Psychological problems come with thought patterns or tendencies, that are not rational but usually seem very real to us at the time. There are behavioral patterns that have been somehow instilled into our brains.
Here are some tendencies of mine that other people may relate to. I have also seen these tendencies in friends of mine that have mental illness or psychological damage from abuse.
Overgeneralizing : When a single negative event occurs, my mind will process it as a pattern of defeat that may continue on and on, into the future. I feel like there will be no way out of my problem because the first attempt to fix it went badly.
This is a very difficult habit to break. I assume that it comes out of past situations, where one event was a catalyst for worse trauma to come. Efforts that were intended to make things better, actually made them worse.
We have to learn to differentiate circumstances in which we have some power and the situations in which we have no control over them. It comes down to the serenity prayer. “Change the things we can. Accept the things we cannot change. The wisdom to know the difference.”
Just because our first attempt to solve a situation does not work, does not mean that we cannot find a solution. It just feels that way. It is easier said than done to just “stop feeling like everything will end in doom and destruction.” When the amygdala is active to a point of hyper vigilance then everything feels like an extreme threat.
Depending on our past trauma, we respond to different things with a physiological response of fear. The triggers to this can be situations, behaviors in others, sounds, smells, places, or anything else that our brain has created an association with of the original trauma.
If our brain has an association of fear with us not succeeding on the first try of getting out of a bad situation, then we will feel doomed to failure when our first attempt fails. If we have trauma associated with “trying to get out of a situation”, then we will feel the threat before we even attempt the first try.
We feel that there is no way out and we are trapped in a box that is about to be dumped into a river. This is how I feel right now, about the situation I am in. I will post more about it later.
The situation is severely threatening to me, but logically there must be a way out of it. I am intelligent and resourceful. It is easy for me to forget those two things, when I am in a state of post traumatic stress.
Fear conditioning is an associative learning process by which we learn through repeated experiences to fear something. Our experiences can cause brain circuits to change and form new memories.
For example, when we hear an unpleasant sound, the amygdala heightens our perception of the sound.
This heightened perception is deemed distressing and memories are formed associating the sound with unpleasantness. If the noise startles us, we have an automatic flight or fight response.
This response involves the activation of the sympathetic division of the peripheral nervous system.
Activation of the nerves of the sympathetic division results in accelerated heart rate, dilated pupils, increase in metabolic rate, and increase in blood flow to the muscles. This activity is coordinated by the amygdala and allows us to respond appropriately to danger. About Education site
You can read the rest the above article here.
“Should” Thoughts : Thoughts that we “should” be better or “should” have done things differently. We do not need to punish ourselves for what we did or did not do. We do not need to feel shame over the things that we have done or the things that have happened to us.
This type of “should” thinking causes us to become paralyzed and unable to make the changes that we “could” make. Focus on “can” and “I think I can” like in The Little Engine Who Could.
The combination of fearing failure and feeling shame because we “should” be in a better place in life or we “should” have done or not done something, is disabling. If we understand that our brains have wired themselves to create the anxiety responses in the body, then we can at least forgive ourselves for how we are.
We know that people without mental illness do not have these responses to situations. They do not become incapacitated to drive to work, or change jobs.
Sometimes the most basic problems can seem insurmountable to us. When I finally changed jobs in September, the process was actually fairly simple. But the anxiety surrounding it was incredible. I was sure I would screw things up, end up with no job, lose my rent money and end up on the street (similar to how I feel now).
Life is full of changes that are put upon us, and also changes that we need to make. Staying in the same situation, because we are incapacitated by the anxiety to make the change, is very bad for us.
Sometimes change is for the best and helps us to grow. If we can accept our brains and our feelings about doing things, then we can slowly begin to do the things we fear, in spite of our feelings. We may be able to find ways to get extra help from other people or other resources to deal with the anxiety.
The anxiety is there. Our brains seem to be wired the way they are, at this time.
There is no “should” or “should not.” There is only “what is.”
Everything will hopefully not end in doom. We have to make some slow positive additions and changes to our lives, in order to move forward. We cannot judge ourselves for our mental illness. For many of us, it was caused by abuse. For others, it is just the way the brain is wired to function.
Kindness towards ourselves, about our feelings of threat, failure, and fear will help us to move forward one step at a time.
This is my second scenario and a Do’s and Don’t list for helping someone with mental suffering.
To read my introduction to this series and Scenario 1 , please see older posts at this blog.
Scenario 2 –
Sarah calls you and is in Post Traumatic Stress. Something at work triggered her. She tells you she is in a state of terrible fear. She feels like her job is in danger. She feels like there is an imminent threat to her financial stability. Then she tells you that feels like she will die soon. The walls of her house are closing in on her. She feels like an animal trapped in a cage ready to be eaten.
She cries and says she wants to kill herself. She would rather kill herself than be eaten.
Don’t Say – You are being really dramatic and unrealistic.
(Sarah is not being a drama queen. In the post traumatic stress state, her perception of immediate danger is very real. The amygdala part of the brain goes into hyper alert state and tells the person to choose fight or flight. When someone is in post traumatic stress, fight or flight state, they tend to have an overwhelming urge to run. They want to run but there is no where to run to. This is a terrifying place to be.)
Don’t Say – You are acting like a child. You need to grow up and act like an adult.
(It is not uncommon for someone to regress into a child state during a ptsd attack.It is the brain’s way of protecting itself. The person has no control over it.
Even if you were to force them out of the regression too early, it would be dangerous for their mind. There is always the possibility of a person’s brain becoming disorganized permanently)
Don’t Say – Did you take your meds today?
( Unless they specifically asked you to be in charge of whether or not they take their medication, this comment is condescending. What meds they have taken today is not the point. It is not what they are asking you for help with
They are asking for help with their fear. Bringing up the meds feels like an accusation and like you are saying it is their fault for not taking their meds properly. It takes the focus off of what they are saying to you. They need to be heard, not have you change the subject.)
Don’t Say – Just think positive thoughts.
(If they were able to think positive thoughts they would. The fear part of the brain is sending intrusive terrifying thoughts to their mind. They want it to stop.)
Do Say – You are in a post traumatic stress state. I understand that you feel very threatened. You are not in any immediate danger. Your brain is sending signals to make you feel that way.
Do Say – You are in a state of post traumatic stress.
Is there anything I can do to help you to reduce the level of fear and anxiety ?
Do Say – Something has triggered you to flashback to your original trauma
You feel like your danger level is the same as that situation. That was a horrible thing that happened to you. But your current situation is not the same. It feels that way because it has a similarity to the original trauma.
Do Say – I know you feel afraid and threatened
You had a terrible trauma and something has triggered you to feel the same way you did then. You are safe right now. You are not in danger. Your feelings are an attack of your brain on you. You are safe. Nothing terrible is going to happen. You are safe now.
Do Say – You are safe. I am here for you. You are safe.