Removing traumatic memories from the brain

Do you have a troublesome or traumatic memory? Or so-called Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome – PTSD?

A common belief is that once you have one of these ‘memories’ then you are stuck with it for life and little can be done about it.

New research confirms that this is not true. if you interfere with the way in which people access these memories you can neutralize them. This is the basis for the EMDR technique which disrupts access to traumatic memories by asking subjects to keep their eyes on a moving finger while trying to recall the trauma at the same time. I must have used this technique countless times and have never yet seen it fail.

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Four main causes of depression – and what to do about them

Wispy

The first month of 2011 has come and gone and the statistics show that January is the most ‘depressing’ month, in that more people will seek help for depression than at any other time of the year. As it happens, I have been more than usually busy with depressed clients since the New Year came on; a fact which prompts me to write this article.

First, lets be clear about what clinical depression really is.

In my view, many of the people who are diagnosed by their GP as having depression are not, in fact, clinically depressed at all. Instead, they could be sad, fed up with life, or unhappy. This is one reason why anti-depressants don’t work for the majority. Anti-depressant drugs such as the SSRIs – which increase the amount of serotonin in circulation in the brain – will only work, obviously, if the patient has serotonin depletion, which will only be the case if they actually have clinical depression.

Whether you are depressed, sad, fed up, or unhappy, this article will still apply to you.

Here are the four main causes:

1. Prolonged anxiety caused by negative Headmind thinking.

If you are a habitual worrier, perfectionist, or guilt-tripper then, on a daily basis, your body will become accustomed to very high anxiety levels. Since Bodymind cannot tolerate over-arousal for too long, it will seek to reduce the problem by damping down the system. Typically, this means reducing serotonin (which elevates mood), which leads to the symptoms of clinical depression. In this respect it has been estimated that over 70% of depressed people also have high anxiety levels.

The solution is to change the way Headmind works.

2. The person has developed a ‘hopeless’ mind-set

This problem is typically developed by over-conscientious people who have not learnt how to say ‘No’ or recognise their limitations. The result is that they take on far too many burdens, obligations and responsibilities. Or else they forget to take time out for themselves and keep that crucial work-life balance. One result is burnout.

Depression occurs when personal Headmind reacts to overload by just giving up (a slightly weird response, given that it was faulty thinking that gave rise to the problem in the first place). A common outcome is that the person turns into a victim of some kind.

The most common Headmind defect here is ‘Failure thinking’, which ignores realistic solutions on what to do about overload and, instead, magnifies problems, concludes that there is nothing that can be done about them, and triggers anxiety with the thought that disaster is inevitable. This leads to first anxiety and then to the ‘damping down’ response I described in the previous item.

The solution is to develop a solution-focused, or problem-solving approach to problems. I am in the middle of writing a series on this so please check back for articles on ‘success thinking’.

3. The person has lost her passion for life.

People who have become disillusioned do so as a result of trauma of some kind: the death of someone close, break-up, or departure. Or betrayal, or rejection, by someone they once trusted. Or the usual disasters which befall all of us from time to time but which setbacks the ego will not accept.

In other cases, the depressed person has simply got confused and lost his way. This could be because he has become addicted to trivialities – newspapers, games, television,  the social round, internet-surfing, etc. Or is stuck in routine in which one day is more or less like the next, and which becomes a kind of living death. Once Bodymind sees what is happening here it starts to release copious amounts of the emotions known as boredom and frustration. But here is what is strange: when some people notice they are bored they don’t do anything about it. Instead, they read boredom as another sign that life is hopeless. So they stagnate, more and more.

The solution is to reconnect to Bodymind and your passion.

4. Headmind is blocking the release of strong emotions, such as anger and sadness.

A  build-up of unexpressed or unresolved emotion leads to a similar effect as chronic anxiety: a dangerous level of over-arousal. Once again, Bodymind tends to counter-act this problem by reducing serotonin.

The solution is to find a way to release those emotions.

