Tag Archives: trauma

“Hardwiring Happiness” by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

So the problem that I have with the majority of self-help books is that they have a great idea that can be covered in a well-fleshed-out article, but they stretch it out with redundant examples to fill up the requisite number of pages needed to publish a book. Hardwiring Happiness definitely falls into this category. It is essentially a handbook on how to reprogram the neural pathways in the brain to create a more positive default response to stimuli. It’s a great idea and something I feel many people can benefit from, especially in our toxic fear-based society. I would have just preferred the Reader’s Digest version.

Hanson’s concept of hardwiring happiness is based upon the science behind neuroplasticity.

All mental activity—sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings, conscious and unconscious processes—is based on underlying neural activity. Much mental and therefore neural activity flows through the brain like ripples on a river, with no lasting effects on the channel. But intense, prolonged, or repeated mental/neural activity—especially if it is conscious—will leave an enduring imprint in neural structure, like surging current reshaping a riverbed. As they say in neuroscience: Neurons that fire together wire together. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain.

(p. 10)

Hanson’s approach is based on a four-step principle which forms the acronym HEAL:

  1. Have a positive experience.

  2. Enrich it.

  3. Absorb it.

  4. Link positive and negative material.

(p. 60)

This approach reminded me a lot of EMDR, a type of therapy used to deal with issues of trauma (I can attest to the efficacy of this treatment). Positive experiences are embedded in the memory and strengthened. These positive mental states are then used to weaken the negative states associated with the trauma. HEAL is similar to EMDR, but used to promote general well-being and not intended to self-treat in situations where a trained therapist is needed.

As Hanson empathizes in this book, it’s important to address the brain’s negativity bias, where importance is placed on the negative instead of the positive (how our brains evolved in order to survive during harder times). But as is pointed out in the book, prolonged focus on the negative has lasting repercussions.

But when unpleasant experiences become negative material stored in your brain, that’s not good. Negative material has negative consequences. It darkens your mood, increases anxiety and irritability, and gives you a background sense of falling short, of inadequacy. This material contains painful beliefs like “no one would want me.” The desires and inclinations in it take you to the bad places. It can numb and muzzle you. Or it can make you overreact to others, which can create vicious cycles of negativity between you and them. Negative material impacts your body, wears down long-term mental and physical health, and can potentially shorten your life span.

(p. 126)

In an age where news and social media provide a constant stream that feeds the brain’s negativity bias, Hanson’s book offers some practical ways to deal with this. While it could have been shorter, the book is still worth reading for the simple steps provided for improving your mental well-being.

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“A.D. After Death: Book One” by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire

afterdeath_01

I am not sure whether I should categorize this as a serialized novel with heavy illustration, or as a graphic novel that is text intensive. Regardless, it is an impressive creation. The writing is brilliant and evocative, and the artwork sadly beautiful. I was truly moved after reading this first installment.

From what I gather so far, this is a story about a world after some virus or disease wipes out most of the life on the planet. The protagonist, Jonah Cooke, takes a job in a monitoring a station in a safe zone that listens for sounds of life. While this may sound like just another post-apocalyptic story, there is so much more depth to this than most works that fall into the genre.

Much of the text is comprised of memories from Jonah’s childhood where he relives the trauma of his mother’s death. As anyone who has lost a loved one can attest, this type of trauma runs deep and colors all aspects of your life. The metaphor of a frozen lake is used to describe the effects of the trauma; the sense that below the smooth surface of the ice is a cold, dark, watery place just waiting for a crack to appear and draw you down into the depths of utter despair.

Will it ever go away, you wonder? Or will it always be there, that shadow at the edge of things? But, even at a young age, you know the answer to that question, don’t you? You know it: of course not. Because it’s just there, so close to the surface.

It’s three at school, in the sickening way the cellophane peels off your sandwich.

Or there, in a shattered vein on your teacher’s calf.

Or there, in the scuffed nose of your action figure.

And there, in the weakening grip of the magnets on the board. In the erasures on your homework. In pens running out. In new sneakers that squeak so loudly, but go silent by end of day. In the small tear in the backseat of the bus, the wisp of stuffing you can’t push back in all the way. In the parade of blinking turn signals on the cars lined up at the red light by your house, on and off, on and off, ticking in some pattern that means nothing at all. And as the day ends, you feel it deepening, that shadow, becoming material. The blackness pooling below your nightlight. The deepest dark of that hallway that separates your room from your parents’.

All of it speaks to that same fucking water beneath the crust of things, moving and shifting and waiting, and you wonder, DOES ANYONE ELSE FEEL LIKE THIS?!

Are you alone?

