Thursday, December 13, 2012

Madness & the Chaotic Energies of The Trauma Trap?

Madness & Chaotic Energies of a Trauma Trap?
Of coarse, Real-Life, Is a Hollywood Movie?
Is a new understanding and appreciation of Trauma, re-defining our view of Madness & Mental Illness?
Is the experience of Mental Illness being re-defined, as The Trauma Trap?

Does the Human Mind, actively block a Natural Process, of Trauma Resolution? Resulting in the signs and symptoms of Mental Illness?

Its hard for us humans to give up our egoic conviction, that the mind is the center of the known Universe (no pun intended, of coarse). Yet are we entering an era of science research and spiritual yearning, which may be ushering in the golden age, so many Mad Euphoric's, have long predicted?

Is Religious Ecstasy, for example, one of the positive symptoms, now considered an illness in our objectively rational, modern era? Of coarse, the negative symptoms of mental illness, still holds sway, in our normal judgment.
Sadly, our shadow, is still taller than our Soul?

Peter Levine, PhD.
40 years of Trauma Resolution Wisdom
Trauma and Spirituality:
In a lifetime of working with traumatized individuals, I have been struck by the intrinsic and wedded relationship between trauma and spirituality. With clients suffering from a daunting array of crippling symptoms, I have been privileged to witness profound and authentic transformations.
Seemingly out of nowhere, unexpected “side effects” appeared as these individuals mastered the monstrous trauma symptoms that had haunted them- emotionally, physically and psychologically. Surprises included ecstatic joy, exquisite clarity, effortless focus and an all-embracing sense of oneness. _Peter Levine, PhD. Author of the quintessential guide to trauma resolution;
"In an Unspoken Voice."

So what does "Trauma Trap," actually mean?

In his 1997 book “Waking the Tiger,” Peter Levine described his unique views on post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as trapped survival energies needing to be discharged. His ideas and success in treating trauma sufferers with his unique approach, helped lead a revolution in the mindful approach to emotional issues in a wide variety of therapeutic practices.

In "Waking the Tiger" Levine asks a simple, yet potent question? "Why do animals living in the wild, not suffer post trauma effects, after the kind of experiences that cause the symptoms of PTSD in many humans?"

It takes a momentary suspension of our normal reasoning, to imagine an unconscious nervous system, mediating much of our everyday social behaviors, as the evolved nervous system we share with all other mammals. As an evolved aid and defense of survival, mammals have an innate ability to feign death as a last ditch, instinct for survival. When there is no possibility of fight or flight, no possible means of escape from immediate and overwhelming threat, mammals escape into a simulated death state. "The Trauma Trap?"

Humans share an evolved autonomic nervous system with other mammals, although evolutionarily 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. It becomes possible to see a "continuum" parallel, with a mammalian ability to feign death?

Recent advances in our knowledge of the autonomic nervous system, have altered the famous fight/flight notion of the human stress response, to a freeze/flight/fight response, as the order of our instinctual responses, to the kind everyday environmental stress we encounter. Again, it takes a momentary suspension of our normal, everyday reasoning, to imagine a continuum of response, by degrees? This unconscious trick to aid survival, the stimulation of a temporary death state (an extreme "freeze" response), adapts to a subtler state of "tonic immobility," an important aspect of "The Trauma Trap." Please consider;

"Traumatized people are too “suppressed,” too stuck in “primal defenses” more appropriate to our amphibian or reptilian evolutionary predecessors. So what is a therapist to do with human beings hurt and beaten down by past trauma? Help people listen to the unspoken voice of their own bodies and to enable them to feel their “survival emotions,” of rage and terror without being overwhelmed by these powerful states.

In what ethologist’s call “tonic immobility,” helplessness, we are “scared stiff.” In human beings, unlike animals, the “state” of temporary freezing becomes a long-term “trait.” A paralysis of will, shame, depression and self loathing following in the wake of such imposed helplessness. The mental states associated with trauma are important, but they are secondary. The body initiates and the mind follows. Hence “talking cures”  that engage the intellect or even the emotions, do not reach deep enough. Trauma is not a disease, but rather a human experience rooted in survival instincts.

When an organism perceives overwhelming mortal danger (with little or no chance of escape), the biological response is global paralysis and shutdown. Ethologists call this innate response “tonic immobility.” Humans experience this frozen state as helpless terror. Humans, in contrast to animals, frequently remain stuck in a kind of limbo, not fully reengaging in life after experiencing threat as overwhelming terror or horror.

