“I checked myself in because I think I was at point in my life when I needed something to change…”
These were the words of Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, in an interview with Matt Lauer on The Today Show. But, they are also the words of so many people in recovery as they look back on a very difficult time in their lives, and their decision to enter treatment.
Watch the interview here.
Even people who have achieved tremendous success in their lives can have a lot of hidden pain. When left unaddressed, that pain can—and often will—lead to problems with drugs, alcohol, pornography, sex, depression, anxiety, and other behavioral health issues.
Our treatment programs specialize in helping people find the root causes of their daily emotional struggles and develop healthier coping skills for the immense pressures and scrutiny they often face. If you feel that you, or a loved one, are racing toward disaster, give us a call at 1-800-244-4949.
Adult Coloring Books were big sellers this past holiday season. If you checked Amazon.com’s list of top-twenty best-sellers at any time in the last couple of months, you would find that up to 10 of the books listed on any given day were coloring books. The books feature mandalas, secret gardens, enchanted forests and a number of other intricately patterned designs.
So, what’s behind the coloring craze? Many people feel that coloring has stress-relieving qualities and helps to facilitate the practice of mindfulness. Some even consider them to be “therapeutic,” but behavioral health professionals caution against chalking them up as “art therapy.”
Jennifer Noto, The Meadows primary Expressive Arts Therapist, says that although coloring is no substitute for therapy, it can be a useful tool to help patients self-regulate and focus. We asked her to share some of her insights into coloring, its therapeutic properties, and its relationship to Expressive Arts Therapy.
Expressive arts therapy (EAT) is defined as “the use of [visual] art, music, dance/movement, drama, poetry/creative writing, play and sandtray within the context of psychotherapy, counseling, rehabilitation or health care. (Source: Malchiodi, C. (ed.) (2005). Expressive Therapies. New York, NY: Guilford Press.)
The overarching goals of our Expressive Arts Therapy program at The Meadows are to externalize emotions and thoughts for deeper self-reflection, challenge perfectionism, and learn appropriate spontaneity. There are usually more specific goals in sessions such as trauma resolution and resolving core issues.
At all of our programs—The Meadows, Gentle Path at The Meadows, the Claudia Black Young Adult Center and Remuda Ranch at The Meadows—we encourage patients to create spontaneous art based on themes that we use in group sessions. Themes may include: emotions, boundaries, positive and challenging childhood memories, cultivating safety, identifying personal strengths, cultivating body awareness, working with control issues, etc. Patients use a variety of art materials such as drawing, painting, sculpting or working with found-objects to create the art.
For example, in one of our weekly group Expressive Arts Therapy sessions, I present a theme and everyone works on projects related to that theme unless it’s not a good fit for them. What’s so interesting about art therapy, though, is that usually what the person needs to work on that day is what comes up, regardless of the theme or project.
Let’s say we’re doing a project where I’m having patients paint masks and I’ve asked them to let the outside of the mask represent their outside selves (how they present to the world), and let the inside represent who they really are inside. For some patients, this may be just the right project at just the right time. But, if a patient is in their final week of treatment they may no longer find it useful to go back and look at how they were presenting to the world before treatment. So, they may use the mask project to instead look at their authentic self versus their addict self. There’s always room for someone to interpret the project in their own way. And if the project doesn’t work for them at all, I’ll just give them something else.
We seldom do anything coloring related, since the process of creating one’s own imagery is significant to gaining personal insights.
Well, we’ve had the Mandala coloring books at The Meadows for some time now—at least in the four years since I’ve been here—so it’s not entirely new to us. Even before they became best sellers, we would have patients sitting and coloring in group therapy sessions. Many of the primary therapists would encourage them to do that because it helped them focus and self-regulate. The main difference in the coloring books that are popular now is that the designs are more elaborate.
A few months ago, in early February or March, I noticed that patients started showing up with the latest coloring books, like The Secret Garden. They’d say things like, “Oh, my mom sent me this and it’s really helping me.” I thought it seemed like a great tool to help patients focus and relax.
I wonder if they’re so popular in the public now because there’s generally more awareness about self-care and mindfulness and people see coloring as an outlet. People are probably also drawn to it because they know they can do it without having the pressure of creating something from scratch. I think it’s just a smart way of doing mindful work.
There is definitely a difference between therapy and therapeutic activities. For example, coloring can help calm someone down in the moment, getting them more present and ready to do therapy and address their issues. If someone has childhood trauma, coloring may relax them for a time and teach them a healthier coping skill for distress. But, it won’t resolve underlying core issues, core messages and nervous system dysregulation.
I definitely think coloring can be therapeutic and healthy for many people. Any mindful activity that doesn’t have negative consequences, and is done in moderation, can help a patient feel more calm and centered.
