts about Personality Type

11 Jun

We at Beyond the Horizons Consulting can’t overestimate the value of the MBTI personality type indicator to teams in the work place and in the lives of couples and families. We are close to concluding our series on personality type a la Carl Gustav Jung, and the mother-daughter team (Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers) who put the Myers Briggs Type Indicator together. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t share some information on personality type throughout an individual’s lifetime and also some statistics you, dear reader, may find interesting as you contemplate your own personality type.
Many people ask, “Doesn’t my personality change over the course of my life?” The answer is, Yes and No. If we look at midlife as being sometime around age 40, we can make the general statement that a person is usually “established” by this time in life. We can think of a person establishing him/herself in terms of creating a longstanding relationship; perhaps having children to raise; having a satisfying career; having a home and an extended family — i.e., a community — with whom to relate. These are the outward signs of having “deep roots” as a person approaching or already in midlife.
Some of the inward signs of establishing oneself are a comfortability with self; an acceptance of one’s strengths and weaknesses; an openness to relate to others of different temperaments; a willingness, indeed eagerness to grow beyond one’s limitations.
In terms of personality type, at midlife a person is clear about who they are. They use their dominant function in their work and personal lives, and are clear about their needs to relate to others and to have alone time. Their lifestyle preference (organized, planful and, goal-directed versus spontaneous, playful and in-the-moment) would also be clear to most individuals when the differences are pointed out.
What is not as well recognized is that ideally we are all on a path to incorporate some of the opposite qualities into our “self-portrait.” Thus Introvert and Extrovert each needs to incorporate some of the opposite way relating to the world. The Introvert ideally needs to begin to challenge him/herself to relate to more people as acquaintances and thus gain a larger circle of “friends.” The Extrovert needs to spend more time in self-reflection and thus bring a greater depth to personality.
In like manner, the Intuitive needs to make greater use of facts and figures and to state things in a simpler manner, more understandable by the large majority of persons. The opposite personality function — the Sensor — needs to begin to see the bigger picture, get a sense of the long-term effects of decisions, and so on.
Likewise, the Feeling person needs to begin to not take things personally, to look at events more with impersonal logic rather than his/her own feeling-determined values. On the contrary, maturity for the Thinking person will mean that s/he will begin to make decisions occasionally based on values that are personally important (e.g., based on compassion) over against values held to be universal by the dominant Western society (e.g., what action brings in more money).
Finally, if one has been a Judging type with strong organizational skills and clearly defined goals, midlife may bring an openness to being present in the moment, to doing things spontaneously, and to playfulness. A Perceptive type, on the other hand, may well find a goal to strive for, instead of just going with the flow.
Often when a person retires or switches employment at midlife, new aspects of personality emerge. A person who has had to put on an Extroverted persona for a customer service job, for example, may now discover an Introverted side which likes to go for a walk alone or sit and reflect with a journal.

Truth or Consequences, Part II

21 Sep

Truth or Consequences, Part II.