Appendix 1: Excerpts from Pete Walker’s writings and Our Brain’s Evolution by Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd
These should be required readings for every man and woman: every healing professional, helping professional, manager, boss, clergy, parent, teacher, and every really good friend. I do not know one single person who is without a traumatized person in their inner circle.
EXCERPTS FROM PETE WALKER’S BOOK COMPLEX PTSD: FROM SURVIVING TO THRIVING
EMOTIONAL NEGLECT: THE CORE WOUND IN COMPLEX PTSD
Minimization about the damage caused by extensive emotional neglect is at the core of the Cptsd denial onion. Our journey of recovering takes a quantum leap when we really feel and understand how devastating it was to be emotionally abandoned. An absence of parental loving interest and engagement, especially in the first few years, creates an overwhelming emptiness. Life feels harrowingly frightening to the infant or toddler who is left for long periods without comfort and care. Children are helpless and powerless for a long time, and when they sense that no one has their back, they feel scared, miserable and disheartened. Much of the constant anxiety that adult survivors live in is this still aching fear that comes from having been so frighteningly abandoned.
Many survivors never discover and work through the wounds that correlate with this level. This happens because they over-assign their suffering to overt abuse and never get to the core issue of their emotional abandonment. As stated above, this is especially likely to occur with survivors who dismissively compare their trauma to those who were abused more noticeably and more dramatically. I find this painfully ironic because some people suffer significant active abuse without developing Cptsd. Typically, they are “spared” because there is one caretaker who does not emotionally neglect them.
Traumatic emotional neglect occurs when a child does not have a single caretaker to whom she can turn in times of need or danger. Cptsd then sets in to the degree that there is no alternative adult [relative, older sibling, neighbor, or teacher] to turn to for comfort and protection. This is especially true when the abandonment occurs 24/7, 365 days a year for the first few years. Growing up emotionally neglected is like nearly dying of thirst outside the fenced off fountain of a parent’s warmth and interest. Emotional neglect makes children feel worthless, unlovable and excruciatingly empty. It leaves them with a hunger that gnaws deeply at the center of their being. They starve for human warmth and comfort.
The emotional hunger that comes from parental abandonment often morphs over time into an insatiable appetite for substances and/or addictive processes. Minimization of early abandonment often transforms later in life into the minimizing that some survivors use to rationalize their substance and process addictions. Fortunately, many survivors eventually come to see their substance or process addictions as problematic. But many also minimize the deleterious effects of their addiction and jokingly dismiss their need to end or reduce their reliance on them.
When the survivor has no understanding of the effects of trauma or no memory of being traumatized, addictions are often understandable, misplaced attempts to regulate painful emotional flashbacks. However many survivors are now in a position to see how self-destructive their addictions are. They are now old enough to learn healthier ways of self-soothing.
Accordingly, substance and process addictions can be seen as misguided attempts to distract from inner pain. The desire to reduce such habits can therefore be used as motivation to learn the more sophisticated forms of self-soothing that Cptsd recovery work has to offer.
When children experience long periods of being powerless to obtain needed connection with a parent, they become increasingly anxious, upset and depressed. In Cptsd-engendering families, the absence of care and concern is extreme. A caretaker is rarely or never available for support, comfort or protection.
If this is what you suffered, you then grew up feeling that no one likes you. No one ever listened to you or seemed to want you around. No one had empathy for you, showed you warmth, or invited closeness. No one cared about what you thought, felt, did, wanted or dreamed of. You learned early that, no matter how hurt, alienated, or terrified you were, turning to a parent would do nothing more than exacerbate your experience of rejection.
When caretakers turn their backs on a child’s need for help and support, her inner world becomes an increasingly nightmarish amalgam of fear, shame and depression. The child who is abandoned in this way experiences the world as a terrifying place.
Over time the child’s dominant experience of herself is so replete with emotional pain and so unmanageable that that she has to dissociate, self-medicate, act out [aggression against others] or act in [aggression against the self] to distract from it.
The situation of the abandoned child further deteriorates as an extended absence of warmth and protection gives rise to the cancerous growth of the inner critic as described above. The child projects his hope for being accepted onto self-perfection. By the time the child is becoming self-reflective, cognitions start to arise that sound like this: “I’m so despicable, worthless, unlovable, and ugly; maybe my parents would love me if I could make myself like those perfect kids I see on TV.”
