Knowledge

Knowledge is like underwear. It is useful to have it, but not necessary to show it off.

Have you ever encountered someone who is like a smart aleck? Someone who feels they always have something to say, to contribute, or feels that while everyone is entitled to an opinion, that they must also show it, and display it by saying something really witty.

Perhaps we know someone in this kind of a context. Perhaps we are that person ourselves. In fact, some people read trivia books or memorise witty one-liners, because they think that being socially witty counts for a lot and gives you a lot of social capita.

It is useful to know things, but we do not need to show it off to other people. We do not need to show people we are well read, or that we know a lot. Of course, when we’ve read a bit, we’ll remain under the spell of what we have read and will want to make sure others know about it, and that they know we know about it. But that is kind of showing off really.

Another problem with showing off is that we are likely to say things that we think are witty but may not necessarily be so. Often these may take the form of silly remarks, but unfortunately may be misinterpreted by others.

Take for example, the many cases of middle-aged men making inappropriate remarks, which in retrospect they define as a bit of “male banter”. “Banter” is a very careful way of deflecting fault, by saying that witty remarks – or those made with a view of being perceived as intelligent – had been misinterpreted.

The bottom line is, if you are not sure how your remarks may be perceived by others, then don’t show off by trying to say something clever. And even if you have an area of interest where you know more about the average person, there is no need to show off to the other people what you know.

Humility is often a good way to go.

 

Finding Strength

When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.

There is no question that at various points in life we will find obstaclees placed in our path. What did you expect? Did you think that life would be one smooth travellator, where once you have got on from birth, it would just be a matter of coasting along?

The above analogy highlights an important thing. Life is not smooth. Things happen. This could be a career incident – being made redundant, or being fired. Or it could be something to do with relationships – a breakup. But because life is never smooth anyway, we can’t view these occurences as the disruption to the natural order of things. Instead we should view them as a part of a natural order of things.

You can find this change in mindset really helpful. When something goes wrong, don’t waste energy thinking “Why did it go wrong? Why is life so unfair?” Now, the severity of the bad thing may lead us down this path. But if we see obstacles as occurring naturally anyway, learning to deal with them could result in emotional growth. How we control our instant unbridled reactions, and instead focus on dealing with them, is what gives us emotional growth and a base to lay future foundations on.

Instead of wallowing in anger or pity – or perhaps allow yourself some opportunity to feel this way -focus your energies on what you can do and how you can dig yourself out of a poor situation. Sometimes, a healthy mindset helps. When a person loses a job for example, it is easy to panic at how you will manage for the next few months without a job. The higher the stakes, the higher the panic. But focus your energies into thinking how you can work things out financially, and drawing up contingency plans. This is a way of teaching yourself not to panic whenever something “bad” or unexpected happens. And the next time something like this happens again, you will have had the positive experience to deal with it again, instead of reinforcing it with a mixture of panic, guilt and fear.

Our natural reactions are to panic and let bad things destroy us. But we can learn to turn adversity into action and let it define us, and build our character.

What is really important is to realise that we have a choice. We of course don’t choose the bad things that happen to us, but we have a choice in deciding how we will react and respond. That we can control. When bad circumstances happen, often the initial feeling of fear and panic is developed from a lack of control over the happenings. We all feel calm when we have a measure of control than if we had not. So work on establishing and creating some form of control over situations. Choose how you feel. Choose how you react.

Success

What does success mean to you? To different people success means different things. For some, the measure of success is how much money they earn. For others, being successful means being in charge. We often define success in terms either of wealth, control, power or status.

Perhaps an intersection point of all these is to define success as achieving what one has set out to do.

But achieving it is only part of the equation. Consider these points about success:

Don’t let others define you. Don’t let the past confine you. Take charge of your life with confidence and determination and there are no limits on what you can do or be.

The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you.

Success is more permanent when you achieve it without destroying your principles.

Never give up on your dream…Perseverance is all important. If you don’t have the desire and the belief in yourself to keep trying after you’ve been told you should quit, you’ll never make it.

You get the common points among all four of the above quotes.

