This article appeared July 19 in Wired.com by Nick Stockton
RECALL YOUR FAVOURITE memory: the big game you won; the moment you first saw your child's face; the day you realized you had fallen in love. It's not a single memory, though, is it? Reconstructing it, you remember the smells, the colors, the funny thing some other person said, and the way it all made you feel.
Your brain's ability to collect, connect, and create mosaics from these milliseconds-long impressions is the basis of every memory. By extension, it is the basis of you. This isn't just metaphysical poetics. Every sensory experience triggers changes in the molecules of your neurons, reshaping the way they connect to one another. That means your brain is literally made of memories, and memories constantly remake your brain. This framework for memory dates back decades. And a sprawling new review published today in Neuron adds an even finer point: Memory exists because your brain’s molecules, cells, and synapses can tell time.
Defining memory is about as difficult as defining time. In general terms, memory is a change to a system that alters the way that system works in the future. "A typical memory is really just a reactivation of connections between different parts of your brain that were active at some previous time," says neuroscientist Nikolay Kukushkin, coauthor of this paper. And all animals—along with many single-celled organisms—possess some sort of ability to learn from the past.
Like the sea slug. From an evolutionary perspective, you'd have a hard time drawing a straight line from a sea slug to a human. Yet they both have neurons, and sea slugs form something similar to memories. If you pinch a sea slug on its gills, it will retract them faster the next time your cruel little fingers come close. Researchers found synapse connections that strengthen when the sea slug learns to suck in its gills, and molecules that cause this change. Remarkably, human neurons have similar molecules.
So what's that got to do with your favorite memory?
"What is unique about neurons is they can connect to thousands of other neurons, each very specifically," says Kukushkin. And what makes those connections a network is the fact that those specific connections, those synapses, can be adjusted with stronger or weaker signals. So every experience—every pinch to the gills—has the potential to reroute the relative strengths of all those neuronal connections.
But it would be a mistake to believe that those molecules, or even the synapses they control, are memories. "When you dig into molecules, and the states of ion channels, enzymes, transcription programs, cells, synapses, and whole networks of neurons, you come to realize that there is no one place in the brain where memories are stored," says Kukushkin. This is because of a property called plasticity, the feature of neurons that memorize. The memory is the system itself.
And there's evidence of memory-making throughout the tree of life, even in creatures with no nervous system—scientists have trained bacteria to anticipate a flash of a light. Kukushkin explains that primitive memories, like the sea slug's response, are advantageous on an evolutionary scale. "It allows an organism to integrate something from its past into its future and respond to new challenges," he says.
Human memories—even the most precious—begin at a very granular scale. Your mother's face began as a barrage of photons on your retina, which sent a signal to your visual cortex. You hear her voice, and your auditory cortex transforms the sound waves into electrical signals. Hormones layer the experience with with context—this person makes you feel good. These and a virtually infinite number of other inputs cascade across your brain. Kukushkin says your neurons, their attendant molecules, and resultant synapses encode all these related perturbations in terms of the relative time they occurred. More, they package the whole experience within a so-called time window.
Obviously, no memory exists all by itself. Brains break down experience into multiple timescales experienced simultaneously, like sound is broken down into different frequencies perceived simultaneously. This is a nested system, with individual memories existing within multiple time windows of varying lengths. And time windows include every part of the memory, including molecular exchanges of information that are invisible at the scale you actually perceive the event you are remembering.
Yes, this is very hard for neuroscientists to understand too. Which means it's going to be a long time before they understand the nuts and bolts of memory formation. "In an ideal world, we would be able to trace the behavior of each individual neuron in time," says Kukushkin.
At the moment, however, projects like the Human Connectome represent the cutting edge, and they are still working on a complete picture of the brain at a standstill. Like memory itself, putting that project into motion is all a matter of time.
Every sensory experience triggers changes in the molecules of your neurons, reshaping the way they connect to one another. That means your brain is literally made of memories, and memories constantly remake your brain.
As we age, our quality of sleep declines. Researchers believe that this may contribute to later-life memory loss. New research, however, suggests that there may be a simple solution to this problem: “pink noise.”
The major influence on being able to reprogram the brain is to have improved emotional responses to conditioned stimuli (flashbacks of problems, stress responses linked from associative conditioning). This is about changing the subconscious programmed meaning of...
