I discovered why traumas don’t self-heal over time. It is the same reason that causes the therapeutic community to think that PTSD is incurable. There is a saying that necessity is the mother of invention. This was definitely true in my case,
On December 7th (Pearl Harbor day) I had my own personal Pearl Harbor experience. I was living in a small town in southeast Iowa.. A stranger came to my front door and drew out from behind his back a big handgun. I found out later that it was a .44. I tried to slam and lock the door in one motion but he stepped over and shot through the decorative glass in the door, The bullet hit me in the chest just to the left of my right nipple. The force of the impact pushed me back. I stumbled through an open door next to the front door iand fell to the floor in an adjacent room.
It all happened very fast and my wife was still sitting at the dinner table. I yelled to her to call the police and then in a somewhat softer voice I added, “and an ambulance.”
I lay on the floor terrified that the gunman would come in and finish me off and kill my wife and daughter. I could hear the tempered glass in the door crackling as it granulated. All the gunman would have had to do was tap it with his gun and it would have all fallen to the floor. Then he would have been able to easily reach in, open the door and come into the house, These were the terrifying thoughts racing through my mind as I tried to put pressure on the bullet wound so as not to bleed to death.
But fortunately coming into the house was not his agenda. Lying on the floor in the adjacent room I couldn’t see what was happening. Apparently he just turned and walked away.
The police did come and they caught him. The ambulance also came and took me to the small local hospital where they bandaged me and called for a helicopter to come from the university hospital in Iowa City.
I ended up having physical healing from the bullet wound and two surgeries but the biggest part of the healing was from the PTSD that resulted from this attack. I didn’t believe the idea that PTSD was incurable. So as I was recovering physically I decided to do my own private research to figure out some way to heal myself from the nightmares, flashbacks, startle response, and all of the other PTSD symptoms.
It took me awhile but I finally hit on a simple insight, one that was so simple I could see why it was so common to think that PTSD is incurable. And the insight is this…
When we are very young we get emotionally overwhelmed many, many times. This happens to everyone and it starts even before we learn to talk. The universal reaction to the many experiences of getting emotionally overwhelmed is to try to get as far away from the emotional pain as possible, We do our best to not have to feel it. As this happens over and over again we develop a deep conditioned response to emotional pain of suppression or avoidance as all costs. And this deep habit of suppressing emotional pain becomes our automatic default way of attempting to handle the pain.
This is a set up for becoming really lousy at dealing with emotional pain. We become basically emotionally incompetent. No one knows how to teach us anything else because they are all deeply conditioned in the same way.
Because people don’d know how to handle emotional pain and they are deeply scripted to avoid it like the plague, when something traumatic happens, they are so quick to suppress it and avoid it that they don’t complete the experience of the painful sensation.
Emotions have both content and energy. The content is the thoughts, images, sounds of the events that happened. The energy is experienced as the sensation of the pain that doesn’t get completed but instead it gets stored somewhere in the body. If you do allow yourself to feel it (which everyone avoids as much as possible) it would feel like a tight knot or ball of energy somewhere inside of you.
Because we don’t complete these emotionally painful traumatic experiences, we accumulate many incomplete emotional energy patterns in various places in our bodies.
When I had this insight I realized that I had to experiment with doing something that was the exact opposite of what we are deeply conditioned to do. I realized that I needed to let myself get closer to the unresolved sensation of the pain and let myself feel it and complete it.
I have to admit that part of me wanted to do this but another part of me was really afraid to try it. But I managed to get up my courage and thought about the whole incident. Immediately I could feel a sense of terror in my chest as I recalled what had happened. But I was determined to try it so I allowed myself to feel the painful sensation in my chest and to my amazement the first thing that I noticed was it didn’t kill me to do that.
It did make the painful feeling in my chest feel stronger but I quickly realized that this was from finally allowing myself to feel the sensation that was really there without trying to suppress it or avoid it, It was uncomfortable but I could do it.
As I continued to notice the sensation in my chest I had the intuition that it might be good to focus my attention right into the center of the strongest part of the sensation which was right in the middle of it. I did that and to my amazement that didn’t kill me either. It was just a sensation, So I kept feeling right into the center of the most intense part of the sensation and then something remarkable happened. The level of the intensity of the sensation seemed to get a bit less. I was a bit amazed by this, however, I brought my awareness closer to the central strongest part of the sensation again.
When I did that it made the pain seem stronger again, not because it had become stronger but simply because I was closer to it. I have often compared it to clicking in closer on Google Maps for a magnified view. After some time of continuing to notice the central strongest part of the sensation it softened again. This was really encouraging. I continued to get closer to the remaining sensation each time it got softer. I did that again and again until it got so soft I couldn’t find it any more,
I was really amazed by this whole experience, I decided to test it. So I thought about the whole incident and I was surprised that I didn’t feel the terror any more, It was completely gone. Well, I thought I might be onto something so I decided to sleep on it and see if it lasted.
I woke up the next morning with the realization that this was the first night since the incident that I had not had a nightmare. Now I knew I was onto something. I used this new focused feeling process I had discovered on every sensation that was left from the whole incedent. Within a few days of remembering things that had happened and doing this process on any remaining painful sensation all of my PTSD symptoms just vanished, No more nightmares. No more flashbacks. No more startle response. No more anxiety or depression. I started to feel even better than before I had been shot!
So I then started to share what I had discovered with friends and colleagues and I rapidly found out that you didn’t have to have severe trauma to benefit from learning how to do this, It seemed to be effective on all kinds and levels of intensity of emotional pain.
As I began teaching seminars on how to do this I found some interesting research on the cells in the brain that apparently are involved in processing emotions. The are called spindle cells. I learned that we have much fewer spindle cells when we are very young then we do as we get older. Here’s a comparison that shows that,
People where put into a sophisticated brain scanner that can find an count the number of spindle cells in the brain by giving the person being scanned some kind of emotional stimulation and seeing which cells “light up” meaning become active in relationship to the emotional stimulation.
What was discovered through this research is that you start out with a limited number of spindle cells when you are quite young but gain more of them as you get older,
In this comparison the brain on the bottom is that of a 7 month old baby, The number of spindle cells is 7,915 in the right hemisphere and 5,860 in the left hemisphere.
By contrast, the brain at the top, that of a 71 year old man has 47,670 spindle cells in the right hemisphere and 35,185 in the left hemisphere.
This supports the insight about emotional overwhelm happening frequently when we are quite young, We just don’t have the hardware to process intense emotional experiences. It is like early computers that would lock up in some kind of system error because they didn’t have enough processing power in certain situations. This inability to process the emotional energy due to the limited number of spindle cells provides a logical basis for why everyone develops the habits of suppression and avoidance of painful feelings pre-verbally.
The problem is that although we gain more and more spindle cells as we age, it is unlikely that we fully utilize them because of this deep conditioning of suppression and avoidance of feeling. It doesn’t seem to be a hardware problem but rather that our inner human software operating system has a “bug” it it that isn’t allowing the full access and use of the spindle cells, Here’s a graphic that shows this idea,
It appears that the combination of the limited number of spindle cells and the pre-verbal conditioning of emotional suppression and avoidance are at the root of why traumas don’t self-heal over time. This is also very likely why there is a wide-spread belief that PTSD is incurable and why overcoming the pain of loss in grief or heartbreak can take months or even years to resolve, Typically grief and heartbreak take only one or two sessions to completely resolve the pain of loss using the Pure Awareness Techniques,