If you are not depressed right now but you think you might be going that way, then you can find out more about how to stay out of depression here.

Contrary to common belief many people do find a way to improve their mental health without needing to consult a psychotherapist and some of my articles show you how to do just that. But if you do need assistance then you can contact me over on the psychotherapy website.

Image by pinksherbet

How the body ‘thinks’

 

Skeleton Since the Greeks started writing about it intelligence has generally been assumed to be in the head. But one of the great advances last century – thanks to MRI scanners which enable us to look inside the Brain, as well as the neuro-endocrine systems, we have a much more informed picture. Which tells us that intelligence is distributed over the whole body. In fact we are now able to identify several ‘brains’ throughout the body:

1 The solar plexus (often called the ‘second brain’) controls the Autonomic nervous system. Which, in turn, governs, heart rate, digestion, muscular function, as well as creating the physical sensations that form the basis of emotion.

2 The endocrine system – which includes the pituitary, pineal, thyroid, pancreas, thymus, adrenal and sexual glands – is controlled by the Hypothalamus. Since each of the glands use hormones to control such diverse functions as energy transfer, metabolism, sleep, growth, protection against infection, and temperature control, we can see that the Hypothalamus is a brain inside the Brain

3 The Immune system itself is another centre of intelligence. There are approximately 2 trillion immune cells in the body. Some of these track invading cells and ‘remember’ what they look like. Others hunt them down, while others kill them. Meanwhile other cells keep a watchful eye on rogue cells which split away from the rest and become cancerous. Still more cells float up and down to the brain and provide updates on the current state of play.

4. Candace Pert – one of our best writers on this subject – tells us that each and every cell in the body is not only intelligent, but conscious too, in the sense that it can independently make decisions on the communications it sends to other cells. There are approximately 10 trillion cells in the body. Yet each of those cells signals, on average, to at least 10,000 other cells every day. Which means that your body created 10,000,000,000 messages today (that’s one hundred thousand trillion pieces of information).

So what does the main brain actually do if most of the ‘thinking’ is going on either elsewhere in the body or in response to decisions taken by the cells. Mostly it is Headmind stuff. Making up stories about what happened to you after Bodymind took the decision for you. Or analyzing, checking, worrying, doing guilt while living as if Bodymind didn’t exist!

Meanwhile, Bodymind goes on ‘thinking’ without much reference to you.

Here are some examples of the way in which Bodymind thinking works in practice:

• The body can ‘read’ other people and simulate an emotion that person is having so that you or I can empathize with them. In that way a mother can quickly tell what mood her child is in. This is also the basis for the human quality of compassion for others, even animals. Our intuitions about other people work in a similar way. Using sensory information, the brain picks up signals from the other person’s body language and – using a process that works in less than a tenth of a second – pattern-matches those signals against information stored from past experiences. That is why we can have a gut feeling that someone is not trustworthy within two minutes of meeting her without knowing why. The body is using coded signals to alert us to a potential problem.

• In collaboration with the thinking centers the brain can decide what is important or not important. If something is important to us we might get an adrenalin rush. If it is not we will feel nothing at all. Research into people with damage to the frontal areas of the brain (which decode emotion) show that they are unable to make decisions because they don’t have a good or bad feeling that tells them the right decision to make. Knowing what is important also helps Bodymind conserve energy. We can go without sleep if we are trying to achieve something really important. Conversely, if there is little for us to do, Bodymind can send us to sleep early. Or it could turn on the emotion of boredom to signal that it’s time to do something more interesting.

• The body can strengthen a relationship by releasing hormones – such as oxytocin – connected to love. Sometimes this is automatic, as when a a child is born. Sometimes it comes with time as we learn more about the other person. The emotions of love are, as almost all of us know, powerful and sometimes overwhelming.

• The brain uses sleep time to organize memories from the day just gone. It stores what is important and deletes the rest. It also creates dreaming states in order to work through the emotions that come with different experiences. This is one reason why insomniacs have poor concentration – they are overloaded with undigested experiences.

