+TOO MANY TAXING CHANGES 06202020

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June 20, 2020 – I apologize for the ads that now appear on the blog.  I don’t put them here.  I have been debating what to do with this blog – decision not yet made – thank you for being here and for all your attendance in my written world over the years!

Ha ha!  Perhaps it was inevitable that I would be called back here to write a small note on this date – it has a proverbial RING to it!!  How are all of you faring in this topsy turvy corner of the universe we are sharing?  Nobody is having an easy time, that’s for sure, but there are billions suffering in ways that I cannot begin to imagine.  They have been suffering ‘beyond the pale’ of acceptability for ANYONE.  ANYWHERE.  EVER!

Thank you to a reader who left a comment today.  A current steered me back here – which surprises me.  A long journey took place that has at last returned me to my beloved high desert, although climate change is speaking and I notice.

In the strange quiet of my stay-at-home-’cause-the-virus-would-kill me world I often lose words in stillness.  There are billions of voices out there that need to be heard.  I have had no feeling that mine is one of them, but if anyone wishes to leave a comment I sure will do my best to respond!!  What YOU have to say IS important!  Thank you for visiting!!

(I was making progress keeping up in this new digital world but I stepped out of line long enough I am now behind and doubt I’ll catch up!  No Twitter for me!  So I don’t know if someone comments here via that mode if my response will reach you!)

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+ANGER, RAGE, BITTERNESS, RESENTMENT — TELLING US RIGHT FROM WRONG

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I woke up this morning feeling very clear about something in my life around which the giant black-winged bird of bitterness circles, like a creature sure of its prey.  This is good.  It allows me to further explore some of the parameters of this ‘state of being’ named bitterness from the inside rather just from without.

Bitterness.  A personal HOTSPOT!  This reminds me of what I heard during the ten year period of my life from 1980 – 1990 when I attended weekly 12-step meetings:  Resentments kill.

As I look around today at my inner deadly wound that could feed a great swell of bitterness (and of resentment) inside of me today I see that these two states of being must be intimately connected one to the other.

Somehow I had some profound inner certainties arise when I ‘went through treatment’ in 1980, but most of what my inner self knew was not confirmed within the confines of the 12-step meetings I attended.  I was brand new to any form of recovery, and was the first person in the long line of my family and ancestry to do so.  Yet when I encountered the 12-steps that demanded me to understand that I could be ‘restored to sanity’ — I knew fundamentally that I had no experience with ‘sanity’ in my life and had never, ever had the chance to explore its blessings.

‘Recovery’ people around me told me I was ‘resisting’ recovery as I questioned from the insides of myself what made sense about this ‘new way of life’ that was being presented to me and what did not.  “You are rationalizing,” they told me.  “You are intellectualizing,” they told me.

When I tried to do my first ‘4th step’ in treatment and tried to do it right, I tried to write about my ‘resentments’.  Instantly, as soon as I set my recovery-minded pen to paper I encountered an insanely abusive experience of my 9th grade high school self — and my little ‘recovery ship’ blew itself right out of the water.

And there was nobody around me to help me understand the insanely abusive childhood I had lived for 18 years.  There was nobody there — oddly and actually enough — to help me work with the TRUTH that was supposedly at the heart of these 12-step recovery programs.

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On my own, and from within my body, my mind, my self and within my heart of hearts I DID know something important that I used within my own healing.  I knew that every single time I feel ANGER, and every single time I might bump up against or crash into something that could be named RESENTMENT, what I was-am truthfully encountering is the line as I KNOW it between right and wrong.  Every time ‘anger’ or ‘resentment’ appears within me — and as I can see today, the risk for ‘bitterness’ as well, I know that something I HIGHLY VALUE has been touched upon so that I have another extremely important piece of information about who and how I am in the world.

I value RIGHT.  I know the difference between right and WRONG.  Whenever a WRONG has been committed somewhere, my inner alarm of anger, rage, resentment, and/or bitterness goes off.  Instantly and loudly!

What I do with the information about right and wrong is up to me.  Swirling around in the topsy-turvy inner world of anger, rage, resentment and bitterness helps no one RIGHT a WRONG that has been committed.

Ultimately this entire topic, to me, is about this one single thing:  If we as individuals have a strong and powerfully clear inner sense of RIGHT versus WRONG — we can be at very high risk of suffering the consequences of ‘holding onto’ the emotional states encountering breaches of RIGHT versus WRONG will alert us to.  If I cannot give myself permission to identify for my thinking-acting-choosing self something related to a WRONG that I identify, no hope for contributing something to make the world a better place – even if that ‘world’ is simply my own little tiny piece of it.

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Interestingly (to me) the shaky platform of possible resentment and bitterness for me today has to do with something very important to me:  The work I am doing with my mother’s words so that I can publish a complete EXPOSE of the inner world of my mother that NOBODY ELSE seemed to detect outside of our family.

As I work with her words, and as I mentioned in recent posts, discover that words she wrote about her feelings and attitudes of other ADULTS in her life 50 years ago still have the power to unsettle, upset and possibly hurt those living people IF I publish my mother’s words as she wrote them.

I find that this MAKES ME MAD!  These ‘public’ people who today would take a stand to protect their own self from the hurt of my mother’s 50-year-old words are the exact same people WHO NEVER SAW MY MOTHER’S TRUE — TERRIBLY ABUSIVE — OTHER SELF during those years that I especially (and also my siblings) most needed SOMEONE TO HELP US!!!

My intent on publishing this biography – or expose of a monster — is to a large extent to help everyone possible outside a severely abusive parent’s home begin to understand more and more about how much terror, trauma and suffering for infants and children can be going on BEHIND THE NICEY-NICE PUBLIC FACADE of someone as ‘charmingly persuasive’ as my mother was.

That I NOW, after 18 years of unbelievable torture and abuse have to WORRY about the FEELINGS of those same people who did NOT SEE WHAT MY MOTHER WAS CAPABLE OF, or did see, and felt they had no way to intervene on my or my siblings’ behalf, MAKES ME FEROCIOUSLY ANGRY!!

This is UNFAIR, UNJUST and just plain WRONG!  Or is it?  Not according to the law — the same system of law, I might add, who should have arrested my mother (and my father) and charged them with the crimes of assuault, battery, abuse, terror and torture and sentenced them — an imprisoned them both for no less than

14,500 years!

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What this situation is doing for me right now is bringing up right in front of my face what the choice-point feels like — in the present moment — between LEARNING something when a serious breach of RIGHT and WRONG – injustice, lack of fairness — appears, or letting it continue to perpetuate the old wounds so that bitterness and resentment can throw me off of my own good life track.

This brings me to mentioning something that belongs in this discussion at the same time that it is an extremely difficult point for severe infant-child abusers to identify and tackle:  Irony, ambivalence and paradox.

These three states of mind were missing within the body-brain-mind-self of our abusers — especially if our abusers were Borderline Personality Disorder people!

This fact leaves us with the whole giant mess of WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG!!  Without having been given protection or reprieve — at the same time we did not get any version of a handle on how to HANDLE ironic, ambivalent and paradoxical conditions in our lives!!

What I am describing above about having to ‘protect’ the feelings, privacy and rights of grown up people who certainly DID NOT — for whatever reason — even begin to assure that I had those same qualities protected in my childhood — is ironical.  It presents me with my own experience of ambivalence as I consider ‘both sides of the picture’.  And you bet there is a profound, fundamental paradox present in this situation.

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But I CANNOT CHANGE THE REALITY!  None of it.  Whenever anger, resentment, bitterness appear, there is a sure chance that irony, ambivalence and paradox has appeared RIGHT within the conditions that stimulated our ‘fight’ stress response reaction.  How do we find and create our own inner point of calm in the midst of this STORM?

In other words, how do we make our own self ‘RIGHT WITHIN’ while we live in the real world?  Simply finding a way to ‘intellectually (left brain)’ understand reasonably what this whole mess I am experiencing right now is all about will NOT solve the emotional experience of it.

Those of us who have suffered from extreme abuse have an entire universe of body memory, body feeling, and right-brain emotional experience connected to these HOTSPOTS in life.  We have to be aware of this — as I was 30 years ago when I entered so-called ‘recovery’ and could find no one to help me include my own inner wisdom and knowledge with the 12-step ‘plan’ for ‘recovery’.

“Follow your instincts,” would be my most simple and accurate advice.  If you FEEL anger, range, bitterness, resentment — you are face-to-face with SOME kind of injustice that has been committed and still might exist.  LOOK AT THE INJUSTICE that is at the heart of what stimulated your reaction.  You have been ‘trauma triggered’.  WHAT DO YOU TRULY KNOW ABOUT IT?   WHAT YOU HAVE EXPERIENCED?   Tend to the wound that needs healing within YOU (and within those you love and care about, as well).

But do not pretend that the injustice does not exist.  If we HAVE these reactions I am talking about, I firmly and absolutely believe that they are physiologically triggered by our immune system’s response to harm and to threat of harm!  This HAS to be a fact because all our emotions, especially our most intense, powerful, primitive survival-based emotions of FEAR AND ANGER (as well as SADNESS) are directly tied into our basic nervous system (body-brain) which is PROTECTED by our immune system response.

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Human life is complicated.  No way around this fact.

What stimulated the immune-triggered developmental changes in my mother than made her grow into the ‘kind of person’ she was meant that the powerful inner bitterness of a terribly wounded, powerless but still FIGHTING little child removed from my mother the power of consciousness about what had happened to her, ‘what’ she became as a result of it, how bitter she was – AND HOW MEAN AND DANGEROUS SHE WAS.

Every single time my mother uses a single, solitary word ‘against’ another adult in her life 50 years ago is PROOF of the quality of MEAN my mother was.  But these tiny words, no matter what they were, no matter how disparaging and offensive they might appear NOW for the people she was writing about — were NOTHING compared to what was going on within the ‘home’ she terrorized and controlled.

Yes, I DO profoundly wish to expose the kind of ‘monster’ my mother was.  I want to DO SOMETHING to help others ‘out there in the world’ begin to wake up and pay attention when their own INNER WARNING system goes off inside of themselves that SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THIS PERSON!

How else are we truly going to make any progress whatsoever toward protecting suffering infants and children who are being tormented, tortured, traumatized and abused — by viciously cruel, mean and dangerous parents — FREELY and without consequence.?

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I am within conflict.  I am willing to change the names of the people my mother wrote about.  But I do not wish to alter the pattern of my mother’s mean words.  They are what this story is about.

My personal feelings right now are mine to deal with.  They let me know that I have great JUSTIFIABLE anger at the adults in my childhood that did not HELP me or my siblings.  But as the 12-step programs DO SAY, holding onto the anger, bitterness and resentments do not make anything better.  They can educate us about right and wrong, about choice, about opportunities for improving life all the way around.  But left alone as simple physiological states tied to mental patterns that are destructive help no one.

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In case there are readers who are unfamiliar with my ‘story’, here are some links to read (warning:  may trigger):

*Age 3 – THE TOILET BOWL

*Age 5 – THE BUBBLE GUM

*AGE 6 – FIRST GRADE — NIGHT ON THE STOOL

*Age 9 – BLOODY NOSE

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+HOPE FOR HEALING TRAUMA IN THE BODY

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Where can severe trauma survivors look for our best-guess for healing?  In a way this next direction I am going with my study, reading and writing surprises me.  Yet at the same time I am grateful for both this inner guidance system I seem to have that tells me what I most need for healing and for the fact that again and again, I trust and follow this guidance.

