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Typically, when trying to explain mental illnesses like depression, OCD, or whatever, psychologists and psychiatrists point to individual pathology as the cause. They “blame the victim” by blaming the “id” (Freud), or the “shadow” (Jung) or some genetic abnormality or predisposition. There is something wrong with you, the psychiatrist will say. You have a “mental illness” and they will diagnose that illness as a way to make you better. “Why don’t we talk about it for a bit. Here are some pills. Please go away.”
We reject this model of mental illness. We view this model as a “narcotization or tranquilization” (Szasz 2010) of an individual otherwise suffering from the traumatic experiences of a Toxic Socialization (Sosteric 2016b). This tranquilization of psychic trauma is the cardinal sin of modern society and represents a complete failure to recognize the basic etiology of mental illness, which is violence, stress, and chaos in the environment. Worse, it prevents the development of workable treatments. It is exactly as absurd as thinking that slapping somebody in the face will somehow fix the leg that someone else just broke with a hammer.
We prefer a true biological model of mental illness, and not the pseudo biological one preferred by the mainstream psychiatric industry. We prefer a model that recategorizes the symptomatology normally associated with “mental illness” not as illness but as
- a short-term bodily response,
- primary and secondary damage, and
- long term biological and behaviouraladaptation
- physical and psychic assault and trauma, and
- neglect of one or more of our Seven Essential Needs
Unravelling the impact of assault and neglect on the mental and physical health and well-being of the physical unit is complex. We will deal with the impact of assault and trauma in this article, and the impact and role of neglect in a follow-up article.
What do we mean by trauma? Trauma is damage to the Physical Unit. Trauma is the result of a direct or indirect assault on the body, your physical unit. Trauma occurs as a consequence of both Physical Assault or Psychic Assault.
Physical assault is direct or indirect assault on the physical unit that causes organic damage. A direct assault on the physical unit is a knife wound, a punch in the face, a fall off a bicycle, and so on. An indirect assault is a stressful environment, and the impact this has on the physical unit.
Psychic assault is a direct or indirect assault on the Bodily Ego of the physical unit. A direct assault on the bodily ego is when somebody calls you a mean name, belittles you, shames you, and so on. An indirect assault on the bodily ego is an assault caused by failure to maintain a healthy and safe environment where all the Seven Essential Needs are met. In other words, neglect. If you do not provide stimulating environments, if you do not meet all the individual’s essential needs, the bodily ego, which is linked to various structures in the human brain (Sosteric 2016a), atrophies and suffers as a result.
What is a short-term bodily response
A short term bodily response is your body’s biological and instinctual response to assault or neglect. If somebody stabs you with a knife, you will receive a knife wound, and your body will activate defense and repair programming. Fight or flight hormones will be released, signalling your body to act. You will feel a wash of emotions and a desperate need to fight or get away and get help to stop the assault. You will flail your arms, lash out, hit back, and try to fight or flee. The emotions and the motivation to fight, flee, or get help are your body’s biologically coded responses to the physical trauma. They are the short-term responses designed to protect the physical body from harm.
The fight or flight response is only one of your body’s short term responses to assault and trauma. Once you are out of danger, your body will activate self-healing methods. Blood clotting factors will be activated, the body will mobilize defenses against infection, the skin will begin to heal, etc.
These short-term response to physical trauma are easily observable, and will dissipate only when you get away and find help, and the wound is properly treated.
The same sort of short-term bodily response occurs when you experience a psychic assault and psychic wound. When you are stabbed with a word, for example,1 your body will activate defence programs designed to defend you from further assault. You will get angry, cross your arms to assert a boundary, look around for support, and (if the assault continues) try and escape the room. Once you have escaped, your body will activate repair programming. You will cry, mourn, release emotions, self-sooth, and so on. These short-term response to psychological trauma are easily observable, and will dissipate only when you get away and find help, and the wound is properly treated.
All the things that your mind and body do to escape from, mitigate, and heal from physical or psychic assault are short-term bodily responses to assault and trauma.
When your body experiences a trauma of some kind, whether that trauma is physical or psychic, it responds. It is notable that when the body is physically traumatized, others will respond as well. Human society has developed a sophisticated capacity to respond to physical wounds. This response ranges from easy to access basic medical knowledge and effective home treatments (bandages, liquid stitches, disinfectants, and so on) to full scale medical interventions in institutions devoted to treating physical issues (for example, public health centres, medical centres, and hospitals).
The response that we, as a society, take to physical wounds is a no-brainer. Everybody, even the smallest child, knows you must respond quickly and efficiently to a physical wound, otherwise “complications” may result. This quick and efficient response is appropriate. If you do not protect and treat a physical wound immediately, the body’s short-term responses may be overwhelmed, and even a minor wound might get infected and eventually go septic. Even if the wound does heal itself, the healing might involve errors and “adaptions” that are not optimal and not fully functional. This is why emergency rooms exist. Emergency rooms exist to provide high priority treatment of wounds so as to prevent secondary damage from occurring.
