Safety and Happiness

Marcus Annaeus Seneca saidWhere fear is, happiness is not.”.

If we don’t feel safe or happy, then it is because we feel fearful about something. If we don’t know why we don’t feel safe or happy, then it is because mechanisms are keeping our fear from our conscious awareness for fear they might overwhelm us if we were to become conscious of them.

Unfortunately, when the cause of our unhappiness is internal and unconscious, say for instance, because it is a repressed fear too intolerable to face, we will seek something or someone outside of ourselves to blame our unhappiness on. We will find something or someone that we can say to ourselves; this person or that object makes us feel unsafe. But it is often the fact that this external subject/object is merely a substitute for an internal cause that may be both cognitive and biological in nature.

1.      Fear

If, as our brains are still in their development stage (Generally the brain begins to develop in the foetus at around 3 weeks after conception, and all major development has completed by around the age of 3 years old with the exception of the prefrontal cortex) the brain experiences any prolonged periods of stress, where it experiences, say a perceived threat to survival, all energies that would normally go towards development, focus on developing the part of the brain devoted to responding to our survival needs. All other areas would be starved of energy so development will be slowed or halted. Study and research has shown an enlarged Amygdala and reduced volume in other just about all other areas of the brain in children that have suffered periods of extreme and prolonged stress as developing infants. Such experiences would include; parental abandonment, parental abuse, war, etc. Of the parental abandonment, maternal abandonment tends to be by far the worse, especially in the first year of life. The mother & child bond is an important step in the development of a baby’s emotional brain. It literally kick starts certain areas of development and without that initial kick start the development of the babies emotional bonding system can become dysfunctional. This is a key system and its dysfunctional symptoms can be found in many of the behavioural disorders classified in the mental health field today. Current research is being done in to the hormone “Oxytocin” and how this hormone may play a key role in that early emotional bonding and Oxytocin is found in breast milk (This fact initially reminded me of the common put down “He was never breast fed”!). Research has shown that low levels of Oxytocin may affect our ability to form healthy relationships and develop trust. While high levels of Oxytocin are found in animals that form lifelong relational bonds with partners.

The result of this enlarged amygdala, along with reduced key areas in the brain associated with emotional regulation, impulse control, etc. Is that the subsequent child or adult would have a highly developed area of the brain associated with watching for and responding to danger and threat. This is a state referred to as Hyper-aroused. And because the areas of the brain associated with turning down hyper-arousal did not develop properly, the child or adult will be in a hyper-sensitive state of readiness to respond to threat or danger. In other words they would be hyper-vigilant for things to fear. The fear part of their brain would be so sensitive to potential threats that they might see danger in even the slightest indiscretions or failings or may even totally imagine and invent a danger or threat in order to feed the unconscious need to rationalise and justify the internal state of fear upon. A baby’s primary fears are focused on getting its basic needs met, this soothes the fear response. Not getting it’s basic needs met is perceived as a threat to survival and this is experienced as trauma. The mother’s primary role is to sooth a baby’s fears and this in turn teaches the baby how to sooth itself. If this important lesson is missed or inadequately administered, or is inconsistent and subject to long breaks the subsequent child/adolescent/adult may never properly develop the mechanism to sooth their own stress response without intervention in the form of therapy of some kind.

Happiness

We tend to look outside for our happiness, or for things to blame our unhappiness on, when in truth, our happiness is a state dependent upon our internal world and not the external world. We are bombarded by marketing, TV programs, commercials, etc. that try to make us believe that our happiness depends upon a new dress, the latest perfume, a new car, a new house, etc. Their intention is to make us consume, because it is consuming that drives the economy. Consuming keeps the businesses in business. They want you to believe that getting that new dress, that new perfume, that new car, that new house, etc. is the key to your happiness. It’s a form of brain washing.

We will, when we feel unhappy, look to an outside source to pin the blame of that unhappiness on, but our happiness is actually triggered by hormones, and our unhappiness is triggered by a lack of those hormones. While it is true, that outside stimulus promotes the release of hormones associated with reward (dopamine and serotonin), these are usually short bursts of happiness and then we return to our natural balance. For some people that natural balance teeters on clinical depression and they have an almost addictive urge to keep feeding their need to stimulate the reward chemicals in order to avoid slipping in to depression. This, once again is caused by dysregulated cortisol. Higher than normal levels of cortisol and low natural levels of serotonin promote a feeling of stress and unhappiness and this leads to a feeling of constantly needing to stimulate the “reward chemicals” in order to give us brief respite from our unhappiness. When we do not achieve that respite for whatever reason, we become overcome by a feeling of unhappiness and we seek an external source to blame that unhappiness on. We then find relief and reward from removing that external source, or removing ourselves from that external source. But it is never lasting because our natural state of happiness is low, so we go back in to the destructive repetitive reward seeking. But our unhappiness was created inside us, and is not due to external stimuli.

Safety

Once again we see safety as based upon a completely external influence; our sense of safety is to protect us from outside threats. But sometimes we can become our own worst enemies, attacking ourselves from the inside. Cortisol is the primary source of this attack. Prolonged and excessive levels of cortisol destroy brain cells, especially in the hippocampus, the brains memory store and also ironically the area of the brain responsible for telling the adrenal gland to stop producing cortisol. Cortisol turns off our immune system allowing disease and infections in. Cortisol turns off our body’s ability to repair itself. Studies on salmon show that the reason they die after spawning is their adrenal gland goes in to overdrive producing toxic levels of cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone that, when in abundance, creates a feeling that we are not safe and triggers our autonomous nervous system to respond to danger. This system can end up being stuck on if the mechanism for turning it of is weak or damaged (cortisol weakens and damages the mechanism for turning off cortisol.) the result is a state called “hyperarousal”. In this state we can magnify threats and even invent threats in order to provide the fear response with a source of threat to target the autonomous nervous systems response, the fight or flight response. If our body is telling us we need to fight something or run away from it for our safety, yet no danger is apparent, in order to avoid the confusion, we will find or invent a danger in order to provide an outlet for the powerful urge supplied by the autonomous nervous system.

So if you don’t feel safe or happy, then you feel fear, and you need to ask yourself what you fear and lay your fears out before you. When you lay your fears out before you, you can shine the light of reason and logic on them and they shrink back. But fears pushed in to the dark corners of our mind fester and grow and burst out of us as monstrous complexes with indiscriminate destructive desires and they always fall upon the most convenient target with ferocity and bloodlust, as if they are the source of the fear rather than the unconscious source.

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