Sucess involves perserverance. The pursuit of one’s goals involves dogged determination and you have to keep believing in the pursuit of your goals. But perserverance and doggedness need to be correctly focussed. Speak to people and friends and gather their feedback. What is even better is if you can speak to a counsellor or someone neutral to get an unbiased point of view. Our friends, are often too keen to tell us what we want to hear and not what is objective. Get an independent view about the pursuit of your goals. Correctly focussed, that is perserverance. Wrongly focussed, it is delusion.

Success also involves a certain level of integrity. If we set out to be sucessful but achieve it without integrity, that success is fleeting and a stain on our character. For example, some people may consider being a millionaire as a mark of success. Some others may question that marker, but nevertheless, if you have achieved that financial target you set yourself then in your eyes you are successful. But if you achieved that target through deceit, through means that you should not have, that success is tainted.

A characteristic of successful people is trying to turn negatives into positives. The pursuit of goals involves obstacles and difficulties along the way. They may leave you disheartened. But if you have the outlook of trying to turn disaster into opportunity, trying to make good from negatives, then you are on your way to being successful. Life will always throw its fair share of problems, but if you can turn them into your advantage, then you will be successful!

Better to burn out than fade? Use experience to achieve balance

Sometimes in life we feel drained, when we have tried to do too much and it takes a toll not only on our physical being but also of our mental health. What can we do? it is a good idea to take a break, and the length of this break depends on how deep we are into this kind of negative thinking or perhaps even depression.

Why is a break good? And how long does it take before we come out of the other end of the tunnel?

Scientists refer to this break as taking time away to refocus, to reset our neural circuits. When we overthink situations or spend too much time exploring different avenues, our minds go into overdrive trying to think out various contingency situations for which only one is needed, but because we need speed and responsiveness we try to do everything so that when the time comes we do not have to spend precious time thinking. But the problem can be that we have invested so much time thinking out possible scenarios, that by the time we have to act on one, we have already exhausted ourselves and our energies.

The flip side of this is inaction. For some people this is the mode of choice – to others it looks like they have given up. But being resigned to circumstances and expecting life to shape itself out for you, so that you can drift along with the tide is a bit of irresponsibility, a sort of transference that borders on having given up.

What can we do then? The narrow road is finding a balance between the hyperactive mindset and the inactive mindset. It is not necessarily better to be burnt out than to fade away. In some situations it may be more self-preserving to fade away that to expend energy being burnt out. It all comes down to balance. Sometimes we need to find that balance between expending too much and too little energy for the things we need to do in our lives. And how does that balance come about? Experience.

On Forgiveness

Forgiveness does not mean that we suppress anger; forgiveness means that we have asked for a miracle: the ability to see through mistakes that someone has made to the truth that lies in all of our hearts. Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness. Attack thoughts towards others are attack thoughts towards ourselves. The first step in forgiveness is the willingness to forgive.

Marianne Williamson

The laws of physics state that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Many of us bring this law into our lives in the form of retribution. If someone has done us wrong, our natural tendency is to pay it back in equal measure. After all, if we follow some of the axioms around us, such as “What goes around comes around”, they would seem to suggest that we “get what we give” and “give what we get”. Or if we are taught to “do unto others as you would others do unto you”, you might feel that if someone has wronged you then they should get a taste of their own medicine.

Can you see how many axioms I’ve quoted in the previous paragraph that seem to support the law of equal force or return? We are predisposed to react in a certain way, and in certain situations a lack of an equal response may be viewed as being a pushover. If someone punched you, and you stood there and turned the other cheek, they might have just taken it as a sign to keep on doing so, because in their minds they would only stop when they get a response, because that is what they assumed most people would do – give a response.

So it may be difficult when someone suggests that when you are wronged, to forgive the other person. After all the law of equal measures means that there is a force that must somehow be suppressed or dissipated within you. This is exactly why it is suggested that we see forgiveness not as a suppression but as a miracle. Somehow, somewhere, we need to absorb the injustice by looking beyond our natural instincts. And we need to let it go.