Because of the quick medical response we receive in our modern society, most physical wounds heal, and there are minimal long-term consequences. There may be scars, bones may not knit 100 percent correctly, and tendons and ligaments may be strained, but the vast majority of physical wounds are treated properly and heal correctly. Of course, sometimes it does happen that you can be physically injured and you do not get proper and immediate treatment. It does not happen often, but it does happen. If you break a leg while camping in the woods, for example, you may not get the immediate treatment you require, and as a result, you may end up with secondary damage, like infection, shock, additional damage to the trauma site, and so on.
Unfortunately, the same sort of sophisticated response to psychic wounds does not exist in human society. A parallel psychiatric hospital system was, at one time, a feature of modern Western society, but these have been largely dismantled, thanks to a neoconservative lack of concern. Now, psychic wounds are not taken seriously enough, and they are rarely treated properly, or completely. The serious damage caused by even minor psychic wounds is dismissed and, in an appalling demonstration of total ignorance, the individual is blamed for being a victim and placed back into a situation where they will be wounded again, and again and again. The general advice given to people with psychic wounds is that they should adapt and function in the spaces that cause these kinds of wounds.
Take bullying at school, for example. When a child is verbally bullied at school, even when a child receives multiple word wounds, the typical school, social, and familial response is to downplay the consequences and diminish the child. Rather than doing what needs to be done to heal the bully and treat the wounds of the child, the school and the family minimize the seriousness of the situation (“oh, it’s just boys being boys”), minimize the extent of the trauma (“don’t be a baby” or “big boys don’t cry” or “toughen up and get over it”), and blame some characteristic of the victim for “allowing” the assault to happen.
We think it is fair to say that there is a large percentage of people in modern societies who neither understand the seriousness of psychic wounds, nor bother or really care about treating them properly. Instead of protecting the victim and treating the psychic wound properly, we diminish the victim and expose the wound to further assault. I am sure you can think of many examples from your own life where this is true. This bizarre outlook and approach to psychic wounds means that when people endure even minor psychic trauma, they do not get any treatment for it at all, and they are often forced to go back and endure it the next day, and the next day, and so on.
What happens when you do not take a psychic wound seriously? What happens when you ignore a psychic wound, or worse, re-traumatize it? Exactly the same things as happens when you fail to treat a physical wound—secondary damage occurs. If, for example, a teacher conveys to a student that they are “stupid,” the wound caused by this assault will cause primary damage to the self-esteem and bodily ego. If this wound is treated properly, this damage may be mitigated, though it may take a long time. However, if this wound is not treated properly, secondary damage occurs. Like an infection that starts to eat away healthy tissue in the body, the individual develops a psychic infection. The child may lose confidence with their peer groups. The child may come to doubt their intelligence and ability and may consequently underperform on subsequent tests. This underperformance, caused by the infected bodily ego, further exacerbates self-esteem issues and may end up doing all sorts of secondary damage as the months and years unfold.
As a society, we fail to understand the serious and potentially debilitating nature of even minor psychic wounds. As a society, we also fail to understand the nature of the secondary damage that occurs when we fail to properly treat the wound. Instead, we mischaracterize both the primary and secondary damage caused by psychic wounds as genetic weakness, chemical imbalance, or something. Thus depression, which we would characterize as secondary damage caused by failure to properly protect and treat psychic wounds, becomes something that is caused by one’s “genetic vulnerability” or some sort of “chemical imbalance.”
We can see this clearly when we scan the “What causes depression?” page of the Harvard Medical School (HMS). There we learn that “there are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It is believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression” (Publishing 2009). While the HMS does acknowledge that “stress” plays a role, this factor, is set in the middle of several victim blaming statements, and does not even come close to tagging the significance of assault and psychic trauma in the etiology of so-called mental illness.
To be fair, things are changing. More and more people are becoming cognizant of the fact that psychic trauma is behind the so called mental illness of our modern world.For example, the WebMD page entitled “Causes of Depression” lists past physical, sexual, or emotional abuse as something that can “increase the vulnerability to clinical depression” (Anon 2019). This is certainly an improvement over the Harvard statement. Nevertheless, full awareness that “faulty mood regulation,” genetic vulnerability” and even medical problems are in fact the secondary damage caused by failure to properly treat psychic trauma is still a little ways off.
Long term biological and behavioural adaptations
There is a lot more that needs to be said about how various forms of mental illness map to short-term bodily responses and secondary damage, but that will have to wait. It is important to note here that short-term bodily responses and secondary damage are not the only things that occur when somebody experiences a psychic wound, and they are not the only things that we mischaracterize as mental illness. We also tend to mischaracterize long-term bodily adaptations as mental illness as well.
What are long-term adaptations? You can understand what this is if you do a little thought experiment. Imagine you broke your wrist at work. Imagine that instead of getting that break treated, you instead go straight back to work. While at work, your coworkers come up and, knowing that your hand has been broken, nevertheless slap your back, shake your arm, grab your hand, and otherwise poke and prod at the break. If you did that, if you failed to treat the wound and exposed it to ongoing assault, your wound would never heal properly and your body would develop several adaptions to the situation. These adaptations would fall into several categories. There would be biological, behavioural, psychological, emotional, neurological, and even hormonal adaptations.
