Trauma and Your Body

One of my favorite books post transplant is The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. If you have been through a traumatic experience – car accident, miscarriage, violence, surgery, death, military service, fire, any kind of innumerable experiences – your body, including your brain will never forget.

As humans, we have a strong drive for survival.. The brain’s alarm system is turned on and we either fight, flight, or freeze. During 9/11, thousands of people ran from the danger. They knew to get out of harm’s way. When driving, we make decisions to keep ourselves and passengers safe. If we are going to be in an accident, we make a split second decision to avoid as much harm as possible. If our normal response is blocked by being physically trapped (hospital bed or trapped in a car), the brain’s electrical circuits continue to fire in vain. Even long after we are safe from danger, our brain might keep sending signals to our body to get out of or fight again danger.

Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk explains “The Brain From Top to Bottom,” in Chapter Four, Running for Your Life:The Anatomy of Survival. The brain’s most important job is to make sure we survive. He describes the 5 steps the brain needs to do that:

1. Generate internal signals what our bodies need to survive (food, water, rest, shelter).

2. Create a map of the world to point us where to go to satisfy those needs.

3. Generate the necessary energy and actions to get there.

4. Warn us of dangers & opportunities along the way.

5. Adjust our actions based on the requirements of the moment.

Basic bodily functions we usually don’t think about when we are not experiencing trauma are easily affected when we are thrown out of equilibrium. How much does trauma and recovery affect our sleep, appetite, and mood?

When we keep acting like the trauma is ongoing, the threat is very real to us, the result can be PTSD.

If you have persistent memories or feel that you are still feeling in danger or won’t survive, seek out help with a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Cognitive Distortions, Part 2

Last post, I mentioned five cognitive distortions my first therapist shared with me. Our thought patterns influence our behavior and actions. The next five cognitive distortions also helped me and my hope is to help others.

6. Magnification or minimization. This is the habit of blowing out of proportion the negative things or mistakes and shrinking from positive facts.

You tripped over a cord and wonder why you’ve been a klutz all of your life. Or…

You receive a compliment on your hairstyle and come back with, “well, I’m really just trying to grow it out,” instead of “thanks!”

7. Emotional Reasoning. “I feel angry, therefore you have obviously done something wrong.” The tendency to believe that negative emotions affect reality.

8. Should Statements. Here you tend to motivate yourself via shoulds/shouldnn’ts . This attempt at motivation is usually attempted before the necessary skills are available or before you are ready. Result? Guilt.

Problem? Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve doesn’t help anyone.

9. Labeling and mis-labeling. Extreme overgeneralization. The attaching of a label because of some negative event. This happened, I surely am a loser.

Mislabeling involves describing an event with language that is emotionally loaded.

10. Personalization. This is the tendency for a person to see himself as the cause of this event is against reality.

Cognitive Distortions (Incorrect Thinking Patterns) Part 1

I started seeing a therapist around 2009 when I had two small children at home and feeling overwhelmed. I had developed some negative thought patterns that were running my life. My therapist gave me a list common thought patterns that take place and our viewpoint changes about life stinks.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life.” Our hearts are the source of our thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

Some common cognitive distortions are below.

1. All-or-nothing thinking. This is using what is known as dichotomous thought. In other words you tend to see life around you as either all black or all white. The grays in life are lost. If for example you had terrible business lunch or your child threw a tantrum in public, your day is bad. Our days can have bad and good events and interactions in the same day.

2. Overgeneralization. Occurring when you take one single event and build it into a never ending patterns of defeat.

3. Mental Filter. This occurs when an individual identifies some negative detail (about themselves, others, or situations) and dwells on it. You have heard of rose colored glasses. This is the opposite, where brown lenses have been substituted. The outcome is a crappy view of life. For example, you don’t like the music or seats at church, so you find another church to attend.

4. Disqualifying the Positive. Rejecting positive experiences, maintaining that they don’t really count. This behavior allows you to maintain an inaccurate belief in the face of contradictory evidence. You get a raise, but the cost of living is going up, so it doesn’t really help or count.

5. Jumping to conclusions: This refers to the habit of blowing out of proportion the negative things and shrinking positive facts (your own desirable qualities). A new family moved in the house beside you and they have a dog. You just know they will be loud all the time and the dog will poop on your yard.