I believe coloring could be helpful with patients suffering from anxiety, depression or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). It could be calming for those with anxiety, enlivening for those with depression (working with colors; focusing on enjoyable imagery), and it could help those with ADD focus their attention.
Since Expressive Arts Therapy is so diverse and can include music, movement, play and drama, there is usually something that every patient will connect with. Many patients enter the art room with fear and a bias that they aren’t creative and leave the session with a sense of empowerment and playfulness. I have even had patients who have art-related trauma (i.e., their abuser was an artist, or they were sexually assaulted at art school) who end up finding the process helpful, because they are able to renegotiate their relationship with art and reduce traumatic responses. There are a small handful of people who come in with a dislike of art and leave with the same perception, yet even for these patients, I think the process of trying something new is significant, and therefore, not contraindicated.
I like to read the energy of the room before assigning a theme or project in order to make appropriate modifications. For example, if I’m with a group of patients from Remuda Ranch, and I can tell that they’re feeling kind of frustrated about meals, or are having a hard morning, or are feeling rushed, I’ll think, “Okay, they just need to play today.” So, instead of asking them to take on a childhood trauma that day I may ask them to just pick their medium and topic of choice and see where it takes them.
At The Meadows, our patients are at a point in life where they need a full regime of therapies and approaches to combat their trauma and addiction problems. The Meadows Model is an important part of the work I do in the art room. I’m also a Somatic Experiencing® Practitioner and incorporate this viewpoint into my approach. I think it’s important to have an understanding of the core issues as well as how trauma impacts the physiology when working with any patient in any approach.
Expressive Arts Therapy is so fabulous because it can work with any type of treatment! Patients will often share their art projects with their primary group or in an individual trauma session. We work closely as a team at The Meadows and feed off the work each counselor is doing with a particular patient. For example, a patient may create artwork of a “safe place” in group with me, and then take that for use in their EMDR session. Expressive Arts Therapy also works well with the 12-step approach, as we can explore topics of acceptance, surrender, courage, and consequences of addiction.
Whether it’s Expressive Arts Therapy, Equine-Assisted Therapy, or 12-step, The Meadows programs can find the right combination to help you get on track and stay on track with your recovery. Call us today for more information. 800-244-4949
The New Year symbolizes a time for fresh starts. Everyone is making resolutions to better themselves in the coming year, so it’s no surprise that many people decide to pursue sobriety. Starting a new year with the decision to find sobriety and heal lifelong wounds is a very courageous decision. Usually, though, simply making a resolution is not enough. This is true even with non-addicts. But the good news is, there are steps to take that can significantly aid in reaching and maintaining sobriety.
If you decide an inpatient program is the right decision for you, make sure that the program is designed to meet your individual needs and the needs of your family. Consider what will nurture your well-being. If being in a warm, peaceful environment and having sunshine is an important part of nurturing yourself, then consider The Meadows programs in Wickenburg, Arizona. We are nestled in the serene Sonoran desert, where many people feel that the clear, dry air has healing powers.
As the nation’s premier program for treating alcohol, drug and other addictive disorders for 40 years, our Meadows Model is the most clinically comprehensive and nurturing program available today.
There is no better time to begin your journey to sobriety than right now. Make this year your year of recovery. The treatment program at The Meadows can help you create an entire lifetime of peace and healing. To learn more about our programs, call us at 800-244-4949 or contact us here.
By Lynn Litschke, Chaplain/Spiritual Care Provider at The Meadows
‘Tis the season of celebration. The landscape of our everyday lives is transformed with the glow of candles, the jingle of bells, the fragrance of pine and spice, wrapping paper and ribbons, feasting and festivity. There is a touch of magic in the air.
Yet for those of us in recovery this can also be a difficult season fraught with triggers, painful memories, and feelings of being disconnected and flawed. In the midst of it all are opportunities to lean solidly into our spirituality and discover new understandings of ourselves and of the season.
This season of holidays originated as “holy” days set apart to commemorate and celebrate very special events. The stories and traditions surrounding these events are packed with spiritual meaning and messages that can be helpful to recovery from addictions and trauma.
Hanukkah reminds us that we can endure and that there can be victory in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. In the deepest places of despair, our needs can be met with surprising abundance by a Power greater than ourselves.
At Winter Solstice we can choose to enter into the longest, darkest night and, in the midst of our fear, discover hope in the eternally faithful return of the light at dawn.
On Christmas Eve we can reflect on the joy of discovering that Love can and does appear in the lowliest and most unexpected places. In a playful spirit, we can rejoice with the creative imagination of Dr. Seuss as he reminds us that even the grinchiest of bah-humbuggers can be transformed by child-like wonder and gratitude in the face of bitter disappointment.
