What Causes PTSD and How Does It Differ From Other Stress-Related Illness
You may have heard a long-standing psychological theory from the days of Freud that people can get “stuck” at a childhood age due to a trauma. When this happens, the person could be a mature adult in every other way, but mentally still a 10-year old. This happened to both me and my wife. For Hope, she was stuck at 10. During the early years of our marriage she looked 22, and of course she wanted to be treated like she was 22, but her behavior didn’t seem to fit a rational, mature 22-year old. It only made sense when you considered her actions from a child’s perspective.
I got stuck in my life at about 14, the first, most traumatic period of my life. Adolescence was beating me to a pulp, beating overweight, failing in school, but to top it off, my parents were yelling at each other just about every night. I could hear my mom crying herself to sleep through the wall of my bedroom every night, and my parent’s financial catastrophe was threatening the security of our family, our home, and my school. In fact, when my brother got married right around that time, his wife told him, “I don’t know if you really love me or just wanted to get away from home.” I was stuck on that for about 12 years.
Now, probably neither one of us would rise to the level of a clinical post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, which affects approximately 1 in 13 Americans—about 24.4 million people in the US alone. The most famous example of full PTSD is war veterans who are unable to mentally “come home.” Even though they’re physically present with their families, they still feel like they’re in the foxhole, still afraid for their lives. But PTSD isn’t just the horrors of war, it’s the horrors of anything. The unconscious mind prioritizes fear-based memories, and the degree of prioritization largely depends on the amount of adrenaline released at the time. So, as you might imagine, life-or-death war situations are once in a lifetime adrenaline releasers.
It’s similar to the state of shock that people go through sometimes after a car accident, where they just sit on the side of the road, unresponsive to anything as the paramedics wave their hands in front of the person’s eyes and ask if they know where they are. It takes time to come out of that because in those situations, the unconscious mind doesn’t just influence you, it completely takes over.
Where this gets really tricky is with what I call “popsicle memories,” where a 5-year old’s temper tantrum causes a major adrenaline release and is recorded by the unconscious as a major trauma. I’ve had many clients who were held back for years and years by something that turned out to be completely trivial when you thought about it logically. But the unconscious doesn’t have that luxury.
So really, PTSD is on the far end of a continuum that begins with mild stress and ends with a complete takeover by the unconscious mind. So how do we deal with it? One of the most successful therapies for PTSD over the last couple of decades has been eye movement therapy. It’s believed to activate the same mechanism as REM sleep, when memories are created, edited and collaged together.
For the last 12 years, I’ve been working on my own version of this method and sharing it with clients in my workshops. I believe it is more effective than the established versions and seems to treat not just PTSD, but anything on that continuum all the way back to mild stress. My clients have raved about this method for years, and I released it to the public for the first time just in the last year. In the past, people would spend years in talk therapy with little benefit, so I’d highly recommend trying it, no matter what your issue.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!