Happiness – True Happiness, is not based upon your external environment, it is not based on what car you have, or what job you have, or whether you have your dream handbag, or dream pair of shoes, or any other material possessions. It is solely based upon your happiness with yourself and the inner peace that comes through a total acceptance of yourself. The opposite is to repress, deny or project out what is undesirable in ourselves, this only leads to further unhappiness because no matter what manoeuvres we adopt, what is in us, stays in us and our attempts to escape or harm what we find undesirable in ourselves, is ultimately an assault on our self.

What is happiness? Well on a purely scientific level it’s the product of a mixture of chemicals called “Neurotransmitters”, among those that promote happiness are; Serotonin, Oxytocin, Dopamine, etc. So what causes unhappiness? Well it’s not just low levels of the aforementioned neurotransmitters, but also prolonged high levels of adrenaline & cortisol, this can lead to adrenal fatigue which results in a debilitating lack of energy, drive and enthusiasm and is one of the factors of the conditions we call ME/CFS/PVFS (Myalgic Encephalopathy/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome). Cortisol and Oxytocin have an interesting relationship; cortisol release can counteract oxytocin and oxytocin can counteract cortisol.

Our emotions as we feel them, and ultimately our happiness, are controlled, primarily, by an area of the brain called the limbic system. This is a brain area we share with all mammals. Of particular importance is an area of the limbic system called The Amygdala. The amygdala consists of 2 small almond shaped organs attached to the hippocampus;

The amygdala is our brain’s alarm system. To use a parallel; the US armed forces use something called “DEF CON” (Defence Condition) to determine and communicate the state of alertness for threat to the United States of America. It has five levels, starting at DEF CON 5; the lowest state of alertness. Through 4, 3, and 2 and ending at DEF CON 1; War is imminent. Our brains have their own DEF CON and this is controlled and defined by the amygdala. a crucial part of the amygdala known as the central nucleus contains links to the key brain stem areas that control the autonomic functions involved in the fear response. During non threatening situations, the ideal DEF CON level of our amygdala should be DEF CON 5, but trauma, especially early life trauma, has the affect of resetting our DEF CON levels. There are many individuals walking around with DEF CON levels of 4, 3, 2 and perhaps even 1. We all know people like this, people who appear to be on a hair trigger; say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing and you will get a confrontational, violent or aggressive reaction. These people are in a permanent state of readiness to respond and react to danger and are in fact in a permanent state of fear. Their amygdala is sending a constant signal that threat is imminent and their body is responding by a permanent state of alertness and readiness to respond to danger. Our amygdala can literally get stuck on high. Imagine living with a permanent sense of threat, of anxiety, stress, or fear. Many people do.

There’s a cost to this, the primary chemical associated with stress is cortisol. Cortisol’s role is to prepare us to respond to danger, it redirects energies and switches off or tunes down certain bodily processes. Some of the things associated with the stress hormone, cortisol, are innocuous things such as; Male Baldness, Alopecia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Right down to more serious issues that affect the immune system and the body’s ability to repair and defend itself from infection and disease, all disease, even, and especially, cancer. Cortisol also damages brain tissue; stress weakens the blood brain barrier allowing cortisol to pass from the blood stream and in to the brain, where it is known to damage brain cells.

There’s another cost, an emotional and social one;

The social cost was probably best demonstrated in the recent riots experienced across the UK. If the body is held in a perpetual state of readiness to act on threat or danger, but with no immediate or apparent danger to respond to, then the fight or flight impulse has to be controlled and repressed, but that energy has nowhere to go. This is incredibly draining and can lead to conditions mentioned above; ME/CFS/PVFS (Myalgic Encephalopathy/ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome. The body, unconsciously, seeks an outlet. For hundreds involved in the riots, swept along by the moment, they found that release. Such comments as; “Best day of my life”, etc. reflect the result of the release of that tension and the subsequent reward system of dopamine and serotonin, flooding the pleasure centres of the brain and creating the euphoria that swept through the hundreds of people swept up by the excitement of the moment and found themselves acting in ways that, the next day were met by astonishment and embarrassment by the very people who, the day before, were filling their arms with clothes, shoes, bags, TVs and other electrical goods.