Not long ago I wrote a post about an article I had found sometime in the past, printed, and added to the ever expanding pile of papers that grows here on my desk in front of my computer.  By the time I picked it up and read it through and wrote my post about it, I had no memory of how, where or when I had found it online.  The information I will be working with next for as long as it takes me to understand it as thoroughly as I possibly can comes from a book that was referenced in that article.

I ordered this book, written by this Swedish doctor:

The Oxytocin Factor: Tapping the Hormone of Calm, Love, and Healing by Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, Roberta Francis, Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg, and Translated by Roberta Francis (Hardcover – Sept. 16, 2003)

The book is lovely, solid and comforting even in its design and construction.  It is well made and well written, and as I hold it in my hands and begin to explore its message and teaching, it gives me great hope of healing for any trauma survivor, especially for those of us whose body-brain was designed and built by, for and within early infant-childhood environments of malevolent treatment.

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I first want to share with you a copy of an image that appears within the introduction to this book.  It is a simple graphic illustration about what everyone needs, especially trauma survivors who will have to work extra, extra hard to reach this desired balance in our body, nervous system, brain, mind and self between states of alarm and states of calmness:

Infant-child abuse and other survivors of severe trauma DO NOT get to experience what this balanced harmony feels like -- if at all possible, it's time that we DID!

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As we look at this picture we are really looking at a visual depiction of what safe and secure attachment gives to us.  If this balance had existed in our parents, especially our within our mother from the time we were conceived and born, our physiological systems including our brain would have been able to develop within us to match this desired state for ourselves.

In early environments of threat, danger and trauma, this picture was missing within our universe because it was missing within our earliest caregivers whose job it was to MAKE an equally safe and secure environment for us so that we could have safe and secure attachment relationships that would have built our body-brain into an entirely different one that the one we ended up with.

I believe that the more we can learn about the information presented in this book the better we will be able to begin to recreate safe and secure patterns within our body-brain-mind-self NOW, no matter what our early forming environment was like.

In fact, we might be able to think about our condition in these most simple terms.  A trauma-built body-brain, formed through unsafe and insecure attachment conditions, continues to run on the fuel of cortisol and the stress hormones creating patterns of freeze, flight and fight response that translates into ‘anxiety problems’.

On the other hand, early safe and secure attachments design and build a body-brain that can run on the fuel of oxytocin or the ‘feel good’ chemical of peaceful calmness and positive connection to self, others and the world.  It is the body-in-balance as the above picture describes that is our goal for our healing.  Oxytocin is a critical neurotransmitter of peace and cooperation.  Cortisol is a critical neurotransmitter of stress, threat and danger.

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I find a powerful confirmation of my intuition that I am moving in the right, good and healing direction in my studies when I read in Dr. Moberg’s introduction that she immediately mentions the biases that exist in MOST mainstream medical research.  Those readers who followed the difficult time I had in my struggles with Dr. Dacher Keltner’s book will understand how affirming, comforting and freeing it is for me to find an authority on the subject of human ill- and well-being who recognizes the biases up front that Dr. Keltner seemed to be oblivious to yet relies upon and utilizes heavily in his work.

Moberg notes that fully 90% of published research focuses on the stress response, or sympathetic GO branch of our nervous system while only 10% is devoted to the parasympathetic STOP branch (remember:  pair-a-brakes) branch.  She states about this bias:

“…an interest in the physiology of performance, exertion, and defense has dominated existing scientific knowledge and current research to an extent that we do not always recognize.  This way of looking at things, or shall I say those blinders, has until now kept those of us who work in the medical sciences from seeing the calm and connection response as a separate and valuable physiological system.  Thus, for me, studying this system has involved an element of swimming against the tide with respect to the political mainstream in my profession.”  (pages xii-xii of her introduction)

This imbalance in research focus HIGHLY impacts infant-child abuse and maltreatment survivors, as it does anyone experiencing difficulties with so-called anxiety (including dissociation, PTSD, depression, personality disorders, etc.)  We are in desperate need not only of healing, but of accurate information that can help us DO SO.

As Moberg writes:

“The neglected physiological pattern I will describe in this book is the opposite pole to the fight or flight reaction.  Like most other mammals, we humans are able not only to mobilize when danger threatens but also to enjoy the good things in life, to relax, to bond, to heal.  The fight or flight pattern has an opposite [effect] not only in the events of our lives but also in our biochemical system.  This book deals with the other end of the seesaw, the body’s own system for calm and connection.

“This calm and connection system is associated with trust and curiosity instead of fear, and with friendliness instead of anger.  The heart and circulatory system slow down as the digestion fires up.  When peace and calm prevail, we let our defenses down and instead become sensitive, open, and interested in others around us.  Instead of tapping the internal “power drink,” [of stress-related neurotransmitters] our bodies offer a ready-made healing nectar.  Under its influence, we see the world and our fellow humans in a positive light; we grow, we heal.  This response is also the effect of hormones and signaling substances, but until now, the connections among these vital physiological effects have not been fully recognized and studied.

“The neglect of this system tells us much about the values that underlie scientific research.  The calm and connection system is certainly as important for survival as the system for defense and exertion, and it is equally as complex.  Nevertheless, the stress system is explored much for frequently….

“One reason why research has been so slanted may be that goal-directed activity is emphasized so strongly in our culture.  We are used to defining activity as something moving, something we can see.  But many of the calm and connection system’s processes and effects are not visible to the naked eye.  They also occur slowly and gradually, and they are not as easy to isolate or define as are the more dramatic actions involving attack and defense….physiologists have studied the clearly visible fight or flight mechanism but have been less able to perceive the more hidden and subtle calm and connection system.

“The calm and connection system is most often at work when the body is at rest.  In this apparent stillness, an enormous amount of activity is taking place, but it is not directed to movement or bursts of effort.  This system instead helps the body to heal and grow.  It changes nourishment to energy, storing it up for later use.  Body and mind become calm.  In this state, we have greater access to our internal resources and creativity.  The ability to learn and to solve problems increases when we are not under stress.

“I believe that it is extremely important to increase our understanding of the physical and psychological workings of this antithesis to the fight or flight system.  We need both, since for each individual in each situation there is an optimal way to react.  But it is now well known that long-term stress can produce a variety of psychological and physical problems.  If we are to be healthy in the long run, the two systems must be kept in balance.”  (pages x-xiii of her introduction)

Moberg states very clearly that her interest in the connection system is rooted in her experience of mothering her four children.  Her description of mothering would be the antithesis of my mother’s experience with mothering me.  As I have already noted, it is very clear that the vagus nerve and autonomic nervous system of Borderline’s works with a distortion of the stress-caregiving response systems.  Moberg’s writings are about how things are SUPPOSED to work:

“In pregnancy, nursing, and close contact with my children, I experienced a state diametrically opposed to the stress I was familiar with in connection with life’s other challenges.  I was aware that the psychophysiological conditions associated with pregnancy and nursing fostered something entirely different from challenge, competition, and performance.  Inspired more than two decades ago to explore this life experience scientifically, I learned that there is a key biological marker – the subject of this book – on the trail to a physiological explanation of this state of calm and connection.”  (pages xiii-xiv of her introduction)

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It does not surprise me one bit that it would be not only a female researcher, but also one that has her roots on interested grounded in her experience of mothering that I would now turn to for answers about how the terrible imbalance that survivors of severe infant-child trauma have in their body-brain as a consequence of being formed by trauma can be healed.  In profoundly critical ways early abuse survivors were deprived of the safe and secure early attachments – especially with our mothers – that we desperately needed to grow a healthy balance of peace and calmness into our body-brain from the start.

For all the millions and millions of American children and adults that suffer from obesity, depression and other anxiety-related problems, from addictions, from relationships dis-orders, I believe that it will be in gaining factual information about how our body-brain can be rewired for safety, security, connection, and peaceful calmness that our best chance will come for healing.  I am most hopeful that Dr. Moberg’s writings will give me many important answers that I seek.  I will literally keep you posted on what I discover!

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+HARDHITTING ON THE TOPIC OF BAD RELATIONSHIPS

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Of all the tragedies that life can find to place in our way along our path from start to finish, those connected to our early histories of growing up in homes with what the Center for Disease Control refers to as Adverse Childhood Experiences could become the easiest ones for us to spot.  Sure, there are plenty of self help books and programs that more and more of us eventually discover that tell us how to ‘get better’, but are they really telling us anything like the REAL truth about who and how we are in the world?

Is there anything like a product guide, a user’s guide, or a reliable guarantee of ‘full disclosure’ as we leave our abusive homes of origin and seek to join the mainstream world, jumping into the flow of major life choices and their resulting consequences?  Of all the things we leave our abusive homes not knowing anything about, perhaps the one that follows along with us the longest is our mistaken idea that we can somehow create safe and secure adult relationships between partners who do not have an early history of safe and secure attachments.

We are heroic in our attempts to build sandcastles to live within as if they will shelter us from the storms we face in life, as if they can withstand the onslaught of storms that sweep over and around us over the years of our life time.  How hard it is to let ourselves know that we are really homeless in the world of our partnerships, that no matter what any self help book tells us, those of us who survived an infant-childhood filled with trauma, abuse and madness will not live long enough to learn enough to begin to change enough to be able to sustain and maintain a mate relationship of safe and secure attachment.

So many people, especially in today’s unsafe and insecure economic environment, are facing limitations of choice to exit unstable, abusive, and simply put, very BAD relationships, especially if they are still caring for dependent children.  Those now left without the ability to create a sustainable exit plan out of one of these BAD relationships will experience increasing levels of stress for themselves and for their children.

These children, growing up with the pressure and strain of Adverse Childhood Experiences of their own are likely to seek attachment relationships themselves that are the equivalent of sandcastle and cardboard box partnerships that will never do more than temporarily appear to be sustainable.  What the self help books don’t tell us, is that we would be far better off building a concrete vault to sustain ourselves within independently and autonomously than we would be pretending that we have the first clue what a safe and secure attachment relationship is – because we don’t.

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Which is harder, learning to avoid getting into these unsustainable relationships in the first place or trying to get ourselves out of them after we have committed our hearts and entangled our lives?  Actually, I could be accused of cheating and that accusation would be correct.  At age 58, I am far enough down the road of life to be able to look backwards at my own life and sideways at the lives of others to see that a sustainable, autonomous, independent and FREE life alone has – the way I see it from here – so much more to offer me as a severe infant-child abuse survivor that I can no longer even pretend that I even WANT another sandcastle or cardboard box attachment relationship in my lifetime.

Coming out of abusive childhoods leaves many people prepared to continue struggling against insurmountable obstacles for the rest of their lives.  If the goal is to survive given the difficult conditions of life, then we are experts at trying to reach our goals.  Over and over again, on and on we go repeating our efforts to make a truly crappy situation and/or relationship into a good one.  We learned at the start of our life that to give up is to die.  We can continue to apply our simple rules of trying to stay alive to all kinds of situations that we would be better served simply walking away from.

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The goal of a truly sustainable infant-childhood is to form, through safe and secure attachment relationships with our caregivers, our own clear, strong, independent and autonomous self that can then continue down the road of life with enough inner resources to appropriately interact empathically, responsibly, appropriately and compassionately with others.  The more I learn about the physiological body-brain changes that are a direct result of growing and developing within malevolent early environments, the more I see that we survivors were simply never given what we needed to create one of these best-selves-possible.

Our handicaps show up in some way in nearly every choice we make.  Our choices for our adult attachment relationships are probably the most volatile and unsustainable ones we make.  While we continue to believe that somehow if we work hard enough we can perform the magic act of alchemy to transform ourselves in our relationships and that our partners can also transform themselves, we are most often struggling to accomplish the impossible.  We are like the dolphins caught in tuna nets who struggle until they die.

