Donald Trump is the world’s LARGEST Narcissist…

Being that President Elect Donald Trump is the world’s LARGEST Narcissist it’s an appropriate time to explore his style and tradition of family planning for us all:

The article below and more like them can be found by clicking on the blue link: Lynne Namka family relationships articles

Selfishness and Narcissism in Family Relationships
Author: Lynne Namka, Ed. D.

Narcissism as a psychological definition is typically seen as self-involved attitudes and behavior where there is little or no empathy for others. Narcissistic wounding starts early in life to children whose parents are insecure, abusive, addictive or have narcissistic patterns themselves.

Narcissistic injury happens to the child when his or her emotional needs are not met. The narcissistic parent has unresolved needs for attention and care taking because his or her needs were not met in their early life. Neglect, physical, mental and sexual abuse, being spoiled and not given structure and limits create the wounding. Narcissism can be an inflated ego sub part or the trait can take over the personality. Narcissistic attitudes and behavior come from the ego defenses that function as smoke screens to hide the deep shame and fractures that came from being hurt emotionally or physically as a child.

The child who was not allowed to have boundaries becomes energetically and developmentally arrested at this level with beliefs of not being safe in the world and being unworthy and unlovable. Thus the Shadow is born with the defenses and negative core beliefs becoming set in the child’s repertoire. The child carries this primitive, self-defense core of fear even into adulthood. This is called the “Core Script” or Core Identity, which is like a big lens of perception by which the world is viewed. The defenses remain lurking in the unconscious mind ready to be called into action at any resemblance of threat.

The False Self – Narcissism or Codependency:
We can be a little bit hurt or a lot hurt by neglect, abuse or trauma. The depth of the wound to the psyche determines the severity of the insult to the child’s personality and a loss of the true self for the child. A false self develops along with a fragile self esteem of defining identity as feeling good when being given to or giving to others. The child is stuck in early primitive defenses and cannot go through the stage of normal separation from the parents that is necessary for growth.

Children of a difficult, more stubborn temperament defend against being supportive of others in the house. They observe how the selfish parents get his needs met by others. They learn how manipulation and using guilt gets the parent what he or she wants. They develop a false self and use aggression and intimidation to get their way.

The sensitive, guilt-ridden children in the family learn to meet the parent’s needs for gratification and try to get love by accommodating the whims and wishes of the parent. The child’s normal feelings are ignored, denied and eventually repressed in attempts to gain the parent’s “love.” Guilt and shame keep the child locked into this developmental arrest. Their aggressive impulses become split off and are not integrated with normal development. These children grow up learning to give too much and develop a false self of becoming co-dependent in their relationships.

Living on Fantasy Island:

People with narcissistic thinking and behavior strive to defend their fragile self esteem through fantasy and have blind spots in their thinking. Living in a fantasy world where all their needs are met and unrealistic expectations take the place of life. They become involved in material things, vanity, and are shallow developing excessive life long interest in things that are not real such as movies, rock stars, soap operas and video games. They fear their feelings, gaining deep friendships and intimacy and cannot develop mature love relationships.

Fantasy can become an attempt to not see what is really there in order to build up a fragile self-esteem. People with narcissistic traits process information, emotions and unresolved pain to make up for what they did not have in childhood. They often place unrealistic demands on others to make them feel better. They cannot tolerate negative emotional distress and turn it on others and blame them instead of looking within to see their own part of the problem. This is the defense of projection — what the person does not like in him or her self, they get angry at others who may have some of that same trait. Projecting one’s anger onto others instead of using it to learn and grow is always limiting.

Self image is distorted with the narcissistic point of view and the person believes that he is superior to others. An inflated self-esteem is a defense to cover up their sense of shame deep within. Grandiosity is an insidious error in thinking that prevents them from blaming themselves and becoming depressed or disintegrated. Creeping narcissism in a person is their succumbing to the gradual demands of selfishness and entitlement by giving in to “I am special” beliefs.

Narcissistic Defenses – The Need to Feel Good at all Costs:
Selfish people usually insist on having things their own way at the expense of others. The need to impose getting one’s way over others is an unreal attitude and expectation that sets other people off against them. When the person with narcissistic tendencies doesn’t get what he or she wanted, he feels devalued. Since they cannot tolerate the feelings of fear, hurt, anxiety, helplessness and despair, they defend against them. They deny and rationalize their own contribution to the problems to preserve their own internal fantasy of being all good and right.

People with narcissistic tendencies have errors in thinking which prevents them from seeing things how they are from both sides of the picture. Not wanting to feel bad inside, they build defenses such as denial, repression and a strong need to be right. When the person has severe traits, they can feel an increase in self-esteem when they get what they want and feel no remorse or justify their using others. John Masterson called this rigid type of thinking a “Swiss Cheese Brain” with holes in the brain and mind where good common sense and conscience should be.

Some even get a sense of feeling superior when they get their way or make others feel bad. This is the dynamic underlying bullying. When hurting others becomes a hook into feelings self-satisfaction, the narcissism takes an ugly turn. There is a cost to this false sense of self-esteem. People who abuse and bully others end up being lonely because others do not want to be around them.

