The whole family stepped into the huge rotating door at the entry of the shopping centre. The youngest a boy of about five, pushed on the opposite side of the door, and it jolted. The huge door then stopped and after a few moments it started again and then it stopped completely. The little boy looked frightened and bewildered; could he really have caused this?
I wondered what internalized beliefs might be concluded in that moment, beliefs that will later permeate and influence his life: ‘it is not safe to be playful, it is not safe to touch moving objects, I stuff up’, or?’ If we see trauma on a continuum, then this is a mini trauma. In this way this experience is very likely to have imprinted his mind with a little warning of some sort. The objective of this imprint is that he learns from the experience and does not repeat it, as it was obviously an uncomfortable experience for him.
This process of storing particularly negative experiences as later reminders is not to sabotage our future happiness and development, but rather a mechanism for our survival. It is useful to remember that the basis for the experience is our age at the time. This is how we might, inany given moment, find ourselves (even at the age of fifty) be holden to a very young conclusion about life.
Within us there are two internal forces at play, the survival drive and the creative force or life energy. The survival drive tends to shout the loudest in our system and highjacks our attention over the creative experience, again in the service or our survival.
This week I attended and presented at the Inpact Psychological Conference in Portugal and Professor Dr. Richard Bentall spoke about meta studies, suggesting a continuum between psychosis and normal functioning rather than the strict distinction between ‘sick’ and healthy. The inherited or genetic risk of psychotic disorders is less than previously supposed. Recent evidence points to the role of many social risk factors including economic disadvantage in childhood, childhood trauma, exposure to urban environments, abuse, migration and victimization in adulthood. With more risk factors present, the risk of mental illness increases dramatically.
One way to see psychosis or mental and emotional dysfunction is to understand it as the survival mechanism in overdrive. It is an adaptive survival process that keeps high-jacking our attention and therefore our experience.
Elias Porter describes a ‘weaknesses’ as an overdone strength. So the anxiety, or obsessiveness, the need to be seen and adored incessantly and the depressed state, can all be seen as adaptation mechanisms.
How our little five year old forms is a function of all the other influences on his life. Whether he feels safe and included with his family and at school, whether he experiences other traumas, whether he feels seen, heard and a sense of belonging.
This understanding has huge implications potentially for how we treat refugees, and other minority groups, but also for looking at ourselves with kindness and in appreciation of our at times very vigilant survival drive.
You can ‘undo’ this body stored warning signal by using the process that that I call RAISE.
My strong advice is: Only do this if you have a mindfulness practice or have attended a retreat or another longer program with me and do not use this by yourself to deal with serious trauma.