From my age 58 perspective I am beginning to finally understand something that appears to be one of the greatest paradoxes, if not downright ironies of life:  Those people who are most able to sustain themselves comfortably as independent and autonomous people outside of a mate relationship are the ones that will be able to sustain themselves – AND THEIR PARTNER – in a safe and secure attachment relationship – IF THEY EVER CHOOSE TO HAVE ONE.

While this might seem obvious, simplistic, and intellectually believable, severe infant-child abuse survivors are likely to NEVER TRULY GET THIS POINT.  I think back nearly 30 years ago when I was going through a treatment program designed to address my ‘child abuse issues’.  I was unhappily married for the second time.  My therapist told me and my husband that unless and until we each, on our own, separately and independently improved our own well-being, that ‘working on the marriage was impossible.  This therapist told us that otherwise it would be like scraping two piles of mold from different corners of the bottom of a refrigerator into one pile and expecting something good and healthy to come of the effort.

He was right.  I will grant him that point.  But I was not told NEXT what I now know, and needed to be told THEN.  I could apologize here for mentioning what I am going to say next, but with my advancing years I now see this as the rest of the story.  Never in my lifetime is it possible for me to make enough so-called changes so that I will ever be able to have a sustainable mate relationship with anyone.

That’s an extremely harsh reality, but reality it is.  I can spend the rest of my life, literally working to improve my independent, autonomous, sustainable own self and while I can make progress within myself, I do not believe that I have a long enough lifetime to make myself into this kind of self.

Even if my therapist in 1983 had told me this fact, it’s doubtful I would have believed him.  I would have thought, “Well, that might be true for others, but I am special.  I can be the exception.”  That would have been a delusion I could freely have believed in.  But sooner or later things that are true remain standing, like stone pillars strong enough to withstand millions of years of erosion.  That’s one of the things that the truth actually does:  It remains standing when all else has crumbled and vanished away.

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Knowing this fact now, that unless and until I can become an independent, autonomous, sustainable single self I will not be capable of forming safe and secure attachment with a mate, actually gives me a point of reference that acts like a true-north orientation of myself in relationship to my entire life.  I can kick and scream, deny and try to make deals, compromise, suffer and struggle, sacrifice and fantasize that somehow I can escape the consequences of having been forced to grow and develop a body-brain in a horribly abusive, deprived, malevolent world that in no way created a physiology in me that operates the way a safely and securely-built attachment physiology operates.  Or I can accept the facts and begin to realize that life offers me an acceptable alternative – the freedom of being alone that I need to heal what can be healed inside of my own self.

I say this as I come to realize why I cannot ever be with the man I love completely.  As I understand that WHY from inside my own body I am at the same time gaining understanding about the WHY as it relates to his attachment physiology.  I know of no attachment therapy approach that even begins to explain the facts of what makes our relationship so much more than difficult.  Our relationship is impossible.  Survivors need to be told what is really going on for us.  Dancing around the facts of our changed attachment physiology continues to give us the illusion that there really is ‘hope’ for such impossible relationships.

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Anyone who reads this post is of course perfectly free to take their own stand and make their own choices regarding any relationship they may be in.  I am simply stating my own point of view based on what I have learned about the nature of terrible infant-childhoods and how they change our physiological development.  These changes operate in unsafe and insecure attachment patterns that are visible and definable once we understand how basic and fundamental these patterns truly are.

These changes are, I believe, the root causes of all the trauma dramas we enact in our lives.  They are at the root of our suffering.  They created a lack of ability to smoothly and consciously regulate our emotions – in our body, our brain and our mind – through safe and secure attachments between ourselves and the world we live in.

As a result we are more like unstable nuclear reactors than we are like independent, autonomous, sustainable people.  It is at this level of woundedness – in our trauma-changed body-brains — that our problems with mates and relationships actually originates.  It is at this level, for those of us who are survivors of traumatic infant-childhoods, that our physiology does not support recovery.  We had no opportunity to create in the first place what would help us to go ‘back’ and ‘recover’ now.  We cannot ‘recover’ what we never had in the first place.

All human actions and interactions are ultimately about regulating our individual physiology, including our emotions.  That is what being a human being living in an Earth Suit really means.  The experiences of our early attachment relationships tailor fit our Earth Suit accordingly.  We need to understand ourselves and others at this most basic physiological-change level if we want the misery-patterns of our lives to end.

It’s not the relationships we participate in that we need to change.  It’s the Earth Suit we live in while we have these relationships.  Changing the Earth Suit we live in while in the midst of trauma drama is about as impossible as flying into the sun.

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+REVISIONS FOR THE ‘MENTAL HEALTH BIBLE’ – DO YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY?

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When a consumer seeks help from a ‘mental health’ professional they seldom think first about the credibility of the ‘mental health’ professional system itself.  Yet this powerful system is not infallible.   As of February 10, 2010 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has a website up and running for the public to make comments  and suggestions during the revision of the very ‘bible’ that is used to ‘diagnose’ everyone who seeks ‘mental health’ assistance.  If we have something to say, NOW is the time to do so.

From what I can tell the following links only work for dues-paying members of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which few of us are!  So please use the comment suggestion categories presented here and either send them snail mail or email to:

American Psychiatric Association
1000 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1825, Arlington, Va. 22209-3901
phone: 703-907-7300 email: apa@psych.org

REMEMBER:  Surviving severe infant-child trauma, maltreatment and abuse — which created alterations in our young developing body-brain — is the single most likely experience to lead to a ‘mental health’ diagnosis!  What appears in the Big Bible Book of the APA matters to us!

Suggestions/comments have been categorized into one of five types. Please select the type that best fits your suggestion or comment:

  • Submit comments that serve to alert us about problems, limitations, or shortcomings with DSM-IV-TR (without specific suggestions about how to fix them). Miscellaneous comments that do not fit into the other categories go here as well.
  • Submit suggestions for specific changes to diagnostic criteria or diagnostic class groupings.
  • Submit suggestions for a new subtype to be added to an existing disorder.
  • Submit suggestions for a new disorder to be considered for addition to DSM-V.
  • Submit suggestions for deletion of an existing disorder.

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SEE:   psychdiagnosis.net for more information about this subject, including stories about a variety of kinds of harm caused directly by psychiatric diagnosis and six different solutions to problems of diagnosis.

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I am presenting a paper about the revision process currently under way for the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), sometimes known as “the therapist’s Bible,” that was recently included in a post by a member of an online group I joined.  The revision of this manual is slated for publication for 2013.

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WEBSITE: THE ASSOCIATION FOR WOMEN IN PSYCHOLOGY

Psychiatric Diagnosis: Too Little Science, Too Many Conflicts of Interest [i]

BY: Paula J. Caplan, Ph.D.
Harvard University

The Concerns

There is a lot of pain and suffering in the world, and it is tempting to believe that the mental health community knows how to help.  It is widely believed, both by mental health professionals and the general population, that if only a person gets the right psychiatric diagnosis, the therapist will know what kind of measures will be the most helpful. Unfortunately, that is not usually the case, and getting a psychiatric diagnosis can often create more problems than it solves, including a lifetime of being labeled, difficulties with obtaining affordable (or any) health insurance (due to now having a pre-existing condition), loss of employment, loss of child custody, the overlooking of physical illnesses and injuries because of everything being attributed to psychological factors, and the loss of the right to make decisions about one’s medical and legal affairs. The creation and use of psychiatric diagnosis, unlike, for instance, psychiatric drugs, is not overseen by any regulatory body, and rarely does anyone raise the question of what role the assignment of a psychiatric label has played in creating problems for individuals. [ii]

The Problematic History

Contrary to popular belief, the enterprise of psychiatric diagnosis is largely unscientific and highly subjective (Caplan, 1995; Caplan & Cosgrove, 2004). Therapists often disagree about which label to assign to a given patient, and there is perhaps surprisingly little definitive research to prove that, “A person with diagnosis X will benefit from and not be harmed by treatment Y.”

These serious limitations have not prevented the authors of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), sometimes known as “the therapist’s Bible,” from making expansive claims about their knowledge and authority and wielding enormous power to decide who will and will not be called mentally ill and what the varieties of alleged mental illness will be. The DSM’s current edition is called DSM-IV-TR, and it was preceded by the original DSM (in 1952), then DSM-II (1968), DSM-III (1980), DSM-III-R (Third Edition Revised) (1987), DSM-IV (1994), and DSM-IV-TR (2000). The DSM-V is currently in preparation and slated for 2013 publication.  Each time a new edition appears, the media ask whichever psychiatrist is the lead editor why a new edition was necessary, and like clockwork, each editor replies that it was because the previous edition really wasn’t scientific (Caplan, 1995).  And each time a new edition appears, it contains many more categories than does the previous one.  For instance, DSM-III-R contained 297 categories, and DSM-IV contained 374 (Caplan, 1995).

I served as an advisor to two of the DSM-IV committees, before resigning due to serious concerns after witnessing how fast and loose they play with the scientific research related to diagnosis (Caplan, 1995).  The DSM is widely used, not only in the mental health system, but also in general medical practice, in schools, and in the courts.  I have been involved since 1985 in trying to alert both therapists and the public to the manual’s unscientific nature and the dangers that believing in its objectivity poses.  Since then, I have watched with interest a national trend toward gradually increasing openness to the idea that psychiatric diagnosis (A) is largely unscientific, (B) is highly subjective and political, and (C) can cause untold harm, ranging from the patients’ lowered self-confidence to loss of custody of children to loss of health insurance (because any psychiatric label can be considered evidence of a pre-existing condition) to loss of the right to make decisions about their medical and legal affairs.

What many do not consider is that psychiatric diagnosis is at the foundation of much of the harm that is done in the mental health system.  Without assigning a diagnosis, a therapist is not supposed to choose what treatments to use or even whether or not to suggest treatment.  And rarely are patients prescribed psychotropic drugs or told they need psychotherapy unless they get a psychiatric label.  This is not to say that psychotherapy and medication is never helpful for anyone but simply that the first step toward the harm that sometimes results from these is assignment of a diagnosis.  Furthermore, increasingly people have learned about the connections between drug companies’ concealment of the harm their products can cause and some professionals’ pushing of particular drugs while being paid well by the drug companies.  It has been well documented that some of the professionals who help write the DSM are on drug companies’ payrolls (Cosgrove, Krimsky, Vijayraghavan, & Schneider, 2006).

Coming Up Next: DSM-V and Secrecy

With the next edition of the DSM in preparation, and perhaps due to increasing scrutiny and questioning of the process of creating psychiatric categories and an increasing public awareness of the harm that results from their use, the current DSM team has tried to envelop the process of compiling the next edition in a shroud of secrecy (Frances & Spitzer, 2009).  Interestingly, the editors of the current and previous editions, Allen Frances and Robert Spitzer, respectively, in a letter to the APA’s Board of Governors described the DSM-V process as characterized by a “rigid fortress mentality” that included asking that those compiling the new edition to sign a statement agreeing to keep confidential the deliberations about it (Frances & Spitzer, 2009).  This seems a curious requirement for a group that has often claimed that it bases its decisions strictly on scientific evidence.

In addition to this secrecy, as I learned when asked by Ms. magazine in 2008 to write an article about the future of the category “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder” in the DSM-V, those joining DSM-V committees have been told that they must divest themselves of most drug company connections.   However, it turns out that this divestment is only temporary, and connections can resume once work on the DSM is finished.  Furthermore, as one DSM-V committee chair told me in a telephone interview, this requirement delayed the process of committee formation substantially, because it was difficult to find enough people who were willing to go through with the divestment (Fawcett, personal communication) .

