Have you ever wondered why some people suffer the effects of trauma & others simply move on? Why some carry past experiences from childhood into adulthood & others refuse – closing the door on the past? We’ve all pondered these things….”Why me? Why does it always seem to be me who suffers?” Well first it’s important to understand how the mind works, and we’ll do it by going on a journey into outer space. When the mind is peaceful we experience vast quiet space – so it seems a great place to start.
So let’s begin right down in the deepest recesses of the mind – THE UNCONSCIOUS.
Have you ever heard of Fight Flight or Freeze? It’s the response we have in the most difficult circumstances. For example, let’s say we get mugged in the street at gunpoint, the chances are we’re not going to put up too much of a fight in case we get shot. Most of us would hand over our things and try to stay alive – we’d probably take flight and have that memory frozen in time somewhere so we didn’t have to deal with it. The unconscious mind is a bit like a filing system where all our traumatic memories get stored. It’s safe and secure and won’t let you down. Whilst your memories are there, you can get on with life as if nothing happened. That’s why soldiers who’ve seen the most horrendous things don’t fall and crumble. It’s why they carry on regardless in war without faltering and why everyday people seem to have extraordinary resilience in terrible situations………..BUT THERES A CATCH! The unconscious part of your mind is only good until another part of the mind gets stimulated and sends a message that it’s safe to let go.
Travelling up from the deepest recesses, is another part of the mind…THE SUBCONSCIOUS
The subconscious acts as a kind of filter between the Conscious mind & the Unconscious. It’s triggered by stimuli of many different kinds. When the Subconscious mind receives stimuli, it passes a message to the Unconscious to say “Ok it’s safe now to let some of your memory out” That stimuli comes from the CONSCIOUS MIND. The subconscious doesn’t try to make sense of things, it’s impulsive and jumps to all kind of weird conclusions because it’s governed by the Amygdala (or pleasure Centre) The Amygdala is part of the brain and is only about the size of a pea. It doesn’t really stop to think, it isn’t rational and it just stampedes right on in there
THE CONSCIOUS MIND
How we process the information gathered by our conscious mind, often determines the path mental and physical health will take. The here and now is where our brain is most active because of our 5 senses. What we see, touch, hear, smell & taste all have memory from certain situations in life. For example, something we see happening to another person, may trigger a memory about something that happened in our own life. How we use the conscious part of our mind is the most important thing, because how we process that information brought about by the senses, determines whether our mental health is likely to suffer. All this may seem complicated, because it sound like you have a choice right? Well it’s actually true you do. Heres a simple example…..
Joe had the most traumatic childhood. He had two alcoholic parents and pretty much had to raise himself through his teenage life. joe’s brother is only one year younger than him, and experienced the same family dynamics and situations. Both Joe and his brother left home when they reached 18 years old. Joe went on to become an artist and opened his own studio, he married and had three children. Joe severed all contact with his parents, it was a very difficult decision but he figured he had to do it in order to move forward. Joe’s brother on the other hand didn’t have to work as hard as Joe because he won a scholarship. The only problem with Joes brother, he decided not to follow this through and he became dependent on heroin. Joe’s brother says it helps him escape the terrible traumatic memory of his past. He says every time he smells alcohol, it reminds him of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his parents. Both Joe and his brother are in their late 50s now, Joe is still doing fine but his brother, he still suffers the consequences of his past.
Here we have two brothers, who grew up in the same family environment but who took very different roads as they became adults why is this? Well there are some very important factors to consider here. Joe made a very significant but difficult decision to sever all contact with his abusive parents and pursue his goal – that was his big motivation. By doing this he closed a door on the traumatic memory & consciously chose a different road. Whilst it’s unclear, if Joe’s brother also cut contact with his parents, what is very apparent, is the fact that Joe chose to go down a very different road. He chose not to pursue the scholarship he had won and to start looking for escape in illicit drugs. So here we have two people, making very clear choices about the way they want to direct their lives. This isn’t a judgement about whether they were right or wrong, it’s only an example of how we have choice. The next very interesting factor, Joes brother says every time he smells alcohol, it reminds him of his abusive parents. Let’s look at what’s happening here in relation to the conscious, subconscious and conscious mind.
Let’s say Joe’s brother is sitting in a park minding his own business. Two people having a heated discussion and drinking alcohol start to walk closer to him. They have no interest in him whatsoever, and will probably walk straight past engulfed in their own arguments. But his conscious mind has already become panicked and is preparing for fight or flight. A message is then sent to the Subconscious by the Amygdala to say something bad is about to happen. This is the only stimuli needed, for the subconscious mind to spring into action. It sends messages right down to the deepest unconscious mind and a traumatic memory is released. At this point, Joes brother will be desperate for his next fix of heroin to escape and this is how it will continue until Joes brother finds a way of closing the door on his past.
Some would argue, that there are instances where we aren’t in control of how we process information. For example in circumstances where a person may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Although not completely unique to the armed forces, it’s fair to say PTSD is found mostly in men and women returning from the line of duty. They have seen the most horrendous things, and if they had responded at the time would probably have fallen completely apart mentally & physically. At the time they experienced these atrocities, there was no choice but to tuck away the traumatic memory and carry on serving their country. It was only on returning home, that these memories started to surface and create massive problems in their lives. As someone who has worked extensively with people suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, I have also researched the issue and have found no actual evidence to suggest who may or may not go on to develop PTSD. For example, we may have two people who experienced the same atrocities at the same time, but one will go on to develop PTSD and the other wont. What is very apparent however, a person who deals with the trauma at the time of it happening, may be less likely to go on and develop PTSD than a person who doesn’t – but again, It’s very difficult to say. So how can we begin to unravel the issue of processing information at the right time? It’s difficult to determine whether we can or not but one thing’s for certain, the mind is a very powerful tool and it can be retrained to think and act in very different ways. One of these ways is through meditation ….. Mindfulness meditation or Vipassana as it’s otherwise known to bring the mind into the present moment, enabling us to rationalise situations and events more easily in a more balanced way. Or in the case of someone who has PTSD, transcendental meditation which allows the mind to transcend the present moment. In other words transcendental meditation allows the mind to rise above the present moment where the difficulties lay, and to find its own place of peace.
A non-trauma-focused therapy, transcendental meditation (TM), may be a viable option to decrease symptom severity of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans, according to a new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry. This study was the first comparative effectiveness trial comparing TM with an established psychotherapy for PTSD.1
What are your experiences of the mind & Meditation? I’d really love to hear your feedback.
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