For example, in order to try and protect your arm, you would probably start walking around with your right arm in front of you all the time, to try and block your coworkers pokes. This is a behavioural adaptation. You might also become avoidant, preferring to stay alone in a corner rather than risk your coworkers’ inconsiderate prodding. If this goes on long enough, you may even start getting a little fearful, even paranoid. This is an emotional and psychological adaptation. Because you would be in constant pain and anxiety, you would be experiencing chronic stress, and so there would be neurological and endocrine changes in the body (Sosteric 2016b). Your hippocampus might atrophy (Vythilingam et al. 2002), the function of your amygdala might alter (Jedd et al. 2015), and so on and so forth. Of course, there would also be biological adaptations. Your break might eventually knit, but it wouldn’t knit properly. Blood vessels and bones would come together, but in an incorrect fashion. In the end result you might be able to survive and go to work, but your entire life outlook and approach would change.
Now imagine that after a while your bone knits reasonably well and the ongoing pain stops. What doesn’t stop, however, are all the emotional, psychological, neurological, and endocrine changes that occurred while you are dealing with your broken arm. You are permanently changed by our experience, and not in a good way. Neurological changes have altered your body’s response to things. Chronic stress has impaired your neuroendocrine and cortisol functions (Dozier et al. 2006). You may even have experienced weight gain (Weber-Hamann et al. 2002), irritable bowel syndrome (Aronson 2009), and so on. You are disturbed by all these changes and so you go see a psychiatrist or the psychologist. When you do, the professional, rather than looking at the environmental and social factors that caused all these negative changes and adaptations, skip forward and blame chemical imbalances (which you do have, but which were caused by the toxic experiences), “genetic vulnerabilities,” personality characteristics, and so on.
This example is a bit contrived, even absurd, but hopefully you see the point. No society is going to allow somebody to walk around with an untreated broken hand, or any other untreated physical trauma for that matter. Nevertheless, this sort of thing happens all the time when it comes to psychic wounds. People experience psychic wounds all the time and they are often sent back to school, back to work, back to the social club, with nary a thought or concern for their health or well being. Once there, they are poked and prodded, sometimes mercilessly, by friends, teachers, coworkers, and even family members who simply do not take the wound seriously, or see it as an opportunity to push buttons and carry on the assault. Later, when they show up at a psychologists office with a broken ego, or a broken self-esteem, they are given ineffective treatments based on a mischaracterization of the wounds. When the treatments do not work, they are anaesthetized with chemicals and once again sent back into whatever toxic environment that has caused the damage to begin with. The situation is absurd, and obviously, if you do that, psychic damage will get worse, and your body and mind will “adapt” in order to navigate the gauntlet as best it can.
The question of course now is, what will the damage and adaptations look like? Unfortunately, unpacking all the primary and secondary damage caused by untreated psychic wounds goes beyond the scope of this article. While we will explore this at a later date, to get you started, just scan through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) to see what there is to see. Many of the “disorders” in that book can probably be better understood as some combination of primary damage, secondary damage, and long term behavioural and biological adaptations to untreated psychic wounds and ongoing, chronic, assault.
At the outset of this article we suggested that the common conceptualization of things like depression, OCD, personalities “disorders,” and so on as mental illness was, at best, a misunderstanding, and at worse, a deliberate narcotization and or tranquilization. We further went on to suggest that the symptomatology normally associated with “mental illness” should be viewed not as “illness” but as as a
- a short-term bodily response,
- primary and secondary damage, and
- long term biological and behavioural adaptations
- physical and psychic assault and trauma and
- neglect of one or more of our Seven Essential Needs.
We didn’t cover the impact of neglect in this article, but hopefully, at this point, you will see the logic behind seeing mental “illness” not as illness but as a body’s response to physical or psychological assault. A child that becomes a bully at school is not a bully because of some psychological, emotional, genetic, or spiritual deficiency, but because they are exhibiting secondary damage from untreated (and probably chronic) physical and psychic assault in the home. A young child that is cutting is not doing so because there is some chemical imbalance in their brain. They are doing it as a short-term response to help them deal with intense emotional pain caused by violence and abuse in their life. If there is a chemical imbalance, if the hippocampus atrophies or the neuronal pathways change direction, this is caused by untreated and ongoing trauma, period.
We understand that this all might seem a bit “revolutionary” and “out there” to some. Certainly, advising people to reconceptualize mental illness as damage and adaptation to chronic and untreated assault is a bit of a shift. However, as this article on “Toxic Socialization” summarizes, scientists know how serious chronic assault and abuse (Sosteric 2016b). If what we are saying is true, then, you will find examples of physical and psychic trauma in the biographies of all “mentally ill” people. Put another way, if all this is true, the vast majority of people who show up in a psychiatrist’s or psychologist’s office will have a history of childhood, adolescent, and adulthood violence and abuse in their environment. It should not take a competent therapist very long to dig out the violence and abuse. Certainly, if what we are saying is true, you will be able to see this in your own life as well.
1Parents yelling at their children, teachers psychologically assaulting an adolescent, bosses belittling an employee, and so on, are all emotional stabbings that create word wounds
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