Some Problems Already Identified in DSM-V Plans

In keeping with the tradition of DSM editors claiming that, in contrast to previous editions, their edition will be scientific, a proposal apparently receiving serious consideration is the creation of an entirely new system of organizing categories within the DSM-V (Frances & Spitzer, 2009), yet this proposed system is riddled with problems and does not even appear to be a particularly useful – not to mention valid – system for helping people with emotional problems.

In addition, despite the secrecy surrounding the process, additional alarming information about what committee members are considering has already appeared.  For instance, a committee was appointed to consider whether “racism” should appear in the DSM-V, a step that would disguise a social evil by making it seem “merely” an individual problem, a mental illness.   One danger of such a diagnostic category is that people who commit hate crimes would blame their crimes on alleged mental illnesses and thus avoid criminal punishment (Profit, 2004).  This is similar to the category of “rapism,” which was proposed for DSM-III-R and which feminists successfully battled (Caplan, 1995).

In a different realm altogether, one prominent DSM author has proposed that “relational disorder” be added to the manual (Caplan & Profit, 2004). “Relational disorder” would be applied to a couple, neither of whom individually might be considered mentally ill but whose relationship would be considered sick.  One of the category’s inventors has suggested that this would provide a terrific opportunity to try out psychotropic drugs. But there are serious ethical problems involved in prescribing drugs to treat people who are not individually diagnosed as mentally ill. It is revealing to picture this scene:   Two people sit in a psychiatrist’ s office; neither of them is considered mentally ill, though their relationship is; the psychiatrist removes a pill from its bottle…where does the psychiatrist put the pill?   Clearly, the ethics, absurdities, and dangers of DSM-V proposals must see daylight and be thoroughly debated as soon as possible.

This Website

Even during the preparation of past editions of the manual, changes have been rapidly and often surprisingly made by various DSM subgroups and by those at the top of the hierarchy.   For this reason, it would be almost impossible to write a book about concerns related to the DSM-V process.   As a result, sponsored and supported by the Association for Women in Psychology (AWP), which has long had as a primary social action objective the understanding of psychiatric diagnosis and prevention of harm that results from it, a task force of academics and clinicians has produced the articles on this website.   Most of the articles are about particular diagnostic categories, some are about particular “isms” such as sexism, classism, and racism, and many involve elements of more than one of these.   This website is a grassroots project of AWP, and due to limitations of time and personnel, we have only attempted to critique some (though a wide variety) of the 374 different diagnostic categories listed in the current DSM and some that are being considered for inclusion.   Furthermore, the secrecy surrounding the DSM-V process makes it impossible to know much the new categories being proposed.  So with this website, we offer a sampling of the kinds of problems and concerns that we want to urge professionals and the public alike to watch for as the DSM-V steamroller moves on.  In fact, several of the categories addressed on this site have been proposed in major mental health journals and books as DSM-V diagnoses. Unfortunately, many changes in past editions have been made at the last minute and without the public’s knowledge, so that serious problems have become widely known only after the editions were published; those problems have persisted for many years. Indeed, in the case of the widely publicized claim in the early 1970s that “homosexuality” was being removed from the next edition of the manual – a claim that is still generally believed to be true – it emerged that “ego-dystonic homosexuality” actually remained in the next edition after all (Metcalfe & Caplan, 2004).[1] Situations like this make it difficult to think how to protect the public and how to educate the public and professionals about ways to stop the DSM-V authors from causing harm. We hope that this website will provide some resistance to the DSM-V steamroller.

References

Caplan, P. J. (1995). They say you’re crazy: How the world’s most powerful psychiatrists decide who’s normal. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Caplan, P. J., & Cosgrove, L. (2004). Bias in psychiatric diagnosis. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Caplan, P.J., & Profit, W.E. (2004). Some future contenders. In P. J. Caplan & L. Cosgrove (Eds.), Bias in psychiatric diagnosis (pp.249-54). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Cosgrove, L., Krimsky, S., Vijayraghavan, M. & Schneider, L.  (2006). Financial ties between DSM-IV panel members and the pharmaceutical industry. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 75, 154-160.

Fawcett, J. Personal communication.

Metcalfe, W.R., & Caplan, P. J. (2004). Seeking “normal” sexuality on a complex matrix. ”? In P. J. Caplan & L. Cosgrove (Eds.), Bias in psychiatric diagnosis (pp.121-6). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Profit, W.E. (2004). Should racism be classified as a mental illness? In In P. J. Caplan & L. Cosgrove (Eds.), Bias in psychiatric diagnosis (pp.81-8). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

[1] The category “Ego Dystonic Homosexuality” appeared in the manual, thus leading to the labeling as mentally ill many people who were not thoroughly comfortable and happy with being homosexual. The fact that in a homophobic society, the lack of total comfort with being homosexual should hardly be construed as proof of mental illness was not acknowledged. Even today, although the words “homosexual,” “lesbian,” “gay,” and “bisexual” do not appear as diagnostic categories in the manual, the category “Sexual Perversion Not Otherwise Specified” does appear, and that is so broadly defined that it could certainly be applied to anyone who is not heterosexual, as long as their particular therapist decides that their sexual orientation is a perversion.

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SEE:   psychdiagnosis.net for more information about this subject, including stories about a variety of kinds of harm caused directly by psychiatric diagnosis and six different solutions to problems of diagnosis.

[ii] The Association for Women in Psychology, the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, and the National Women’s Health Network, sponsored by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter and cosponsored by many other organizations, held a Congressional briefing about some of these concerns, and a second briefing was held by the author of this paper (Caplan, Paula J. (2002). You, Too, Can Hold a Congressional Briefing: The SMCR Goes to Washington About “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder” and Sarafem. The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research Newsletter, Summer, 1-5. Reprinted in Women’s Health: Readings on Social, Economic, and Political Issues. Fourth Edition. Nancy Worcester & Mariamne Whatley (Eds.). Kendall-Hunt: Dubuque, IA, pp.246-9.) However, no Congressional action to propose hearings or legislation about psychiatric diagnosis has yet resulted from these briefings.

http://awpsych. org/index. php?option= com_content&view=article&id=102&Itemid=126

Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis: Concerns about DSM-V


Mission:
To provide information for people (including but not limited to professionals and journalists) about biases and other problems in psychiatric diagnosis, an especially important goal in light of the American Psychiatric Association’ s preparation for the 2013 publication of the next edition of the psychiatric diagnostic manual.

NEWS FLASH
1.[i] see psychdiagnosis.net for more information about this subject, including stories about a variety of kinds of harm caused directly by psychiatric diagnosis and six different solutions to problems of diagnosis.

2. Click Here for an important article in New Scientist about problems in the preparation for DSM-V

3. Click here to go to a website that is presented as allowing anyone who wants to make suggestions about DSM-V to do so.

Note:  AWP’s Committee on Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis does not know what plans may have been made by the DSM-V authors to consider these suggestions.

4. Call for papers for a special issue of Social Science and Medicine, Sociology of Diagnosis

5. PSYCHOUT – A conference for organizing Resistance against Psychiatry – Call for submissions

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Given even the physiological developmental changes that happened to our body-brain as a result of having to adapt to severe traumas in our early infant-childhood, the following is still the very best ‘advise’ we can probably ever follow.  Our new power, our increased self-respect, and our advanced experience are tied into learning — for the first time in our lives — what these developmental body-brain changes are, how they actually happened, how they affect us, and how we can still work to vastly improve our well-being in our life time.

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“Be not the slave of your own past. Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

US essayist & poet (1803 – 1882)
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+THE LIFE ENHANCING NATURE OF SHARED THOUGHTS

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I asked libramoon, a member of an online group, if I could post her words and my reply to them on my blog today and my request was accepted:

“In rereading this with the other jumble of thought/impressions from other readings today, I am wondering: Are what we think of as psychological “conditions” reactions to a social atmosphere that largely negates the natural? I am speaking of both the larger natural environment and the internal natural development of the individual. If we are stunted in development by traumatic events along the way which become defined by normative values which keep us stuck in an unnatural frame, perhaps we need to look to nature for a healthier framing and way out?

I am also thinking about the article you posted regarding pain. Pain is a symptom of something out of whack in the system. The social norm is to block the pain rather than look to restoring balance in the system. Is this part of the mindset that sees nature as outside of conquering man? Is this part of the mindset that honors bullying, control, power and victimization because we are defeating nature rather than honoring wisdom?”

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I was thinking about libramoon’s words last night and the post I wanted to write in response to them when I went to sleep last night thinking only one word as I passed into my world of dreams – NATURE.

I woke out of my sleep this morning with one single word in my mind in return – FRACTALS.

This thought was soon followed by another one:  Nature is nothing more and nothing less that SHARED INTELLIGENCE.

Then, as I wandered through my house in my still-waking-up state, pausing to open the curtains in my living room to let the morning light in, pausing to open the door to let all three of my eager cats in from their night of play, and on into the kitchen to start my pot of coffee, I had an entire phrase come into my mind:  “At this point in our specie’s evolution, human beings are ‘children of the half-light.”

Then, as I waited for my coffee, I opened my email to find these heart wrenching words:

Please read this reader response:

2010/02/05 at 5:58am | In reply to debbi irish.

comment by LilAdopted1 found at this link — CONTACT INFO page

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All of these pieces of thought were preceded by the November 30, 2009 Time Magazine (must read) article by Tim McGirk on our returning war veterans and PTSD-depression that I read yesterday as I ate my delicious lunch at our local laundromat café:

How One Army Town Copes with Posttraumatic Stress

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I am humbled by the rich display of humanity already presented here today in the stories presented in the words above that I have already collected upon this page.

When I read about FRACTALS I begin to wonder if this same explanation might apply to all of us as human beings within the realm of so-called NATURE as we simply exist:

“A fractal is “a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole,”[1] a property called self-similarity.”

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I could go on here to talk again about how without the pristine perfection of the Alaskan homestead my parents staked claim to, without the purist life force on that mountain and valley land and my bonding with it I would not have survived my childhood.  I could talk about how at 18, after I was ‘put into the Navy’ by my parents and flew thousands of miles away from my home that I was completely without conception of what being a human being among humans even meant.

I could talk about how in my mid-twenties I was attracted to Native American teachings because I thought among those people I could AT LAST and AT LEAST find comrades that understood what NATURE was and what it meant to be so in love with that natural world that humans remained simply as diminutive representatives of the Life Force that sustains us.  I could talk about how disappointed I was to find that the forced assimilation-genocide our nation had used to destroy the People’s connection to Nature had been so effective that barely a trace of the Original Connection to the Natural World even remained alive.

I could talk about the PTSD article and say that our military is refusing to apply the two simplest measurements of both risk and contribution to PTSD-depression that could mean the difference between life and death, well-being and ill-being for our service people and their loved ones for generations to come:  (1) assess the dominant hand used by these soldiers which relates to how their brain hemispheres process ALL information, most importantly the information contained in traumatic experiences, and (2) accurately assess these soldiers’ attachment systems, which would then clearly describe how their body-brain was built either with or without trauma at its center.

I could talk today about how nature’s SHARED INTELLIGENCE might well save us all at this ‘half-lit’ juncture in human evolution.  If we ALL, all of life, is connected in one body, and if the accurate sending and receiving of communication signals all the way down to life’s molecular levels is what intelligence is all about, then we have given ourselves a most valuable tool to assist us in gaining the kind of wisdom our species now so desperately needs:  We have the technology of computers and of the internet.

This means that those of us who are so fortunate to have access to this world wide web of vital information have an unspoken obligation to use it – and use it wisely.  I believe we are doing that.