In this way, the child becomes hyperaware of imperfections and strives to become flawless. Eventually she roots out the ultimate flaw – the mortal sin of wanting or asking for her parents’ time or energy. Intrinsic to this process is noticing – more and more hyper-vigilantly – how her parents turn their back or become angry or disgusted whenever she needs anything, whether it be attention, listening, interest, or affection.
Emotional neglect, alone, causes children to abandon themselves, and to give up on the formation of a self. They do so to preserve an illusion of connection with the parent and to protect themselves from the danger of losing that tenuous connection. This typically requires a great deal of self-abdication, e.g., the forfeiture of self-esteem, self-confidence, self-care, self-interest, and self-protection.
DE-MINIMIZING EMOTIONAL ABANDONMENT
As with physical abuse, effective work on the wounds of verbal and emotional abuse can sometimes open the door to de-minimizing the awful impact of emotional neglect. I sometimes feel the most for my clients who were “only” neglected, because it is so difficult to see neglect as hard core evidence. Most people remember little before they were four years old. And by that time, much of this kind of damage is done. It typically takes some very deep introspective work, to realize that current time flashback pain is a re-creation of how bad it felt to be emotionally abandoned.
The remembering and de-minimizing of the impact of emotional neglect can take a long time. It is typically an intuitive piecing together of a lot of clues. The puzzle is often solved when a critical mass of childhood reconstruction is reached. Sometimes this fosters an epiphany that neglect is indeed at the core of present time suffering. Sometimes this epiphany brings a great relieving certainty that fragile self-esteem, frequent flashbacks, and recurring reenactments of unsupportive relationships were caused by the closed hearts of your parents.
I sometimes regret that I did not know what I now know about this kind of neglect when I wrote my first book. I wish I had not over-focused on the role of abuse in my childhood trauma. It is so hard to convey this to a client whose critic minimizes and shames them for their plight by comparing them unfavorably to me: “I didn’t have it anywhere near as bad as you. My mother never hit me!”
How ironic that this typically invokes a feeling-sense in me that the worst thing that happened to me, by far, was growing up so emotionally abandoned. In fact, it was not until I learned to assign the pain of numerous current time emotional flashbacks to the abject loneliness of my childhood, that I was able to work effectively on the repetition compulsion that lead me into so many neglectful relationships.
CHAPER 6 – WHAT IS MY TRAUMA TYPE?
HEALTHY EMPLOYMENT OF THE 4 F’S
People who experience “good enough parenting” in childhood arrive in adulthood with a healthy and flexible response repertoire to danger. In the face of real danger, they have appropriate access to all of their 4F choices.
Easy access to the fight response insures good boundaries, healthy assertiveness and aggressive self-protectiveness if necessary.
Untraumatized people also easily and appropriately access their flight instinct and disengage and retreat when confrontation would exacerbate their danger.
Untraumatized people also freeze appropriately and give up and quit struggling when further activity or resistance is futile or counterproductive. Additionally, the freeze response is sometimes our first response to danger, as when we become still, quiet and camouflaged to buy time, to assess the danger and decide whether fight, flight, continued freeze or fawn is our best option.
And finally, untraumatized people also fawn in a non-groveling manner and are able to listen, help, and compromise as readily as they assert and express themselves and their needs, rights and points of view. A deeper elaboration of the origins of these four defenses is found below and in the next chapter. [If you’ve read this far, get Pete’s books and read them, seriously.]
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Here’s excerpt from one of Pete’s articles which you can find online. Recognizing Emotional Flashbacks is the gateway to emotional awareness, authenticity and connection. It’s shackle-breaking information. Don’t leave home without it.
Flashback Management in Treatment of Complex PTSD
The East Bay Therapist, Sept/Oct 2005
A significant percentage of adults who suffered ongoing abuse or neglect in childhood suffer from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. One of the most difficult features of this type of PTSD is extreme susceptibility to painful emotional flashbacks. Emotional flashbacks are sudden and often prolonged regressions (‘amygdala hijackings’ [see Glossary]) to the frightening circumstances of childhood. They are typically experienced as intense and confusing episodes of fear and/or despair – or as sorrowful and/or enraged reactions to this fear and despair. Emotional flashbacks are especially painful because the inner critic typically overlays them with toxic shame, inhibiting the individual from seeking comfort and support, isolating him in an overwhelming and humiliating sense of defectiveness.