Rather than being a last ditch reaction to inescapable threat, paralysis becomes a “default” response to a wide variety of daily arousal. I discovered it was crucial to “titrate” (gradually access) these physiological reactions so that they are not overwhelming. I also learned that, shaking and trembling, which constitute the discharge reactions, were often so subtle as to be barely noticeable to outside observation. Often the manifestation of the discharge was a gentle muscular fasciculation or temperature change, noticeable in the hands and face.

I was exploring how various imbalanced patterns of muscular tension and postural tone were related to symptoms - and how releasing and normalizing these entrenched patterns often led to unexpected and dramatic cures. The Alexander technique is an approach for reducing harmful postural habits that interfere with both the physical and mental states of an individual. (see The Physiological Foundations of Mental Anguish?

At the right time, traumatized individuals are encouraged to and supported to feel and surrender into immobility/NDE states, states of profound surrender, which liberate these primordial archetypal energies, while integrating them into consciousness. In addition to the “awe-full” states of horror and terror appear to be connected to the transformative states such as awe, presence, timelessness and ecstasy." _Peter Levine.

Selected excerpts from “In an Unspoken Voice,” by Peter Levine, PhD.

A TRAUMA TRAP? - Mental Illness/Torment? As an Injury, Not a Disease?

"An Iraq war veteran objected to his combat anguish being labeled PTSD, and named it PTSI, the “I” designating “injury.” Rather than being a disease in the classical sense, trauma is a profound experience of “dis-ease” or “dis-order.” Excerpt from "In an Unspoken Voice."

* * *

In attempting to resolve my own issues with Bipolar Disorder Type 1, my need to find better ways to self-manage, to self-regulate my over-sensitive constitution, I have come to the conclusion that trauma does underlie all my problems with the classic bipolar symptoms, described in the DSM IV. After 25 years of accepting the common view of a brain diseased (chemical imbalance), cause to my symptoms, my first reading of neuroscience introduced me to my hidden inner-self, and the hugely important role of my body, with its nervous system feedback to my brain.

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, dysregulated my autonomic nervous system, creating an unconsciously conditioned trait, of a post trauma, primal defense, in my experience of life. Please consider;

"One’s posture and facial muscles signal emotional states, not only to others, but to oneself as well. We must be able to “resonate” with the sensations and emotions of others through non-verbal postures and expressed emotions, such “postural resonance“ bypasses the conscious mind. (also see The Physiological Foundations of Mental Anguish?

Our perceptions of the motor acts and emotive reactions of others, appear to be united by a mirror mechanism that permits our brain to immediately understand what we are seeing, feeling or imagining others to be doing, as it triggers the same neural structures - that are responsible for our own actions and emotions.

The posture, gestures and facial expressions of people tell the untold tale of what did and did not happen when threatened and overwhelmed. Habitual postures tell us what paths need to be retraced and resolved. The traumatized body/mind was poised in readiness but failed to execute its coarse of action, it was blocked. Addressing a clients “body speak” first and then gradually enlisting emotion, perception and cognition is essential. Cannon’s “fight/flight” could be updated to “the A and three F’s: Arrest (increased vigilance, scanning) Flight, Flight and Fold (collapse into helplessness).

Trauma occurs when we are intensely frightened and are either physically restrained or perceive that we are trapped. We freeze in paralysis and or collapse in overwhelming helplessness.

While traumatized humans don’t actually remain physically paralyzed, they do get lost in a kind of anxious fog, a chronic partial shutdown, dissociation, lingering depression and numbness, a kind of “functional freeze.” (self sustaining feedback loops of emotion/thought and muscle contraction)

Modern culture tends to judge immobilization and dissociation in the face of overwhelming threat as a weakness. Beneath this castigating judgment lies a pervasive fear of feeling trapped and helpless. (mirror reaction - postural resonance) (the freeze reaction causes self-blame and self-hatred - the “fight” response turned on the self)"
Selected excerpts from "In an Unspoken Voice."

* * *

A new awareness of my nervous system and the part it plays in my cyclic experience of mania and depression, have allowed an understanding of the sympathetic and parasympathetic reality underlying the chaotic energies of my bipolar symptoms. My trauma trap? Stephen Porges new understanding of stress responses and the part the vagus nerve plays in ’toning’ the heart, such as the massive brake on heart-rate, which mediates the evolved mammalian trick of feigning death and human fainting, as well as an ability to stimulate analgesic states which allow people to undergo major surgery without an anesthetic.

It has helped enormously to learn that my chaotic experiences of dissociation, of de-personalization, mania and depression are a hyperactivity of both branches of the autonomic nervous system, which can be controlled with purposeful deep breathing and other exercises, to calm and balance this "unconscious" system. I no longer suffer the distress of helplessness from a reliance on 'its just a chemical imbalance,' which left me dependent on a medical profession which seems so often, to be "unconsciously," defensively detached from the suffering of its clients.

