Physiological Challenges

So as I wrote about recently, I’ve been making some profound discoveries through Laurence Heller’s book Healing Developmental Trauma. This has brought up several of what would seem to be “side” issues, which nevertheless seem pretty big, so that’s where I’ve been camping out, trying to unpack everything I need to absorb in these places before I move on.

One thing I almost missed was understanding the physiological effects that the early trauma set in motion in my life. I’ve always felt “sick” – in the vaguest of ways and understandings – but never at any point could I put my finger on what was wrong. So, as I tend to do, in despair at my lack of understanding or resources, I concluded it must be “all in my head.” And at some deep level, where I wasn’t fully conscious of the fact, I added this to my running list of reasons why I’m just a seriously flawed person. To my logic, I can’t even feel “normal,” and furthermore, since I can’t exactly explain or define this, it must be my fault. I must either be making it up, or causing this condition, but either way, it means I am a bad person because I cannot maintain a level of vitality that everyone else seems to function at.

So much blame. So much condemnation. And for such irrelevant things, things that morality have nothing to do with. Blame shouldn’t have even been assigned for these issues…yet it was.

At any rate, one thing I blew past in my initial reading was a phrase in the list of physiological symptoms of those having the “Connection Survival Style.” (Please see yesterday’s post for more info on what that is.) This phrase was “dorsal vagal dominance binding high-sympathetic arousal” – which to me was gibberish, and uninteresting. But on a whim I decided to Google it, and am so very glad I went down this rabbit trail.

Basically, after doing some research and also consulting a Harvard med student friend of mine (who tells me that the phraseology was terrible and the point could have been said better), this phrase means that the body has dealt/ is dealing with a state of constant high-arousal by staying stuck in the “freeze” response.

So I, and most others with the Connection Survival Style, have a body that is both constantly in “panic” mode, and simultaneously, constantly in “freeze” mode.

And the repercussions of living this way since birth are enormous. The following list is only a partial list of possibilities (of which I have most or all, chronically) of physical symptoms that you can experience in a constant high-arousal state, which I found at this very interesting website:

Manifestations Possible Mechanism
Dry Eyes Lacrimal glands are parasympathetic. this will interfere with vision, and of course, crying.
Myopia the exact mechanism is uncertain, but possibly when young wide pupils make vision blurry and then great effort to see leads to eyes growing too long front to back.
Large Pupils Direct sympathetic stimulation .Poorer visual acuity but wider field of detection
Poor Peripheral Vision This is otherwise known as ‘tunnel-vision’.
Rapid Shallow Breathing Breathing occurs high in the chest, with small tidal volume. Chronic hyperventilation leads to chronic hypoxic feeling at tissue level due to Bohr effect.
CalciumIon Dysregulation Chronic hyperventilation raises blood pH but the body must
Tone Deafness The inner ear has two small but important muscles that ‘tune’ hearing
Poor Balance Poor balance comes from tight muscles and malalignment, and dysfunction of the vestibular system
Fear of Falling From tight feet and hips and weakened vestibular system
Fear of Heights This derives from a fear of falling
Fear of Closing Eyes Perhaps from 1) poor vestibular function that forces the eyes to take over the function of balance, 2) vigilance for threats in the immediate environment
High Blood Pressure Direct sympathetic effect on the vascular system
Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Disease Oxidative stress damages blood vessel walls (endothelium) Sympathetic shift increases clotting tendency. Clots form readily on the damaged endothelium. High insulin levels are also a factor.
Muscle Tightness The sympathetic system stimulates gamma motor units in the muscle spindles that regulate muscle tension.
Clumsiness From poor balance, muscle tightness, and insensitivity
Joint stiffness From chronic muscle shortening which can also cause osteoarthritis
Poor Sleep Muscle tension produces racing thoughts and inability to ‘let go’
Low Body Awareness The stronger the muscle contraction, the less the sensory information
‘Cold Sweat’ Direct effect of sympathetic innervation
Pale Skin Constriction of surface blood flow
Dry Skin From poor turgor and constriction of peripheral blood flow.
Erectile Dysfunction Tumescence is a parasympathetic function
Premature Ejaculation The sympathetic system manages ejaculation, if up-regulated it reacts before much sexual tension can accumulate.
Female Anorgasmia Sympathetic dominance prevents or delays sexual arousal and sufficient tensioning in the pelvis and genitalia.
Cold Hands and Feet Blood circulation does not reach the surface
Auto-Immune Disease This is an area that is little understood. One possibility is that adrenal depletion (below) results in decreased modulation of the immune system.
Thyroid Depletion The thyroid regulates the basic ‘speed’ of metabolism. Because of the complexity of the system, standard measures of thyroid adequacy may be misleading.
Adrenal Depletion Living by the will firsts exhausts the adrenal, which then makes the will paramount because only by the will can one ‘get going.’ This is also known as ‘adrenal fatigue’ which for some reason is a very controversial idea to mainstream healthcare, perhaps because it is so widespread it appears normative
Diabetes Mellitus Overuse of cortisol and insulin in stressful and will-based living leads to burnout in the pancreas and up-regulation of insulin receptors.
Difficulty Swallowing Swallowing requires the cooperation and coordination of the voluntary (mouth and tongue) and ventral vagal system ( pharynx, esophagus, sphincters) Will based living may lead to a mismatch between the voluntary and involuntary.
Constipation Sympathetic tone directly slows intestinal function. Western medicine only recognizes constipation when bowel movements fall behind intake and there is an unsustainable accumulation. However, sluggish bowels and slow transit time has many implications for health and emotional functioning.
Fidgeting Fidgeting has long been associated with being ‘up-tight.’ Possibly simply a result of muscle tension.
Picking and Scratching The picking function of the brain seems stimulated. This is greatly exaggerated when people use chemical stimulants like methamphetamine or cocaine.

Folks, I have blamed myself for so many of these things, believing that they were just insufficiencies I had unwittingly brought upon myself for some reason. For some of them I thought I’d just missed some crucial developmental phase, or that my lack of energy is laziness, or that my high heart rate was an inherited constitutional flaw. It’s insane how much blame I have heaped upon myself over the years.

My head is spinning from the whiplash of this extreme paradigm shift. I know others have told me over the years that what happened to me was not my fault. But I’d never made the connection that the repercussions are not my fault either. Seeing these things in writing, somehow definitively confirmed and validated my innocence, and eradicated the notion that I – in any way – brought any of this upon myself. This is a good, good day. On the one hand, I am heartbroken to see just how extensively I have vilified myself and every part of me, down to the very cells in my body that I mistakenly blamed for being defective. But on the other hand, I am finally starting to really see, with clear eyes, how innocent I am. How I did not do this. And how I can live without the burden of feeling like I don’t deserve anything better.

And it might sound funny to say after a post like this, but more than ever, I know: I am healing. The physical stuff is going to take time. And it might take more effort than I’m currently putting into it – since I didn’t know until now that these things were even a thing. But I can. And, I will.

Watch me. 😉

Cheers. ~J8


1 thought on “Physiological Challenges”

  • 1
    sarahkreece on December 12, 2014 Reply

    Whoo! Big paradigm shifts leave a bit of whiplash but they also get you out of cages in your mind. I’m so pleased to hear this. Privileged to watch. 🙂

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