• Bodymind grounds us to life. It does this firstly through our moods. At any given moment the body is monitoring where we are, who we are with and what we are doing, and providing us with a running commentary on our relationship with the environment. Moods aren’t emotions but they are feeling states which work closely with our thoughts. The most well-known mood is the depressed state, which goes with discouragement and sadness. But others include exhilaration, calm, determination, discontent and the feeling of being ‘under pressure’. Most often, moods are hardly noticeable and form a kind of background hum which is constantly shifting as we go through the flow of the day.

Bodymind uses symptoms of various kinds to warn, guide and protect us from harm. This point is more clearly explained by Reverse Therapy.

• Another way the body grounds us to life is through the sense of awe: we are connected to nature, to the divine, and to life itself by the unspeakable sense that we are serving a purpose higher than ourselves. In that way Bodymind intelligently motivates us to make the best we can of our abilities and to serve others. It fosters your Personal Genius.

 

Why guilt is useless

Guilt
Guilt is a delusionary state. It doesn’t serve you at all and is a creation of the imagination; of Headmind’s drive towards conformity.

Here’s how Headmind creates Guilt:

1. Headmind is stuffed full of judgments about the person you could be, should be, should not be, etc. Those judgments were not originally your own but inherited from other people. But gradually you internalised them and they became self-judgments.

2. These judgments are re-activated by parents, teachers, priests, employers, children and partners who may be exploiting you.

3. Your Headmind buys into those judgments because it seeks acceptance, conformity, and admiration (even from people who don’t deserve your respect).

4. Dwelling on occasions in which guilt comes up – and Headmind judges you – creates uncomfortable Bodymind reactions: cringing, agitation, distress. Although Bodymind creates that discomfort in order to warn you not to indulge in guilt, Headmind interprets this as a signal that you are, indeed, a ‘bad’ person, worthy of punishment.

Here’s another way to understand ‘Guilt’:

1. Earlier societies did not recognise a psychological state known as ‘guilt’. For them ‘guilt’ was simply another word for ‘debt’ (as in the German/Saxon word: ‘gultig’). It simply meant that one person had harmed another and was unable to put things right. For example, one person stole another person’s property but was too poor to pay it back – therefore he was ‘guilty’ and subject to the penalties of the community.

2. Religious influences gradually changed this original meaning of guilt into ‘personal sin’.

3.  When Psychology started up in Germany and America in the 19th century it took over religious ideas about ‘sin’ and reinterpreted them in terms of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ actions. So doing one ‘bad’ thing made you an ‘evil’ or ‘guilty’ person – instead of someone who simply made a mistake.

4. Mistakes and ‘bad’ actions you committed in the past were based on the knowledge you possessed at the moment you committed them, no matter how daft. For example: you shop-lifted, knowing you couldn’t afford something but that you ‘had’ to have the item anyway. You let the Headmind state of greed get the better of you.

5. Therefore your past mistakes were based on inadequate knowledge (you thought it was ok to steal, or that you wouldn’t get caught, or that it wouldn’t matter if you did get caught). Your predictions turned out to be wrong, although you didn’t  realise that at the time.

6. Your present self-judgments are based on a false premise: your present self blames your past self even though your past self did not possess the experience of knowledge your present self now has.

Here is the truth:

1. You did not actually have free will back then when you committed your error of judgment. You did what you had to do at the time because you lacked Awareness.

2. Indulging in Headmind worry (i.e. analyzing over and over again about what an ‘evil’ person you were/are) may actually get in the way of your attempts to put things right.

3. If you have really done somebody wrong you could connect to the emotion of remorse and get on with making amends, rather than wasting time on guilt.

Image by Jsome1

What you can learn from Gurdjieff

Gurdjieff George Ivanovich Gurdjieff died on the 29th October 1949 in the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris. Although I have little respect for Gurus (as, neither, did the man himself) and would have found Gurdjieff repellent had I actually met him, he changed my life.