In recovery, we set each day apart, one day at a time, to commemorate and celebrate the very special event of freedom from our addictions. Every day in recovery can be celebrated as a holy day and an opportunity to share the message of experience, strength, and hope.
In this season of celebration, consider the awe and wonder of a poor shepherd, cold and alone in the desert, when a bright light illuminates the darkness and an angel sings out, “Fear not. I want to give you a message of great hope and joy. Glad tidings!” Consider the awe and wonder of a broken, desperate, hurting individual sitting in the back row of their first 12-step meeting when an angel disguised as a simple human being opens a big, blue book and begins to read, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path…” It is cause for great celebration.
By Lauren Timmermans, LAC, MBA, CSAT
Primary Therapist, Gentle Path at the Meadows
The holidays can be an exceptionally challenging time for people who are struggling with sex addiction, chemical addiction, or other mental health issues.
Addictions frequently intensify over the holiday season. Family conflicts are bound to surface, stress levels can—and usually do—increase, loneliness becomes more apparent, and depression pops up more than you might anticipate. In addition…
Oftentimes, even in the face of a clear chemical or process addiction and increasingly troublesome consequences, many individuals fight getting help during the holiday season. But, this time of year can actually be the perfect time to seek treatment.
Addicts often make statements such as, “If I can just get throughout the holidays I will get help in January.” Others may tell themselves they cannot hurt their family by being away during the festive months. They may believe that their partners, children, and family of origin would never understand, nor forgive them.
But, in reality, the festivities associated with the holiday season may make it especially difficult to keep from spiraling out of control in active addiction. The temptations are abundant and the chances that you could end up making yourself and loved ones miserable by trying to “white knuckle” for another month or two is great.
Worse, as sex addiction, chemical addictions, or mental health problems intensify, you put yourself at risk for accidents, legal issues, and other consequences that could be circumvented by getting support as soon as you or a loved one recognizes and acknowledges problematic behaviors. So, for some, addiction rehab may be the safest place to be during the holidays.
It can also be the ideal time of the year to get the help you need for logistical reasons. Many individuals can plan time away from work or other obligations during the holiday season with more ease. And, if you or your family has experienced the pain of your addiction during the holidays in previous years, the dedication to sobriety during this time of year can show your commitment to recovery.
Going to treatment can be a hard decision to make, especially during the holidays. However, going to rehab can be the right start to a happy, healthy, and peaceful life. Missing one or two celebrations may just be the key to making sure you are present for the next 30 holiday seasons. Focusing on the road to sobriety is the best present you can give anyone that cares about you. You will be safe, supported by a clinical and medical team, and well on your way to recovery by the New Year.
Call The Meadows Intake Team today to learn more and find out if one of The Meadows Behavioral Healthcare programs—The Meadows, The Claudia Black Young Adult Center, Gentle Path, Remuda Ranch or The Meadows Outpatient Center—might be right for you. Call Today 1-800-244-4949 of fill out the form on our website.
The Meadows Outpatient Center opened in early 2015 and has been going strong ever since!
What makes The Meadows Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) experience unique is that our senior fellows are directly involved in the clinical formulation of our IOP model. Many treatment centers in the country use materials created by Meadows’ Senior Fellows, but at our outpatient center these same leading experts conduct workshops, lectures, and other events.
The center also has several great programs available to alumni of The Meadows programs, their families, and the general public:
The Meadows Alumni Association is pleased to host monthly alumni meetings. Meadows’ trained professionals will lead these inspirational meetings that focus on renewing the language of The Meadows Model and reclaiming your commitment to its principles.
For more information on Inspired Recovery Alumni Meetings please call The Meadows Events and Alumni at 800-240-5522 or email email@example.com. Or find an alumni meeting in the city nearest you, and register to attend.
Research strongly shows that the longer someone is engaged in treatment, the better their chances are of long-term, successful recovery. It is fairly simple to keep someone on track with regular accountability. It is also fairly easy to get off-track without it. Alumni from The Meadows and Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) can now attend weekly Recovery Enhancement Group meetings to focus on Recovery, Fellowship, Spirituality, Service, Unity, Accountability, Networking, Enthusiasm and Fun. The first hour of the meeting is peer-led and monitored by a licensed Meadows therapist. For the second hour, the group joins the IOP group meeting to demonstrate that ongoing recovery is possible.
Meetings are held every Thursday from 10 a.m to Noon, and from 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Contact the Meadows Outpatient Center at 928-668-4999.
