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There’s a potential life-changing question at the end of this post.

There are any number of things my brain would be delighted to have me ask for if it was absolutely certain that the answer would be “Yes.” For example:

It would like me to ask my local truck dealer to pay me top dollar for a trade-in, discount a new, tricked out truck 50%, and give me a no-money-down, zero interest loan for 10 years. IMG_3517-x600.jpg

It would secretly smile if I would ask my neighbor to let me put my trash in her garbage can each week that she puts it out to the curb half-full.

It would sing with glee if I would ask our local veterinarian only to charge us for procedures that actually produce what we’re paying her to produce (puppies).

It would be surprised beyond belief if I would ask my wife to make our relationship be more about me than it already is. 😉

All right, let’s stop with those four. For now.

Ask Not What You Can Do for Your Adrenal Glands

So, why don’t I ask for these pretty simple, straight-forward things? Because getting a “No” in response would generate a stress hormone adrenal response that would feel worse than the mostly neutral feelings I carry around when I don’t ask for them. It’s this anticipatory aversion response for many of us that makes it hard to even think up things to ask for. It’s like my brain censors my Asking Potential before requests can even surface into consciousness. This is Rejection Sensitivity.

Rejection Sensitivity, it turns out, is a real thing. Smart people actually study it, and they’ve given it a clinical name: Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. Dysphoria means “difficult to bear.” Psychiatrist William Dodson claims it’s neurologic and genetic. If it’s genetic that means it’s also likely to be … epigenetic. Which means it’s capable of being positively or negatively influenced by the people, places and things around us. Which is also one of the primary reasons brains were built – to learn to creatively navigate the everyday world.

Building the Asking Mushkle

Jia Jiang, a Chinese immigrant was inspired to grow his Asking Mushkle by deliberately going out and intentionally seeking rejection (a mushkle is how a four year old – who’s learning to become rejection sensitive – says the word “muscle”). Jiang set himself a goal to be rejected 100 times in 100 days. Interestingly, it was a lot harder to accomplish than he expected. Not only did it force him to think up strange and delightful things to ask for – permission to sit in a police squad car and pretend to drive it; knocking on a stranger’s door and asking to play soccer in their back yard – but he also found himself getting way more “Yes’s” than he ever expected. By Rejection No. 100 Jiang discovered that when your nervous system becomes practiced at it, it becomes harder and harder for a “No” to fire your adrenal glands’ stress launch codes.

Amanda Palmer, in her TED Talk: The Art of Asking, has devoted much of her life and career to creatively navigating Rejection Sensitivity. She has made a large part of her work “Asking Practice.”

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Amanda Palmer

For her, it began by standing silently on a plastic milk crate in a bridal gown with a hat for people to put money into on the ground in front of her. This “silent ask” would predictably produce $60 on Monday and $90 on Friday. Asking without using words is a brilliant way to begin taking small steps in managing Rejection Sensitivity. From there, as her dysphoria became increasingly easier to bear through practice, her neural network connectivity grew together with her creativity. Along with it grew her feelings of trust, care and connection to other people to the point where she was able to ask for $100,000 on a crowdfunding platform. And the crowd responded joyfully and generously with … 1.2 million dollars!

Talk the Walk

So, how am I going to begin building my Asking Mushkle? Well, like Amanda Palmer, I’m going to start small, with a “silent ask.” Right here, right now: please think of two or three friends who could greatly benefit from studying and developing this practice: Contemplative Collaboration. Since this is a majority of the people on the planet, it shouldn’t be difficult. Will you buy them the collection? If you do, I’ll mail it to them today in your name.

Next question: what small steps are YOU going to take to build your Asking Mushkle? Whatever you creatively orchestrate for yourself, will you drop me a note and let me know?

Of course, some of you might take issue with what exactly I’m referring to when I use the term “brain.” Admittedly, it’s not a very big brain. In fact, if we go by comparison – the bigger the penis, the smaller the penile brain – since the brain in the penis is mainly composed of only two nerves (nerves are simply “wires” that are attached to cell bodies in your head brain through any number of “extension cords” [interneurons] that run down into your body). But hey, if a one millimeter worm can have a brain and a mind, why not a penis?