Levine’s method 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. Accepting a continuum of experience in my various symptoms, rather than viewing these body/brain/nervous system responses as distinctly separate and definable experiences, has changed the way I understand myself. Changed my sense-of-myself, from a rather mechanical, (simple cause & effect logic) and clockwork image of a "this part & that part," to a more organic sense of "flow," within each moment of my being.

Learning better awareness and management of the energies of my autonomic 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.

* * *

Please consider these excerpts from Peter Levine's contribution to the book "Body Psychotherapy," and a chapter entitled, Panic, biology and reason - Giving the body its due.

"Panic and post-traumatic anxiety states have in common “the experience of dread with the perception of inescapability.” Anxiety in its pathological form, represents a profound failure of the organism’s innate defensive structures to mobilize and thus allow the individual to escape threatening situations, actively and successfully. It is where active forms of defensive response are aborted and incomplete that anxiety states ensue.

Beneath the monolithic label of anxiety are “camouflaged” a wealth of incomplete and indefinable somatic responses, sensations, and bodily feelings. These body experiences represent the individuals response to past experience, but also to their “genetic potential” in the form of unrealized defensive responses. The recognition that these instinctive orientation and defensive behaviors are organized motor patterns, that is, prepared motor acts, helps to return the body to the head. Anxiety derives ultimately from a failure to complete motor acts.

When orienting and defensive behaviors are carried out smoothly and effectively, anxiety is not generated. Instead there is the complex and fluid sensate experience perceived as curiosity, attraction or avoidance. It is only when these instinctive orientation and defensive resources are interfered with (thwarted) that the experience of anxiety is generated. Ultimately, we have only one fear, the fear of not being able to cope. Without active, available, defensive responses, we are unable to deal effectively with danger and we are, proportionately, anxious.

A scene from an uplands meadow helps illustrate the “motor act” concept. Imagine you are strolling leisurely in an open meadow. A shadow suddenly moves in the periphery of your vision. Instinctively all movement is arrested, reflexively you crouch in a flexed posture; perceptions are “opened” through activation of the parasympathetic nervous system.

After this momentary arrest response your head turns automatically in the direction of the shadow or sound in an attempt to localize and identify it. Your neck, back, legs and feet muscles coordinate so that your whole body turns and then extends. Your eyes narrow somewhat while your pelvis and head shift horizontally, giving you an optimal view of the surroundings and an ability to focus panoramically.

This initial two-phase action pattern is an instinctive orientation, preparing you to respond flexibly to many possible contingencies. The initial arrest-crouch flexion response minimizes detection by possible predators. Primarily though it provides a compulsive jerk that interrupts any motor patterns that were already in execution and then prepares you, through scanning, for the fine tuned behaviors of exploration or defense.

Tonic Immobility - Freezing?

Anxiety has often been linked to the physiology and experience of flight. Analysis of animal distress behaviors suggest that this may be quite misleading. Ethology, points to the “thwarting” of escape as the root cause of distress-anxiety. When attacked by a cheetah on the African plains, an antelope will first attempt to escape through directed/orientated running. If, however, the fleeing animal is cornered so that escape is diminished, it may run blindly, without a directed orientation, or it may attempt to fight wildly and desperately against enormous odds.

At the moment of physical contact, often before injury is actually inflicted, the antelope abruptly appears to go dead. It not only appears dead, but its autonomic physiology undergoes a widespread alteration and reorganization. The antelope is in fact highly activated internally, even though outward movement is almost non-existent. Prey animals are immobilized in a sustained (atelic-catatonic) pattern of neuromuscular activity and high autonomic brainwave activity. Sympathetic and parasympathetic (autonomic nervous system) responses are also concurrently activated, like brake and accelerator, working against each other.

In tonic immobility, an animal is either frozen stiff in heightened contraction of agonist and antagonist muscle group, or in a continuously balanced, hypnotic, muscular state exhibiting what is called “wavy flexibility.” In the hypnotic state, body positions can be molded like clay, as is seen in catatonic schizophrenics. There is also analgesic numbing.

A patient described many of these behaviors as they were happening to her. She wasn’t, however, aware of her physical sensations, but rather of her self-depreciating and highly critical judgments about body sensations. It is as though some explanation must be found for profoundly disorganizing forces underlying one’s own perceived inadequacy.