The Meadows IOP family program encourages the patient’s family members and significant others to…
We offer two different family groups:
Every week, one IOP session is devoted to multifamily group in which family members attend with the IOP patient. If the patient’s family members live out of state, we can involve them remotely through online video conferencing. Local families are encouraged to attend sessions every week.
Learning effective communication skills is a high priority during family issues group. We believe it is very empowering to learn how to talk to one another in a healthy, clear, assertive manner that yields positive results. The Mulftifamily Group meets every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to Noon or 5:30 p.m.- 8:30 p.m. There is no need for a reservation and no charge to attend.
Family Recovery Group
This group also meets weekly and is just for family members without the IOP patient in the room. All family members are invited to attend. The group meeting is facilitated by a Meadows-trained, experienced family therapist who helps family members learn how to be helpful, how to stop enabling, how to switch the focus from the IOP patient to their own recovery in their own 12 step program. There are always many questions and answers, many interactions and a lot of mutual support that is shared every week. Family members find this group extremely helpful. The Family Recovery Group takes place every Monday from 5:30 – 7 p.m. at The Meadows Outpatient Center and is open to the public. There is no need for a reservation and no charge to attend.
If you have questions about either family group contact Jim Corrington at 602-740-8403.
Alumni can come by anytime the outpatient center is open to use our state-of-the-art Brain Spa for guided imagery, Hemi-sync brain regulation, meditation audios, etc. The room features fully reclining chairs, blankets , soft lighting and inspiring photos from the Hubble Space telescope. It is truly a safe, healing environment.
Meeting Space Meadows Alumni can also use our beautiful and spacious conference center to bring a bag lunch, hang out, use the kitchen area, etc. There are bistro tables and stools and a marvelous view of the scenic McDowell Mountains!
Recovery is like walking up a down escalator… you must keep moving in the right direction; otherwise you will lose ground and fall back. Let us help you and your loved ones stay on the right track. The Meadows Outpatient Center offers, through our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) individual therapy with our Master’s level and licensed clinicians (SE, EMDR, CBT) and group therapy four days per week, 3 hours per day. In addition, Neurofeedback is also available for IOP patients. Transitional living for patients is available through preferred affiliations with top-quality properties, and is offered to local patients, as well as those from out of state. Contact us at 928-668-4999 for more information.
In a recent TED Talk, journalist and author Johann Hari suggests that “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong.” He argues that most people in our society see addiction as a simple chemical dependency, when it is actually the result of a failure to connect ─ with family, with friends, with the community, with God, or with a larger sense of purpose.
His ideas are proving to be somewhat controversial in the recovery and addiction communities, not so much because of his basic premise, but because of his assertion that these ideas are “new.” (The studies he sites have been well known to psychologists and addiction professionals for years.) He does also seem to oversimplify, in some ways, what is often a very complicated and nuanced problem. And, he calls for the legalization of all recreational drugs as a possible solution, an idea which always sparks a strong debate.
In spite of some of the questionable aspects of his speech, at The Meadows, we do agree with his core principle: that disconnection─ with peers, with communities, with one’s sense of self and/or with a higher power ─ can play a major role in triggering addiction and other behavioral issues.
One of the most important goals we have for our patients at The Meadows is that they learn how to become interdependent. The Meadows Model, developed by Pia Mellody, names dependency as one the four core issues that must be addressed before a person can make a full recovery from addiction or mood disorders. Doing so requires one to reconnect with the child he or she once was. Being too dependent comes from not having needs and wants met as a child. Being anti-dependent comes from being shamed for having needs and wants as child.
Becoming interdependent means learning how to balance your own needs and wants with those of others. If you are interdependent, you are able to ask for help when you need it, help others when they make a reasonable request, and say “no” when necessary to prevent yourself from stretching yourself too thin and becoming resentful.
Without interdependence, there is no recovery. As an addict, the ability to rely on others for help and emotional support, and to give that help and support to others, is critical to staying sober. Without the tools to make and maintain these connections, recovery is impossible to sustain.
Step 11 in the 12 Step Model for Recovery requires the addict to find a connection with a higher power:
“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.”
In most cases, addicts have either always struggled to connect with God, their Higher Power, or their sense of purpose; or, in some way, they got disconnected along the way. Recovery is about getting connected or reconnected.
Jim Corrington, Director of The Meadows Outpatient Services, likes to use the analogy of an orange extension cord to explain:
An orange extension cord is useless and without purpose when it’s hanging on the wall. You have to plug it in to a source of power to give it potential. It does not reach its full potential until you plug something else into IT. So, too, an individual must stay plugged in to their source of power, AND, stay connected to others around them to reach sobriety, and with it, their full potential.