People with narcissistic behavior cannot handle criticism in any way and feel that they are being made wrong. . They are super sensitive to criticism and either attack the other person or they leave the scene. This blaming the person who gives criticism helps the person with narcissistic defenses avoid feeling guilt, shame and depression but it also keeps them from taking responsibility for learning from their mistakes and ultimately from growing up.

They can pout and give the silent treatment or hold grudges. This combination of these defenses that distort reality often set them up for failure in partnerships.

When the narcissistic traits are too severe and causes havoc in the lives of others, there is a disorder. Narcissistic Personality Disorder happens when a person’s outlook is so distorted to the extent that they do not see reality as it is and cannot see the needs of other people. These people are the takers of the world leaving pain and destruction in their wake. If their behavior is left unchecked, they become con artists, manipulators, sociopaths and dictators.

Without empathy for others, people with narcissistic personality disorders can irrationally justify and rationalize their hurtful and unlawful behaviors and may become sexual predators. Family members who have sex with children always have some element of narcissism seeing others as objects that are available for their own sexual satisfaction. High intelligence coupled with a lack of empathy and remorse for hurting others is a dangerous combination for family members. With extreme narcissistic behaviors, the diagnosis may be a sociopath personality disorder.

The Narcissistic Person in Relationship:
The two greatest fears we humans have in relationships are fears of engulfment (smothering, being controlled by someone else) and fears of rejection and abandonment. And to spice up the human drama, our greatest longings are the needs for connection and the opposite need for space and individuality. This is the great Cosmic joke! What a set up for problems! And so the couple dance is set playing out these great, universal themes. People with narcissistic traits have more of this quality than other people. They play both these fears out in the relationships with their significant others, yearning for closeness and fearing it the same time.

When the narcissistic person grows up, they harbor the irrational belief that the person they choose for a partner will give them perfect love and make up for all the hurts and slights of their life. People with severe narcissistic traits long for an ideal love to soothe their fragile sense of self. This yearning for getting unconditional love is an unresolved need left over from childhood. Most adults realize unconditional love would be nice, but understand that it rarely happens as people we love usually hold us accountable for our actions in some way. As we should be –no one should be allowed to impose their neediness and bad behavior on others.

In the narcissistic mind, there is a gap between the idealized love and the actual day-to-day dealings with their partner. They long for symbiosis with the idealized love to stabilize the self, but they fear being traumatized by the partner. They seek refuge in being seen as the good guy and try to gain approval and recognition. When this does not come forth readily, they feel wounded, hurt and attacked. Family members learn to back off from confronting them about their behavior and not “hurt their feelings.” Without someone to put the brakes on their unhealthy and abusive behavior, they can become tyrants.

Constantly seeking attention and approval puts them in the precarious position of always needing something from somebody else. As they believe that they are right and others are wrong, they rarely admit to faults in themselves. They can verbally abuse and punish their spouses and children without seeing the pain that they cause as they believe that the person deserves they abuse they dish out. They may try to enlist a child to side with them and turn against the other parent.

People with narcissistic behavior have a sense of entitlement that allows them to break the rules of society. They believe that the laws do not apply to them and they do not feel remorse when they get caught. However they are upset over any inconveniences they suffer as a result of being busted. They believe they have the right to do what ever it takes to get short term gratification without suffering any consequences.

Lying and distortions of reality are considered fair game to shut the other person down. They feel free to cheat on their income tax, take what is not theirs or cheat on their partners. Criticism of their behavior or trying to get them to see what they are doing only causes them to entrench further into defensiveness. When found out in a wrong doing, they get evasive, lie or get angry. They have little or no remorse for the pain they caused the other person, only anger that they did not get away with their behavior.

Intimacy Skill Defects:
Narcissists have a lack of insight about understanding and processing of feelings. Instead, they deny their uncomfortable feelings and run from them with the exception of anger. The huge core of shame inside must be protected by avoiding the vulnerable feelings. They avoid taking risks to love and never learn to develop true intimacy. They would rather threaten their relationship than face humiliation, embarrassment or injury to their self-esteem. They are slow to learn the all important skills of commitment such as sympathy, understanding the intentions and motives of their partner, compassion and empathy. They may even choose someone to love who is even more narcissistic and selfish than themselves thus mirroring their own problems.

True intimacy and a lasting partnership require the skills of dealing with conflict. After the euphoria of a new relationship wears off, each partner’s values and belief systems begin to rub against each other. At this point negotiating conflict is necessary for the relationship to continue effectively. Narcissistic people often discount the issues in the relationship and pull away from their partner. The narcissistic defenses of becoming angry, shutting down, minimizing and distancing keep them feeling safe in the moment.

Intimacy is always affected. When problems are never resolved, the partner becomes highly threatened and angry themselves thus weakening the relationship. Typically children and partners who suffer verbal, physical or sexual abuse become so overwhelmed and threatened that they do not want to continue in relationship.

Changing the Pattern:
The antidote to narcissistic behavior is to understand how the defenses work, identify and correct the errors in thinking and learn to tolerate frustration, anxiety, sadness and shame. By learning to be straight first with the self, and then with others, these unhealthy defenses can be lessened. Then the person can learn to live in the world of reality even though it hurts at times instead of turning to a fantasy that can never be gained.