I’m not claiming Penis Brain is one of Einsteinian proportions. Einstein’s brain was roughly composed of 86 billion brain cells (neurons) with probably more than 100 trillion wires. And the two-wired brain in your penis probably works best in close collaboration with the brain in your head when it practices skillful Male Organ Management (MOM). (Interestingly, the brain in Einstein’s penis didn’t work at all well with the brain in his head: thinking thEinstein brain.jpgere was little chance he would ever win – he agreed to give his wife, Mileva any future Nobel Prize money if she would grant him a divorce. One of his brains desperately wanted to be able to legally keep putting his penis in his cousin Elsa [whom he would later marry]. Makes you wonder who the real brains of the outfit was, doesn’t it?).

Two, Two, Two Nerves in One

To check to see if the two nerves in your penis – the dorsal nerve and the cavernous nerve – truly constitute a brain, first check to be sure that you actually have a penis. Now pretend you’re 19 years old and find pictures of attractive naked men or women and imagine having sex with them and see what happens. Remember, in reality, it’s just you alone in a room while your brain, your pictures, your Kisspeptin Hormones and your penis contingently communicate with one another. Brain networks love feedback loops and care little how they come together or what they come together concerning.

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Ready to talk?

When you look at those naked pictures, messages from your brain cells travel along spinal cord nerves, then branch off and wind their way down to your penis. Chemicals called neurotransmitters are then released from the ends of the nerves in the penis. Physical stimulation of the penis of one sort or another can also cause penile nerve endings to release neurotransmitters.

Here’s MedScape describing how the brain in the penis gets busy doing its work in great detail. It can make for some very stimulating pillow talk:

Adrenergic nerve fibers and receptors are present in the cavernous trabeculae, and they surround the deep penile arteries. Noradrenaline is the major neurotransmitter controlling penile flaccidity and tumescence (erectilation). Sympathetic contraction is thought to be mediated by activation of postsynaptic alpha-adrenergic receptors and modulated by presynaptic alpha-adrenergic receptors. Acetylcholine is required for vascular smooth muscle relaxation, and cholinergic nerves have been demonstrated within the cavernosal smooth muscle and surrounding penile arteries.

Nitric oxide (NO) appears to be the principal neurotransmitter causing penile erection. Nonadrenergic, noncholinergic (NANC) neurons release NO. The release of NO increases the production of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP), which relaxes cavernosal smooth muscle. Other neurotransmitters, including vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), prostaglandins, and other peptides, may also be involved in the erectile process. With relaxation of the smooth muscles in the trabeculae and the arterial wall, the following events occur in sequence, which leads to an erection:

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The dorsal & cavernous artery each has a nerve associated with it.

1. Arterial inflow increases as a result of dilation of the arterioles and arteries. The sinusoids within the corpora cavernosa distend with blood. Subtunical venular plexuses are compressed between the tunica albuginea and the distended sinusoids, leading to decreased venous blood outflow.

2. The tunica albuginea is stretched to its capacity, compressing emissary veins and thus further decreasing venous outflow; as a result, intracavernous pressure increases and is further increased by contraction of the ischiocavernous and bulbospongiosus muscles, resulting in full rigidity.

3. The neurotransmitters released in the penis cause another chemical to be made – cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). This chemical causes the arteries in the penis to widen (dilate). This allows extra blood to flood into the penis. The rapid inflow of blood causes the penis to swell into an erection. The swollen inner part of the penis also presses on the veins nearer to the skin surface of the penis. These veins normally drain the penis of blood. So, the flow of blood out of the penis is also restricted, which enhances the erection.

Once you stop having sex, the level of cGMP falls, the blood flow to the penis returns to normal, and the penis gradually returns to the flaccid state.

Was it good for you? I thought so. Here’s something else that might be good for you: an Enchanted Loom review of Daniel Amen’s book, The Brain in Love.

To say that I was surprised to learn that the woman who invited me to lunch for my birthday was a New York model in high demand throughout the fashion world would be an understatement. First of all, why would Siona want to have lunch with me? Secondly, what was up with those angry, nauseating rashes on her arms and neck running down the front of her chest?

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Not Siona, but close.

