All images by Cindy Kunsman from Under Much Grace and used with permission.
In the discussion of building safety in stabilization in recovery from post traumatic stress, we’ve recently considered the role of acceptance and expectation in that process. We lose perspective because we get more consumed with survival for far too long which interferes with our ability to embrace joy and live optimistically.
Understanding mankind’s vulnerability in the grand sense gives a a map of the landscape, and creating a starting point of moments of safety give us a starting point. Learning how to safely move forward through the oft convoluted maze of healing also gives us a safe habits and help in that process.
Trauma and Critical Thinking
Trauma causes changes in how our brain functions as more blood flow and activity takes place in the regions that are responsible for survival – and they happen to be ones that govern emotion. If we had to stop and do much reasoning to survive immediate threats, we wouldn’t get every far. Fear and survival that follows from the sense of threat can be considered the mind’s wise allocation of resources. In that process our critical thought and introspection become a luxury in the face of threat, but prolonged trauma that doesn’t shut down once the threat abates causes a dulling of our critical thought. In the long term, this creates a problem when we need to draw on rational decision making because all of our brain’s effort has taken another focus.
When people exit high demand ideologies or groups, the trauma that they experience compounds the challenge of reawakening critical thinking and decision making skills. To merge with a closed, authoritarian group with rigid demands, critical thinking takes a back seat to the black and white rules and perspectives that control the group and the members themselves. The dogma and the dictates of the leaders subsume the individual’s own decision making. Subtle chipping away at self-confidence eases the struggle and helps the person transition into their working identity that the group demands of them. When one walks away from a group, it takes some work, practice, and encouragement to help reboot these critical thinking skills.
An Uncertain World
All true living as a responsible adult requires critical thinking, and critical thinking requires work. These direct our choices, and all choices involve risk and the discomfort we feel that comes with all decision making. Healthy people strive to make healthy decisions that will benefit them, and perfectionism intensifies this stress even more. Considering that high demand groups wear away at all of these skills, whether we were reasonably healthy when we joined up, the fact that our world can be unpredictable and our strivings imperfect amplify the stress that we feel as we venture forward.
Our high tech life and the good life that we see in the media also intensifies the idea that we can live more wisely and minimize if not eliminate most risks. I have a friend who is post-quiverful who suffers with chronic health problems with no hopeful or very treatments often asks me if I can find something that will help her. I think of the way people have come to expect and sometimes feel entitled to good health and accessible treatment to help them achieve it. High demand groups promise that we can also find these things by following their systems, so the pains that all human beings feel as a consequence of living become even more disappointing and challenging.
The next post will discuss how to understand and cope with the stress of risk.
Cindy is a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network.
Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.
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