Mental Illness . . . REALLY?

This information from really freaked me out!

What Causes Anxiety Disorders?

The exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown; but anxiety disorders — like other forms of mental illness — are not the result of personal weakness, a character flaw, or poor upbringing. As scientists continue their research on mental illness, it is becoming clear that many of these disorders are caused by a combination of factors, including changes in the brain and environmental stress.

Like other brain illnesses, anxiety disorders may be caused by problems in the functioning of brain circuits that regulate fear and other emotions. Studies have shown that severe or long-lasting stress can change the way nerve cells within these circuits transmit information from one region of the brain to another. Other studies have shown that people with certain anxiety disorders have changes in certain brain structures that control memories linked with strong emotions. In addition, studies have shown that anxiety disorders run in families, which means that they can at least partly be inherited from one or both parents, like the risk for heart disease or cancer. Moreover, certain environmental factors — such as a trauma or significant event — may trigger an anxiety disorder in people who have an inherited susceptibility to developing the disorder.

Diseasing and the Medical Model

I don’t consider having a momentary emotional lapse such as an anxiety or freak-out episode a sign of mental illness, really! It’s difficult enough to get upright and re-regulated after becoming anxious or having a freak-out episode without also being “diseased” and coping with the stigma of “disease.”

In the diseasing/medical model, the underlying question is, “What’s wrong with you?” This question contains a judgement that causes people to disengage, to disconnect, to feel bad about themselves and to withdraw and isolate. This is particularly true when it’s directed at someone who just got triggered by something of which they are not consciously aware.

mentally illThe traditional medical model of disease requires only that an abnormal condition causes discomfort, dysfunction, or distress to the individual who is afflicted. Somewhere along the road, the medical community became over zealous and began diseasing psychological and emotional issues–addictions, mood fluctuations, aging and degenerative diseases, and . . .  eventually, trauma! More about this in a bit.

The medical model’s influence on the mental health profession has been enormous! Psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors, social workers and most other mental health professionals have turned into victimologists and pathologizers. The focus shifted away from “mental health” and into “mental illness.”

Rather than helping people improve their lives lives and emphasizing their strengths, it disempowers them. The American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) Version V now contains 297 categories of mental health disorders! Given that people’s beliefs are powerful creators of their reality, diseasing and the medical model now gives them “self-fulfilling prophesies.”

Trauma and the “Gift” Model

In the trauma/gift model, the underlying question is, “What happened to you?” This question helps people engage and connect, as it is more about discovery than judgment or diseasing. It assumes that there’s a reason for your reaction, that “something” happened that set you off or freaked you out. This question also evokes compassion, caring and the possibility of social and emotional support, and it also contains the possibility of moving through an emotional reaction and resuming your “normal self” again.

the good lifeThe most powerful thing about the trauma/gift model, however, is the potential that it brings into your life. One of the core elements of a healing a traumatic experience is making meaning out of what happened. When a trauma is fresh, it never feels like a gift . . .  it feels really bad. It makes us feel sad, angry, hurt, resentful . . . even blaming and revengeful. Certainly not good! Over time, this can change, but it takes some work.

It’s the “making meaning” piece that transforms a traumatic experience into the gift. Making meaning requires several changes, and begins with a change in perception about a traumatic experience being bad. Traumatic experiences, especially childhood or developmental trauma, can wake us up and make us more conscious. It’s been my experience that  learning to reframe, reinterpret and make meaning of stressful experiences not only alters and prevents the damaging impact of stress, it can also promote growth and development.

The “gift” model’s making meaning component emphasizes the potential for transforming a traumatic experience into something that can not only change our perception of ourselves and others, but our view of the world. In a world where stress is unavoidable,  learning to reframe it, to change our beliefs about it, can give us resources that help us adapt. Reframing the meaning of a traumatic experiences has a huge impact on the MindBody. Through the “gift” model, we can develop insights about ourselves and others. We can develop empathy from using the “What happened to you?” question. And all of these shifts in beliefs and perception work to change the wiring in our brains and nervous systems, our reactions to stress in the future and ultimately, relationships, and ultimately our reality.

Trauma and traumatic stress can be reframed as “challenges” rather than “threats.” The implications for this change in a belief are profound . . .  physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Overcoming challenges empowers us, it takes out of victim consciousness. This shift helps us feel more connected to others, particularly those who’ve experiences developmental trauma as a result of adverse childhood experiences. It can also give us spiritual courage to go deeper into our traumas as a way of transforming ourselves at deeper and deeper levels. At some point, we can even embrace adversity . . .  to step into it willingly. Rather than viewing it negatively, we learn to see the potentials, the possibilities and the gifts in every situation . . . particularly those where people are suffering. This is the heart of the gift model.

Suffering Is A Choice!

floating on a cloudI’ve decided that there’s two kinds of suffering. The first kind is suffering caused by ignorance, from not knowing, from avoidance of things perceived to be painful, negative, provocative, scary or unknown. Keeping one’s head buried ostrich-style in the sand takes its toll.

The second kind of suffering comes from the search to know, to make meaning, to reframe, to transform one’s developmental trauma and adverse childhood experiences. It’s not easy, leaving victim consciousness and talking the path of self-awareness to the good life. But the gift model offers the possibility to end your suffering, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. You can change the course of your life.

Having walked both the Path of Ignorance and the Path of Self-Awareness, I’m really clear that I prefer the Path of Self-Awareness. I can say that I have become a different person . . . so much, that I have a completely different set of values, different friends, and a different life. Adversity has almost become my friend!


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