If that was surprising, imagine how astonished I was when three months later I found myself in the midst of a crazy-wild romantic relationship with her, sans rashes. Or how surprised I was to wake up from a lazy, post-coital nap one Saturday afternoon to sounds of loud, angry shouting down in the kitchen. Siona and her ex, Alan, were apparently in the midst of another heated disagreement. When I roused myself from bed, got dressed and headed for the hallway, I suddenly heard footsteps downstairs pounding across the hardwood floors. I got to the head of the stairwell just as Siona reached the top and dashed by me. Alan was not far behind.

As he made the turn in the stairwell, I moved to block his path. When he reached the top step I spontaneously held both my arms out as if to welcome him. I truly knew how it felt to have someone abandon a primary relationship with me that I desperately wanted to continue. And I would know it again.

With absolutely no hesitation at all Alan fell full into my embrace and immediately began sobbing uncontrollably. To say Alan was surprised by this emotional outpouring would do it no justice. Siona couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Neither could I. It certainly wasn’t part of any well-crafted plan. But shouldn’t I offer Alan at least the same compassion I have offered a rattlesnake?

Care Training

Pulitzer Prize winning writer Isabel Wilkerson, in a recent interview – The Heart is the Last Frontier – asks a very curious question: “After they have shot a citizen – effectively removing the threat lawbreakers represent – why don’t police immediately being offering compassionate care?” If they came upon a person lying in the street with a gunshot, wounded by someone else, they would immediately offer aid and call for help.

shooting (1).jpgThere are lots of neurobiological reasons I could offer for why that doesn’t happen, but here’s the thing – there’s little in our human potential to actually prevent it. But like most things in life that lead to successful change, we need knowledge, training and practice.

Here’s why this is such a critical issue. It’s something we rarely learn about our own unskillful, hurtful behavior: our brain is watching everything we do; and in its wiring there’s no separation between you and me. Your brain wiring and my brain wiring are much like the underground root systems of trees – in constant, ongoing communication. Policemen, soldiers, or any of us, don’t shoot people and have our brains and bodies escape without dire, compromising consequence, no matter how “justified” the act (assuming killing or hurting another living creature is ever justified).

Good Book Neuro-Wisdom

“Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord” from Romans 12:19 is a truism that essentially speaks to this neurobiological reality. Whatever we do unto others gets recorded and stored in our own neural networks. If it’s unskillful or reactive behavior that our Vigilant Sentinel observes, it can later express itself as high levels of stress hormones, poor sleep, disorganized thinking, compromised immune function and physical illness. Leave the vengeance for God and a perpetrator’s own neurobiology to take care of.

Memoirist, Mary Karr elegantly articulates what happens when the Vigilant Sentinel watches us lying:

Lying carves a lonely gap between your disguise and who you really are. The practiced liar projects her own manipulative, double-dealing facade onto everyone she meets, which makes moving though the world a wary, anxious enterprise. It’s hard enough to see what’s going on without forcing yourself to see through the wool you’ve pulled over your own eyes. The Art of Memoir, pg 12

Home Is Where the Hurt Is

We need training and practice in recognizing that many ways hurtful and antisocial behavior shows up in our cities and towns have their roots originating in early Adverse Childhood Experiences. Alan didn’t show up angry in Siona’s kitchen completely free of all personal history. Early unfortunate experiences frequently affect brain development in angry, anti-social ways later down the road. But it’s difficult to connect the dots 25 years afterwards when you show up emotionally hijacked in an ex-lover’s kitchen. Cause and effect end up being too complex and too far removed.

Nevertheless, every public servant and policymaker the world over should be given a primer in developmental neuroscience and trauma-informed policies rooted in compassion. If they were, they might enact legislation that I believe could help right many early wrongs and the human race could make exponential leaps in development over the course of just a few generations. If for nothing else, then for the $300 million! we would NOT have to spend on abused children in just one American city every year.

Policies best for the children, are usually best for the human heart.

“Every characteristic absence of spirituality, every piece of common vulgarity, is due to an inability to resist a stimulus.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Thursday morning I got up while it was still dark, put the dogs on the back porch, and mindlessly forgot to close the sliding door behind me. My short term memory ain’t what it used to be. Not unexpectedly, Archie Farchie, our long-haired, smushy-faced kitty snuck out. Fortunately, it was foggy and cold and he walked around to the kitchen door and immediately began pounding on it for me to let him back in before any owls, eagles or coyotes got a scent of him.

