Shelley’s Corner: A Series on Emotional Trauma, Addiction, and Healing
Dr. Shelley Uram is a Harvard trained, triple board-certified psychiatrist and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. As a Meadows’ Senior Fellow, Dr. Uram conducts patient lectures and provides ongoing training and consultation to the treatment staff at The Meadows.
I was having lunch with some friends the other day, and one of them asked why we can be so clear about knowing what’s important to us, yet have a very hard time carrying it out in real life. The examples she was talking about revolved around her wanting to be less reactive and more loving towards her husband, and to have greater ease and kindness with the people who “drive me crazy” in everyday life. She described knowing full well that her life would be so much easier and more pleasant if she was more accepting and loving of others, but this is much easier said than done.
There is SO MUCH I can say about this!!!
First, let’s go back to our earliest beginnings…when we were just three months old.
Up to that point, as infants, we were living and aware on a moment-to-moment basis. We had no real judgments. If we were cold or hungry or wet, we would react to the discomfort, but once we felt better, all was fine again. We pretty much flowed with whatever was happening.
At about three months of age, something very dramatic shifts. A part of our brain has now grown and matured enough that we have this dawning awareness that there is a “me!” Until that time, as we were flowing with whoever and whatever was around us, we did not understand that a separate “me” exists.
One of the reasons this presents such a huge shift in our world is that our survival brain now starts to work like crazy now, and wants to keep this new-found little person safe. We begin to have much more frequent fight/flight/freeze responses to the people and situations around us.
Unfortunately, these very powerful fight/flight/responses become attached to multiple situations and people, and remain locked into our brains for many years to come. These survival responses work by “firing” or “triggering” whenever we are reminded of the original situation. This all happens outside of our conscious awareness, so we don’t have much control over it.
The net effect of this over the years is that by the time we are adults, we can experience a large gulf between how we WANT to be, with how we actually ARE. That is, the very essence of us values being a certain kind of person, but our habits and ingrained patterns, usually derived from early life conditioning, behave entirely differently.
The deepest root of these ingrained patterns is usually from these early life fight/flight/freeze responses that became attached to how we adapted to our early stresses and strains.
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