Addictions manifest in those areas where people are disconnected but seeking to connect. “Faulty wiring” caused by childhood trauma can make it difficult for them to connect with others or with their sense of purpose, so they end up trying to fill the gap with substances or unhealthy behaviors.
At The Meadows, we take a holistic approach to healing that helps patients to reconnect through their minds, bodies and spirits. Therapy sessions and workshops allow them to find out how they became disconnected, to work on ways to build better relationships with others, and to learn how to nurture themselves. Our new brain center helps them to address any dysregulation they may be experiencing in the brain and nervous system. And, physical activities like Yoga, Tai Chi, equine therapy and ropes courses, allow them to gain even deeper insights into themselves.
If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction or a disorder and are seeking ways to reconnect, we can help. Contact us for more information.
Putting your thoughts and feelings on paper can accelerate your journey from addiction to recovery. Journaling is a powerful tool that can help you process your emotions, so you can realize a life-altering transformation. Check out these five tips to effective journaling.
1. Let it Flow: Stream of consciousness writing can be empowering. Ask yourself a compelling question such as “What brings me joy?” Close your eyes, relax your body and jot down whatever comes to mind. Don’t feel compelled to polish up or refine your writing. Write without filters. There’s no need for formalities. Let your hand flow freely over the page and jot down your thoughts and feelings. You can opt for nifty notebooks with lots of bling or use a simple notebook. Write for five minutes or until you feel like you’ve exhausted your response. You may very well gain a new perspective on the concept of joy or whatever question you pose. Save your work, so you can refer back to it at a later date.
2. Come to Your Senses: Take a deep breath and still your mind. Become aware of your surroundings as you scan your senses. How are you feeling? Is there a familiar scent in the background? What do you hear? You can also respond with a drawing or picture. You’re in the driver’s seat. Noting the answers to how you feel at any given moment helps put you in touch with your authentic self. So, savor the now.
3. Attitude of Gratitude: There are things to be grateful for on even the most challenging days. So, count your blessings via a gratitude list. Write down three to five things for which you are grateful. You can accompany your words with sketches or pictures. Express gratitude for the flowers blooming in your garden or for your best friend. You can choose something simple or elaborate – whatever floats your boat. As you jog your memory for all the gifts in your life, you might be surprised to find that you have more than five items on the list.
4. Give Yourself a Hand: Allow your non-dominant hand to respond to a question written with your dominant hand. It could be anything from “my most cherished memory” to “what makes me laugh.” Doing so may very well tap into the unconscious thoughts of your inner child.
5. Take a Step: Writing out your step work in a designated journal is a great way to keep track of your progress. You can refer back to your notes to review the steps you’ve already completed and to remind yourself of how far you’ve come on your recovery journey. Keep the names and numbers of “program” people in the back of your journal, so you’re not scrambling to find important numbers in an emergency.
6. So, take that first step! Write on!
To learn more about The Meadows, visit us here or call (800) 244-4949.
By Dr. Shelley Uram
What is it? Where does it come from? Why don’t most of us know about it?
Most of us are well acquainted with aspects of our personality, like being a nice person, an addict, a good employee, the therapist, the hero, the traumatized person, etc. The Authentic Self, however, transcends our personality, thoughts, and emotions.
Polonius says to his son, Laertes, who is about to embark on a long journey: ”This above all: To thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
I just love this quote! Shakespeare so wisely understood the importance of tuning in to, and following one’s own inner voice, or Authentic Self. Polonius instructed his son to prioritize this “above all” else.
I wholeheartedly agree!
Did Shakespeare mean we should be selfish? No; I think he meant we should be Selfish. What’s the difference? The meaning I am giving to the word, with a capital “S”, signifies the Self that is the Authentic Self, or the Essence, or Soul, Spirit, etc. It is the underlying core of each of us. It is to this unseen essence, or Self to which we should be “true.”
The Authentic Self, or Self for short, has the qualities of infinite wisdom, kindness, love, oneness, timelessness, “is-ness”, and acceptance. It is the UNSEEN Self we are born with and will ultimately die with; unchanged through our life’s journey.
Our ability to be attuned and aligned with our Self is of paramount importance! In my opinion, this is probably the most important task of our lives. It is the Self that can lead us to the best paths and choices we can make during our lifetime. When our personality is aligned with the wisdom and knowingness of the Self, it becomes a most valuable compass.
Unfortunately, we humans have brains that have many “survival” remnants left over from millions of years. These remnants “grab” our attention far more loudly and with much greater intensity than the ever soft, gentle whisper of Self. The manifestation of our Self typically becomes forgotten and turned away from at a very young age.
Those of you who have been active in 12-Steps may already be familiar with how dedicated we must be before our connection with Higher Power can be dusted off and revitalized. The “Self” in “To Thine Own Self Be True” is the same; the Self is the portal for Higher Power connection.
