“Every thought is therefore a cause and every condition an effect; for this reason it is absolutely essential that you control your thoughts so as to bring forth only desirable conditions”
These words come from “The Master Key System” by Charles Haanel – an influential book about “creating prosperity”. It suggests that our circumstances are a result of our mental patterns. Haanel suggests that we need to “control” our thoughts, and offers some exercises for learning to do so, in a positive manner.
Regardless, of what you may feel about the validity of this, there seems little doubt that being able to choose the direction in which our minds take us is a desirable thing. However, when we come to discuss PTSD, difficulties arise. The key problem is that trauma causes mental patterns which we cannot consciously control. These patterns, in turn, affect the reality in which we live.
If PTSD causes thought and emotions which are out of our control, the only option left is to try to alleviate or treat the PTSD itself.
In my last articles, I discussed the effects of PTSD caused by abandonment, and what I learned about the mental and emotional “mechanisms” around it. I also described how my exploration of my own inner reality led, somehow, to personal experiences which allowed me to live through my own PTSD in “slow motion”. This led, in turn, towards realisation about how these were affecting me, and at least to a partial recovery.
Even though the subject matter of PTSD can be rather dark, I find this, overall, a very optimistic subject. It is about healing, and I hope very much to pass on what I have learned. Of course, my ideas are not new – they have been around for many decades in the psychological world. But my story might help others who are in the middle of theirs.
(Before I continue – I feel that it is important to point out that I am not a psychological professional. I offer this account of my experiences partly for my own personal satisfaction, and also I do hope that it might provide comfort and/or help to people suffering similar problems to my own. If you have difficulties with your own mental health, I strongly advise you to seek out the advice and support of a qualified professional. Your GP may well be able to advise you, as my own did for me, some years back.)
The key point that I have observed about trauma is that it induces subconscious “programming” which is so strong that the conscious mind is unable to control it. (This is the core message of “The Chimp Paradox”, the book which I recommended in a previous article.) This leads to a vicious circle of experience, in which the victim is drawn back to experiences which mirror and replay the original trauma, just like playing back a recording. Only when we are able, to perceive (from an inner and an outer perspective) the pattern that is playing, are we be able to learn to make different choices.
This is a well established idea in the psychological world and it sounds almost like a tired cliche, but it has been completely true for me. However this process, easy to sum up in a few sentences, took me, eventually, several decades to live through (and I cannot say for sure that I am though with the process!)
What has been difficult in my case is the fact that I have no conscious memory of the actual abandonment by my mother. I only know what was told to me, and what clues I have had from my own dreams, intuition and experience. But even so, I think that have been able (with a lot of luck and help) to put many of the pieces together.
Now, two basic questions occur to me:
- What help or advice would I offer to someone who is going through the things that I did twenty or thirty years ago?
- What can help the sufferer to recover from PTSD?
(Actually, question 2 is pretty much a paraphrase of question 1, but I guess it asks for a different type of emphasis.)
Here are my condensed answers, as well as I can give them at present.
My Advice To A Younger Version Of Me
- Take the very best care of yourself that you can, physically, emotionally and materially.
- Don’t give up or become despondent! Things do get better over time. Be patient with yourself,and with life.
- Get professional help, but beware of becoming dependent on it. Think for yourself, and use your common sense and intuition to figure out what works for you.
- Avoid using alcohol or “recreational” drugs as a way to escape inner pain.
- Choose your friends wisely, and take care of them. Try to have positive social interactions, in general.
- Nurture creativity in yourself. The arts and music are excellent avenues for self expression, and can add a great deal of value to your life.
- Explore different methods to promote your own healing. What works for someone else may not work for you. Your own mental and emotional health is the greatest investment that you can make.
- Find ways to enjoy life! Don’t make too much of a “work” of things – even though it can be heavy at times.
- Have compassion. Everyone that you know has his or her own story (which they may or may not tell you about). You are not alone!
How Can PTSD Victims Help Themselves?
The unconscious patterns arising from PTSD may well be decisions that we make without realising that we are making them. When the events surrounding the original trauma are out of the reach of usual conscious memory, this makes recovery more difficult.
My own observation of the “cycle of recovery” (if I can call it that) goes something like this:
- Having patterns of behaviour caused by PTSD, and which are unhelpful to their well-being, but being totally unaware of it.
- Knowing that something is going wrong, but not knowing quite what. (At this stage we probably say things like “why does this always happen to me!?”)
- Perceiving the connection between their difficulties and behaviour, on a logical and mental level.
- Lots of grief and anger!
- A process of learning to be more conscious of the connections between their own emotions and their actions (and their effects).
- As the events of the past come more clearly into view (not only from a “logical” perspective, but also from an inner, emotional perspective) the need to grieve over them slowly reduces.
- As we become more free of the “shackles of the past”, we find ourselves more and more able to choose and create positive emotions in the present, which has a beneficial effect on the reality we experience.
This could all be summed up as a continual shift from “unconsciousness” to “consciousness”. The more conscious we become of our own actions, the more we are able to create our lives as we want them to be. And the more aware we become of the many connections between our emotions and our actions, the more we become able to act from positive and loving emotions – both to ourselves and others.
Perhaps all of this sounds like so much psycho-babble to you. But this is my experience. This doesn’t mean that I never have problems or “bad days” – of course not. But my life, now, is remarkably free from the negative effects of PTSD, compared to how it was a few years ago. My problems now are tiny, and manageable, compared to what they were then, when I really struggled at times.
So – to come back to the question – what can help? Basically, anything which helps the victim to become more conscious and aware. Here are some ideas:
- I have found meditation beneficial – but only if done in a certain way. Sitting in funny positions and so on have little relevance for me. I have found the guidance of Peter Russell (“How To Meditate Without Even Trying”) very helpful. I have found that his techniques tend to allow hidden emotions and thoughts to rise to the surface – in effect this makes the unconscious become conscious.
- I have tried hypnotherapy and EMDR. I think that they were both helpful, in a subtle way, but not as much as regular meditation. They are certainly worth considering and researching.
- I have found great solace through the practice of music, over the years. It has been an emotional outlet, and brought me many friends and a lot of joy. This is personal for me – but I feel that some form of artistic expression is extremely helpful.
- On the most basic level – a simple intention to try to become more self-aware, and to take responsibility for creating the best possible life for ourselves, is, perhaps, the greatest asset.
How long does it take?
I don’t think that the process of healing, once started, ever really stops. From one perspective, we could say that the point of all of this to learn to take good care of ourselves, and those around us. Should this ever stop?
But perhaps I am begging the question. For me – to arrive at the point where I could say that PTSD was no longer a major problem for me – took several decades. But that is just me. I began with hypnotherapy and psychotherapy in my 30’s, which is about 20 years ago. For many years I was just feeling my way, pretty much in the dark.
These days, there is such a growing awareness of the importance of psychological issues. I notice this in schools where I live, in popular culture and so on. Just recently, Prince William spoke in front of the popular press about the importance of grieving (over the loss of his mother). From a male from the British royal family, that is quite something, and I applaud his words!
So, I think that there is no minimum or maximum time. Don’t place a limit on yourself. The key thing is to understand what is going on, stop trying to fight your subconscious, and “follow your nose” down the road towards improved mental health. It takes as long as it takes, which could be a week, a month or a decade. The point is to stay on that road, day by day.