Molly's scarf unraveledDonald Trump was born 43 days before me. We both worked as builders. But doing the nail-hammering, lumber-carrying work of building single-family houses out in the country is somewhat different than sitting in an office and orchestrating the building of Manhattan skyscrapers. My guess would be Manhattan building from behind a desk is not only more stressful, but provides fewer opportunities for beneficially metabolizing and discharging stress hormones. As a result, I’m guessing my current short-term memory challenges are nothing compared to Donald Trump’s, even though he has an army of cabinet, press and personal secretaries. I suspect we’ll soon find out.

Presidential Stress

I’m also guessing being a semi-retired neuroscience blogger living on an offshore island is pretty much stress-free compared to living in urban centers with hostile media and Secret Service Agents around to constantly neuroceptively underscore how dangerous life is for you as the leader of the free world. If you look at before & after photos of any president, you can see how the stress has physically adversely impacted their outside appearance. What we can’t readily see is how it’s impacted their inside appearance – their brains and other somatic systems. But neural networks unraveling leave Twitter clues.

Here are a few ways (of literally hundreds) that we know Chronic, Unpredictable, Toxic Stress (CUTS) – the inevitable byproduct of any presidency – adversely impacts neurobiology, especially the human heart:

Compromised Executive Function

Obama photo timewarp.jpgOf the dozen or so elements that make up Executive Function – impulse control, wise thinking, emotional equanimity – probably the one that a world leader needs most is … the ability to strategically handle global complexity and clearly see the big picture.

Frequently, people who have trouble controlling emotional outbursts also have difficulty imagining and thinking in big picture scenarios. They might have little ability to see all the things that make America less than great, like the expanding circles of suffering that result when you persecute minorities or the disabled or underpay large segments of the work force.

Complex thinking involves not only Theory of Mind – the ability to know and accommodate thinking that is different from yours – but also Theory of Heart – the absolute, non-cognitive capacity to walk compassionately in another person’s shoes. When human development operates with great Theory of Heart, you can’t NOT feel empathy for the suffering of others. It’s just how you’ve developmentally evolved. Think: Jesus on the cross begging forgiveness for his persecutors. The neurobiologist in him knew what they were doing to their own brains and bodies – that once you perpetrate one, it’s hard to “unsee” or “unfeel” a crucifixion. It lives in your owneurobiology for life.

Compromised Default Mode Network (DMN)

The Default Mode Network (DMN) in your brain is the term used to describe how interconnected specific neural structures are wired and how efficiently they function when you’re supposedly at rest. When our DMN is compromised, according to University of Western Ontario neuropsychiatrist Ruth Lanius, we may overreact or have knee-jerk reactions to disagreements and discord. We may become hyper-aggressive, argumentative, defensive and angry. This pretty much sounds like Candidate Trump to me. I don’t expect President Trump to grow significantly greater Default Mode Network capacity that will enable him to change very much over the next few years. In fact, evidence from past presidents suggests just the opposite.

Excessive Inflammation

bush-agingtonylamarca.jpgOur brain takes out the neuro-trash while we sleep. When we don’t get sufficient sleep, waste byproducts of brain functioning build up. Along with that buildup comes excessive inflammation. And along with inflammation comes a whole host of conditions that do not bode well for executive decision-making. You can see a partial list HERE. The British medical journal Lancet has identified some cases of inflammation as a trigger for psychosis.

Compromised Gastrointestinal Microbiota

Trump’s diet might be what ultimately undoes him. When diet is not a concern, we don’t tell people we’re taller than we are so that our Body Mass Index won’t betray the fact that we are “overfat,much like 76% of the rest of the world. UCLA medical researcher, Emeran Mayer, MD, asserts that “it is almost unthinkable that the gut is not playing a critical role in mind states.” Since the nation’s “fast food president” is reported to eat more than his share of KFC and McDonald’s Big Macs, we can expect that a lot of fast food policy decisions are probably going to turn out to be less than optimal. The fate of the world may well rest in the hands of the White House Chef. Provided Trump doesn’t follow presidential precedent and end up spending very little actual time there.