We live in a world that is high on stimulus. Our world is filled with various things that fight for our attention – work stresses, texts, social media, social injustice, anti-social behaviour, advertising, entertainment – that our minds are more heavily bombarded than those of our parents’ generation. There is so much stimulus going on that we need to filter things out rather than bombard our minds with more triggers. So “attack thoughts” towards others are actually stressors on our own minds. Forgiveness is not often easy but it is a long-term way of saving ourselves.

Keeping personal accounts in the black

In life we all have moments of sadness and moments when we feel down. Sometimes, we rationalise in our minds the things that we could have done differently, the things we might have to have landed ourselves in a bad situation, and the things we could do to break out of this funk. All of these take up tremendous mental resources, leaving us fatigued, sometimes unable to find the energy to perform daily functions such as work, or keep up social commitments, which impact on other areas of our lives. Before we know it, we have slowly slipped into a depression-like state, and it is very hard to climb out of.

How do we define depression? I have sometimes looked at it from the perspective of a bank account. Depression is when you are in the red for many bank accounts. Physical energy? Low. Happiness? Low. Enthusiasm? Low. Money? Possibly low. The problem when you have many of such “Low” accounts is that when you try to fix one such account, you end up having to withdraw from another. When you need a change of scenery, and perhaps work is bothering you, maybe you need to spend funds you do not have to go on a holiday. Perhaps when your enthusiasm for life is low, and you need to do something about it, you have neither the energy of time. And when you do perhaps, splurge in order to meet an impulse need, you end up withdrawing a large amount from one of your accounts.

How did you get into that state and what can you do to avoid that? It is like sinking into a deep hole and trying to climb out of it. You can only slowly dig the sides of the hole around you, and then try to pile up the debris you have dug, to stand on, so that you are incrementally getting higher and higher and out of the hole. But digging takes energy which you don’t have, and some how you need to find the will to keep going.

But more importantly it would be better if you never got into the hole in the first place. If there is an area of your life that needs attending to, channel all the other resources into addressing it, so that it does not slide and drag the other areas along with it. And if you know someone who is depressed, just offer your time to listen, to let them talk. Often when you give suggestions, it is like asking someone to do things, drawing resouces from already depleted accounts. Depression is like a mental wall and talking to someone else is like removing a brick of the wall at a time.

Managing change

Change is something we all have to embrace. Some of us are more welcoming of it, while others are more resistant. There is nothing right or wrong about these attitudes, they are normal human reactions.

Why do some people welcome change? For some people, change brings variety and a new scenery – whether physical or mental – and being in a new situation creates a buzz of some sort. Being in a new situation brings new stimulus – mental and physical – which they enjoy.

For the others, the new stimuli is what they seek to avoid. They do not enjoy the new stimulus that comes with change.

But that does not mean we ought to criticise these people. When you look at why people avoid change, it may give you some insights into their life.

Let’s say you are a busy mother with three children, trying to balance a part-time job with running your family. Change for your children is good and exciting, but for you, the logistics of going to new places and clubs and doing new things may cause you stress. And if you move your children to a new home or school, this brings about new concerns that you may not have the capacity to deal with at the point in time.

So change is good, as long as you have the energy to deal with it. If you are in a stressful moment in life, then change is obviously not the thing to strive for. Try to adapt to a sense of calm normality in order for your inner spirit to equalize. There is nothing wrong to avoid change at that period in time. What we must avoid is to make over-generalisations about situations and our reactions to them.

Sometimes you can’t help but face change – and if you tend to react less positively about it, then focus your energies on changing the way you view the situation. Change the way you think, rather than fight the change – it may be less draining and less of an energy spend. Focus on building the new rather than fighting the old.

And if you are the sort that loves change and variety – enjoy it!

Change is inevitable. Life is full of changes, some big and some little. If there was none, we’d still all be babies in nappies. So we can’t go through life hating change and wishing there was none, but we have to see it as a natural progression of life, and manage it appropriately. If you like change, embrace it. If you dislike it, learn to manage it, and your reaction to it. Let that be your thought for the coming days.

Expressing gratitude

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

Have you noticed how people seemed to have forgotten how to say thank you properly these days? When you have a done a favour for someone, or gone out of your way, sometimes the only response you get is a curt “cool”.

This is not a rant at changing times or the slang of modern vernacular, or how the use of the words “thank you” are decreasing.