People with severe narcissistic traits do not change because they do no believe that they have a problem and what they are doing works for them. The narcissistic defense occurs to keep them from feeling bad so they can’t know their own defects.

People with strong narcissistic traits are not interested in reading self help books or learning about their feelings. What they do works for them–they get what they want and CANNOT see the damage that they inflict on others. They do not want to come to therapy and often have the myth of “I can do it all by myself. I can change if I want to.” while it is apparent to others that they cannot. They are UNABLE to see the depth of their pathology as to know their shortcomings would send them down into great shame which would trigger depression.

Some people with milder versions of narcissistic behavior may change somewhat across their lifetime if they become more aware of their actions because they stand to lose something or someone they love. Some start to admit their selfishness, short comings, defensiveness, inability to take responsibility for their actions. As they grow older, some start to identify their insensitivity when dealing with those around them. With hard work, people with narcissistic defenses can learn conflict negotiation and appropriate, safe anger expression. They can learn to be less self-centered and more empathetic with others.

Some come to couples therapy after years of being abusive asking that their spouse be closer and more intimate with them. What they do not realize is that when there has been great pain and threat, basic trust has been broken in the relationship and it is unlikely that it can be regained.

Education, self-searching and therapy are needed to resolve these defense mechanisms that interfere with the ability to be happy. They can learn to become more real with their feelings; they will gain self-esteem by stretching and growing, even if it means being vulnerable to uncomfortable emotional states. As these new skills are learned, they can achieve more satisfying and balanced relationships with others.

Mature Healthy Narcissism:
Everyone has narcissistic behaviors; it is normal to think of ones self and try to get out needs met. We view the world through our own narrow outlook based on our past history and our conditioning. We all need to care enough about our self (narcissism) to pay our bills and function effectively in life. It is only when selfish behavior gets out of hand does it cause problems for the person and those around him.

“Each of us functions with a core of narcissistic, self focused view of the world,” said Marion Soloman, psychodynamic psychologist. Now we all have a bit of narcissism and indeed need some of it to survive. We all have a bit of selfishness in us and that is okay. Otherwise we would end up giving away everything. We need to learn to receive as well as give to be healthy.

The Narcissistic-Co-dependency Continuum:

Narcissism

Reciprocal Loving

Co-Dependency

Fear: I am not safe unless I get, loving conscious relationship

Love: I am safe

Fear: I am not safe unless I give

Shadow Parts Which Create Suffering

Through Too Little Caring for Others

Through Too Much Caring for Others

Mature Healthy Narcissism:

Getting a good balance between taking from others and giving to them is called “Healthy Narcissism” by the psychoanalytic community. Healthy Narcissism is the ability to have reciprocal relationships where the need of each of the partners is balanced with the needs of the other.

Mature Healthy Narcissism is the middle ground between caring for self and the caring for other. It includes those centered, conscious choices that fall within the center of the continuum. It is the equilibrium between taking too much and giving too much in regards to the other person. Moving towards the middle of the Narcissistic-Co-dependency continuum where there is not too much and not too little of either giving too much to others or expecting too much brings balance into a life. By learning the balance between giving too much and taking too much and learning the skills of communication that create intimacy (See books by Harville Hendrix and John Gottman); you can have loving, fulfilling relationships.

A Chip Off The Old Block
Lynne Namka, Ed. D. © 2005

***

Sorting out your family’s dysfunctional behavior helps you take charge of your own life. Parents are a mix of both positive and negative attributes. We examine family patterns not to blame our parents, but to understand how our own neurotic behaviors were formed so they can be changed. Write down the negative facts and realities of your dad’s actions, behaviors, beliefs, personality quirks, illness, job loss, family myths and unrealistic expectations. Include facts such as worked two jobs, not there for me, alcoholism, abuse, favored my sister, stubbornness and messages like “don’t talk feelings.” What did Dad expect you to do to take care of him? Then write his positive qualities.

Dad’s Box – Fill in the blank space…
You are not your parents but you certainly learned from them. You can’t change your history, but you can change your unhealthy behaviors now as an adult to placate, manipulate, hide from, seek approval etc. What survival behaviors did you adapt when you were young? Sort out your box from your dad’s. What did you learn to try to stay safe as a child in your family?

My Box–How I Survived/Learned from my Dad

I described myself as a child by saying ___________________________

I was afraid of _______________________________________________

I always hoped for (but never got) ______________________________

I took care of my dad by ______________________________________

Dad’s addictions were ________________________________________

I took care of myself by ______________________________________

The traumas that changed me were _____________________________

I coped with family dysfunction by ______________________________

I survived in this family by _____________________________________

I told myself that if I did ________________________better,

then dad would ______________________________________________

The unhealthiest thing I learned from dad was _____________________

The best part of my dad I’ve taken on is _________________________

We do what we do as little children in order to get along in our family. With our limited resources of not having power in the family and a lack of life experiences, we resort to survival tactics that we happen on to. Virginia Satir said, “Everyone does the best they can with the resources that they have available at that moment. If they could do better, they would have.” This applies to our parents as well as ourselves. As adults, we can let go of the little child survival mechanisms, forgive ourselves for engaging in them and learn better ways of communicating and getting along with others.