SHARED INTELLIGENCE means that we all, each and every one of us, have something critical to offer toward the betterment of life on this planet.  Right here.  Right now.

We are speaking.  We are reading.  We are listening.  We are thinking.  We are sharing.  We are learning.  We are sending and receiving signals between members of the body of our species in ways that have never happened before in the history of our species.

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While I certainly can’t say that it doesn’t exit, I can’t find the whole in the boat of my thinking.  Life continues to exist on this planet because information is signaled through communications between all of its elements – and that intimate fabric of life does not exclude human beings.

As I return to the top of this post in my thinking I note one single word in libramoon’s statement that most captivated me:  STUNTED.

Can we be, as libramoon suggests, “stunted in development by traumatic events along the way?”

I find myself wondering why it took me so many years to buy a bag of Hyacinth bulbs so that I could stick them into a pot of dirt and watch them grow into one of my most favorite flowers.  But this year I did buy them, and every day I watch them grow and develop.  In this case every one of the 12 bulbs is receiving the identical resources.  One bulb rotted.  Eleven are growing greener and taller every day.  I can see their sturdy outer leaves part as the bud of each one’s flower begins to form close to the soil.

Yet not one of the plants is the same.  There is one that is twice the size of the rest of them.  Standing at nearly seven inches it towers over the smallest which only yesterday showed its first greenery at all.  Given this band-width of normal development, what would have happened should any or all of them have suffered some degree of trauma in their development.

Do I compare the tallest and the shortest and the middle plants and say that some are stunted and some are not?  Or is it the truth that each separate plant is simply fulfilling its own individual nature by growing in the only way that it can – in its OWN way?

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The presence or absence of traumatic influences during human development simply signals through molecular pathways in the body what the condition of the world is like so that the growing body-brain of the infant-child can adjust and adapt itself in the best way it can to survive in, and even thrive in, the world it is being built for.

These beautiful Hyacinth plants I am watching are crowded together in an old plastic yellow colander I bought at our local thrift store.  The soil then has excellent drainage.  It sits in my kitchen sink directly in the even light provided by my west facing window.  I can carefully monitor the needs of this whole tribe of plants equally.  But nothing I can provide for them will change them into anything else other than what they started out being.

No matter what influences an infant-child’s development, no matter how much they have to adapt in their body-brain development to trauma, they will always come out of these earliest stages of development in the best way they possibly can.  Each one will always be a unique representation of their potential as members of our species.  But none of us, not one single one of us, can ever overcome the boundaries that make us human.  None of us can become something nature did not intend us to be.

And because of this we each represent the environment that made us in ‘natural’ ways.

Given the information in her earliest environment that my mother’s body-brain-mind-self had to work with (from both within and from outside her body), it is natural that my mother became who she was.  Given who she became, it is natural that the outflow of her condition would be what it was.  Given what my mother did to me during my development, it is natural that my body-brain-mind-self would make the kinds of adaptations and adjustments that it/I did.  There is nothing, to me, unnatural about any of this.

What happened to me, however, is that once I left my home of origin I began to look around me as I became a part of what libramoon refers to as a “social atmosphere.”  Before that time I simply had no points of reference either outside of myself or within myself that I could use for comparison.  I had no inner compass other than the natural one that I had been formed with.

My Hyacinth plants have no ability (that I know of) to compare themselves to one another.  It is only once the signaling communication that we participate in achieves some level of the ability to compare our reality with some other reality that the trouble really begins.  Before that time I believe we simply exist within the natural world in the same way that any other part of nature does.

Once we have reached what I believe to be an evolutionarily advanced state that allows for a point of reference, we enter an expanded universe of thought that includes the ability to CONTRAST some aspect of something to, with and against some aspect of something else.  Without a reference point, we cannot COMPARE or CONTRAST anything any more than my Hyacinth plants can.

The human ability to access reference points so that we can compare and contrast allows us to also form opinions as it allows us to exercise conscious choice.  Using these abilities does not separate us from NATURE.  Thinking is as natural as breathing once we have that ability.

And just as we humans breathe the same air that our planet provides for us, we think by using the same neural abilities that everyone else does.  True, my own individual lungs breathe in and exhale particular molecules.  True, my brain’s particular molecules are thinking my own thoughts as I go through life.  But at the same time these are sharing operations.  Nobody can tell me, “No!  Don’t breathe THAT air!” or “No!  Don’t think THOSE thoughts!”

My body can breathe without my conscious awareness.  My body can also think without my conscious awareness.  Again I return to another critically important concept that I see implied in libramoon’s writing:  MINDFUL.

I can choose to be mindful of both my breathing and of my thinking.  I can accomplish this because I have gained the evolutionary advantage point of HAVING a reference point.  While my mother could no doubt have gained mindfulness of her breathing, I’m not certain that in her entire life my mother could gain mindfulness in regard to her thinking.  In fact, ‘mindfulness’ is one of the primary concepts applied to recovery within the so-called Borderline condition because the ability to live a mindful life has been altered – I believe through early developmental trauma – in a Borderline’s body.

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I believe that the ability to obtain the ability to have a reference point within one’s self is an evolutionarily provided gift.  Having a reference-point ability gives us powers to discriminate, to contrast and to compare so that we can think in mindful ways.  I don’t think my mother had this ability any more than my Hyacinth plants do.

Does this mean that trauma stunted my mother’s development?  Is a plant stunted because it has no reference point and cannot compare and contrast itself to any other aspect of existence?  No.  Simply put, a gift is missing in both circumstances.

Our ability to think mindfully happens because we operate within a social atmosphere that feeds information back to us at the same time we have degrees of ability to receive this information even before we are born.  Information comes to us as forms of nutrients that build our body-brain just as surely as water, soil and light are nutrients that are building my Hyacinths.  These are shared natural processes.

If, however, a developing human being does not receive enough information about its own individual self-in-the-world, the gift of mindfulness will not come into bloom in the same way that if my Hyacinths do not receive the nutrients they need RIGHT NOW as they grow, they will not be able to form blossoms.  In this way, mindfulness is the gift of the flower of humanity.

In this way, also, I see that my mother was not stunted; she was robbed of the evolutionarily advanced gift of mindfulness.  She was not fed with the necessary nutrients within the social atmosphere of her infant-childhood to build a self that could in turn possess a viable reference point that she needed in order to accurately compare and contrast her own self within a world of others.  She could not, therefore, share a gift of mindfulness that she never received.

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My choice to mention both breathing and thinking together is not an arbitrary one.  Research on the human vagal nerve system is showing that it is directly connected to our physiological reactions to what we see ourselves ‘a part of’ and what we see ourselves ‘a part from’ as it regulates our breathing and our heart rate.

Reacting as ‘a part of’ stimulates the STOP arm of our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).  Our heart rate and our breathing slow down.  We then find ourselves on the cooperative rather than the competitive pathway, or the prosocial one.

If we react with an ‘a part from’ reaction, our heart rate and our breathing escalate with stimulation of the GO arm of our ANS, or our fight/flight response.

In this way, I suggest that WE ARE WHAT WE BREATHE and the more conscious and mindful we can become about our fastest physiological reactions within our body the more mindful we can become about our self in relationship with the entire world we live within.  The STOP reactions we have release our breath in an exhale.  The GO reactions that we have catch us with an inhale.  If we can learn to pay attention to this most basic signal from our body, we can increasingly notice with mindfulness the orientation we are taking from our internal reference point – our individual self.

Even without our mindful conscious perception, our naturally constructed social species’ body-brain is continually evaluating our degree of safety and security in the world through finely tuned assessments about what belongs and what doesn’t – what is safe and what isn’t.  These are comparing and contrasting operations that our body has formed itself to assess so that we can increase our chances of staying alive.

The more traumatic our earliest environment was the more automatic and the less mindfully conscious these patterns operate within our body because we were naturally built this way.  As we experience a lifetime of mostly automatic reactions, our body itself has taken over the reference point position, not our conscious mind.

As we begin to practice mindfulness we are creating our own bloom.  We can choose to grow this gift even if nobody gave us this gift pro bono.  Traumatized infant-children are given censored, erroneous information.  The building of an ever increasingly mindful self requires access to and sharing of truthful and accurate information.  Because we are a social species, this growth always happens through give and take within a social atmosphere, even if that atmosphere mostly exists between our own mind and our own self in online exchanges with others.

The more we access, utilize, process and digest new information the less hold any trauma we have ever experienced will have on our mindful self, and the more we will grow and blossom into being the evolutionarily advancing people nature has intended us to become.  Mindfulness, the blossom of our specie’s evolution, concerns all the information about our experience that we can consciously share with our self.  Mindfulness defines the social atmosphere we create within our self with our self.  This is the area where our healing will show its greatest accomplishments.  “Go bloom, everyone!  Go bloom!”

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NOTE:  In consideration of the tendency for some people to think that humans are separate from nature and/or superior to the natural world, all this means to me is that the ‘a part from’ pathway has been chosen rather than the ‘a part of’ pathway.  The reference point of the self has compared and contrasted itself and has made up a thinking-based fiction that has nothing to do with reality.

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+INTERGENERATIONAL TRAUMA AND THE NATURE OF GOOD AND BAD

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Is our species still on this planet because we are equally wired for both kindness and selfishness/self-preservation?  Someone was ‘kind enough’ yesterday to post the ScienceDaily December 9, 2009 article (included below) about the ‘goodness’ research coming out of Berkeley to an online group I belong to.  Someone else responded with a comment that they disagree with this “theory”.

How does it happen that what was once considered theory comes to be known as fact?  I wonder how long it took the ‘discovery’ that the sun was at the center of our solar system to permeate public thinking.  How long did it take the ‘discovery’ that our planet is round to infiltrate common knowledge?  Whatever people thought about the rotations of our solar system or the shape of our planet certainly had no affect on how things actually are in reality.  So what is the process by which erroneous thinking becomes supplanted with new thoughts that directly contradict the old?

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I could say that I staked my career on a losing hand of cards.  I could say that even in light of what I have since come to understand about my own limitations, about the body-brain physiological changes that my mother’s severe abuse of me created.  I understand now that dissociation happens to me on a regular basis.  I understand now that the stress response systems within me were built in trauma and do not allow me to experience my life in ordinary ways.  I understand now that going all the way before my brain’s language centers were built trauma changed how my emotional-social brain operates.  But all of this new information that I have doesn’t change the basic fact that I staked my career on the stars while I walked down here in the mud.

I trained myself with a BA in psychology and a MA in art therapy specifically to work with sexually abused children on Native American reservations.  THAT didn’t work.  But I had to go through a PROCESS of learning and understanding how I fit into a world that I did not create.

I found that after the U.S. government rescinded its laws in 1974 that had been put into place to make sure that indigenous people within the borders of our nation did not practice their traditional spiritual beliefs, the tribal people where I lived had to resurrect their ceremonies and ancient teachings into the new world they found themselves now living in.  It had been the intention of our government to disempower the people.  What has been called ‘assimilation’ was nothing more than an invisibility cloak thrown over the true intention of genocide.

Our government was joined by private interest forces that were allowed to help destroy the tribal structure of our nation’s indigenous people through greed.  Our government was also joined by religious interest forces that introduced the gangrene of sexual abuse into Native communities through boarding schools, which also operated to erase traditional languages, customs, beliefs and practices and destroy clan and family systems.

Included in the history of terrible abuse and trauma that was perpetrated against our nation’s so-called enemy, is a pattern of dishonoring treaties that should make any conscience-ridden nation so ashamed of itself it could not exist.  But exist America does, in spite of these actions which to this day remain so buried, hidden, disguised, condoned and still practiced that it is amazing our nation can ignore them.