Rather, it is a look at how we have to be mindful of the way we express thanks.

Imagine this scenario. You have forgotten your phone and someone from your home has to bring it to you, knowing that perhaps it is an important element you cannot leave home without. If they make a big trek to your location, and all they get for the efforts is the phrase “cool” or “nice one”, how do you think they feel?

The problem with phrases such as “cool” or “nice one” is that they are sometimes uttered unthinkingly out of embarrassment, but they are so ungracious that it almost normalises the efforts of others, almost as if the extra mile they have gone was an expectation.

Be gracious for the things in your life and around you. And try expressing it fully to your fellow human beings.

Recognising trauma symptoms can help deal with trauma

To fully understand the impact of trauma and complex trauma, practitioners will need to familiarise themselves with the primary symptoms of trauma. While each survivor’s reactions to trauma are unique and will vary from person to person and depend on the type of trauma, age, the frequency and duration of the abuse, and the relationship to the abuser(s), there are a number of commonalities.

It is crucial that survivors are helped to recognise that the physical and psychological reactions to trauma are normal responses which serve to protect us, and are elicited outside of conscious awareness or control. These reactions are like an emotional immune system, which instead of fighting invading bacteria or viruses, fights to protect us from harm.

To help survivors understand their reactions to trauma, practitioners need to be able to convey the following information in a way that is easily understood by the client and that makes sense to them. This can be supported with directed reading or self-help books such as The Warrior Within (Sanderson, 2010c). Persistent re-experiencing of trauma can be triggered by both internal and external cues. This means that even if the survivor is currently not in actual external danger, inner feelings and sensations can trigger a range of PTSD reactions. Given that they may already be in an elevated state of anxiety, it is easy to set off an already highly sensitive alarm system on the basis of internal physiological arousal. This is potentially dangerous as it prevents the survivor from recognising actual external danger and makes it hard to assess objectively the degree of safety.

To help survivors understand the neurological and physiological responses to trauma it is helpful to explore their knowledge of how the body reacts to danger. When in the presence of danger primitive biological mechanisms such as the alarm system are activated to aid survival. As a result the brain releases a cascade of neuro-chemicals which start a complex chain of bodily reactions, all of which are designed to protect us from the harmful effects of trauma.

Although the alarm system does not stop the emotional pain, stress or trauma from happening, it does cushion the trauma and helps us to deal with it.

The alarm system acts as an emotional immune system, which like the physical immune system, is activated outside of conscious awareness and is therefore not under our control. It is vital that survivors understand that whatever their reactions during the trauma, these were outside of conscious control and therefore they are not to blame or at fault for how they responded. Recognising this can dramatically reduce any crippling feelings of shame, self-blame, or guilt.

When the body’s alarm system is tripped and goes on red alert it sends signals to the brain to prepare for fight, flight or freeze. This sets off two crucial biological defence systems: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system mobilises high level energy necessary for fight or flight, while the parasympathetic nervous system slows down the heart and metabolic rate which results in the freeze response.

The two structures in the brain that regulate the alarm system are both located in the limbic system, the amygdala and the hippocampus. The role of the amygdala is to detect threatening information through external senses such as touch, taste, sound, smell or vision. The amygdala is responsible for determining whether incoming stimuli are desirable, benign or dangerous.

To maximise survival, this evaluation is instantaneous but crude and primitive in that it does not use deeper analysis, reason or common sense. This is why it is often referred to as the ‘fast and dirty route’. If the stimulus is life threatening, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released, which send messages through the nervous system to the muscles and internal organs to either attack, run or play dead.

The amygdala is highly sensitive to any danger and is easily activated to increase readiness to attack or defend (fight), run (flight) or submit (freeze). In contrast to the ‘fast and dirty’ route of the amygdala, the hippocampus is a much slower route in that it evaluates the external threat through deeper analysis using conscious thought, memory, prior knowledge, reason and logic. The hippocampus is also critical in laying down new memories and experiences. If the danger is truly life threatening, the hippocampus will send messages to continue with appropriate responses. If however the deeper analysis concludes that the stimuli are not dangerous it will send messages to deactivate the responses.