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree:
Now write about your mother’s patterns–both negative and positive. What personality characteristics and behaviors of your mother affected you deeply? What specific events involving her helped form your personality to the detriment? How did Mom expect you to take care of her? Again, this exercise is for self learning, not to blame your parent. After all, your parents learned dysfunctional behavior from their parents and traumatic life experiences. We are all victims of victims of victims going back the generations.

Mom’s Box – Fill in the blank space…
Therapy offers you a process of sorting out who you truly are after your rid yourself of your negative defenses, beliefs and behaviors. You can choose to stop being a victim of your upbringing. Sort out the similarities and differences between you and your mother. What unhealthy coping mechanism and defenses did you pick up in order to keep the peace, fight for survival or protect others or yourself? Sort out your box from your mothers. By letting go of the negative, you can enhance more of the positives of each of your parents.

My Box–How I Survived/Learned from my Mom

My mom thought I was _______________________________________

I always wanted mom to ______________________________________

I desperately needed ________________________________________

I always hoped for (but never got) ______________________________

I took care of my mom by ______________________________________

Mom took care of me by ______________________________________

Mom’s addictions were ________________________________________

I made mom proud by ______________________________________

I told myself that if I did ________________________better,

then mom would ______________________________________________

The unhealthiest thing I learned from mom was _____________________

The best part of my mom I’ve taken on is _________________________

Healthy Narcissism–Leaving Family Dysfunctional Patterns Behind:
Healthy narcissism is having just the right amount of self centeredness to get some of your own needs met and as well as some of the needs of others. It’s a balance between giving and taking. Healthy narcissism means using appropriate adult communication, having appropriate boundaries and setting limits for your own self protection. It means giving up old survival patterns that no longer work and using adult behaviors that give you more of what you want.

Characteristics of the Parenting Styles in a Narcissistic Family:
Resource: The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment. Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert Pressman

_____ I was not allowed to have feeling that might upset my parents.

_____ As a child, I had to meet the emotional needs of the parents.

_____ I learned early on that my needs weren’t valued so stopped trying to get them met.

_____ I felt that I had to act in ways that pleased my parent(s) to avoid being abandoned.

_____ Our family had to look good to outsiders, so I was required to keep the family secrets.

_____ At times my parent’s need to look good to others did help me get some positive attention.

_____ I was expected to read my parent(s) mind and give what they wanted without their asking.

_____ If I tried to set limits and boundaries, they were overrun by my parent(s.)

_____ I was not allowed to make mistakes or change my mind.

_____The less emotional support I got from my parent(s), the more fearful I was that I’d lose it.

_____ I learned to be super responsible to please my parent(s.)

_____ The rule in my family was that parent(s) got to do selfish things because it was their right.

_____ I have had life-long problems making and keeping intimate relationships.

_____ In relationships, I worry about the other person finding out how defective I am.

_____I have an overwhelming need for external (outside of myself) validation.

_____ I learned to achieve early on to bring glory to my family OR Even though I did well in school, my parent(s) ignored my achievements.

_____ I became fragmented trying to figure out what my parent(s) wanted from me.

_____ It was dangerous for me to recognize and express my own power as a child.

_____ I had no inherent value other that what I could do for my parent(s.)

_____ My parent(s) became hurt or angry when criticized so I learned not to rock the boat.

_____ I had to give up my own sense of self to survive in my family.

Characteristics of Narcissistic Parents
Resource: From Children of the Self Absorbed: A Grownup’s Guide to Getting over Narcissistic Parents by Nina Brown

Turns every conversation to him or herself.
Expects you to meet his or her emotional needs
Ignores the impact of his negative comments on you
Constantly criticizes or berates you and knows what is best for you
Focus on blaming rather than taking responsibility for his own behavior
Expect you to jump at his every need
Is overly involved with his own hobbies, interests or addictions ignoring your needs
Has high need for attention:
Brags, sulks, complains, inappropriately teases, is flamboyant, loud and boisterous
Is closed minded about own mistakes. Can’t handle criticism and gets angry to shut it off
Becomes angry when his needs are not met and tantrums or intimidates
Has an attitude of “Anything you can do, I can do better”
Engages in one-upmanship to seem important
Acts in a seductive manner or is overly charming
Is vain and fishes for compliments. Expects you to admire him
Isn’t satisfied unless he has the “biggest” or “best”
Seeks status. Spends money to impress others
Forgets what you have done for them yet keeps reminding you that you owe them today
Neglects the family to impress others. Does it all: Is a super person to gain admiration
Threatens to abandon you if you don’t go along with what he wants
Does not obey the law–sees himself above the law
Does not expect to be penalized for failure to follow directions or conform to guidelines
Ignores your feelings and calls you overly sensitive or touchy if you express feelings
Tells you how you should feel or not feel
Cannot listen to you and cannot allow your opinions
Is more interested in his own concerns and interests than yours
Is unable to see things from any point of view other than his own
Wants to control what you do and say–tries to micromanage you
Attempts to make you feel stupid, helpless and inept when you do things on your own
Has poor insight and can not see the impact his selfish behavior has on you
Has shallow emotions and interests
Exploits others with lies and manipulations.
Uses emotional blackmail to get what he wants
May engage in physical or sexual abuse of children
Secure Parents
Meet the emotional and physical needs of the children
Have healthy boundaries and can be assertive in stating them
Respect children’s boundaries and rights to be safe
Resist intrusion and mind games by others
Have strong, positive values and priorities for family
Allow children to express their feelings
Use appropriate self disclosure
Have the ability to develop intimacy and happy relationships
Narcissistic traits are treatable. Education and/or therapy are the keys to long-lasting change. If you find these characteristics in your family and yourself, you can read to learn about how to escape from this destructive pattern.