It is our Authentic Self that should be the compass from which our lives are guided; not just in the big picture, but also in the moment to moment experiences and choices that ultimately become the big picture.
What happened with these Authentic Self qualities that we were born with? I know few adults who consistently manifest these qualities. Yet, we all did as babies and young children! We couldn’t help but BE those qualities; that was who and what we were!
Here’s what happened…
When each of us was born, some parts of our brain began developing and maturing right away, while other parts came “online” more slowly.
One of those brain areas that began growing early is the part that enables us to have a sense of ourselves. At about 3 months of age, most humans experience their fi rst dawning awareness that there is a “me”. Before that, we were very well aware of others, aware of interacting with them, etc., but had no real knowing that a “me” existed.
Even though this ”me sense” is still quite rudimentary at the tender age of three months, it is nonetheless a huge alarm clock for the ancient survival brain areas. Now that our survival brain recognizes that there is a “me” who is wholly independent of anyone else, this part of our brain has a heyday as it recognizes that it must protect this newly identified person from any harm.
These survival brain areas become much more active; now that there is a “me” to protect. These brain areas interpret many more experiences as potentially dangerous. An analogy would be a dog whose family is away, versus that same dog whose family is present. The dog will be far more protective when the family members are present.
Our thinking brain continues to grow and mature throughout our early childhood years, leaving us with a more and more complex and sophisticated sense of “me”. Therefore, the survival response becomes intertwined and more often triggered as the defi nition of “me” grows in complexity and sophistication; there is more of a “me” to protect.
What does this “Survival Response” look like? It is usually packaged as a Fight, Flight, or Freeze response. Simply put, some areas of our very ancient brain signal other brain areas to release adrenaline and other chemicals to mobilize our body into quick and intense behaviors, like fleeing, fighting, etc. At the same time, there are electrical signals supporting these fight, flight and freeze responses, as well as hormonal responses that try to sustain the these survival responses, like cortisol.
All said, with the electrical, neuro-chemical, and hormonal activity, a person quickly becomes overrun with the physical and emotional responses to the Fight, Flight, Freeze activity. This activity feels quite uncomfortable to us. Just think of the last time you had a “close call” with something, like a near-miss car accident, and your heart was racing, and you had rapid breathing, shaking, emotionally feeling fear, etc. If these kinds of physiologic responses occur often, they can be very uncomfortable for us. When we are very young, our minds try their best to decrease these Fight, Flight, Freeze responses.
When we are little children, our thinking brain is one of those brain areas that take much longer to develop when compared to the survival brain areas. Therefore, we simply don’t understand much of what is going on around us, or why our caregivers are responding to us the way they do. This “not knowing” is a perfect setup for us to misinterpret the meaning of their behaviors and interactions with us. Our little imaginations can run wild and come to very erroneous conclusions. Many, therefore, of our misunderstandings of our caregivers actions can lead to these Fight, Flight, Freeze responses.
Aristotle and Sigmund Freud had described the pain-pleasure principle. Basically, this explains that human beings are “wired” to both move away from pain, and go towards pleasure.
When we were young children and our survival brains were triggering the Fight, Flight, Freeze responses, we would be left feeling quite uncomfortable. The Fight, Flight, Freeze responses are VERY stressful on the body and our emotional state.
We start making up “rules of life” of how to keep our parents and other important people happy with us. There are potentially thousands of these “rules”. The purpose of them is to navigate our lives more successfully with our caregivers, and to decrease the frequency of FFF response.
A few examples of these “rules”, or “Deep False Beliefs” are:
“Whatever I do, I better do well!”
“I shouldn’t get angry”
“I should be nice to other people.”
Now, these aren’t rules like we create when we are older and think and analyze things in our thinking brain; rather, these are safety strategies that our survival brain creates. These rules are the ones that are tightly bound with Fight, Flight , Freeze responses.
For example, the deep false belief “I shouldn’t get angry” often develops when a child is young and becomes very angry or rageful about someone or something. This is a totally normal reaction. When the child, however, sees the negative facial expression or reaction of their psychologically extremely important parents, the child may instantly go into a FFF reaction. After a few to several experiences like this, in order to avoid the powerful FFF bodily and emotional experience, the child’s relatively undeveloped thinking brain will fi gure out something like “Uh-oh, Mom looks like she doesn’t love me when I’m angry. I better stop it or I might lose her love.” Eventually, this belief may become something like: “I’m bad when I’m angry”.