Because most emotional flashbacks do not have a visual or memory component to them, the triggered individual rarely realizes that she is re-experiencing a traumatic time from childhood. Psychoeducation is therefore a fundamental first step in the process of helping clients understand and manage their flashbacks. Most of my clients experience noticeable relief when I explain PTSD to them. The diagnosis seems to reverberate deeply with their intuitive understanding of their suffering. When they understand that their sense of overwhelm initially arose as an instinctual response to truly traumatic circumstances, they begin to shed the awful belief that they are crazy, hopelessly oversensitive, and/or incurably defective.
Flashbacks strand clients in the feelings of danger, helplessness and hopelessness of their original abandonment, when there was no safe parental figure to go to for comfort and support. Hence, Complex PTSD is now accurately being identified by many as an attachment disorder. Flashback management therefore needs to be taught in the context of a safe relationship. Clients need to feel safe enough with the therapist to describe their humiliating experiences of a flashback, so that the therapist can help them respond more constructively to their overwhelm in the moment.
Without help in the moment, the client typically remains lost in the flashback and has no recourse but to once again fruitlessly reenact his own particular array of primitive, self-injuring defenses to what feel like unmanageable feelings. I find that most clients can be guided to see the harmfulness of these previously necessary, but now outmoded, defenses as misfirings of their fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses. These misfirings then, cause dysfunctional warding off of feelings in four different ways:
- fighting or over-asserting one’s self with others in narcissistic and entitled ways such as misusing power or promoting excessive self-interest;
- fleeing obsessive-compulsively into activities such as workaholism, sex and love addiction, or substance abuse (uppers’);
- freezing in numbing, dissociative ways such as sleeping excessively, over-fantasizing, or tuning out with TV or medications (‘downers’);
- fawning in self-abandoning and obsequious codependent relating. (The fawn response to trauma is delineated in my earlier article on “Codependency and Trauma” in The East Bay Therapist, Jan/Feb 03).
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Don’t let the simplicity of the 4F’s fool you – keep them handy – all trauma sufferers are dealing with them. I think we all are.
If these excerpts touched you, read Pete Walker’s books. If you have a friend or therapist who can “hold space” for you while you do this, all the more power to both of you!
Therapists, healers and physicians who haven’t accessed their depth of pain won’t be able to help you safely access yours. Find someone who has.
Print and keep in your wallet Pete’s 13 Steps for Flashback Management at www.Pete-Walker.com
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Our Brain’s Evolution
The human brain seems to be wired for emotional flashbacks and the 4F’s in response to traumatic events; but what helped us to survive dangerous physical environments may be hindering us in our modern age where more people are suffering more from loneliness than fear of getting eaten by a lion. At their website http://thegreatstory.org, pioneering researchers Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd offer amazing “online resources for exploring the practical implications of navigating the modern world with the Stone-Age Instincts we all have inherited.”
Here’s their awesome teaching tool. To explain our brain’s evolution, the image playfully shows:
- REPTILIAN BRAIN – Lizard Legacy – our physical instincts
- OLD MAMMALIAN BRAIN – Furry Li’l Mammal – our social instincts
- NEW MAMMALIAN – Monkey Mind – our interpretive instincts
- ADVANCED – Higher Porpoise – our executive brain and spiritual instincts
“HIGHER PORPOISE” is a playful term for this locus of our higher purpose or “higher power.” . . . This part of the brain is the top of the heap, so to speak. It is only here that conflicts within and between the more ancient parts of the brain can be resolved. Thus, HIGHER PORPOISE is responsible for keeping in check the physical urges of our LIZARD LEGACY (Reptilian Brain) and the social drives and emotions of our FURRY LI’L MAMMAL (Old Mammalian Brain).
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I like employing Michael and Connie’s perspectives to help me make sense of my motives and make better decisions, but I also find it very helpful when searching for great movies and books because I love stories that move me to live by my “higher porpoise.” A few years ago, I created a lengthy list of movies according to the 4 “brain genres” (Legacy Lizard, Furry Li’l Mammal, Monkey Mind and Higher Porpoise) but I accidentally deleted the blog and couldn’t recover it!
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So, now that you have a basic understanding of the 4F’s, Emotional Flashbacks and our evolving brain, let’s proceed to Appendix 2.