What does any of this have to do with me?  As far as I know I have no indigenous American ancestry.  What I did was take my newly acquired credentials, acquire a job as an art therapist on a reservation, and set to work to ‘help’ the little 2-10 year-old members of my 40 child caseload to ‘recover’.  Of these children, all of them had been sexually abused along with being victimized by neglect and maltreatment, many from before they were born through drug and alcohol usage of their mothers.   Seventy percent of my caseload were little boys.

What ‘good’ did I think I could do for these children?  I had children on my caseload who could name 55 cousins they were sexually active with.  I found that in many cases adults knew this was happening and ignored it.  There were ‘rape gangs’ of older children who tricked or kidnapped younger children, taking them far into the woods to sexually initiate them, if they hadn’t already been molested from the time they were babies.

There were stories of children watching their father chop their mother to death in the household kitchen with an ax because he was on acid.  There were stories of foster parents putting their own and their foster children to sleep at night by putting plastic bags over their heads until the children passed out.  When the older children could be taught to do this themselves so that the foster parents could go out an party, guess what happened?  While eventually the children were removed from these parents’ care, nobody ever prosecuted for abuse.

And on this reservation where it wasn’t uncommon for people to be killed by being buried alive, I found it got even worse.  I had little children on my caseload whose mother had run away from their abusing father.  The father’s parents went to medicine people and asked in retaliation that the spirits attack their grandchildren.  The spirits complied.  The children suffered through sickness and threat of death.  And if all of this wasn’t bad enough, sooner rather than later these same ‘bad’ people asked that bad medicine be used not only against me (as the foreign intruder that I was), but also against all three of my children.

My response?  I was fortunate to have the same ‘good’ medicine man I brought my caseload’s children to for assistance and healing perform ceremonies that removed this bad medicine from me and from my children.  Then I turned tail and ran.  I abandoned my work with the children, took myself and my own children, left the area and disappeared.

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Before I left the area I did some serious questioning of people ‘in the know” about how and why the spirits could participate in this kind of evil.  I was told that most of the spirits that Indigenous people have always been able to access through ceremony are neutral.  They can be accessed as power to work either good or ill.  The choice is within the humans who are the ones who ASK them, or COMMAND them to either help or harm others.

Yet for all of this, what I most often think about is something my then 7-year-old son told me one warm early spring day as he and I were walking down an old logging road through the forest.  It was early on in my art therapist days on the reservation, and I was struggling with something that disturbed me greatly.

I asked my son, who was and is very wise, “What am I going to do if some day I am asked to work with some of the adults or older teens that are the perpetrators of these great harms against little children?  I don’t think I can do it, and I don’t think I will be given the choice.  Do you think there’s any hope that abusers can change?”

I wasn’t looking at my son while I asked him these questions while we walked.  I was looking into the forest at the tiny little brilliantly green leaves that were sprouting from the trees.  When I looked to my right my son was no longer beside me.  I stopped and turned around to see him standing a ways back on the road in the sunshine with his feet spread apart, his hands resting on his skinny little hips, his head cocked to the side, staring at me.

“Well, MOM,” he said, obviously perturbed with me.  “Don’t YOU KNOW?”

I turned around and walked back to him, standing in front of him I responded, “KNOW WHAT?”  Obviously I didn’t have a clue.

“Well, MOM, you SHOULD know this!  Everyone decides when they are in their mother’s tummy if they are going to be good people or bad ones.  They’ve made that decision before they are born and NOTHING ANYONE can ever do is going to change them.”

I was stunned by his insistent sincerity.  And only for a moment did I doubt him.  “Well, honey, how can that be possible?” I wanted to know in my adult logical way.  “Babies can’t make those kinds of decisions before they are born.  How could they even have enough information to even begin to think about such things, let alone make such a huge decision that will determine the course of their lives?”

Again, as if amazed and almost disgusted with my ignorance, my son responded, “Mother, don’t you KNOW?  Babies talk to the angels all the time they are in their mother’s tummy.  They know what they are doing when they decide.  Once they are born they will just be who they have already decided to be, and nobody, nothing, not even you, can change them.”

I have never been able to convince myself that my son didn’t know exactly what he was talking about.  I strongly suspect that it is entirely possible that what he told me on that glorious spring morning was the truth.

It took another few years before I began to understand how pervasive and how powerful the bad choices could be.

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This brings to mind my fascination with wolverines that I had as a child as soon as I found out this animal existed.  Although I don’t think they lived in the Alaskan valleys or on the mountains anywhere near where my family staked claim to our homestead, certainly stories of them floated in the air around me in childhood.

I knew there was something special about their fur so that if a ruff was made out of it around a parka hood one’s breath would not accumulate moisture and freeze on the ruff.  I know they were MEAN and people were afraid of them.  I knew they were smart and could disarm traps intentionally so that humans could not catch them.

I heard they were the only animal that intentionally bullied others.  I heard they could chase away wolves from their moose kill and then spray the meat so it stunk so badly no other animal could eat it.  The wolverine was selfish.  It wasn’t one bit hungry or interested in the meat.  It just liked to be mean.  Wolverines stayed alone, liked or needed nobody, and as far as I could tell nobody liked them.  Wolverines seemed to embody powerful fear at the same time they were immune to it themselves.

Probably as a combined consequence of the terrible ongoing abuse I suffered, coupled with the fact that I had access to no information that would have helped me be able to THINK about anything that happened to me, I liked and admired wolverines even though I never got to meet one personally.

My fascination and respect for this animal continued to crystallize in my mind all the way through my 20s.  I searched for and read everything I could find about them.  In some mythological, unconscious way I seemed to understand that perhaps the only being strong enough to overcome the badness that was my mother would have to be badder than her.  Wolverines seemed to be the essence of bad.  I knew my mother had nothing on them.  If my mother ever met one, she would NOT win that battle.  That thought delighted me!

Few probably equate the potential for badness in animals that we project onto humans.  Nobody is going to teach or influence a wolverine to be ‘good’ or ‘nice’.  Wolverines occupy an environmental niche that belongs to them.  They were always, to me, about the opposite of what I could imagine tame, domesticated or civilized could be.  “Take a walk on the wild side” named both who this animal was and who it would always be.  Even now, there is something comforting to me about knowing that there is a legitimate place for badness and a place it belongs.

My mother might have been vicious and incredibly abuse and mean, but even though she shared these characteristics with a wild beast, she had NOTHING on a wolverine.  At the same time I know that no degree of early developmental trauma could change any other animal into a wolverine.  They ARE born to be mean.  That’s their nature.

Early trauma CAN change the course of physiological development of humans.  As researchers clarify the wiring in humans that operates in our goodness, it is also clarifying a critical area of our body that can be changed through trauma in our earliest developmental stages so that these systems will operate differently from normal.

What this tells me is that we need to listen to the newest information about how trauma influences human development every step of the way.  We have to consider the largest, broadest picture we can about the influence that traumas have not only on individuals, not only on families, but within cultures and societies.  As resiliency factors are removed through trauma at the same time that risk factors are increased, the intergenerational affect that trauma has on human development can actually physiologically reduce the human capacity to both experience goodness and to choose it.

I see this as fact, not theory.

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Social Scientists Build Case for ‘Survival of the Kindest’

ScienceDaily (Dec. 9, 2009) — Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish. In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive.

In contrast to “every man for himself” interpretations of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of “Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life,” and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits.

They call it “survival of the kindest.”

“Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others,” said Keltner, co-director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. “Human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate. As Darwin long ago surmised, sympathy is our strongest instinct.”

Empathy in our genes

Keltner’s team is looking into how the human capacity to care and cooperate is wired into particular regions of the brain and nervous system. One recent study found compelling evidence that many of us are genetically predisposed to be empathetic.

The study, led by UC Berkeley graduate student Laura Saslow and Sarina Rodrigues of Oregon State University, found that people with a particular variation of the oxytocin gene receptor are more adept at reading the emotional state of others, and get less stressed out under tense circumstances.

Informally known as the “cuddle hormone,” oxytocin is secreted into the bloodstream and the brain, where it promotes social interaction, nurturing and romantic love, among other functions.

“The tendency to be more empathetic may be influenced by a single gene,” Rodrigues said.

The more you give, the more respect you get

While studies show that bonding and making social connections can make for a healthier, more meaningful life, the larger question some UC Berkeley researchers are asking is, “How do these traits ensure our survival and raise our status among our peers?”

One answer, according to UC Berkeley social psychologist and sociologist Robb Willer is that the more generous we are, the more respect and influence we wield. In one recent study, Willer and his team gave participants each a modest amount of cash and directed them to play games of varying complexity that would benefit the “public good.” The results, published in the journal American Sociological Review, showed that participants who acted more generously received more gifts, respect and cooperation from their peers and wielded more influence over them.

“The findings suggest that anyone who acts only in his or her narrow self-interest will be shunned, disrespected, even hated,” Willer said. “But those who behave generously with others are held in high esteem by their peers and thus rise in status.”

“Given how much is to be gained through generosity, social scientists increasingly wonder less why people are ever generous and more why they are ever selfish,” he added.

Cultivating the greater good

Such results validate the findings of such “positive psychology” pioneers as Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose research in the early 1990s shifted away from mental illness and dysfunction, delving instead into the mysteries of human resilience and optimism.

While much of the positive psychology being studied around the nation is focused on personal fulfillment and happiness, UC Berkeley researchers have narrowed their investigation into how it contributes to the greater societal good.

One outcome is the campus’s Greater Good Science Center, a West Coast magnet for research on gratitude, compassion, altruism, awe and positive parenting, whose benefactors include the Metanexus Institute, Tom and Ruth Ann Hornaday and the Quality of Life Foundation.

Christine Carter, executive director of the Greater Good Science Center, is creator of the “Science for Raising Happy Kids” Web site, whose goal, among other things, is to assist in and promote the rearing of “emotionally literate” children. Carter translates rigorous research into practical parenting advice. She says many parents are turning away from materialistic or competitive activities, and rethinking what will bring their families true happiness and well-being.

“I’ve found that parents who start consciously cultivating gratitude and generosity in their children quickly see how much happier and more resilient their children become,” said Carter, author of “Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents” which will be in bookstores in February 2010. “What is often surprising to parents is how much happier they themselves also become.”

The sympathetic touch

As for college-goers, UC Berkeley psychologist Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton has found that cross-racial and cross-ethnic friendships can improve the social and academic experience on campuses. In one set of findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, he found that the cortisol levels of both white and Latino students dropped as they got to know each over a series of one-on-one get-togethers. Cortisol is a hormone triggered by stress and anxiety.

Meanwhile, in their investigation of the neurobiological roots of positive emotions, Keltner and his team are zeroing in on the aforementioned oxytocin as well as the vagus nerve, a uniquely mammalian system that connects to all the body’s organs and regulates heart rate and breathing.

Both the vagus nerve and oxytocin play a role in communicating and calming. In one UC Berkeley study, for example, two people separated by a barrier took turns trying to communicate emotions to one another by touching one other through a hole in the barrier. For the most part, participants were able to successfully communicate sympathy, love and gratitude and even assuage major anxiety.

Researchers were able to see from activity in the threat response region of the brain that many of the female participants grew anxious as they waited to be touched. However, as soon as they felt a sympathetic touch, the vagus nerve was activated and oxytocin was released, calming them immediately.

“Sympathy is indeed wired into our brains and bodies; and it spreads from one person to another through touch,” Keltner said.