Parallel to this ongoing process of our young brains making up these deep false beliefs, our personality is evolving and developing. Since survival responses “trump” all other brain wiring, including personality development, our personalities have to grow through and around these many deep false beliefs. Therefore, our personalities that we hold near and dear to us are actually products from having been heavily influenced by all of these “rules”. For example, our personality may be very “nice”. It’s important to ultimately understand what aspects of ourselves are authentic and genuine, versus a response to deep false beliefs.
By the time we are beginning school, most of us have layers of deep false beliefs that are meshed together with our personalities. We have lost touch with much of our Authentic Self. Is our Authentic Self gone or contaminated or pared down? No! It remains quietly present, usually without your awareness of it. In general, the “voice” of our conscious thinking brain and deep false beliefs are far louder than the “voice” (whisper) of the Authentic Self.
Now let’s move on to the next step of the flow chart in Figure 1:
What happens when a child has a deeply embedded deep false belief, like “Whatever I do, I better do well!”?
We form many, many expectations of others and ourselves from this one deep false belief. For example, the expectation of great school performance, or sports performance, etc., may become offshoots of the deep false belief of “Whatever I do, I better do well”. These expectations may become offshoots of the Deep False Belief “whatever I do, I better do well.” And remember that the Deep False Beliefs and expectations are bound together with the FFF responses. So that when we don’t perform well at school, that deep survival brain response will become triggered. Notice that this in different than our usual desire to do well at school; this FEELS within our body and emotion that we MUST perform well at school.
A personal example of this recently happened to me. I had been raised by parents who deeply valued academic performance. I would shudder when looking in their faces when I would bring home a “not so great” report card. At a young age, my brain created the Deep False Belief that went something like: “I better do well at school or Mom and Dad will be very unhappy with me.” My survival brain was clearly tied to this, as my body would go into terror (Flight mode), whenever I would bring home a poor report card. That was many years ago.
Cut ahead to several weeks ago: I took a quiz in Oprah Magazine that tested the reader’s clothing IQ. Even though I have little to no interest in this area, I found my heart racing, respirations increasing, and my hands trembling a bit when I tallied up my score and found I had badly failed the quiz!
This demonstrated that our Deep False Beliefs become deeply embedded in our psyche, and are tightly bound to our survival brain’s FFF response.
Other examples could be our performance in sports, a musical instrument, “looking right”, driving the right car, and so forth.
How many expectations could be spin offs of the one “Whatever I do, I better do well”? I would guesstimate thousands. I once tracked my thoughts for a whole day. Aside from being incredibly boring, I was amazed to find that I had expectations to do well with many, many things! For example how well I brushed my teeth, if I ate right for breakfast, if I drove too fast or slow.
We each have many thousands of these deep false beliefs… so how many expectations are most of us walking around with? Well, let’s do the math…
Most of us have thousands of deep false beliefs, and many of those have thousands of expectations that offshoot from the belief. I think we’re looking at a vast amount of expectations that are stored within each of us!
Again, what is happening with our Authentic Self as our mind/brain are inundated with expectations? We move farther and farther away.
By the time we reach the mid-adulthood years, many of us find we are not reaching an increasing number of our expectations that were put into place many years before. For example, we find that we simply cannot do many things well. Or we may find that we cannot perform so well in sports any more. Or that our marriages just didn’t work out as we had expected, etc. If we look at the flow chart in Figure 1, we see that negative feelings may follow when our expectations are not met.
Research has clearly shown that when a person harbors negative feelings for longer than a short period of time, i.e., anger, sadness, fear, our bodies “take a hit”; our immune function, heart function, resistance to cancer, heart disease, etc may become compromised.
Finally, we then fall to the very bottom of the flow chart, which is when we develop symptoms. This could be depression, anxiety, certain medical problems, etc. By the time we are adults, most of us have brains and nervous systems that are inundated with deep false beliefs, expectations, and Fight, Flight, Freeze responses. Our true Self is typically long forgotten about. It would be challenging to follow “To Thine Own Self Be True” simply because most of us are unaware of who the Self is.
If you want to increase the presence of your Authentic Self in your daily life, the two main strategies would be to:
1. decrease the frequency and length of time you fall down the “slippery slope” of the flow chart and you stay down there, and
2. work on the highest levels as possible on the flow chart.
If you’re stuck down in “symptoms” level of the flow chart, e.g., chronic depression, anxiety, etc., and your current sole strategy is to take your prescribed medication (which only addresses the bottom level of the Flow Chart), you may feel better for awhile, but you still have the same batch of Deep False Beliefs and expectations lodged in your psyche. It may just be a matter of time before more of our expectations from Deep False Beliefs are not met, and fall down the fl ow chart into having symptoms again.