***

Resources:
Children of the Self Absorbed: A Grownup’s Guide to Getting over Narcissistic Parents – Nina Brown. Oakland, CA. 2001. New Harbinger Publications.

Narcissism and Intimacy: 1989 Love and Marriage in an Age of Confusion – M. F. Solomon, New York, W. Norton & Co.

The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment – Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert Pressman, San Francisco: 1994. Jossey Bass–a Wiley Company.

Post Traumatic Stress (featuring: Peter A. Levine on how to heal)

Thank you readers and followers for your sensitivity surrounding the following subject of Trauma.  

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.  It’s a relationship between equals.  Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.  Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” (quote from Pema Chodron)

"self portrait" by K. J. Legry
“self portrait” by K. J. Legry

In the darkness (not light) of the recent shootings, from Ferguson (can you believe that was two years ago?  Seems like yesterday… Do you remember Mike Brown?) to Orlando to Louisiana to Dallas and all the people and places I’m failing to mention, I heard Mike Brown’s mom say that after a while all of the “I’m sorries” blurred into one and how nothing changed.  She can’t get away from the social media images, the corporate media images, and she is being forced to relive the trauma of her son’s murder.  She can say only to the families suffering the loss of their loved ones at the hands of gun violence and police brutality, this is what you’re all going to know one day.  Now you will all know how it feels.  

There are the speeches by politicians and religious leaders I am supposed to be motivated or moved by, about it being a time for grieving and building bridges and for healing.  There is a call for calm. There is a weary cheer for love.  It’s a numbed collective from the repeated shocks, lacking leadership, insisting on pointing out the everyday heroes so we can still believe in angels.  

But for me… Mike Brown’s mom had the clearest message.

In my personal life (at the same time as the Dallas police department was being shot up) I had relapsed into a Posttraumatic Stress episode due to a predator from my past who raped me and began contacting me again.  I didn’t realize how ill equipped I would be to handle his transgressions and I became suicidal.  

Bruce Lee quote
Bruce Lee quote

This post is about Trauma.  I am not giving anyone professional advice about how to overcome and heal from experiences that kill soul.  I am offering what is currently helping me hold on and develop coping skills so that anyone else who finds themselves blocked by or locked into a fight or flight response might not feel so alone.  I believe it is possible to transform and renegotiate trauma.  That is my goal.

Many traditional approaches to therapy actually re-traumatize the victims and make it impossible for them to get help.  What I have discovered for my own best course is a non-tradtional approach.  It’s not the only way so if it doesn’t work for you, keep seeking your right guides and healers.

This is only partial information and hopefully is of some help to others for what I have selected and yet it is still a semi-long read because the matter of life and death doesn’t fit neatly into a box even when there are a lot of coffins around.  

Peace and LOVE,

KJ

Below is an Excerpt from an Interview (by Victor Yalom and Marie-Helene Yalom Copyright © 2010 Psychotherapy.net. All rights reserved. Published April 2010.)