Breakups are difficult and often we don't learn how to handle them until they've already occurred. What can make them worse is having a breakup with a narcissist. The reason being is because narcissists often leave their victims feeling lost, confused and psychologically gutted. Victims often can’t imagine life without them, because they were brainwashed into believing they can’t do anything on their own, perhaps they were made to feel dependent upon the narc for their own well being, perhaps the narcissists exaggerated their own self worth while degrading and lessening the contributions of the victim.
During this phase of narcissistic courting or narcissistic pursuit, the narcissist is full of vitality, of dreams and hopes and plans and vision. And his energy is not dissipated: he resembles a laser beam. He attempts (and in many cases, succeeds to achieve) the impossible. If he targeted a publishing house, or a magazine, as his future Source of Supply (by publishing his work) – he produces incredible amounts of material in a short period of time.
If it is a potential mate, he floods her with attention, gifts and inventive gestures. If it is a group of people that he wishes to impress, he identifies with their goals and beliefs to the point of ridicule and discomfort. The narcissist has the frightening capacity to turn himself into a weapon: focused, powerful, and lethal.
He lavishes all his energies, capabilities, talents, charms and emotions on the newly selected Source of Supply. This has a great effect on the intended source and on the narcissist. This also serves to maximize the narcissist’s returns in the short run.
Once the Source of Supply is captured, preyed upon and depleted, the reverse process (of devaluation) sets in. The narcissist instantaneously (and startlingly abruptly) loses all interest in his former (and now useless or judged to be so) Source of Narcissistic Supply. He dumps and discards it.
He becomes bored, lazy, slow, devoid of energy, absolutely uninterested. He conserves his energies in preparation for the attack on, and the siege of, the next selected Source of Supply. These tectonic shifts are hard to contemplate, still harder to believe.
The narcissist has no genuine interests, loves, or hobbies. He likes that which yields the most Narcissistic Supply. A narcissist can be a gifted artist for as long as his art rewards him with fame and adulation. Once public interest wanes, or once criticism mounts, the narcissist, in a typical act of cognitive dissonance, immediately ceases to create, loses interest in art, and does not miss his old vocation for a second. He is likely to turn around and criticize his erstwhile career even as he pursues another, totally unrelated one.
The narcissist has no genuine emotions. He can be madly in “love” with a woman (Secondary Narcissistic Supply Source) because she is famous, or wealthy, or a native and can help him obtain legal residence through marriage, or because she comes from the right family, or because she is unique in a manner positively reflecting on the narcissist’s perceived uniqueness, or because she had witnessed past successes of the narcissist, or merely because she admires him.Yet, this “love” dissipates immediately when her usefulness runs its course or when a better “qualified” Source of Supply presents herself.
However, people do recover from the nastiest of breakups and the following strategies will help you on the road to recovery.
1. Don’t Fight Your Feelings A break-up is often accompanied by a wide variety of powerful and negative feelings including sadness, anger, confusion, resentment, jealousy, fear and regret, to mention a few. If you try to ignore or suppress these feelings, you will likely only prolong the normal grieving process, and sometimes get totally stuck in it. Healthy coping means both identifying these feelings and allowing ourselves to experience these feelings. As hard as it is, you cannot avoid the pain of loss, but realize that by experiencing these feelings, they will decrease over time and you will speed up the grieving process. The stages of grieving frequently include: shock/denial, bargaining, anger, depression and eventually acceptance. Extreme grief feels like it will last forever, but it doesn’t if we cope in some healthy ways.
There are several conditions that will likely intensify your negative feelings, including:
Not seeing the break-up coming.
Not being the one who decided to breakup.
This being your first serious relationship.
Your ex being your only real close friend.
Continuing to run into your ex.
The relationship having made you feel whole or complete.
Your ex starting to date someone right away.
Thinking about your ex being sexual with their new partner.
Believing that your ex is the only one in the world for you.
2. Openly Discuss Your Feelings Talking about your feelings related to the break-up is an equally powerful tool to manage them. As we talk to supportive friends and family members, we can come to some new understandings and relieve some of our pain. Holding all of these negative feelings in just doesn’t work, although there may be times when this is necessary, such as in public settings, at work, or in class. As we talk to others, we usually discover that our feelings are normal and that others have survived these feelings. Above all else, don’t isolate yourself or withdraw from those people who can give you support. Also, one of the commonalities in people who experience posttraumatic growth, is that they talk about their problems to someone.
