Breaking Away from Faulty Programming
We have all had in our lives, defining moments. We like to think of those that have spurred us on to bigger and better things, because they make us feel part of something bigger than ourselves, but also because they mask the pain from the ones that stopped us in our tracks for a moment, or have negatively altered our life journey.
Defining moments can include the "day I first believed" like in Amazing Grace, or the moment you encountered the man or woman of your dreams.
But, often our defining moments are traumatic events that occurred at some time and played a part in the life we have lived to this point. There does not have to be loss of blood, or physical pain for an event to be traumatic. Most traumas are mental or spiritual in our society, though that does not diminish the physical trauma that many of us have felt from some kind of abuse or accident.
The problem with most non physical trauma, and even some physical trauma is that our brains hide these memories from us. In the case of physical trauma, we might have actual visible scars to remind us or recurrent pain that serves as a reminder of the event, though not always. In the case of the mental or spiritual trauma, it may remain hidden for a time, or forever in a pure memory sense, while it wreaks havoc on our lives.
I remember a friend of mine many years ago, who as we talked one time, recalled from his childhood recurring incidents, with his impatient and irritable father. His father, would often walk into a room he was in, doing something, and shout at him: "Jesus Christ, Gary," and then berate him for some kind of failure in what he had been doing. As Gary told it to me at the time, for the longest time he thought his full given name was 'Jesus Christ Gary." What I did not realise at the time was that he was using humour to mask the effects of trauma on his life. To the best of my knowledge, my friend has never been able to fully accept the love of Jesus Christ for him, or to forgive his own "failures" to be the son his long deceased father wanted him to be.
Things that happen to us or involve us in our lives come in two categories, events or anecdotes. An event is formative in that it impacts our lives and creates an attachment. An anecdote is a story of something told from a detachment. Typically the traumatic things that happen in our lives remain as traumatic events, not as anecdotes, and I will explain my meaning in a bit.
I realise now, many years later, that my friend was attached to that story he told me, because he told it to others as well, but the emotion in it, as I think on it, told me that it was a story of the current moment in his life, from an impact standpoint.
We are designed by our creator such that our brains become programmed, particularly by the traumatic, so that we avoid further similar traumas, or develop coping mechanisms for them.
Let me give a personal example, and a resolution of it much later in life. When I was 2 years old, I developed a hernia. Actually by the time I was 4 I had had two of them, sort of a matching his and hernia. Anyway, when I was 2, in 1952, my mother took me to the hospital to have it operated on. I recall, (at 2 years old mind you) that I was placed in a crib in a hospital room by myself, where the walls of the crib were much higher than I was tall. I recall that my mother left me there, by myself with strange people, and that the next day, they hurt me. That is the memory of a 2 year old, incomplete, but sufficient to impact my future life.
So, leaving that as I understood it from my childhood, my brain became programmed by that recall of the event, just as it was designed to be. Let me digress for a minute about this training, programming component.
When I was a young teenager, my parents took us to Alberta on a motor vacation. There we rented a cabin at Banff. While there, my sister and I noticed some very cute brown bears outside our cabin rooting around in the garbage for food. We were intrigued and went outside to see them. Though we were about 20 yards away from them, we were not afraid in the least. Suddenly, our mother opened the door, screamed at the bears, and yelled at us to come inside, where she lectured us about the dangers of bears. That event traumatised us towards wild animals. We then became aware that the bears had been looking at me and my sister like lunch meat. That left an impression on us.
So, coming forward to about 10 years ago, I was in BC, and walking by myself on a nature trail. When I exited the trail by the highway, I saw a cougar up the way, about a quarter of a mile. My programming from my childhood, that was reinforced a number of times later in life, told me that this was not a cute kitty cat, that I should go and see if I could befriend, but a wild animal looking for a tasty meal. Accordingly, I ran to my car, and beat a hasty retreat. What I also realised was that I had been an idiot to have been walking on the trail alone in the first place.
The programming that I had received earlier in this case was not inappropriate. I had developed a healthy fear of wild animals, and me in their habitat, and the latter event refined that fear with some better boundaries for my own actions. That is pretty much the way that our brain programming capability through trauma was designed to operate. By the way, I tell you this story of anecdotes in my life, not events.
Back to the little boy at 2. So, since that day, I feared being abandoned by my parents, by friends, by my wives. More than any single "event" in my life, that fear of abandonment that was programmed into me from that trauma, lived inside me and grew as other later events helped formulate it into a full blown life strategy. It made me emotionally unavailable to the people who came into my life. I could communicate, work, play sports, but not get close to another person really. So, big surprise I had two failed marriages, many failed friendships and other relationships, and jumped around from job to job a lot in my earlier years.
But, the biggest problem with this whole thing, is that I never knew I feared abandonment. I just acted that way, and it was "normal" for me, though really not normal, whatever that means. I did realise along the way that there was something incomplete in my life and I did a fair amount of therapy with some limited success.
So, when I married my dear wife, as opposed to those to whom I was not so dear, I wanted to be different. I did not know how to be different, and certainly did not know I had to break with my own training in order to be different. Then 6 years ago, I was in an auto accident, and my life as I knew it, got stopped in its tracks. When my head started to clear somewhat about 3 years after my accident, I knew that I had to find a way to get better use out of that portion of my brain that was still reasonably functional, since my total capacity was diminished.
That led me to a different kind of therapy, called EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. In EMDR therapy, you basically re-examine the traumatic events of your life, those that have formed you into the human doing that you are (as opposed to the human being you were created to be), and through a set process reprogram the brain such that the traumatic events of your past, become anecdotes in the stories of your life. From having an emotional hold on you, such that it molds your behaviour and feeds your emotions, a trauma becomes merely a story from which you are detached, and which you view as an observer, realising that you are a part of the story, but no longer traumatized by it.
As I discussed this article with my dear wife yesterday, we both were aware that our life since I have been able to put away the traumatic events of my life, and turn them into anecdotes that open me up to other possibilities in my life, has been much gentler, and free of my anxiety highjacking it along the way.
I had not really revisited how my life had been shaped by trauma before, but when I was communicating with a friend the other day about something that happened when he was 10 years old, that has impacted him since, I was reminded of how hard it had been for me to put the past of my life, in the past where it belongs, and that I was not the only one on the planet carrying this extra baggage.