The psychologist Phillip G. Zimbardo has gone so far as to propose that “most mental illness represents not a cognitive impairment, but an (attempted) interpretation of discontinuous or inexplicable internal states.” Tonic immobility, murderous rage and non-directed flight are such examples.

Tonic immobility demonstrates that anxiety can be both self-perpetuating and self-defeating. Freezing is the last-ditch, cul-de-sac, bodily response where active escape is not possible. Where flight and fight escape have been (or are perceived to be) unlikely, the nervous system reorganizes to tonic immobility. Both flight-or-fight and immobility are adaptive responses. Where the flight-fight response is appropriate, freezing will be relatively maladaptive.

Biologically, immobility is a potent adaptive strategy where active escape is prevented. When, however, it becomes a preferred response pattern in general situations, it is profoundly debilitating. Immobility becomes the crippling, fixating experience of traumatic and panic anxiety.

Underlying the freezing response, however, are the flight or fight and other defense orientation preparations that are activated just prior to the onset of freezing. The “de-potentiation,” of anxiety is accomplished by precisely and sequentially restoring the latent flight or fight defensive responses that occur at the moment/s before escape is thwarted."

* * *

Is a rising awareness of our unique sensitivity to traumatic experience, along with new discoveries from neuroscience research, re-framing trauma, as a root cause of mental illness? Here I have presented Peter Levine's unique wisdom from his forty years of trauma study and resolution work, I could go on and on, with other supporting information.

Yet the "paradox" of human experience seems to be the double edged sword of our instinctual-intelligence? We want the easy, fast and instantly digestable answers, to complex questions, too quickly assuming that our reactions to life, are a reasoned response? Like Peter Levine, there are other contributors to a rising new awareness of the human condition, people like Stephen Porges, Allan N Shcore and Jaak Panksepp, to mention a few. People driven by a thirst for empirical evidence, true insights and a deeper understanding, yet sadly we hardly ever hear of them, in our mainstream media? Why is that?

A Mass Denial of Our True Nature?
Consider Peter Levine's sense of our cultural zeitgeist?

"My approach to healing trauma rests broadly on the premise that people are primarily instinctual in nature - that we are, at our very core, human animals. It is this relationship to our animal nature that both makes us susceptible to trauma and, at  the same time, promotes a robust capacity to rebound in the aftermath of threat, safely returning to equilibrium.

More generally, I believe that to truly understand our body/mind, therapists must first learn about the animal body/mind because of the manner in which our nervous systems have evolved in an ever changing and challenging environment.

However, there is an almost violent schism lurking in our cultural zeitgeist.
Lets face it; the fight against evolution by the proponents of “creationism” and “intelligent design” is not really about professed gaps in the fossil records; its about whether or not we are basically animals.

In fact, the word instinct is rarely found in modern psychological literature.
Rather it is purged and replaced with terms such as drives, motivations and needs. While instincts are still routinely drawn upon to explain animal behaviors, we have somehow lost sight of how many human behavior patterns (though modifiable) are primal, automatic, universal and predictable."
Selected excerpts from "In an Unspoken Voice."

Please consider another example of our "I think therefore I am" cultural zeitgeist (spirit of the age?);

"SEEKING: Systems & Anticipatory States of the Nervous System:


The Seeking System: Like other emotional systems, arousal of the seeking system has a characteristic feeling tone-- a psychic energization that is difficult to describe but is akin to that invigorated feeling of anticipation we experience when actively seeking thrills and other rewards. Clearly this type of feeling contributes to many distinct aspects of our active engagement with the world.

This harmoniously operating neurochemical system drives and energizes many mental complexities that humans experience as persistent feelings of interest, curiosity, sensation seeking, and in the presence of a sufficiently complex cortex, the search for higher meaning. Although this brain state, like all other basic emotional states, is initially without intrinsic cognitive content, it gradually helps cement the perception of causal connections in the world and thereby creates ideas. It appears to translate correlations in environmental events into perceptions of causality, and it may be a major source of “confirmation bias,” the tendency to selectively seek evidence for our hypotheses.

When this seeking system is manipulated by electrical impulse in other mammals, they will eagerly continue to “Self-Stimulate” for extended periods, until physical exhaustion and collapse set in. There are powerful descending components, probably glutametergic in part, that remain to be functionally characterized, but they may be important for the generation of self-stimulating behaviors. When these descending systems are fully characterized, they may have powerful implications for understanding such psychiatric disorders as schizophrenia.

