I worked in the field of emotional treatment for forty years. I spent most of my time trying to understand how people lived life, why they did what they did, and how to help the ones who wanted it, to change. My experiences belong to me. I had them because of my psychological makeup, which will make sense as I go along. Here I share what I discovered, processes I gleaned from others in treatment, and my treatment approaches I developed to help others. Perhaps, they will help you.
The Single Problem Paradigm
After forty years, I am convinced that most issues come from a single life decision. The decision is made at a bad time, normally when the person is under high stress. For this reason, the decision is faulty or incomplete. The actions that result from it are equally flawed.
Trauma is universal. If you want to see how pervasive it is, review the ACEs research. Any painful event frightens and confuses. Because it is outside one’s range of experience, he or she has no real solution for what to do about it, how to protect himself or herself from it, or how to avoid similar future events. Call this a non-specific situation. One where the outcome and solution is unknown.
Being in a situation where what to do or how to do it is unknown generates stress. Stress is an uncomfortable emotional state. It includes a wide range emotional responses or produces delayed emotional response, an overwhelmed feeling where numbness delays emotions. The key point is not that the stress exists, but what to do about it.
Take any person’s life. No one lives a stress free existence. Inventing, discovering, or developing how to live with the ups and downs of life is critical to being happy. Many people live comfortable lives having experienced childhood trauma. They understand that trauma happens. They do not feel responsible to control it or to avoid it. If their decision is to combat emotional stress by escaping, fighting, or freezing in place until it passes, the feeling remains and becomes triggered by any perceived similar event.
When a trauma occurs, a person faces or refuses to face what to do about it. Often, there is nothing that can be done. A death, abuse, rape, abandonment are incidences where the victim has no choice. Overpowered by circumstances they cannot control, the emotional stress feels overwhelming.
If a person learns to accept, decides what to do, and releases stress, it does not have a lifelong hold on them. This decision follows the earlier decision. It is made at an older age when the trauma is reexamined for its present impact. The person recognizes what emotion came from the event. He or she recognizes it is not present now. Making this decision ends the emotion surrounding the trauma. It releases the person from reliving or defending against further trauma.
Here is the first clue to change. Emotions will not kill anyone. If emotions killed, we all would have died long ago. No, emotions do not kill. The decision about what to do with the emotions is the killer. Either maintaining or releasing emotions. The release is critical to happiness and security.
The key is the decision. When a person makes decisions for his or her self, in their personal best interest, he or she overcomes trauma. In therapy, the person shows a physical change in facial expression, posture, voice, and reactions. When decisions come from fear or avoidance, he or she cannot determine a clear path for the future. The person’s only option is to fight and attempt to overcome the past - a past that is gone.
Making an honest evaluation of where I am today, how I want to live today, tomorrow, and the rest of my life frees me to change my original decision about my trauma and live life without fear.
The single problem paradigm explains the beginning of emotional problems. At the time of a trauma, no matter how insignificant it appears to others, each individual makes a personal decision that becomes the basis for life behavior. When the earlier decision is uncovered and understood in the present time, it explains every life action from a person’s past. Once made, the decision does not change until it is revisited, at a non-stressful time, to determine if it is the way to live life today, or if it needs to change for future well-being.