In most cases of threat these two structures work in harmony to balance appropriate responses to the situation. When the trauma is prolonged and repeated such as in complex trauma, the feedback loop that controls these two systems malfunctions and floods the body with high levels of stress hormones.

While these stress hormones are critical for survival, they are highly toxic and only designed to circulate for short periods of time so that the individual can get to a place of safety or remain safe until the threat is over. In the case of certain traumas such as CPA or CSA where the child cannot fight or run to safety, the only option is to freeze. This means that the stress hormones cannot be discharged and remain in the system, which can have a number of negative consequences, not least forcing the alarm system to remain on red alert, or ‘online’(Sanderson, 2010c).

Evidence shows that high levels of cortisol that are not discharged can lead to the destruction of brain cells which can affect the function and size of the amygdala and hippocampus (Gerhardt, 2004; Teicher, 2000). Such malfunction leads to increased arousal, fear and anger responses, as well as memory impairments. When the brain and body are flooded with chronic levels of stress hormones the hippocampus goes ‘offline’and is unable to accurately evaluate the degree of threat or danger. It is also not able to assess whether the danger is internal or external, or whether the traumatic incident is over or on-going, and cannot send the appropriate messages to the amygdala to deactivate the alarm system. This leads to the alarm system remaining on constant red alert and the continued release of stress hormones.

As a consequence the body responds as though the trauma is on-going, even after the threat is over. Over time the alarm system is reset on a default setting of ‘on’, with survivors feeling as though they are being repeatedly traumatised. This leads to a heightened or continuous state of danger, known as hyper-arousal.

This hyper-arousal forces stress hormones to continue to flood the body and brain, and the tyranny of post-traumatic stress responses. Since the hippocampus is not able to regulate the alarm setting, or halt the release of chronic levels of stress hormones, its ability to store new memories is reduced. This means that the trauma is not stored within context or time, making it seem as though it is continuous and never ending.

This in turn prevents the processing of the trauma keeping it ‘online’ with the same vividness and intensity as when the actual assault happened. Not being able to process the traumatic experience makes it harder for survivors to store it in memory or to recall it leading to amnesia, or incomplete or fragmented memories. A crucial goal in recovering from complex trauma is to bring the hippocampus back ‘online’ so that its function can be restored to regulate the alarm system to evaluate danger, and differentiate between internal and external threat.

Prolonged release of high levels of stress hormones impacts on physical well-being leading to a range of physical problems such as hypertension, physical exhaustion, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), sleep impairment, and digestive, respiratory and endocrine problems. In addition, chronic fear reactions and high levels of adrenaline evoke waves of overwhelming anger which survivors cannot release for fear of consequences, thereby creating even further stress. Hyper-arousal also affects concentration and the ability to reflect on or process experiences, preventing survivors from making sense of their experiences.

While the alarm system can activate three alternative reactions – fight, flight or freeze – in most cases of complex trauma, especially when it occurs in childhood, there is only one option: to freeze. The freeze response is designed to conserve energy so that the individual can escape when the danger is over. Young children are not able to outrun or fight an adult effectively, and are thus left with no option but to freeze.

While the freeze response protects the individual from the greater threat of the consequences of fighting back or running away, it is often experienced as passive submission. This can make survivors feel as though they were weak in not fighting back or running away, which can lead to shame, self-blame and guilt. It is important to convey to survivors that realistically children are not able to escape, especially if the abuser is a significant figure in the child’s life such as a parent, relative or priest. In that moment they are both powerless and helpless.

However, the sense of submission can often haunt them and leave them feeling ashamed that they did not do more to prevent the abuse. This is also true for adults who are in thrall to an abuser who has power and authority over them. The freeze response also protects individuals from the full impact of the pain of the abuse.

As the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, a sense of calmness descends on the brain, slowing everything down, and the body begins to feel numb in order to cushion the anticipated pain and the emotional terror of the trauma. Once the danger is over, these reactions fade and the stress hormones are discharged through movement.

Understanding the responses to trauma and conveying them to individuals suffering from them can help them recognise their own reactions and how to deal with them. This will empower them and give them the confidence to break free of the hold traumatic experiences have on them.