Meandering Michele’s Mind: Don’t Let the PTSD Gators Getcha
Thursday, July 16th, 2009 • Uncategorized •
On the way back to the hotel from dinner last night we passed a miniature golf attraction complete with calypso music blaring, a pond of small but very live gators, and a sign that read Congo River Adventure Miniature Golf and then below in big, black, removable letters:
Feed the Gators
For anyone studying NLP, which is predicated on theories of how we use and internalize language, these kinds of word plays become very funny and interesting. The big premise of NLP is that the brain is very literal. If we say to it, “Feed the gators birthday parties”, it will literally think these reptiles eat people celebrating with cake and candles. It’s our cognitive processing mind that ferrets out the real meaning.
I’ve been thinking all week about how much NLP strategies apply to trauma healing, and how easy it is for us to use NLP in our every day life. Most importantly I’ve been thinking about our self-talk. As in, what we tell ourselves that our brains take in literally and then we suffer the results. I’ll give you an example from my own self-talk:
My trauma was medical. I suffered a freak allergic reaction to a medication. My body turned on itself and almost overnight the allergy turned me into a full-body burn patient. None of the doctors at Manhattan’s top hospitals had ever seen what I had.
For years afterward you can imagine how I walked around in total fear that my body would do something that drastic one more time. My internal dialogue was always, “I hope my body doesn’t betray me again,” and “I hope I never have another illness that’s so rare no doctor knows what to do to help me.”
Another tricky thing about the brain: it doesn’t process negatives. We understand negative statements on the cognitive level but the brain doesn’t; it works like this:
If I say to you, “Don’t think of the purple elephants”, what’s the first thing you think of? Right! The brain doesn’t register ‘don’t'; it hears ‘purple elephants’ and immediately calls up a picture of that.
Same thing for my internal dialogue. My brain constantly heard me saying, “I hope my body betrays me” and “I hope I have another illness that’s so rare no doctor knows what to do to help me.”
So, guess what? My body did just that! No, it didn’t turn me into a burn patient again but over my PTSD years it increasingly broke down, debilitated, turned on itself and presented symptoms no doctor in all of Manhattan knew what to do with.
And then I discovered I had PTSD. And then I decided to heal. And what do you know, within one year of my healing – and changing my self talk and perceptions - every single one of my physical symptoms was gone.
What these ideas suggest is that our internal dialogues are extremely powerful. It’s incredibly important we become aware of what we say, how we say it, and how our brains interpret and use it.
We need to be careful of how we speak to ourselves… the gators are always hungry.