3. Write Out Your Thoughts and Feelings In addition to talking to others, it can be very helpful to journal your thoughts and feelings related to the break-up. People are not always available when you need to get out your feelings and some feelings or thoughts may be too private to feel comfortable sharing with others. The act of writing your feelings out can be very freeing and can often give you a different perspective about them. Also, writing is a formalized way of thinking so when you can see your thoughts coming out of you, it is easier to recognize whatever kind of toxic notions you might still have about the past. Also, a massive amount of work has been done that shows the benefit of writing and how it can help people to disentangle problem memories and help to create a better future and psychological well being.
4. Understand That Break-ups Are Often An Inevitable Part Of Dating Remember that many of our dating relationships will end up in a break-up. This is the very nature of dating. Until we find our best match, we are going to be moving in and out of relationships, so expect it. This way, we won’t feel so devastated when it does happen. Relationships usually end for some good reasons and they should end if we want to find our most suitable partner. Of course, no match will be perfect and we have to decide how long to keep looking and what we can live with. Finding a complementary partner is more than about love and therefore, it is going to likely take many dating relationships to find.
5. Don’t Personalize The Loss It is natural after a break-up to blame yourself, but try not to personalize the loss for too long. Much of the pain of a break-up comes from seeing the loss as your fault and regretting the choices you made while in the relationship. This process of self-blame can go on endlessly if you let it.
It is far more helpful to see the ending as a result of conflicting needs and incompatibilities that are no one’s fault. Each person in a relationship is trying to get their own needs met and some couples are able to help fulfill each other’s needs and others are not. One of the biggest issues is being able to communicate and negotiate those needs. It’s not easy to learn, so don’t blame yourself and try not to blame your ex. He or she is likely also doing the best they can, given their personalities and life history. No one goes into a relationship with the goal of making it fail, or hurting the other person.
Carol Dweck did a Stanford study on why some people get over breakups better than others. Her research had shown that those who take it personally have a much more difficult time moving on after a breakup. So don't take it personally.
6. Prioritize Basic Self-Care Self-care refers to ensuring that your basic needs are being met, despite the fact that you may be feeling upset and depressed due to the break-up. You may not feel like eating but do it anyways, and try to make some healthy choices in what you eat. Give yourself ample time to sleep, particularly since this may be difficult for you. The short-term use of some herbal alternatives, GABA supplements or sleep medications may be necessary to ensure you get the sleep you need.
Sleep deprivation will only compound your suffering. Keeping up or starting an exercise routine can also make you feel better both physically and psychologically. Remember, exercise causes the release of endorphins, which can make you feel better. Also, eat breakfast to prevent low blood sugar and low brain energy.
7. Get Back Into A Routine Since going through a break-up can create a sense of chaos in many areas of your life, continuing on with your routines will give you a better sense of stability or normalcy. Although taking some expectations off yourself temporarily can help, returning to routines shortly after the initial blow can help calm you down and give you a returning sense of control. This might include routines around wake-up and bedtimes, meals, school or work related activities, exercise, and time with others to mention a few.
8. Indulge Yourself If there was ever a time to pamper yourself, it is after a break-up. You need to do something that will actively make yourself feel better. Indulgence can take many forms, depending upon what you really enjoy, but could include: going to a special restaurant, going to a movie with a friend, having a hot bath, trying a massage, going on a short trip, buying something new, taking the weekend off, taking a yoga class or reading your favourite book.
9. Give Yourself Some Slack Expect that you are not going to be functioning at full capacity for a time due to the distress you are experiencing. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to lighten your load for awhile. This might mean allowing yourself a break from studying for awhile, or studying less than you usually would. It could also mean withdrawing from a class if you’re really struggling or working a lot less in a part-time job for awhile. Although some of these options may sound drastic, they will give you more time to adequately process your loss. Self-criticism can lead down the spiral of shame. Don't go there. It causes brain circuits to become compromised and these reduces resilience and then things can get much worse from there so stop with the self-criticism otherwise it just perpetuates and you run yourself into the ground on this 'X program' of self-flagellation.
10. Don’t Lose Faith In People Or Relationships Since you may be feeling very hurt after a break-up, it is easy to assume that all men (or women) are bad or untrustworthy, but this just isn’t true. By holding on to this belief, you will be denying yourself all kinds of opportunities for a great relationship in the future. We can’t over-generalize from our limited relationship history and assume that it will never work out. Keep shopping! The more people you meet, the greater the chance you will find your best match.