In addition to taking your medication, you might also consider spiritual practice, like a 12-Step program, and/ or meditation or other mindfulness practice, and/or connecting with nature, or whatever brings you closer to your Authentic Self. These interventions would be working at the top level of the flow chart.
Additionally, anything that stabilizes the brainstem and limbic areas of our brain will generally lead to greater calm and relaxation. This will automatically make us more available to connection with our Authentic Self. Some examples: Mindfulness practices, slow paced yoga, Emotional Freedom Technique, acupuncture, neurofeedback, Heart Rate Variability training, Somatic Experiencing, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and many more.
The next very potent level of intervening in order to re-acquaint you with your Authentic Self could be identifying and correcting Deep False Beliefs. There are many ways to do this. Having a therapist initially could really speed up the process until you can do it more on your own. Therapists or books with cognitive approaches can assist you identify your Deep False Beliefs, and techniques like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization an Reprocessing), IFS (Internal Family systems (Richard Schwartz, founder), can help you clear them out.
Now, why do you think we would get a “bigger bang for the buck” with clearing deep false beliefs, over expectations?
Both approaches are actually fine, however, when you identify and pull up by the roots even one large Deep False Belief, many, many expectations are simultaneously uprooted. So one Deep False Belief, like “Whatever I do, I better do well!”, can have thousands of expectations that are offshoots. Many of them will disappear when the underlying belief is corrected. If you had approached the process by mainly identifying and clearing out your expectations, although this is very good, it is much more tedious work, and may not clear out the underlying Deep False Belief, that may continue to generate additional Expectations.
Some interventions work at all levels of the flow chart.
For example, the 5-day Survivors workshop at The Meadows addresses all levels of the flow chart.
Whatever approaches you choose to take in reclaiming your Authentic Self, just keep in mind WHERE on the chart you are working. This will help you over the long run to maximize your connection with Authentic Self.
Dr. Shelley Uram is a Harvard trained, triple board-certified psychiatrist and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. She speaks around the world about psychological trauma, and how it often interferes with our ability to thrive in life. She is best known for communicating very complex information in an interesting and easy to understand manner.
Dr. Uram is a Senior Fellow at The Meadows, where she teaches patients and staff, and assists with program development. She is also a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at The University of Arizona College of Medicine.
Sophia Krell, LMSW
By the time we’re adults, we’ve already created a potpourri of ideas about ourselves and about our environment. Our ideas most likely originated in childhood and may have been impacted by early trauma. We may have had parents who were shaming and, as a result, the beliefs we acquired over the years are not reality based.
We may feel we’re not good enough, that we’re inadequate and unworthy - and that the whole world is unsafe. These ideas may still ring true for us today. The reality is that we are good enough, we are adequate and worthy - and the whole world is not unsafe. Our negative thoughts keep us from embracing what truly is.
What we tell ourselves has a huge impact in how our life unfolds. That’s why it’s so important to retrain our brain if it’s bombarded with negative messages. Although the first crucial step is figuring out the origins of these self-destructive messages, the next step is learning to retrain our brain. One way to do this is through affirmations.
The more we repeat our affirmations, the quicker our brain will begin to build new neuropathways. We suggest repeating your affirmations anywhere from 300 to 400 times per day (and say it like you mean it!) Affirmations work best when they are used daily; stated in the present tense; said with emotion; and contain positive as opposed to negative words. Instead of affirming “I don’t want to be fat,” you may want to say, “I am becoming healthy and svelte.”
Your heart will know which affirmations are right for you. If you’ve done your work and know where your struggles lie, you’ll have no trouble figuring out what works best. If you’re a perfectionist, you may want to choose affirmations that speak to this issue. “I am enough,” comes to mind. Or, “I am perfectly imperfect.” If you struggle with feelings of unworthiness and low self-esteem, you might want to go with, “I am lovable.” Building these new neuropathways is a gradual process, so that’s why consistency is so important. The more we use our affirmations, the greater the rewards. In addition to stating your affirmations out loud, it’s also a good idea to write them down or even say them while exercising. There is a powerful connection between movement and the brain, which is the idea behind bilateral stimulation. So, break out your running shoes and state your affirmations on the jogging trail.
Before you know it, negative thoughts will no longer be second nature. Such self-talk will slip away and will be replaced by positive and empowering thoughts. You’re not doomed to repeat the past, so here’s wishing you a bright and shining future. It’s well worth the effort. I can do this! Now, say that 400 times…
The Meadows is an industry leader and the most trusted name in treating trauma and addiction through its inpatient and workshop programs. The Meadows helps change lives through the Meadows Model, 12-step practices, and the holistic healing of mind, body, and spirit.
To learn more about The Meadows, visit us here or call (800) 244-4949.