40 Year Ramble

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.

Spiritual Life Patterns

I am retired. I wondered for about two minutes what I would do with all the extra time. All the things I thought I could not do while I was working. It dawned on me slowly that responsibilities, the ones I had while working, were a choice, and the restriction I placed on what I did was simply the way I lived my life, good or bad.

This idea led to a new set of choices. How to continue to help people while not doing therapy. The answer is to teach something I know and love. Could it be patterns? 

I have worked with the Ruth House Ministries for several years helping the women in the program understand and change patterns. The staff continually points out how similar healthy patterns are to spiritual teachings in the Bible.

In an amazing journey. I made the connection. I started with the workshop as it is. No good. Adding a few Bible verses wasn't the answer. I meditated and prayed about it. The truth was that the content was good but limited. I tore the workshop apart.

It was not near what I wanted to do, but I changed my approach to a workshop to teach spiritual values from the Bible while incorporating healthy pattern into life.

Finding the balance has been exhilarating. I have discovered a pattern to the Bible I never recognized before. I have found insights and profound teachings that changed the entire basis of the workshop. Finally, I decoded healthy patterns into a intertwined process for spiritual living that explains life.

The first workshop series is coming on February 20. Check the calendar for time and location. 

Disrespect - A Good Thing?

     I just had a great example of ‘hold over’ feelings. A good friend at a local treatment center called with this story. She was with a group of residents when one of them made a hurtful comment about her. As a new staff member, she felt disrespected. She tried to regain her composure, but had to walk away from the group. Her feeling upset. Because of her training in patterns, she wanted to understand what happened. Was it really the disrespect or was it her old pattern coming through? 
     When we talked about the story, she discovered that she feared being vulnerable. She said it was the same feeling she had when her mother would berate and abuse her as a child. When she got to that feeling (vulnerable), she still had a little way to go, because she had not arrived at the real feeling. “Never be vulnerable” was the decision. 
    Using the EFDRE model, it is important to find the real feeling driving her decision. Our friend practiced her breathing, calmed down, and started a search for the feeling. When she asked God to give her an answer, it came clearly. At the times when her mother was abusing her, she felt powerless. Powerless is a much worse feeling than vulnerable. Vulnerable comes and goes based on circumstances. A belief that you are powerless in the face of another’s attack is a constant fear. 
     Powerless was her real ‘hold over’ feeling. When a person finds that feeling, it resonates throughout their entire body and mind. The feeling is a 6 year old fear that remains even though she is 30 years old today.  It hides right below surface awareness. A person can decide not to feel it, but because it is unspecified, it remains. Once she states the feeling and determines what it is, she has new options. At her present age, she decides if she is powerless at the time when someone makes a disrespectful remark. Of course, she isn’t, but hold ‘over feelings’ trigger higher stress, problem solving goes down, and she reacts with her 6 year old decision about how to cope with the powerlessness – “never be vulnerable”. In the past, she may have used fight, flight or freeze to avoid this feeling.
    When a person works with patterns, it is the feeling that ‘holds over’, not the event. Any event where she gets rude treatment, suspects mistreatment, or fabricates a belief of mistreated triggers the powerless feeling. Since the original event had no resolution, the early feeling stay with her. It remains non-specific. As a child, she had no way to escape the abuse and no way to convert it from non-specific to specific. At the time of the original event, she made the best defense against the feelings she could. This means attempting to avoid the feeling by any means available. She may become tough and uncaring or overly helpful and pliable. She makes no decision about the actual feeling (powerless) because the feeling is unnamed. Each subsequent event that triggers the same arousal produces the same reaction. She cannot revisit it logically because it arouses too much fear (low problem solving). Rather, she becomes motivated to avoid any similar events in the future. The feeling stays. The event goes. Any similar event drives the pattern, which is concocted to control the unspecified feeling. Once the pattern is in place, when aroused, the person bypasses the feeling and goes to the predetermined decision and response (the pattern), while attempting to avoid feeling the emotion. For the short-term, it may be work successfully but fails in the long-term.
    Our friend understood her feeling and found new ways to react to it at her present age. With practice, she released the feeling and these events no longer have a hold over her.