Are you just messed up? Were you born missing something, some protective layer, some membrane that’s supposed to shield you from the sight of it–that water, right here, inches below.

The feelings conveyed here are so powerful and visceral, and I personally relate to them. I have lost people close to me and remember that feeling of impending doom, of apprehensively anticipating the ground to give out below at any moment. It takes a long time to heal from this type of trauma, and some people never do, which is what makes this such an intense work of art.

Book Two is already available. I will be getting it and sharing my thoughts on it soon. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading challenging stuff.

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“Haunted” by Siegfried Sassoon

Gustave Doré

Gustave Doré

Evening was in the wood, louring with storm.
A time of drought had sucked the weedy pool
And baked the channels; birds had done with song.
Thirst was a dream of fountains in the moon,
Or willow-music blown across the water
Leisurely sliding on by weir and mill.

Uneasy was the man who wandered, brooding,
His face a little whiter than the dusk.
A drone of sultry wings flicker’d in his head.
The end of sunset burning thro’ the boughs
Died in a smear of red; exhausted hours
Cumber’d, and ugly sorrows hemmed him in.

He thought: ‘Somewhere there’s thunder,’ as he strove
To shake off dread; he dared not look behind him,
But stood, the sweat of horror on his face.

He blunder’d down a path, trampling on thistles,
In sudden race to leave the ghostly trees.
And: ‘Soon I’ll be in open fields,’ he thought,
And half remembered starlight on the meadows,
Scent of mown grass and voices of tired men,
Fading along the field-paths; home and sleep
And cool-swept upland spaces, whispering leaves,
And far off the long churring night-jar’s note.

But something in the wood, trying to daunt him,
Led him confused in circles through the thicket.
He was forgetting his old wretched folly,
And freedom was his need; his throat was choking.
Barbed brambles gripped and clawed him round his legs,
And he floundered over snags and hidden stumps.
Mumbling: ‘I will get out! I must get out!’
Butting and thrusting up the baffling gloom,
Pausing to listen in a space ’twixt thorns,
He peers around with peering, frantic eyes.

An evil creature in the twilight looping,
Flapped blindly in his face. Beating it off,
He screeched in terror, and straightway something clambered
Heavily from an oak, and dropped, bent double,
To shamble at him zigzag, squat and bestial.

Headlong he charges down the wood, and falls
With roaring brain—agony—the snap’t spark—
And blots of green and purple in his eyes.
Then the slow fingers groping on his neck,
And at his heart the strangling clasp of death.

I wanted to find a good “horror” poem that was not written by Edgar Allan Poe, so I did a web search and found this one. I was totally unfamiliar with Sassoon, so I did not have any expectations. I have to say, I really found this poem powerful, haunting, and well-written.

I see this as symbolic of someone who is haunted by memories of his past, most likely something deeply traumatic. He has kept his pain locked inside, and this pain is represented by the forest in which he wanders. He keeps thinking that he will eventually find a clearing, a place of reprieve from his inner torment, which is symbolized by the “open fields” and “meadows.” But it never happens. The vines and brambles of his memory snag him and hold him in the past. Demons that haunt his psyche swoop down on him. Eventually, he dies, carrying with him the burden of his suffering.

While this is certainly a grim poem, it should be looked at as a warning. We all carry guilt, pain, and suffering. But what is important is that we do not keep that pain hidden inside us. When we do, it grows and morphs into nightmares which haunt us psychologically, and the longer we keep those secrets hidden inside us, the sicker we become, until they ultimately consume us.

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Doctor Strange: Issue 10 – The Last Days of Magic (Finale)

DoctorStrange_10

This issue concludes the “Last Days of Magic” arc, and just like the previous installments, the artwork, story, and symbolism is supreme.

I want to focus this post on pain and how the way we choose to deal with pain affects our physical and mental health. Within this tale, it comes to light that Doctor Strange has been hiding away his suffering, the result is the creation of a monster which is the physical manifestation of his repressed pain. I found this to be an accurate representation of what happens when an individual locks away personal anguish and trauma. That pain grows and festers within the individual until it becomes an internal monster, gnawing away at a person’s physical and mental well-being. For this reason, it is important to share your pain, because pain shared is pain lessened.

And this is what finally happens to Doctor Strange. People who the Doctor helped in the past now make themselves open to sharing and taking on a part of the Doctor’s suffering. When this happens, the monster which Strange created by hiding away his pain begins to weaken and lose its power.

Monster: I can feel them… sharing your suffering. All over the world. All of their own accord. How… how do you inspire such devotion?

When I was growing up, it was common for people to hide their feelings. To show emotion was to show weakness. Thankfully, more and more people these days recognize the importance of sharing your pain with others. It is very therapeutic and leads one to live a more happy and serene life.

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