11. Let Go Of The Hope You Will Get Back Together Unless there is some very strong evidence that you will reunite with your ex, let go of this possibility. Bringing closure to the relationship is impossible if you continue to hold onto the hope that the relationship will be resurrected. This means don’t wait by the phone for a call, or try to e-mail or text them to try to have a little more connection, or beg to get back together, or make threats to get them back (i.e., you will commit suicide). These options will only perpetuate your emotional distress in the long term and make you come across as desperate, which will further impact your already shaken self-esteem. Life is too short to wait for someone to come back to you after a break-up.
12. Don’t Rely On Your Ex For Support Or Try To Maintain A Friendship It’s not helpful to depend on your ex after a break-up, especially to help you overcome the pain of the break-up. It makes it a lot harder to get over someone if you’re continuing to see them or trying to maintain a friendship. After a significant period (i.e. months) of no contact, a friendship might be possible, but wait until you’re feeling very emotionally strong again.
13. Avoid Unhealthy Coping Strategies There are several ways of coping with a break-up that are considered quite unhelpful and will likely only compound your problems. These include such choices as drinking excessively, doing drugs, overeating, self-harm, gambling excessively, or becoming a workaholic. You may be tempted to do whatever you can to avoid feelings of loneliness and pain, but it is essential to find healthier ways to cope. Drugs, gambling, alcohol, addictions etc. are slippery slopes with horrid endings which only exacerbate problems.
14. Make A List Of Your Ex’s Annoying Qualities If you have been feeling bad because you keep thinking about how much you miss your ex or how well suited you were to them, it can be helpful to make a list of all of their less endearing qualities. Particularly if you didn’t initiate the break-up, it’s easy to focus on everything about your ex that you will miss, which can only magnify your suffering. If you spend some time reflecting, you may come to see incompatibilities in the relationship that make it easier to let go and come to see that there is likely a better match out there for you. We move towards things we value and we move away from the things we don't value. Move away from your ex even more by articulating all the reasons they are bad.
15. Avoid The Temptation To Take Revenge The idea of retaliating against someone who you feel may have hurt you significantly is very tempting, but making this choice may have unforeseen consequences. Depending on how angry you are, these consequences could lead to criminal charges if you did something like keying their car, stalking them, or damaging other property. As much as this might feel like a good idea in your height of passion, it only makes you feel more out of control. Closure is promoted when contact of any kind is minimized. And besides, Frank Sinatra said that success is the best revenge so focus your energies on becoming the greatest you that you can become. It works, just ask Tina Turner, Lady Gaga and J.K. Rowling.
16. Examine What You Can Learn From The Relationship We can learn a lot from all the relationships we have been in, particularly ones that are painful. It’s very helpful after a relationship ends to spend some time thinking about and writing down what you have learned so that you can have better relationships in the future. However, don’t use this as an opportunity to beat yourself up or blame yourself for the relationship not lasting. Learning promotes growth, while self-blame (i.e. feeling you’re a failure) only extends your suffering.
17. Make a List Of All The Benefits Of Being Single Although being single again may be an unwelcome event, if you were not the one who chose to break-up, it is worth reminding yourself there are some definite benefits to being single.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
You are now much more able to put your own needs first.
You'll soon be excited with dating again, even though this may feel scary.
You will have more control over your daily routines, not having to negotiate these with someone else.
You can spend more time with friends and family, who may have been feeling neglected.
You can travel to places you might not have been able to do with your partner.
You can choose jobs outside of the immediate area, because your partner isn’t affecting your choices.
You can eat what you want, when you want to.
You can go to bed and get up on your own schedule.
You will be able to meet lots of new people, since you have more time to do so.
You may now be free of criticism.
You will have much more individual freedom.
You have the whole bed to yourself.
You now have more time to study.
You can be as messy as you want.
18. Perform A Closure Ritual At some point in the process of letting go and grieving the loss, it can be very helpful to have a closure ritual. This symbolic gesture can be very meaningful if it is well thought out and considers the right timing. This could involve such things as: writing a letter to yourself or to your ex with your final words regarding the relationship, removing all of the photos you have of your ex, or burning some reminders of your ex in a ceremonial fashion. This is also important to nullify the Zeigarnik effect (unfinished business lingers longer in our minds).