The Polyvagal Theory

Peter Levine: Yes, the tiger image. At that time, I was taking a graduate seminar, and some brief mention was made of a phenomenon called tonic immobility. If animals were physically restrained and frightened, they would go into a profoundly altered state of consciousness where they were frozen and immobilized, unable to move. And it turns out that this is one of the key survival features that animals use to protect themselves from threat—in this case from extreme threat. Actually there are three basic neural energy subsystems. These three systems underpin the overall state of the nervous system as well as the correlative behaviors and emotions, leading to three defensive strategies to threat.
MY: That’s the polyvagal theory developed by Stephen Porges?
Peter Levine: Yes. These systems are orchestrated by the primitive structures in our brainstem—the upper part of the brainstem. They’re instinctive and they’re almost reflexive. The tonic immobility is the most primitive system, and it spans probably over 500 million years. It is a combination of freezing and collapsing—the muscles go limp, the person is left without any energy. The next in evolutionary development is the sympathetic nervous system, the fight-or-flight response. And this system evolved from the reptilian period which was about 300 million years ago. And its function is enhanced action, and, as I said, fight-or-flight. Finally the third and most recent system is the social engagement system, and this occurs only in mammals. Its purpose is to drive social engagement—making friends—in order to defuse the aggression or tension.
VY: So this is when we’re feeling threatened or stressed we want to talk to our friends and family?
Peter Levine: Yeah, exactly. Or if somebody’s really angry at us, we want to explain what happened so they don’t strike out at us. Obviously most people won’t strike out, but we’re still hardwired for those kinds of expectations.
VY: Most people have a general sense of the fight-or-flight, but would you just say a few words on it?
Peter Levine: Basically, in the fight-or-flight response, the objective is to get away from the source of threat. All of our muscles prepare for this escape by increasing their tension level, our heart rate and respiration increase, and our whole basic metabolic system is flooded with adrenaline. Blood is diverted to the muscles, away from the viscera. The goal is to run away, or if we feel that we can’t escape or if we perceive that the individual that’s trying to attack us is less strong than we are, to attack them. Or if we’re cornered by a predator—in other words, if there’s no way to escape—then we’ll fight back. Now, if none of those procedures are effective, and it looks like we’re going to be killed, we go into the shock state, the tonic immobility. Now the key is that when people get into this immobility state, they do it in a state of fear. And as they come out of the immobility state, they also enter a state of fear, and actually a state in which they are prepared for what sometimes is called rage counterattack.
MY: Can you say more about that?
Peter Levine: For example, you see a cat chasing a mouse. The cat catches the mouse and has it in its paws, and the mouse goes into this immobility response. And sometimes you’ll actually see the cat bat the mouse around a little bit until it comes out of the immobility, because it wants the chase to go on. Now, what can happen is that the mouse, when it comes out of the immobility state, goes into what is called nondirective flight. It doesn’t even look for where it can run. It just runs as fast as it can in any direction. Sometimes that’s right into the cat. Other times, it will actually attack, in a counterattack of rage. I’ve actually seen a mouse who was captured by a cat come out of the immobility and attack the cat’s nose. The cat was so startled it remained there in that state while the mouse scurried away. When people come out of this immobility response, their potential for rage is so strong and the associated sensations are so intense that they are afraid of their own impulse to strike out and to defend themselves by killing the predator. Again, this all goes back to our animal heritage.  So the key I found was in helping people come out of this immobility response without fear. Now, with Nancy, I was lucky. If it were not for that image, I could just as easily have retraumatized her. As a matter of fact, some of the therapies that were being developed around that time frequently retraumatized people. I think particularly of Arthur Janov’s Primal Therapy, where people would be yelling and screaming out, supposedly getting out all of their locked-in emotions, but a lot of times they were actually terrorizing themselves with the rage and then they would go back into a shutdown, and then be encouraged to “relive” another memory, and then this cycle would continue.
MY: It becomes addictive sometimes, right?

Buddha Quote
Buddha Quote

Peter Levine: That’s correct. It literally becomes addictive. And one of the reasons is that when you do these kinds of relivings, there’s a tremendous release of adrenaline. There’s also a release of endorphins, which is the brain’s internal opiate system. In animals, these endorphins allow the prey to go into a state of shock-analgesia and not feel the pain of being torn apart. When people relive the trauma, they recreate a similar neurochemical system that occurred at the time of the trauma, the release of adrenaline and endorphins. Now, adrenaline is addictive, it is like getting a speed high. [section;And they get addicted not only to the adrenaline but to the endorphins; it’s like having a drug cocktail of amphetamines and morphine.] So when I was at Esalen I actually noticed that people would come to these groups, they would yell and scream, tear a pillow apart that was their mother or their father, and they would feel high. They would feel really great. But then when they would come back a few weeks later, they would go through exactly the same thing again. And that’s what gave me a clue to the fact that this might be addictive.

Peter A. Levine, PhD is the developer of Somatic Experiencing© and founder of the Foundation for Human Enrichment. He teaches trainings in this work throughout the world and in various indigenous cultures. Levine is the author of the best-selling book Waking the Tiger : Healing Trauma : The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences and he has recently co-published a comprehensive book on childhood trauma, Trauma Through a Child's Eyes: Awakening the Ordinary Miracle of Healing as well as a guide for parents, Trauma-Proofing Your Kids: A Parents' Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience. He is the recipient of the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award from the the US Association of Body Psychotherapy.
Peter A. Levine, PhD

Peter A. Levine, PhD, is the developer of Somatic Experiencing© and founder of the Foundation for Human Enrichment. He teaches trainings in this work throughout the world and in various indigenous cultures. Levine is the author of the best-selling book Waking the Tiger : Healing Trauma : The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences and he has recently co-published a comprehensive book on childhood trauma, Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes: Awakening the Ordinary Miracle of Healing as well as a guide for parents, Trauma-Proofing Your Kids: A Parents’ Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience. He is the recipient of the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award from the the US Association of Body Psychotherapy.

Click here to Learn More about:  Peter Levine on Somatic Experiencing (full interview)

Peter A. Levine, PhD (book cover) In An Unspoken Voice; How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness
Peter A. Levine, PhD (book cover) In An Unspoken Voice; How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness

“Recently, a young Iraq veteran took issue with calling his combat anguish PTSD and, instead, poignantly referred to his pain and suffering as PTSI- the “I” designating “injury.”  What he wisely discerned is trauma is an injury, not a disorder like diabetes, which can be managed but not healed.  In contrast posttraumatic stress injury is an emotional wound, amenable to healing attention and transformation. 

