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Guest post by Hugh Macnab
My eleven month grand-daughter reached out and lifted a hot coal from the lounge fire before I could stop her. Fortunately, she didn’t do any real damage and after running her hand under cold water, applying some ‘magic’ cream, and her Mother giving her a hug, she was fine.
As I was carrying her back through the house, I could feel her tense up, and by the time we re-entered the lounge – she was screaming. Within seconds her Mother arrived and took her away. Within a further thirty seconds she was calm and smiling again.
Understanding what just happened to my grand-daughter can explain not only what causes PTSD, but also how it can be resolved very quickly and effectively in such a way that it cannot return.
There is a part of the emotional brain I call the security guard, basically because it is responsible for keeping us safe. You may have heard it described as the fight-or-flight response.
The security guard has a team consisting of the five senses. Each of the senses regards the outside world every second of life from birth to death – all senses that is apart from when you sleep at night and close your eyes. All input from the senses to the brain is checked by the security guard first before the thinking parts of the brain add meaning.
At the moment of pain, my grand-daughter’s senses switched to high-resolution and captured a multi-sense ‘picture’ of whatever caused the pain – in this case the fire.
This multi-sense picture was filed in the security guard’s filing cabinet for future reference and the senses were instructed to ‘look-out’ for that fire again – and if it is detected, raise an alarm. Well, when I took her through the house towards the room that fire was in – she tensed, and when I took her into the room – she was too young to run away, so she did the next best thing and screamed, then her Mother took her away.
That is how the security guard works. When it raised the alarm – something had to happen. It forces you to pay attention, you have no choice.
Over the following weeks and months my grand-daughter would not go into the lounge, but now that she is three years old and understands both fire and heat, the security guard knows she is capable of protecting herself from fire, has removed the past painful memory from the filing cabinet and instructed the senses to ‘stand-down’. She now plays in the lounge without any difficulty at all, and the past incident has no effect on her.
In this example, the story has a happy ending but not all stories do – some end up with very distressed people suffering from PTSD, panic attacks or anxiety. The reason not all stories have a happy ending is that trauma is personal and everyone deals with it differently. One person may undergo a horrendous car crash and not appear to suffer, where another suffers debilitating panic-attacks and depression. One front-line soldier may cope with the death of one of his platoon members well, another may suffer recurring and uncontrollable flashbacks.
How we deal with trauma is not a case of some being stronger or weaker than others, it is entirely down to how each individual’s security system works. It’s personal.
As we move through life, the security guard builds up a history of painful memories in the filing cabinet designed to protect us from making similar mistakes in the future. If we keep adding these and never remove any, we would be neurotic before school age – fortunately there is another natural process which keeps the filing cabinet contents age-relevant and life-appropriate, and it happens at night while we sleep.
During REM sleep each night, the large outer thinking part of the brain can access the security guard’s filing cabinet, check for relevance – in the light of new skills developed and new knowledge gained – and if a particular past painful memory is no longer required, it will remove it from the filing cabinet, causing the senses to ‘stand-down’ and stop constantly looking for similar events.
As long as a particular memory is in the filing cabinet, the senses are always looking out for similar events/people/places, and if it detects any similarity it will raise an alarm. This alarm most often appears as anxiety, stress, flashbacks, panic attacks or PTSD.
Over time the original painful memory in the filing cabinet can sometimes develop and appear to grow a life of it’s own. Think back to my grand-daughter – we now understand why she cried when she saw the fire, but why did she tense-up before we even got into the lounge. The answer to this is that her imagination became involved and to help keep her safe, added a picture of the lounge into the filing cabinet – after all, if she never went into the lounge, how could she possibly be hurt by the fire?
In other words, one relatively specific event can morph over time into a smorgasbord of ‘related’ memories – and each and every one of them will cause the senses to look for similarities in regular daily life, and if you are suffering from PTSD – it is probably finding matches regularly and often.
Anyone suffering from PTSD, anxiety or panic attacks has at least one painful memory stuck in their filing cabinet and as long as it stays there, the senses will remain alert and fire regularly creating all the symptoms which you are undoubtedly familiar with.
So the key to resolving these conditions is to remove the offending memory (or memories) from the filing cabinet. When this is done the senses will automatically stand-down and the symptoms will dissipate. This can be done quickly and easily using a technique called Rewind which allows you to access the painful memories in a safe and controlled way, so that you can calm them down – essentially removing them from the filing cabinet, and if they are no longer in there, they can no longer raise the alarm. After this process is run just three or four times, the PTSD or anxiety is simply gone.
A further advantage of using this process is that it is one-way. When the painful memories have been calmed down, there is no natural process for them to re-enter the filing cabinet. They are truly gone for good. The Rewind process treats the cause and the symptoms self-resolve.
HG.Dip., MHGI, BSc(.hons), Dip. Couns.
The ideas contained in this post solely represent the perspective of the author. To contribute to ‘Survivors Speak’ contact Michele.
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