To underscore these points, here’s an Enchanted Loom review from Nobel Prize Winner Eric Kandel to help with your memory and your own digestion: In Search of Memory. Feel free to enjoy it and pass it along to the president-elect.

Probably. But it’s not that easy for most of us, due to one little brain design flaw. More about that in a bit.

When I was 25 years old I decided to sell my half of a very profitable business that required me to do almost no work whatsoever (it was a military hardware manufacturing business obtaining lucrative U. S. Air Force subcontracts and getting others to fulfill them. We would easily undercut large corporations like Lockheed, Boeing and Pratt & Whitney on the outrageous prices they were charging for their proprietary parts). I was young then, and my brain operated pretty unconsciously. If you can believe it, considerably more than the mostly unconscious way it operates these days (but not THAT unconsciously: last month I found out that the stress of continuing to run that business after I left contributed to my former partner dying of cancer 12 years ago!).

When the Unconscious Speaks…

enchanted-cottage-2Be that as it may, at 25 my unconscious brain decided it wanted me to start working much harder – by becoming a housebuilder. In order to be able to go along and make sense of this decision that my un- conscious brain had made for me, it cherry-picked a few facts and made up a story. The story was a simple one: I’ll get to work outside; I can go anywhere in the country I want and find a job; I will one day be able to build my own house.

Little did I suspect that a much larger reason my unconscious brain very likely made this decision for me was because, with my extensive ACEs-filled, early trauma history, if I didn’t begin spending a significant part of my workday moving my body and doing what I could to clear the disorganizing somatic markers out of my neurobiology, I would be consigned to living a much shorter life. I would most likely have predeceased my dead business partner, Dave. As it was, by the early age of 20 I had come close to death at least a half dozen times already – three serious motorcycle accidents, one gang fight, once hit by a car riding a bicycle, once almost drowning in Lake Quassapaug.

So, in essence, my unconscious brain was doing its best to have my back. It was trying hard to affirmatively answer The Big Brain Question for me. All I had to do was get my ass out of its way. Often easier said than done.

Dreamy Dream No. 1

Anyway, Dream No. 1, reasonably enough, was to one day build my own house – get the fundamental shelter requirement out of the way. A pretty concrete, straightforward dream. Except dreams only begin to take shape when you mindset them into goals. Goals require planning. There are steps you have to take. The steps to this goal were easy to imagine, write down, and consciously work towards accomplishing:

  1. Learn whatever I need to so I can build a house.
  2. Get money to buy land to build it on.
  3. Get money to pay for plans so I know what to build.
  4. Get money to buy materials to build it with.
  5. Get money to pay subcontractors to help me build it.

It becomes pretty clear pretty quickly that an important element in realizing this dream is going to be: get money. That proved to be the biggest hurdle, as it is for many people in the pursuit of dreams. Remember, there was no crowdfunding – no Gofundme, Kickstarter or Indiegogo – around in those days. And even if there was, it’s unlikely that a Give-Money-to-Mark-So-He-Can-Build-His-Dream-House campaign would have been very successful.

What’s In the Way IS the Way

But there was an even bigger hurdle that I had no clue about – the neurological structural design flaw I mentioned at the top of this post. Once I skillfully addressed that even a little bit, all the pieces came together and the house got built, almost as if by magic. I call that hurdle The Prefrontal Paradox. the-prefrontal-paradox-1-638Essentially, it operates like this: a robustly wired, massively integrated ventro- medial prefrontal cortex is where our Executive Functions call home. It’s the one thing required in order to conceive, execute and carry out the steps (especially the money steps for people who aren’t comfortably raised in the world of money) necessary to get a dream house built. But in order to grow a robustly wired, massively integrated ventro- medial prefrontal cortex, you need to already have … a robustly wired, massively integrated ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

Hey! What do you know! I’m going to be giving a free, hour-long internet exploration on just how to go about growing a robustly wired, massively integrated vmPFC when you don’t already have one. It will be on Sunday, February 5th at 5AM Pacific Time (I’m using the early hour to test your commitment and dream desire here – if your dreams aren’t worth getting up early for on one single day of the year, then that’s good to know about yourself. Besides, what better way to celebrate National Shower with a Friend Day?). Email me if you’re at all interested. Invite your partners and shower friends: prefrontalparadox@gmail.com

Shortly before I turned 18, a juvenile court judge strongly suggested I would be doing myself and the citizens of New Haven, Connecticut a big favor if I found a new town to live in. New Haven judges were notoriously hardcore – they lived in caves, afterall – so I wisely took this judge’s “suggestion” to heart.

