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Monday, August 16, 2021

You Cannot Be Happy Tomorrow: A Brief Look at Stress & Trauma


The reason it is impossible to be happy tomorrow as the title implies, is because you never actually manage to “arrive at” tomorrow. You are always “in” today. If you are not aware, and not here now, because you are elsewhere or elsewhen in your mind, then we might speculate that your mind is being run by your subconscious. And if your mind is being run by your subconscious, we can deduce that the subconscious is being run by much of the ‘programming’ that took place when you were a child, whatever that programming might have been. 

As far back as the 16th Century, the Spanish Jesuit St. Ignatius of Loyola already stated: give me a child until he is seven, and I will show you the man. Neuroscientists now know that this is a correct assumption, because what you observe and internalize in those early years will shape you over the course of your life, even if – as is frequently the case – you are quite unaware on a conscious level of what it was that you internalized. Another way of saying this is that the subconscious mind has been programmed - often in a negative, disempowering, and even self-sabotaging way. 

Some of what we internalize in those early years – or the manner in which our subconscious mind has been programmed - is stress-related. And because it comes at that pre-operational stage of our cognitive development, where we are thinking symbolically, as opposed to using cognitive operations, much of what happens, goes into the body. This is important, because if the learning is in the body, it is not conscious and not available to our conscious thoughts or decisions. 

Stress, Psycho-Neuroimmunology (PNI) & the Immune System 

Bruce Lipton illustrates stress beautifully. When you are stressed, and adrenaline and cortisol flood your body, your immune system, which requires a great deal of energy, gets shut off in order to conserve energy. Blood vessels in the gut get constricted and blood (the carrier of energy in your body) gets pushed to the arms and legs. If you had to escape the proverbial tiger seeking to eat you for lunch, that blood in your extremities would help you run and climb a tree. Tigers tend to give up if they can’t reach you, and slink off to find other prey. However, if tigers were chasing you continually, you would be in a constant state of stress, and hence your immune system would not be functioning properly. And that is what happens in our modern society. We have no tigers chasing us, but we have tremendous chronic stress and pressure filling our days and lives. 

There is a final thing that stress hormones do: they restrict blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (behind the forehead), shutting off conscious processing (which takes place there). Blood is being pushed to the hind bran where subconscious programs are stored and in control. Lipton uses the example of a car accident, saying that just as it is about to happen, you don’t consciously think out the steps you will take to avoid it. Rather, an automatic, or subconscious program takes over, because you learned how to drive some time ago. Ditto running away from the tiger. You know how to run. 

Stress is not just a tiger or a potential car accident. Stress is what you see on tv (news or movies/series). Stress is having poor boundaries with people in your life. Stress is lack of self-care on any level you could mention. Stress is the daily grind. Stress comes in thousands of guises and pervades our lives. Stress takes our immune system off-line. Stress brings in subconscious programming – i.e., we “use” reactions that are not conscious in order to deal with situations we confront (great when you’re avoiding the tiger, but not so great when your spouse’s verbal abuse simply serves to bring back how you subconsciously felt when you were a child and one of your parents yelled and frightened you). 

Trauma & Stress 

Numerous highly respected professionals in the field of medicine, psychiatry, and psychology (eg., Drs. Van der Kolk, Maté, Levine, Sapolsky, Rothschild, Porges, Ogden, etc.) have found that trauma is not necessarily something exhibited only by war veterans. Nor can it only be attributed to severe abuse experienced in childhood. 

Research of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) and the discovery of their correlation to numerous negative outcomes, has demonstrated that far more people than anyone had ever suspected, experienced a number of such events, resulting in negative physiological and psychological adult outcomes. Nevertheless, many people who appear to be controlled by some kind of subconscious program that sends them into blind reactivity or negative rumination, insist that their childhood was more normal, not necessarily traumatic – and yet – something is keeping these people from living a full and rich life. 

The examination of multiple diseases, depression, or addiction, and other negative outcomes in the lives of adults, has demonstrated that they are generally found in the lives of those who suffered some kind of trauma as children. What is new in our understanding, is that the trauma was not necessarily, as already stated, of a typically severe kind.

Here are some examples:

  • Birth trauma: emergency c-sections, umbilical cord problems at birth, “planned” birth timing (as opposed to natural timing) in order to suit the attending physician’s schedule.
  • Near drowning, car accidents, or other near-fatal situations, whether at age nine months or three years, or any time at all in those early years of life, and that leave no apparent physiological or cognitive consequences.
  • Medical procedures that may imply the child is restrained on an operating table without the company of a soothing parent.
  • Child custody issues resulting in a child experiencing high drama, conflict, or even kidnapping by the non-custodial parent, possibly resulting in being kept from the other parent for months or years on end.
  • Parental alienation (the custodial parent does his/her utmost to paint the other parent black in the child’s mind).
  • Children whose parents, while not abusive in the conventional sense of the word, are not self-regulated, nor are they emotionally mature or coherent, and hence create frequent traumatic moments (by virtue of their lack of self-awareness and self-regulation) for their children in daily life. 

Any and all of these, along with a long list of others, are potential carriers of great stress in the child. And if the origin of that stress took place during the subconscious period of the early life, the stress was frequently reacted to in the body. And continues to be reacted to on that level even in adulthood – until the subconscious programming is reached and eliminated. And – at least for now – it appears this is not something that is amenable to classical talk therapy. The body must be included. 

The main focus of this article is to explain how we become subconsciously programmed, and how that process is intertwined with stress, and how that stress impacts our lives in such hugely important, and sometimes traumatic ways. Here are, however, a few places you might begin your search for solutions:

  • Somatic Experiencing (Peter Levine)
  • Sensorimotor therapy (Pat Ogden)
  • Sensory integration
  • Neuro-feedback
  • Energy Psychology (Psych-K, EFT, etc.)
  • EMDR
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Yoga
  • Rhythmic dancing & theater


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See the preview (click on the title below) to my online video course  




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