The emotional cost comes through in relationships, professional and personal;

A tendency towards an aggressive or even violent response to a perceived threat or danger is normal reaction under a restricted or repressed fight or flight state. Such a reactive response, though, is actually destructive towards both professional and personal relationships. It’s a response based upon our primitive past, and not suited towards our current social environment. Often, though, the person won’t see that it is their own response that has caused the outcome, rather blaming the cause on the other person or some other outside influence. In fact, you often find such people with a religious belief, thus providing a suitable surrogate for blame; God or the devil. Maintaining an inhibited, restricted or repressed fight or flight state is incredibly draining, emotionally, and such people are often sufferers of major depression and other clinical conditions associated with stress. The physical and chemical toll on the body is to leave it drained of energy, as all the energy is being applied to either readiness for an emergency response, or holding back the impulse to respond to danger.

Psychologically, we experience the physical sensations of anxiety and yet cannot pin down its source, so we go in to hypervigilance/hyperarousal; we seek a source for the physical sensation and we scan our environment for any signs of something that we can attribute to the fight or flight sensation. This may, partly explain the thrill of horror movies, thrillers, scary amusement park rides, etc.; it’s giving us an outlet, a release for sensations that otherwise we would have to try to contain and keep suppressed, the release provides a dopamine response, a reward response. In an emotional relationship, especially if the initial trigger is associated with an emotional relationship, we will inevitably end up seeking the source of our physical sensations within the relationship context, and seeing the other person as the source of these sensations, especially if we are ignorant of their true source. So many of us have been there, when we have either seen little things our partners have done and have been irritated way beyond what the situation warranted, or reversely been the one at the other end of a partners irritations. What is happening is that an overactive primitive instinct is influencing us, our perceptions and interpretations of our partner’s behaviour, as being the source of our anxiety sensations, rather than realising that these anxiety sensations do not fit the situation, we will make the situation fit the sensations. When we experience these sensations of anxiety, it is far easier for us to try to find an outside source of blame, rather than face that the blame may be inside of us. We have this theory of ourselves, whether inherent or nurtured, of a unitary being with sole authorship of our behaviour and actions. When we feel these unexplainable sensations, in order to maintain this theory of ourselves, we instinctively seek out an external cause because considering an internal cause throws this theory of self in to confusion, causing a state known as “Cognitive Dissonance”. In other words 2 opposing cognitive ideas competing inside our heads, and this causes an intolerable internal disturbance. It is here that the incredible creativity of the unconscious brain comes in; we can literally create situations that fit our sensations so as not to enter in to “Cognitive Dissonance”.

Put in to Laymen’s terms; The fear button gets stuck in the “on” position, similar to a car’s accelerator pedal getting stuck. With nothing obvious or apparent causing the physical sensations of fear, the brain, unconsciously, is on constant watch for things to pin the fear sensations on and can even create it’s own situations in order to create a target for it’s fear response (fight or flight); something that it can then explain to itself why it is experiencing physical feelings associated with danger or threat. Small, innocuous incidents or situations become threatening and are responded to as if they pose a danger. A non threatening person can find that their every action and word is perceived and interpreted as if, in some way, it poses a threat. And just like the car with the stuck accelerator, inevitably, there will be a crash at some point.

Some people’s pasts contain a history of crashes, and unless they learn that they can modify their fear response, they can only expect crashes in their future.

We must discard the concept of a unitary self and educate ourselves to understand that each of us contain a complex hierarchical community of self, especially in unintegrated states, of often conflicting and interchangeable executive command. Then, and only then, can we begin to re-educate ourselves in order to maintain a conscious, balanced and consistent executive control of our responses, actions and behaviour.

Denying or repressing any part of ourselves leads to dysfunctional behaviour, because every part has it’s constructive and positive  function, even if we perceive a negative quality to the denied or repressed part.

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