The same goes for smaller mammals. UC Berkeley psychologist Darlene Francis and Michael Meaney, a professor of biological psychiatry and neurology at McGill University, found that rat pups whose mothers licked, groomed and generally nurtured them showed reduced levels of stress hormones, including cortisol, and had generally more robust immune systems.

Overall, these and other findings at UC Berkeley challenge the assumption that nice guys finish last, and instead support the hypothesis that humans, if adequately nurtured and supported, tend to err on the side of compassion.

“This new science of altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching up with Darwin’s observations nearly 130 years ago, that sympathy is our strongest instinct,” Keltner said.

Story Source:

Adapted from materials provided by University of California, Berkeley. Original article written by Yasmin Anwar, Media Relations.

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+MY MOTHER’S VAGUS NERVE: THE MAKING OF HER PERFECT BORDERLINE STORM?

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I am thinking this morning about this job I have taken on to try to learn how what happened to my mother when she was a little girl ended up turning her into the monster that tormented and traumatized me from the time I was born.  Today the word ‘investigator’ rings in my thoughts.  I think about accident investigators, criminal investigators, child protection investigators, and I think about myself as an investigator in the case of what happened to my mother.

Can we learn to tell the difference between child abuse that is a crime and child abuse that is an accident?  Is the dividing line between the two really about conscious, willful choice and intention?  Where does ignorance fit into the picture?  Negligence?  Limitations due to very real disabilities?

What role does assigning blame, fault or accountability fit into the investigation of the causes and consequences of infant-child abuse, neglect and maltreatment or of any other accident, crime or trauma?

Obviously nothing can ever be done to change history, including my 18 year history with my mother.  Yet it is one of the qualities of being human that allows us to both learn from history and then take what we learn to try to create a better future.  Hindsight and foresight have been human allies for many, many thousands of years.  While other animals are certainly capable of learning, of applying what they learned in the past to new situations in the future, it seems to be only our human species that can utilize one single, most important gift:  Insight.

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There will come a day in the future when I no longer concern myself with my forensic autobiographical investigative study about what happened to my mother.  When that day comes, it will be because I have had my curiosity sated, because I gave up, or because I am dead.  Today isn’t that day.

Right now I am turning the light of my conscious investigation into the crime or the accident that was my mother’s entire approach to having me as her daughter.  I am moving my search into a new direction.  I want to know what my mother’s vagal nerve system had to do with the disaster that was her life, both as my mother and as a human being.

I posted the scanned images of Dr. Dacher Keltner’s chapter on compassion from his book, Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, on January 30, 2010.  I am putting his words under my microscope today as I search specifically for what he says in this chapter about the vagal nerve system.

What, most simply, is the vagal nerve system?  The WiseGeek states:

The vagus nerve is either one of two cranial nerves which are extremely long, extending from the brain stem all the way to the viscera. The vagus nerves carry a wide assortment of signals to and from the brain, and they are responsible for a number of instinctive responses in the body. You may also hear the vagus nerve called Cranial Nerve X, as it is the 10th cranial nerve, or the Wandering Nerve. A great deal of research has been carried out on the vagus nerve, as it is a rather fascinating cranial nerve.

Vagus is Latin for “wandering,” and it is an accurate description of this nerve, which emerges at the back of the skull and meanders in a leisurely way through the abdomen, with a number of branching nerves coming into contact with the heart, lungs, voicebox, stomach, and ears, among other body parts. The vagus nerve carries incoming information from the nervous system to the brain, providing information about what the body is doing, and it also transmits outgoing information which governs a range of reflex responses.

The vagus nerve helps to regulate the heart beat, control muscle movement, keep a person breathing, and to transmit a variety of chemicals through the body. It is also responsible for keeping the digestive tract in working order, contracting the muscles of the stomach and intestines to help process food, and sending back information about what is being digested and what the body is getting out of it.

When the vagus nerve is stimulated, the response is often a reduction in heart-rate or breathing. In some cases, excessive stimulation can cause someone to have what is known as a vaso-vagal response, appearing to fall into a faint or coma because his or her heart rate and blood pressure drop so much. Selective stimulation of this nerve is also used in some medical treatment; vagus stimulation appears to benefit people who suffer from depression, for example, and it is also sometimes used to treat epilepsy.

Most of the time, you don’t notice the actions of the right and left vagus nerves, but you probably would notice if this nerve ceased to function as a result of disease or trauma, because the vagus nerve is one of the many vital nerves which keeps your body in working order. Without the functions of the vagus nerve, you would find it difficult to speak, breathe, or eat, and your heartbeat would become extremely irregular.”

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While this might all sound very technical, medical and boring, I am trying to understand more about this wandering nerve system because there seems to be a major link between the Borderline Personality Disorder condition and changes in how this system works in a Borderline’s body.

I posted the other day from a research study done by Austin, Riniola and Porges about Borderline’s and their vagal nerve system that concluded:

The BPD group ended in a physiological state that supports the mobilization behaviors of fight and flight, while the control group ended in a physiological state that supports social engagement behaviors.“  (2007, Borderline personality disorder and emotion regulation: Insights from the Polyvagal Theory)

This is NOT a minor or insignificant finding!

There was something terribly wrong with my mother’s STOP and GO physiological process!  As I begin to study about what might have been terribly wrong with her wandering vagal nerve system I begin to move from a consideration of how her brain-mind didn’t work right into the realization that her problem was probably much bigger:  It was in her BODY as well.

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Turning to what Keltner says about compassion I see that he directly places the human ability to experience sympathy and compassion within the responses of this wandering vagal nerve system in our body.  I’m not after hindsight or foresight right now.  I’m after insight.  What is this mysterious “bundle of nerves” and what might it have to do with my mother’s ability to traumatize little me?

Keltner states that this bundle, known as the vagus nerve,

…resides in the chest and, when activated, produces a feeling of spreading, liquid warmth in the chest and a lump in the throat.  The vagus nerve…originates in the top of the spinal cord and then winds its way through the body…, connecting up to facial muscle tissue, muscles that are involved in vocalization, the heart, the lungs, the kidneys and liver, and the digestive organs.  In a series of controversial papers, physiological psychologist Steve Porges has made the case that the vagus nerve is the nerve of compassion, the body’s caretaking organ.”  (page 228 from Keltner’s book cited above)

I notice that Porges is one of the researchers who accomplished the Borderline vagal nerve study I mentioned above.  It seems that emotional information that would make a normal person’s Autonomic Nervous System’s (ANS) slow-down or STOP branch kick into gear instead had the reverse affect on these Borderlines.  Their ANS-vagal nerve system not only did not slow down, it sped up into a GO state directly connected to fight/flight.  Somehow, it seems, anything like a normal slow-down compassionate response was missing from their body-brain.

While it’s true that “all that glitters is not gold,” these research findings more than make me think about my mother and her treatment of me!  Her capacity to attack me was the opposite of normal!

Think about the actions of any abuser you might know as you read what Keltner next writes about both Porges’ and his own work:

…Porges notes that the vagus nerve innervates the muscle groups of communicative systems involved in caretaking – the facial musculature and vocal apparatus.  In our research, for example, we have found that people systematically sigh – little quarter-second, breathy expressions of concern and understanding – when listening to another person describe an experience of suffering.  The sigh is a primordial exhalation, calming the sigher’s flight/flight physiology, and a trigger of comfort and trust, our study found, in the speaker.  When we sigh in soothing fashion, or reassure others in distress with our concerned gaze or oblique eyebrows, the vagus nerve is doing its work, stimulating the muscles of the throat, mouth, face, and tongue to emit soothing displays of concern and reassurance.

“Second, the vagus nerve is the primary brake on our heart rate.  Without activation of the vagus nerve, your heart would fire on average at about 115 beats per minute, instead of the more typical 72 beats per minute.  The vagus nerve helps slow the heart rate down.  When we are angry or fearful, our heart races, literally jumping five to ten beats per minute, distributing blood to various muscle groups, preparing the body for fight or flight.  The vagus nerve does the opposite, reducing our heart rate to a more peaceful pace, enhancing the likelihood of gentle contact in close proximity with others.

“Third, the vagus nerve is directly connected to rich networks of oxytocin receptors, those neuropeptides intimately involved in the experience of trust and love.  As the vagus nerve fires, stimulating affiliative vocalizations and calmer cardiovascular physiology, presumably it triggers the release of oxytocin, sending signals of warmth, trust, and devotion throughout the brain and body, and ultimately, to other people.

“Finally, the vagus nerve is unique to mammals.  Reptilian autonomic nervous systems share the oldest portion of the vagus nerve with us, what is known as the dorsal vagal complex, responsible for immobilization behavior:  for example, the shock response when physically traumatized; more speculatively, shame-related behavior when socially humiliated.  Reptile’s autonomic nervous systems also include the sympathetic region of the autonomic nervous system involved in flight/flight behavior.  But as caretaking began to define a new class of species – mammals – a region of the nervous system, the vagus nerve, emerged evolutionarily to help support this new category of behavior.”  (pages 229-230)

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As I read this information I think about Dr. Martin Teicher and his Harvard research group’s suggestion that infant-child abuse alters brain development toward one that is ‘evolutionarily altered’.  As I combine this information with what Keltner just described I begin to think that it might be entirely possible that early infant-child maltreatment can alter the development of the vagal nerve system ‘evolutionarily altered’ ways, as well.

I would doubt that these changes could possibly happen independently of one another.  My bet is that if the brain is forced to change in its development in a malevolent early environment, the vagus nerve system is probably changed at the same time through similar processes of adaptation to trauma.  Hence, if this is the case, the complete meltdown of my mother as a normal, healthy, happy woman!

In fact, my investigative mind suspects that it is the operation of an infant-child’s vagus nerve system that collects the vital information – in its body — about the condition of the world the tiny one was born into that then feeds this information to the developing brain.  As it turns out, the vagus nerve is directly tied to our immune system.  I’ve often said that it seems completely logical to me that infant-child developmental changes in response to early trauma are an immune response to threat and toxic conditions within a malevolent environment that affect how our genes form the body-brain during critical windows of growth and development.

At the same time I realize that I live in a very brain-head-boss oriented culture, rather than in a vagus nerve-body-boss oriented culture.  What if the real truth is that it is the information our vagus nerve collects from our body that signals our immune system to design our brain according to the conditions of our earliest environment from the start of our life?

This makes perfect sense to me.  I am going to digress here for a moment and include some information from a completely different source that I believe fits into this picture I see being painted in front of me about how our vagus nerve might govern our most critical responses to our environment.

I am referring to the writings of Daniel J. Levitin as he presents them in his 2007 book, This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession.  Levitin is talking about the development of the human brain’s music system in relationship to our brain systems that support our speech:

“The close proximity of music and speech processing in the frontal and temporal lobes, and their partial overlap, suggests that those neural circuits that become recruited for music and language may start out life undifferentiated.  Experience and normal development then differentiate the functions of what began as very similar neuronal populations.  Consider that at a very early age, babies are thought to be synesthetic, to be unable to differentiate the input from the different senses, and to experience life and the world as a sort of psychedelic union of everything sensory.  Babies may see the number five as red, taste cheddar cheeses in D-flat, and smell roses in triangles.

“The process of maturation creates distinctions in the neural pathways as connections are cut or pruned.  What may have started out as a neuron cluster that responded equally to sights, sound, taste, touch and smell becomes a specialized network.  So, too, may music and speech have started in us all with the same neurobiological origins, in the same regions, and using the same specific neural networks.  With increasing experience and exposure, the developing infant eventually creates dedicated pathways and dedicated language pathways.  The pathways may share some common resources….”  (pages 127-128)

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When I apply my investigative thinking about how infant-child abuse, neglect, maltreatment and trauma changes body-brain development to both my mother and to myself, I am looking backwards in time at the impact of these malevolent experiences on the kinds of developmental processes that Levitin is describing here.  These synesthetic experiences happen to us even before we are born, and most certainly happen within our infant body well before our nervous system-brain has finished development.