I would not be alive now had I not accidentally discovered Gurdjieff’s teachings. When I was going through a bad, depressed, suicidal patch in my 20s, I came across one of Maurice Nicol’s Commentaries on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky in a bookstore on the Charing Cross Road. In there, I read that all negative states were delusions. A light-bulb went off in my head. Could I actually be creating my own misery rather than being a victim of life itself?

I read on further. Not only were negative ideas fantasies but they were based on wrong work of the intellect. That the correct way out was to restore right work of the mind, the heart, the body, and the sexual instinct. That the way out from despair was to repair the intelligences in those centres and to do work on oneself in order to become a complete, fully-functioning, human being using each of those centres. That only the ego, and its relentless self-pity, could possibly get in the  way.

30 years later I am struck by just how much I had borrowed from Gurdjieff when I developed the ideas that led to Reverse Therapy. Here are a few examples:

1. That personal growth relies on hard work and humility.

2. Headmind, or the Intellect – is not necessarily the most important organ you possess. Your personal genius and your passion is equally important.

3. Headmind chatter – gossip, internal self-talk, journalism, academic writing, television – is the enemy of self-development.

4. It’s important for your health to separately pursue satisfaction for all your vital centres – emotional, physical, sexual and intellectual, on an equal basis.

5. If you rely too much on one centre you can will experience disatisfaction according to the centre you are fixated on: intellect (anxiety), emotion (sentimentality), sex (lust), or body (greed).

6. Most human beings are slaves of conditioning – out-of-date customs, insincerity, empty rituals, received ideas – which keep them asleep.

7. The task that God (Gurdjieff refers to him as ‘His Endlessness’) sets us is to wake up and serve his purpose: to wake up other people and live a more intensive life.

8. That the word Sin (in ancient Greek) means merely ‘missing the point’. No human being is born evil in the Christian sense. Our only ‘sin’ is to fall asleep again.

9. All living creatures are ‘idiots’ which (in Greek) means they try to go their own way regardless of others. Even God, in this sense, is an idiot. Realising that you, too, are an idiot, provides humor as well as compassion for others.

10. The purpose of life is self-development to the point at which you can appreciate God’s purpose. Which is love. But love is not a matter or words or fine feelings. It relates to empathy – your deep appreciation of the idiot who exists beside you. And who needs your appreciation (and humor) as much as you do hers.

38 provocative thoughts

Determinism Much was decided before you were born.
You don’t choose what happens  in life.
Your actions are driven either by passion or by regimentation.
Regimentation comes from failed cultures.
Passion belongs to the divine in you.

You didn’t choose your gender.
Men and Women are from different species.
The correct attitude to the opposite sex is playfulness.

You didn’t choose your race.
Racial differences are really cultural.
The correct attitude to other cultures is curiosity.

You didn’t choose your parents.
You maybe didn’t get the parents you would have chosen.
The correct attitude to your parents is objectivity.

You didn’t choose your education.
Much that is taught in schools is based on ideas that were once alive but which are now dead.
The correct attitude to teachers is scepticism.

You didn’t choose the Law.
Laws are created by people in authority.
The correct attitude to the Law is caution.

You didn’t choose the Society in which you live
Social rules are based on customs.
The correct attitude to those customs is pragmatism.

You didn’t choose the people who love you.
Your relationships chose you.
The correct attitude to relationships is love.

You didn’t choose your Body.
Yet your Body decides your health, your emotions, desires, moods, and temperament.
The correct attitude to your Body is wonder.

You didn’t choose your gifts, talents, or your inner self.
The core of who you are is determined by your Daimon.
The correct attitude to your Daimon is obedience.

You didn’t choose your actions.
Your actions are decided by the needs and expectations of the moment.
The correct attitude to past actions is amusement.

You didn’t choose God.
God is another term for whatever it is that keeps the universe in being.
The correct attitude to God is silence.