1, The underlying circuits are genetically pre-wired and designed to respond unconditionally to stimuli arising from major life-challenging circumstances. 2, The circuits organize behavior by activating or inhibiting motor sub-routines (and concurrent autonomic-hormonal changes) that have proved adaptive in the face of life-challenging circumstances during the evolutionary history of our species. 3, Emotive circuits change the sensitivities of sensory systems relevant for the behavior sequences that have been aroused. 4, Neural activity of emotive systems outlasts the precipitating circumstances. 5, Emotive circuits come under the control of neutral environmental stimuli. 6, Emotional circuits have reciprocal interactions with brain mechanisms that elaborate higher decision-making processes and consciousness.

It is remarkable how long it has taken psycho-biologists to begin to properly conceptualize the function of the self-stimulation system, in the governance of behavior. The history of this field highlights how an environmental-behavioral bias (world out there), with no conception of internal brain functions, has impeded the development of compelling psycho-behavioral conceptions of self-stimulation. One of the most fascinating phenomena ever discovered, yet still largely ignored by mainstream psychology.

The prevailing intellectual zeitgeist is not conducive to conceptualizing this process in psychological terms. This would involve discussion of the inner neurodynamic aspects of the “mind” and the nature of intentionality and subjective experience.

A neurophysiological understanding of such brain systems can explain how we spontaneously generate solutions to environmental challenges. And how this type of spontaneous associative ability characterizes normal human thinking, as well as the delusional excesses of schizophrenic thinking.

Arousal of the seeking system spontaneously constructs causal “insights” from the perception of correlated events. Some of the relationships may be true, but others are delusional. Indeed, all forms of inductive thought, including that which energizes scientific pursuits, proceed by this type of logically flawed thinking. An intrinsic tendency for “confirmation bias” appears to be a natural function of the human mind.

The seeking system can promote many distinct motivational behaviors, and the underlying neural system is prepared to jump to the conclusion that related environmental events reflect causal relationships. It is easy to appreciate how this may yield a consensual understanding of the world when the underlying memory reinforcement processes are operating normally ( i.e, yielding a reality that most of the social group accepts). It is also easy to understand how it might yield delusional conclusions about the world. If this self-stimulating system is chronically overactive, it may be less constrained by rational modes of reality testing.

The fact that the system is especially responsive to stress could explain why paranoid thinking emerges more easily during stressful periods, and why stress may promote schizophrenic thinking patterns. If the normal function of this system is to mobilize the organism for seeking out resources in the world, then we can begin to appreciate how the seeking system might also generate delusional thoughts. Apparently when this emotional system is over-taxed and becomes free-running (self-stimulation), it can generate arbitrary ideas about how world events relate to internal events.

Is delusional thinking truly related to the unconstrained operation of spontaneously active associative networks of a self-stimulating, seeking system? If so, we may have a great deal more to learn about schizophrenia from a study of the SEEKING circuits that mediate self-stimulating behavior? Through a study of this system, we can also begin to understand the natural eagerness that makes us the emotionally vibrant creatures we are.

One might also predict that there is an intimate relationship between self-stimulation and dreaming. REM deprivation leads to increased “sensitivity” in the self-stimulation system It is noteworthy that schizophrenics fail to exhibit compensatory elevations of REM sleep following imposed periods of REM deprivation. There appears to be a fundamental relationship between the schizophrenic process and the emotional discharge that occurs during both REM sleep and the seeking system discharge of self-stimulation. These findings suggest that there may yet be considerable substance to psychodynamic theories that relate dreaming mechanisms to symbol-&-reality-creating mechanisms of the brain."

Selected excerpts from, “Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions.” by Jaak Panksepp.

Jaak Panksepp suggests that if we can accept this stress sensitized, self-stimulation system as fundamentally a SEEKING system, which requires discharge, new ways of alleviating delusional thinking may be created to provide discharge, while stimulating reality testing, perhaps via computer games for example?

Personally, I have found deeper self-awareness and self-acceptance, with a new self-educated  understanding of my internal make-up, and my evolved animal nature. A sense of "I" and "otherness" which had matured into a commonsense, and taken for granted notion of, "us & them?" Which has dissolved into meaningful acceptance, as I now see myself, in the "other & them?" Is there a huge "elephant in room" of human mental health? One which can be summed up in five simple words?


A deeper understanding and acceptance of my true nature, has set me free from Madness & the Chaotic Energies of "The Trauma Trap." Is a mass denial of our true nature, inhibiting our progress now? Is our shadow still taller than our soul? (see Mad Visions or Mental Illness? Part 1

My Bipolar Recovery Method?
Mental Illness & The Face - - Heart Connection?
Mental Illness - Psychological & Physiological?
Discovering a Paradigm Shift in Mental Health?
Bipolar Anger & Toxic Shame
bipolar depression
Bipolar Anger