Conveniently enough, some friends were taking a 3000 mile road trip to The City of Angels to begin school that Fall. I thought it might be smart to sign on and join them, only I had no job and no money. What I did have though, were friends and parents of friends. I went around to all of them and asked to borrow money to make the trip. I earnestly promised to pay each of them back, with interest. By summer’s end I managed to raise the princely sum of … $150, which I tucked neatly away into an A2 size envelope for safe keeping. A few days before I was scheduled to leave town, I wrote out Thank You Notes to all the people who’d lent me money. I tucked each of those notes into its own A2 envelope, addressed and stamped each and tucked them into my single backpack – the only baggage I would be taking with me to LA. Or so I thought.

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As my friends and I hit the outskirts of New Haven on departure day, I asked them to pull over and let me mail the Thank You notes. It wasn’t until 3 hours down the road when we pulled into a rest stop for lunch that I realized what I’d done with the $150 – I’d unconsciously made some postal worker’s day unexpectedly richer. $150 then was roughly worth the equivalent of $1100 today.

What I mostly remember about that incident is the feeling of loss, terror and dread that came with the realization that I’d dropped the money envelope into the mailbox along with the Thank You notes. It felt like my very survival was now threatened. Here I was, hundreds of miles from home – soon to be 3000 – with no job and no money – a stranger in a truly strange land. My friends thought it was haha funny, however: they nicknamed me, Markis J. Mynusmoney.

Fast Forward Fifty Years

After exploring holiday gift possibilities with my daughter this year a few weeks before Christmas, she convinced me that the best possible gift I could give her would be … money. This goes against all my holiday conditioning, but Amanda can be very convincing. So one morning I got up early and searched around for a gift envelope and a card to put some cash into. What did I find? An A2 envelope and a “Kick Butt Take Names” card that my friend Joanna designed. That felt like a suitable message matching my daughter’s general expressive holiday energy.

I decide to send Amanda $200. I go to my small cash stash to count out four $50 bills. Except … there are only 3 fifties there. What the heck: Let’s make it a $150 gift then. I put the three bills and the card into the envelope, address, stamp and seal it and lay it on my desk to take out to the mailbox later that morning.

The day unfolds with the usual work in my office – researching, writing, phone calls, bill paying. Around 9AM I gather up a bunch of papers and junk mail and walk out into the living room. As I pass the woodstove, I decide to toss the papers onto the fire that’s burning low. The papers instantly bring renewed energy to it, but I suddenly have a distinctly uneasy feeling. “I should probably put stuff like that in the paper recycling,” is the thought that goes through my mind in response to that body feeling.

It’s not until lunchtime, when I go looking for the gift envelope for Amanda that I realize what the distinctly uneasy feeling was actually about: all I can see are the 3 fifty dollar bills going up in flames. Suddenly, I’m sick to my stomach beyond all measure. Instantly, images of the experience of depositing my only $150 in the mailbox outside New Haven decades ago surface in memory. It feels like I’m in great danger all over again – with the future completely uncertain, and my ability to take good, conscious care of myself fully at risk. How could I be so mindless all over yet again?

In THIS Moment, Everything’s All Right

Fortunately, I have practices that I’ve been doing for years to help calm me down when accidents happen or traumatic memories resurface. Immediately, I leash up Olliebear and we head off to the Log Trail. On the way over, I take mindful breaths, exhaling longer than I’m inhaling. dog-walking1.jpgWhen we get to the trailhead, I immediately let loose with a long stream of invectives, cursing every thing and every one I can think to curse. Ollie doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, but he likes the energy. Off we go, jogging deliberately up the windy trail.

By the time we return back to the trailhead 40 minutes later, my brain and body have calmed down considerably. When we get back home, I take out another card and another A2 envelope and once again address it to Amanda. This time, however, I write out and enclose a holiday check.