I see no possible way that the vagus nerve cannot be centrally involved in these earliest stages of our development.  All the information an infant’s body gathers from the conditions of its earliest caregiver interactions, that communicate to the growing body-brain either a safe and secure benevolent world or an unsafe and insecure malevolent world, would occur to a large extent through the vagus nerve system.  I suspect that all this information is communicated to the immune system so that adjustments in development can be made as necessary.

I will pursue these trains of thought in future posts about our wandering vagus nerve system…..

See this post, also: +LINKS – VAGUS NERVE – ABUSE- HEALING

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+EMOTIONAL BLINDNESS – WONDERING WHAT LOVE IS

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I am trying to think about an emotional experience I had the other day so that I can write about it.  At the same time I realize I cannot think about it separately from writing about it.  If my words don’t follow themselves across a page they disappear like lemmings over a cliff into oblivion.  Partly this is true because I am in an inner battle with ambiguity.  If I write this piece most of the ambiguity will vanish.  But because of the 18 years of abuse I suffered from my severe Borderline mother, her brain patterns were built into me, and it’s a known fact that Borderlines DO NOT LIKE ambiguity as A. J. Mahari describes:

Borderlines have not learned how to relate in healthy ways. Borderlines have not experienced the world as loving, fair or trustworthy place. Borderline ambiguity is born from the two-faced damage of the betrayal of a parent, both parents and or one’s primary care-givers.

What I experienced the other day that I MAYBE want to understand has to do with the fact that not once in the 18 years of my childhood did I ever feel loved by either my mother or by my father.  I have written before that one of the main reasons I believe I did not turn out just like my mother is that nobody ever betrayed me the way my child-mother was betrayed.

Nobody ever loved me.  Nobody pretended to love me.  I was not exposed to what were the devastating effects of the conditional love my grandparents used to manipulate my mother and destroy her brain-mind.  I was just plain hated without hope of reprieve.  Yet at the same time the underlying lack of awareness of what it feels like not to be truly loved affects me just as it affected my mother.  The love circuitry from safe and secure attachment with early caregivers was not built correctly into either my mother’s or my own early forming body-brain-mind-self – or later forming one, either.

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My inner battle with ambiguity today is about whether or not I want to face some of what this means to and for me.  Am I better off not knowing what an examination of my last week’s experience can show me about who and how I am in the world?  Is it helpful for me to follow my own thoughts in my writing to some more unambiguous place where I will be out of this thick enveloping fog of not knowing what this experience has to teach me?

I both want to know at the same time I don’t want to know.  Do I stay right here in this murky ambiguous place or do I choose to take a step in my next thoughts toward the light of clarity?  At the same time I ask myself this question I understand that right here is a place where I can differentiate my own self from my mother.  I can make this choice.  My mother could not.

This does not mean that taking this step toward differentiation from my mother’s brain-mind as she formed herself into mine is easy.  This does not mean that stepping toward the light of conscious reflection and illumination, toward understanding of the truth is easy.  It just means that for me, unlike for my mother, taking this step is possible.

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Unlike what Leigh Eric Schmidt, the Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard Divinity School might say, I do not believe it is possible for humans to have any experience of themselves in the world that does not directly involve their brain’s processing of information.  The 18 years of severe abuse I suffered from my mother built the brain I now have to use to try to understand all of my experiences of myself in my life.  Today’s excursion into exploring my last week’s experience is no exception.

Nearly all of the associational processes that went on behind the closed doors of my mother’s mind happened completely outside the range of her consciousness attention.  My mother was a dangerous, violently explosive madwoman.  Growing up, I knew about her violence but I did not know about her madness.  How could I?  It had greeted me with the first breath I ever took in this world and it continued unabated throughout all my developmental stages until I was 18.

As a result of the free rein (and free reign) my mother had in her home to do anything she wanted to, there was always only one single pattern for me.  She erupted, hurt me, and I suffered.  All that suffering built me as it built itself into me, and it was never accompanied by any experience of love.

As a young infant-child grows into its body-brain-mind-self, it is supposed to be helped to differentiate experience.  It is supposed to learn that it exists as a separate entity, and it is supposed to form not only its own stable self, but also a clear stable connection to this self.  All of this process is negotiated through the experience of emotion.  Emotions have to become ever more clearly differentiated from one another so that the self can have access to its own information about being in the world.

I did not go through ANY of these differentiation stages of development normally.  My mother overwhelmed me from the moment I was born.  Because my mother did not succeed at physically killing me, she did not succeed at completely obliterating me.  But she did very successfully limit my options of experience down to one.  She made me suffer.

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My mother overwhelmed me with the scourge of her hatred of who she imagined me to be at every step of my infant-childhood that she possibly could.  I see the image of someone continually trying to dump a thousand gallons of gasoline into a tiny little perfume bottle.  My mother effectively did this to me for 18 long years.  I did not escape unscathed.

There were dire consequences of my survival, most of which I will never know.  However, the experience I had last week dropped into the middle of one of them.  I was blindsided by my own emotional blindness.  Can I grab the lantern of my best intentions and spark within it the blazing light of my willingness to learn? Am I willing to go back into the depths of that enveloping fog of sorrow (in my body and in my brain) and take some part of myself back out into clarity?  Is there some new in-sight here for me that is mine and that I really can’t do without?

Yes.  To all these questions I choose to answer “Yes.”  I will walk past these grasping, numbing shadows of doubt.  I will shed this burden of “Shame on you, Linda, for not being a better woman than you are.”  I will not be afraid of my tears.  I will not be afraid that what I will say here or what I will find here will make those who love me, love me any less.

It is not my fault that my mother cut my wings off so that I cannot ever fly in the prosocial world that most others seem to me to take so for granted. “So take your scrawny little bird legs and hop on with this, Linda.  You can do it.  I know that you can.  Go where the angles might fear to tread and know that as you go, they will go with you.”

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Last August I was given the gift of being able to reconnect with one of our closest Alaskan homesteading neighbors in my childhood.  I haven’t heard her voice.  I haven’t seen her.  We correspond via email.

Against all rational logic, I love her.  Our connection means a great, great deal to me.  This woman, now 83, lives well over a thousand miles away from me.  I do not have her telephone number.  While I know she is very busy taking care of herself, her husband, her household and preparing to leave their home to move into an addition her son is building on his house for her, when I hadn’t received an email from her from last Monday to last Friday, I felt like a bomb went off inside of me.

It’s easy to say that given what I know about my unsafe and insecure attachment patterns in my body-brain that of course I would be upset.  Yet ‘of course’ doesn’t give me enough information to understand what I felt.  I became terrified that she was either gravely ill or had died.  I believed on some level of my being that she had been called home through the veil to help the 100,000 Haitian earthquake victims cross over to the next world.  Nothing I could find to tell myself would sooth the depths of my growing sorrow.

I have been much blessed in my lifetime that none of my three children have been threatened by sickness or harm.  My siblings are all safe and well.  Even though I continue to grieve for the loss of the man I am in love with from my life, never before last Friday did I feel the depths of that kind of sorrow and fear that someone I loved was in trouble and there was nothing I could do about it.

Most fortunately I had the telephone number of my friend’s son in Alaska.  Through him I was finally able to find out that his mother was just fine.  Never before, either, had I felt that powerful sense of gratitude and relief at hearing this good news.

Now, I suspect that if I had a normally-formed prosocial body and brain I would have been able to take all of this in stride and gone on with my life.  But thanks to the consequences of my mother’s abuse this didn’t happen.  This experience touched the depths of my attachment woundedness in ways I could not understand.  I had felt something new in a way I had never felt it before.

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Most of the normal prosocial emotional differentiation circuits and their corresponding connection to people I care about in my life are missing in my brain.  This experience I am describing opened up a circuit for me that I don’t believe ever existed before.  The mystery of my experience with these emotions led me to ask my daughter two days later after I had expressed to her how I had felt, “Is that something like all of you felt when you found out I had cancer?”

My daughter paused, and answered, “Yes, mother.  That’s how we felt.”

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What can I say through my tears as I write now that can help me understand what this means to me?  First, I feel terribly sad for my children and for others who love me that it is so nearly impossible for me to comprehend, let alone feel on an emotional level, what it feels like to be loved.  I have to absolve myself of any responsibility for this fact.  It is not my intention to hurt anyone by depriving them of the fullness of the experience of sharing their love for me.  At the same time I am grateful that they both love me, and can experience the fullest spectrum of attachment feelings toward me.

That I cannot participate equally with them in the depths of these life-love experiences is not my fault.  Until I felt what I did last Friday I had no idea how the people who loved me felt as they all traveled thousands of miles, one after the other, to support me and to care for me and to love me as I went through the grueling chemotherapy and eventual surgery that would allow me to remain in their lives.  I know they all love me.  They show me they all love me.  I believe they mean what they say.  But it is nearly impossible for me to FEEL their love inside my own body-brain-mind-self because those circuits were never built inside of me during the first 18 years of my life from the time of my birth.

At the same time I realize that I am now perhaps a fraction of an inch closer to knowing what it FEELS like to be loved, at age 58 I also realize that my emotional blindness is not likely to ever be completely removed from me in my lifetime.  I also understand that part of the pattern of attachment I feel to this homesteading neighbor comes from body memories I have of interactions with her in my childhood that were positive, and were among the very few truly kind and genuine, warm adult interactions I ever had in those miserable 18 years.

Yet I cannot consciously remember this woman.  She has generously sent me photographs of her and her husband from those long-past years, and they help me a great deal as I try to connect the unconscious memories of my childhood to the present day facts of what a wonderful woman this homesteading neighbor truly is.

At the same time I realize I will always struggle with allowing myself to form deep affectionate bonds with other people.  To love is to risk.  I believe that although my mother was able to steal from me the physiological foundations of what it feels like to BE LOVED, she did not remove from me my own ability to deeply love others.  The powers to give love seem to me to operate differently than do the powers of being able to feel love from others.

Of course I don’t know this to be true and I probably never will know for sure.  I imagine my brain to be similar in some ways to the autistic brain given the severe conditions of harm and deprivation in my infant-childhood that interfered with my emotional-social brain’s development.  There is on one in my life who truly loves me that does not also know about my childhood.  They do not have to question their love for me.  They do not have to wonder or guess or doubt.  And they don’t love me any less because I do.

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ON BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER:

  • Symptoms of BPD
  • Finding a BPD Therapist
  • BPD on the Internet
  • Self-Harm Explained
  • When You Encounter Splitting
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  • +HEALING, HELPING WORDS….

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    I just received these words from a school mate from my childhood that I just found on Facebook — she and they touched my heart so much I wanted to share them with you.

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    “… as I was perusing thru my “A Grateful Heart” book that my darling grand daughter gave me for X-mas I came across this beautiful poem by May Sarton.  I was moved by the last 2 verses & something,  (someone?) told me you’d appreciate them.”
    …. so here’s an excerpt:

    3
    The angels, the furies
    Are never far away
    While we dance, we dance,
    Trying to keep a balance,
    To be perfectly human
    (Not perfect, never perfect,
    Never an end to growth and peril),
    Able to bless and forgive
    Ourselves.
    This is what is asked of us.
    4
    It is the light that matters,
    The light of understanding.
    Who has ever reached it
    Who has not met the furies again and again:
    Who has reached it without
    Those sudden acts of grace?

    -From “The Angels And The Furies”

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