Nonetheless, the medical model persists.  It (arguably) functions fairly effectively with diseases like diabetes and cancer, where the doctor holds all of the knowledge and dictates the necessary interventions for a sick patient.  This is not, however, a useful paradigm for trauma healing.   Rather than being a disease in the classical sense, trauma is instead a profound experience of “dis-ease” or “dis-order.”  What is called for here is a cooperative and restorative process with the doctor as an assisting guide and midwife.  A doctor who insists on retaining his or her protected role as “healthy healer” remains separate, defending him- or herself against the ultimate helplessness that lurks, phantom-like, in all of our lives.  Cut off from his or her own feelings, such a doctor will not be able to join with the sufferer.  Missing will be the crucial collaboration in containing, processing and integrating the patient’s horrible sensations, imagess and emotions.  The sufferer will remain starkly alone, holding the very horrors that have overwhelmed him or her and broken down his or her capacity to self-regulate and grow.

In a common therapy resulting from this isolating orientation, the therapist instructs the PTSD victim to assert control over his or her feelings, to manage his or her aberrant behaviors and to alter his or her dysfunctional thoughts. Contrast this alignment to that of shamanistic traditions, where the healer and the sufferer join together to reexperience the terror while calling on cosmic forces to release the grip of the demons.  The shaman is always first initiated, via a profound encounter with his own helplessness and feeling of being shattered, prior to assuming the mantle of healer.  Such preparation might suggest a model whereby contemporary therapists must first recognize and engage with their own traumas and emotional wounds.”(excerpts from chapter 3: The Changing Face of Trauma, pages 34-35)

***

The MEDUSA – Benjamin Millepied ART + MUSIC MOCAtv (music and art film) is an artistic collaboration between Director Choreographer Benjamin Millepied, Rodarte Costumes, and the LA Dance Project in a Caravaggio aesthetic.  It is being posted here for reasons of art and healing and for NO COMMERCIAL PURPOSES.

Music: performed by Renee Fleming featuring Christoph EschenbachSchubert: Du bist die Ruh‘, D.776 (Op.59/3)”

LA Dance Project Dancers: Charlie Hodges, Amanda Wells, Nathan Makolandra, Morgan Lugo, Julia Eichten, Frances Chiaverini.  Director of Photography: Cat Deakins.  Costumes: Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte.

"Medusa" illustrated by K. J. Legry (detail from the Girl Soda Atlas)
“Medusa” illustrated by K. J. Legry (detail from the Girl Soda Atlas)

Medusa

Mythology teaches us about courageously meeting challenges.  Myths are archetypal stories that simply and directly touch the core of our being.  They remind us about our deepest longings, and reveal to us our hidden strengths and resources.  They are also maps of our essential nature, pathways that connect us to each other, to nature and to the cosmos.  The Greek myth of Medusa captures the very essence of trauma and describes its pathway to transformation.  

In the Greek myth, those who looked directly into Medusa’s eyes were promptly turned into stone. . .frozen in time.  Before setting out to vanquish this snake-haired demon, Perseus sought counsel from Athena, the goddess of knowldege and strategy.  Her advice to him was simple:  under no circumstances should he look directly at the Gorgon.  Taking Athena’s advice to heart, Perseus used the protective shield fastened on his arm to reflect the image of Medusa.  This way he was able to cut off her head without looking directly at her, and thus avoided being turned to stone. 

If trauma is to be transformed, we must learn not to confront it directly.  If we make the mistake of confronting trauma head on, then Medusa will, true to her nature, turn us to stone.  Like the Chinese finger traps we all played with as kids, the more we struggle with trauma, the greater its grip upon us.  When it comes to trauma, I believe the “equivalent” of Perseus’s reflecting shield is how our body responds to trauma and how the “living body personifies resilience and feelings of goodness.

There is more to this myth:

Out of Medusa’s wound, two mythical entities emerged: Pegasus the winged horse and the one-eyed giant Chrysaor, the warrior with the golden sword.  The golden sword represents the penetrating truth and clarity.  The horse is the symbol of the body and instinctual knowledge; the wings symbolize transcendence.  Together, these aspects form the archetypal qualities and resources that a human being must mobilize in order to heal the Medusa (fright paralysis) called trauma.  The ability to perceive and respond to the reflection of Medusa is mirrored in our instinctual natures.