This week’s Enchanted Loom looks at many of the reasons trauma often repeats and has it’s unfortunate way with us. Check out the review of Donna Jackson Nakazawa’a book, Childhood Disrupted here.

The first time a friend ever betrayed me stands clear in memory more than 60 years later. I was 8 years old. My sister Andrea, older by 7 years, had prepared dinner and called me to come in and eat. I refused. I wanted to stay out and keep playing with my friends. Ann became angry and frustrated. She began making threats: “If you don’t get in here right now, you’re not getting any dinner now or later.” “Don’t let me get ahold of you.”

I, of course, made faces and tantalized her until she suddenly sprang from the porch and came running after me. Naturally I turned to run, but the moment I did, the friend I was playing with – Junior Jackson – grabbed both my arms and held me until my sister got there. She took me from Junior’s grasp and holding one of my arms tight, slapped me hard repeatedly across the back as she dragged me toward the house. I can still feel her hand where she repeatedly hit me as I write this decades later: it’s mostly in my mid-back, just below my right scapula.

trump.jpgAlienation Is Not Integration

Junior Jackson and I never played together again after that betrayal. A year later, just as she was teaching me to dance, my sister Andrea would “abandon” me, literally tossed out into the street by our mother for becoming pregnant at age sixteen. And she and I were never close again.

For the incidents I just described, and for other reasons as well, neither of them felt safe or comfortable for me to be around ever again. They had apparently significantly altered my stress profile – how my body triggered and released stress peptides and hormones in their presence. They made my body and brain feel the way Donald Trump often makes my body and brain feel – tense, contracted and on guard. My face doesn’t spontaneously break into a smile when I see pictures or think of them.

A Frog Went a Urocortin

It turns out there is one specific stress peptide that appears to play a major role in the lack of joy, affection and affinity I feel for my older sister, Junior Jackson and Donald Trump. It’s called Urocortin 3. Urocortin 3 is different than 1 or 2. The main difference is that it is primarily responsible for the release of cortisol from the adrenal cortex. Cortisol and adrenaline are the two major stress hormones. It’s difficult to feel kindly toward or be friends with people who involuntarily and repeatedly trigger excessive amounts of stress hormones in us.

Difficult, but not impossible. Because, like many parts of the brain, which we know changes throughout our lifespan due in part to neuroplasticity, our stress profile can change as well. People, places and things that made us nervous at one time, we can come to feel real affection for or at least neutral about. We can actually learn to master the ability to prevent our adrenals from making us their bitch!

To Haven or Haven Not

One method that anecdotal evidence suggests might be effective in changing our stress profile is called “Havening.” It’s a treatment protocol recently developed in the United Kingdom that appears to be a creative blend of Emotional Freedom Therapy (EFT) and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR). Here are the 8 simple steps:

1. Find an exact word or phrase that represents your current emotional difficulty. Scale the word/phrase from 1-10, with 10 being the highest/most distressing score.

2. Clear your mind or think about something nice.

3. Use both your hands to tap on both your collarbones while opening and closing your eyes twice.

emdr.jpg4. Continue tapping, keep your head still, and move your eyes fully to the left and to the right, and then down to the left and down to the right, and finally in a full circle clockwise, and then counter-clockwise, keeping your head still.

5. Place your arms across your chest and close your eyes; while your eyes are closed, imagine walking up a flight of stairs and count out loud from 1 to 20 with each step you take.

6. Gently rub the sides of your arms, for the duration of the counting.

7. Re-scale the emotion 1-10. Repeat the procedure with the visual element and auditory element changed slightly; i.e. instead of climbing up stairs visualize skipping a rope and instead of counting 1-20, hum Happy Birthday.

8. Allow your arms to drop and relax, move your eyes in circles and then close your eyes, while stroking the sides of your arms again 5 times and speak the words “Let It Go” on the final stroke. Finally, open your eyes and scale the feeling 1-10 again. Repeat until the emotion is 1-3.

Does Havening actually work? There’s one way to find out. Try it with a friend to bear witness. If you begin to feel compassion towards sisters, friends and presidents with broken hearts and vulnerable brains just like yours, well, then you’ll know the answer.