Tuesday, March 1, 2011

TRAUMA Exit & The Tiger Trapped Within

TRAUMA & The Tiger Trapped Within

How it may Manifest in Bipolar Disorder

How Mania may be a Trauma Exit?

Our Undischarged & Trapped Survival Energies 

On Not! Resisting My Animal Nervous System

          'What?' You so rightly ask.

I know, at first glance it appears to be a bizarre statement, 'A tiger trapped within? - What's this guy been smoking?' You may be thinking.

It takes a momentary suspension of our normal objective reasoning, to imagine the nervous, motivational system which mediates much of our everyday social behavior, as the same evolved system that we share with other mammals. Perhaps it also requires a slight suspension of human hubris and our pretension of superiority, to imagine ourselves as just another animal, even though we are unlike any other animal in terms of intellect.

Yet in spite of our obvious intellect, our adaptive and creative abilities, are we perhaps motivated more by instinct than intellect? Does our autonomic (animal) nervous system constitute much of Freud's famous unconscious, his raging "Id?"

As an evolved aid and defense of survival, mammals have an innate ability to feign death as the last instinct for survival. When there is no possibility of fight or flight, no possible means of escape from immediate and overwhelming threat, mammals can escape into simulated death in a last ditch attempt to cling to life.

As human animals we share the very same, evolved autonomic (animal) nervous system with other mammals, although adapted to our unique needs.  If we imagine such human reactions as shock, fainting, freezing in fright or even in the sensations of acute embarrassment when we feel that desire for the ground to open beneath us. Perhaps it becomes possible to see the parallel's with other mammals, last ditch defense of survival by feigning death.

"We may be special animals,
  we may be particular animals
       with very special characteristics,
      but we’re animals nonetheless."
_Massimo Pigliucci

Recent advances in our knowledge of the autonomic nervous system, have altered the famous fight/flight notion of stress response, to a more realistic freeze/flight/fight response as the correct order of instinctual response to any environmental stress we may encounter. Stephen Porges has developed a new theory of the autonomic nervous system, called “Polyvagal Theory,” in which he describes the nature of our evolved freeze/flight/fight, nervous system motivation.

Porges has even coined a new term for our unconscious behavioral patterns, ‘neuroception’ which explains much of what we really mean, when we say that 90% of our behavior is unconsciously motivated.

‘So where’s this trapped tiger?’ You may be thinking.

Perhaps my experience of bipolar symptoms are an unconscious adaptation of the mammalian response to terror situations, perhaps my experience of dissociation, my hyper-arousal in mania or conversely my hypo-arousal experience of severe depression, are manifestations of a denied and suppressed instinctual response?

In his 1997 book “Waking the Tiger,” Peter Levine described his unique views on PTSD as trapped survival energies needing to be discharged. His ideas and success in treating trauma sufferers with his unique approach, helped lead to a revolution in the mindful approach to emotional issues in a wide variety of therapeutic practice.
         Nature’s Lessons in Healing Trauma 
                Waking the Tiger offers a new and hopeful vision of trauma. It views the human animal as a unique being, 
                      endowed with an instinctual capacity to heal as well as an intellectual spirit to harness this innate capacity.

In attempting to resolve my own issues with Bipolar Disorder, in my need to find better ways to manage my condition, I have come to the conclusion that trauma does underlie my particular problems and the expression of classic bipolar symptoms described in the DSM IV.

In seven years of reading as much as I can on my hidden nature, my brain and nervous system etc, I have come to the conclusion that birth trauma, a three day labor with vicious forceps delivery and a neglectful early experience, more than probably disordered my autonomic nervous system, creating a conditioned trauma style defense of my life experience.

In "Waking the Tiger" Levine asks a potent question.
"Why do animals living in the wild, not suffer trauma after the kind of experiences 
that would cause PTSD in so many humans?"

An easy answer would be, that they don't have 'feelings' as some suggest, yet one wonders if this is not a comfort seeking answer, driven more by instinct than intellect. Innate distress is the first expression of affect/emotion for most of us, and some regard innate affects as the evolutionary link between instinct and emotion. Perhaps it is the innate affect of distress that is triggered by any thought or ideas that disturb our comfortzone, a zone that is now understood to mediated by the autonomic nervous system.

From reading “Affect Dysregulation & Disorders of the Self” by Allan N Schore, through Silvan Tomkins “Exploring Affect” and Stephen Porges “Polyvagal Theory,” amongst many others. I have managed to go through the experience of a classic six week delusional mania, five months ago and have not descended into its polar opposite of classic depression.

A new awareness of my nervous system and the part it plays in my experiences of mania and depression, have allowed an understanding of the sympathetic and parasympathetic reality underlying my symptom expression. Both, Porges new understanding of stress responses and the part the vagus nerve plays in ’tones’ of the heart, such as the massive brake on heart rate that allows the mammalian trick of feigning death or human fainting.

It has helped enormously to learn that my experiences of dissociation are a hyperactivity of both branches of the autonomic nervous system, which can be controlled with purposeful deep breathing exercise to calm and balance the system. I no longer suffer the distress of helplessness from reliance on 'its a chemical imbalance'  which left me dependent on a medical profession which is often defensively detached from the suffering of its customers.

Also Levine’s concept of ’titration’ is allowing me to increase my tolerance for nervous system arousal, thus helping me to manage my surge’s of both sympathetic nervous system energies during manic excitement and my parasympathetic compulsion towards depressive withdrawal.

Learning better awareness and management of the energies of my autonomic (animal) nervous system, is now helping me to find the autonomic resting state of a calm, balanced nervous system, a state that was missing in my early life experience. Some babies experience close contact with mothers skin and heart beat rhythm’s, in their vital early experience of life, when the brain and its control of the autonomic nervous system is maturing by way of a ‘conditioned’ response to environmental experience.

Perhaps birth trauma and subsequent life experience, such as acute asthma, conditioned an adaptive trauma style response to life, with fearful avoidance predominant, which became un-adaptive during adolescence when a less cautious approach to strangers is demanded by adult life. Was my first episode of mania an attempt to re-balance a nervous system hierarchically dominated by innate fear, an attempt to change my neuroception of life?

These days I’m finding the gift of a balanced nervous system which is taking me from suppressed pain, anger and frustration, to relaxed, calm yet alert states, ready for life and whatever comes next.
"If you bring forth that which is within you.
Then that which is within you.
Will be your salvation.
If you do not bring forth that which is within you.
Then that which is within you.
Will destroy you."
_Gnostic Gospels

Peter Levine's new book gives an updated view of his unique approach to trauma and treating the symptoms of PTSD.

His description of his own traumatic experience gives a perfect example of the now denied innate abilities of our evolved mammalian nervous system. "In an Unspoken Voice" is a life enhancing read.

Reading The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation has allowed me a new appreciation of my aniaml nature with a new found freedom from previous symptoms of the affective disorder known as Bipolar.

Other recommended readings on these new concepts of human nature are:
Polyvagal Theory and developmental psychopathology: Emotion dysregulation and conduct problems from preschool to adolescence [An article from: Biological Psychology]
Affect Regulation and the Repair of the Self
The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment
Exploring Affect: The Selected Writings of Silvan S Tomkins (Studies in Emotion and Social Interaction)
Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self

Neuroception?-An Unconscious Perception?