In another version of this same myth, Perseus collects a drop from the blood of Medusa’s wound in two vials.  The drop from one vial has the power to kill; the drop in the other vial has the power to raise the dead and restore life.  What is revealed here is the dual nature of trauma: the first its destructive ability to rob victims of their capacity to live and enjoy life.  The paradox of trauma is that it both has the power to destroy and the power to transform and resurrect.  Whether trauma will be a cruel punishing Gorgon, or a vehicle for soaring to the heights of transformation and mastery, depends upon how much we approach it.  (excerpts from chapter 3: The Changing Face of Trauma, pages 35-37)

"Warrior versus Angel" photograph by K. J. Legry
“Warrior versus Angel” still life photograph by K. J. Legry

Below is Excerpted from an Interview (by Victor Yalom and Marie-Helene Yalom Copyright © 2010 Psychotherapy.net. All rights reserved. Published April 2010.)

until the person has dealt with and sufficiently resolved the physiological shock, they really can’t deal with the emotions

Peter Levine: Many therapists are doing something different from what they think they’re doing. And if you’re working with emotions in a very titrated way, then you can actually go from the emotions to the sensation, and begin to resolve things at a sensation level. But therapies that really work to provoke emotions or the exposure therapies… I know that they do get some results, but I think that they can easily lead to retraumatization.
VY: How so?
Peter Levine: One of the things that Bessel van der Kolk showed when he first started to do trauma research with functional MRIs is that when people are in the trauma state, they actually shut down the frontal parts of their brain and particularly the area on the left cortex called Broca’s area, which is responsible for speech. When the person is in the traumatic state, those brain regions are literally shut down, they’re taken offline. When the therapist encourages the client to talk about their trauma, asking questions such as, “Okay, so this is what happened to you. Now, let’s talk about it,” or, “What are you feeling about that?” The client tries to talk about it. And if they try to talk about it, they become more activated. Their brainstem and limbic system go into a hyperaroused state, which in turns shuts down Broca’s area, so they really can’t express in words what’s going on. They feel more frustrated. Sometimes the therapist is pushing them more and more into the frustration. Eventually the person may have some kind of catharsis, but that kind of catharsis is due frequently to being overloaded and not being able to talk about it, being extremely frustrated. So in a sense, trauma precludes rationality.
MY: So what do you think is the hardest thing for traditional talk therapists to learn when dealing with trauma patients?

Experiencing the Body

Peter Levine: I think the most alien is to be able to work with body sensations. And again, because the overwhelm and the fight-or-flight are things that happen in the body, what I would say is the golden route is to be able to help people have experiences in the body that contradict those of the overwhelming helplessness. And my method is not the only way to do that. It’s certainly one of the most significant. But many therapists, for example, will recommend that their clients do things like yoga or martial arts.

"To Stew or Not to Stew" from the notebook MY EVIL TWIN by K. J. Legry
“To Stew or Not to Stew” from the notebook MY EVIL TWIN by K. J. Legry

MY: Or meditation?
Peter Levine: The thing about meditation, though…. With some kinds of trauma, meditation is helpful. But the problem is when people go into their inner landscape and they’re not prepared and they’re not guided, sooner or later they encounter the trauma, and then what do they do? They could be overwhelmed with it, or they find a way to go away from the trauma. And they go sometimes into something that resembles a bliss state. But it’s really an ungrounded bliss state. I call that the bliss bypass.  It’s a way of avoiding the trauma. It was very common in the ‘60s when people were taking all of these drugs, and a lot of these people were traumatized from their childhood. And what they would do is they would go into these kinds of dissociated states of bliss and different hallucinatory imageries, but in a way it was avoiding the trauma. So in a way the trauma became even a greater effect, and then often people would then wind up having bad trips in which they would go into the trauma but without the resources to work them through.
MY: I guess that’s what I find inspiring about your approach. Ultimately you really want to enable the traumatized person to regain their autonomy, not just find palliative methods of dealing with their trauma.
Peter Levine: Yes. One thing therapists are really good at, I think, is they’re good at helping people calm. We set up our offices so they’re conducive, so they’re friendly, they’re cheerful, there are things in the room that would evoke interest and curiosity. And many therapists can actually help calm the traumatized person. This is something that’s a necessary first step, but if it’s the only thing that happens, the clients become more and more dependent on the therapist to give them some sense of refuge, some sense of okayness. But when therapists are helping the clients get mastery of their sensations, of their power in their body, than they are truly helping them develop an authentic autonomy. And from the very beginning, the client is beginning to separate.

So this is a gradual process, where the client really becomes authentically autonomous, authentically self-empowered. And if we don’t do this, the client tends to become more and more dependent on the therapist, and this is when you see these transferences where all of a sudden the client depends on the therapist for everything. At this point the therapist can go from being the god or the goddess up on this pedestal to being thrown down and the client having rage about the therapist for not helping them enough. So the key out of these conundrums is through self-empowerment, and I know of no more direct and effective way of doing this than through the body.

from the children's book: "Monkey Stew" (page 2) illustrated by K. J. Legry
from the children’s book: “Monkey Stew” (page 2) illustrated by K. J. Legry

Peter Levine: The shaking and trembling has to do with the resetting of the autonomic nervous system. I was so curious about this that I interviewed a number of people who work with capturing animals and releasing them into the wild. And they described to me very much the kinds of shaking and trembling that I see with my clients and that happened to me. A number of these folks said that they knew that if the animals didn’t go through this kind of shaking and trembling when they were captured and put in cages, they were less likely to survive when released into the wild. So it appears to be a way in which the physiological autonomic nervous system resets itself. 

(*note: I know the above post barely covers what I’m trying to say and so might not be easily grasped or readily helpful so I highly recommend you read the book for yourselves by Peter A. Levine, PhD In An Unspoken Voice; How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness BUT do not try to heal alone or think you have to.  Find a guide and don’t give up.)