19. Remember That You Can Survive On Your Own It is important after a break-up to remind yourself that you were able to survive on your own before you entered the relationship and you will be able to survive on your own now that you’re no longer together. Relationships do not and should not make us whole, even though they are a part of our life and our happiness. We all need to be able to stand on our own and meet our own needs, regardless of the status of any one of our relationships. Remember, the healthiest relationships are with two people who are able to meet their own needs. Others have become billionaires and rockstars after being destitute after a breakup which means that not only you can survive but there is also the possibility of thriving. Harness this belief and let it flower across your future.
20. Start Dating Again Although it is often hard to decide when the best time to date again is, don’t jump right back in and don’t wait forever. You do need to grieve the loss and discover what you can learn from the past relationship, but you also have to move on, which means beginning to date again. Keeping the dating more casual at first might be wise, rather than jumping right into a deep, meaningful, long-term relationship. Dating can help you see that there are lots of other possible connections out there, if you open yourself up to this possibility. More dating will mean more risks, but there is no alternative unless you’re content living your life without a partner. Some people can be content in relationships with just friends and family, but most people need more than this to feel completely fulfilled.
21. Remember Differently. Every time you awaken a memory, that memory is subject to change. People can hold themselves back for decades by replaying the same memories over and over. Memories can be changed so make yours different in a way that serves you best. If you keep remembering the past the same way, it's just going to keep you in the past. You can take advantage of how your brain updates memories by engaging in a natural albeit non-intuitive process called memory reconsolidation to remove the sting from memories of your ex.
If you want a coach for the strategy to cure PTSD, nightmares and flashbacks about the ex, please fill out the application for a free coaching call.
“Well-being is fundamentally no different than learning to play the cello.” This is the conclusion that neuroscientist Richard Davidson at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his colleagues have declared.
As we age, our quality of sleep declines. Researchers believe that this may contribute to later-life memory loss. New research, however, suggests that there may be a simple solution to this problem: "pink noise."
Review of Dr Joe Dispenza's book, 'Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself - How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One' -
This book is chopped up into three parts and the first two parts of it really are the foundation of it because it frames the importance and the value of the meditations that follow in part three.
If I were to sum up this first chapter in a few words it would be:
Thoughts + Feelings = test-tube results
Let's unpack this ...
Chapter 1 - Introduces you to a bit of quantum physics and it's important to embrace the concept that your mind has an effect on your world. The observer effect in quantum physics states that where you direct your attention is where you place your energy.
One of the reasons why people have a challenge being able to break away from the way that they are perceiving themselves in the world is because they're trapped in a Newtonian viewpoint of the world, this old belief system.
Descartes and Newton established a mindset that if reality operated on mechanistic principles then humanity had little influence on outcomes, but of course all that was blown apart when Albert Einstein produced the famous equation E = mc 2 demonstrating that energy and matter are so fundamentally related that they are one and the same.
So this directly contradicted Newton and Descartes while ushering in a new understanding of how the universe functions.
'Now after all that, here are a couple quotes from Dr. Joe Dispenza's book Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself' "if an atom is 99.999% energy and . 00001 % physical substance then we are more nothing then something." and then he says...
"isn't it ironic then that we keep all of our attention on that point .00001% of reality that is physical?
Are we missing something?'
When understanding that we're living in this quantum universe, then you realize that spending time and energy on what is is really only spending your time on such an insignificant portion that it really doesn't have that much bearing on reality.
Let's look at a study that was done from one of the references in his book.
So they had these three groups of people that had each one of them holding a test tube with DNA and the reason that they use DNA is because DNA is more stable. It's more rigid than cells and bacteria.
had to hold DNA and feel strong elevated feelings of love and appreciation for 2 minutes
Had to hold this test tube of DNA and they also were to be feeling strong elevated feelings and having the intention in their minds to change that DNA.
Had to hold that test tube of DNA but instead of feeling any emotions, all they would do is just hold in their mind the intention to change that DNA
Group 1 was zero difference
Group 3 also had zero difference.
Group 2 had up to a 25% change in DNA.
What's most striking about is that they were able to wind and unwind the structure of DNA just with thoughts and feelings and with their intentions.
Science folks might want to take a look at the study here:
'sustained positive emotions such as appreciation love or compassion associated with highly ordered or coherent patterns in the heart rhythms reflecting greater synchronization between the two branches of the autonomic nervous system'.
In other words the quantum field responds not to what we want, it responds to who we are being.
Think about how you are allowing yourself to be in the world and what kind of feelings and emotions that you're producing day-to-day, habitually and they'll give you an understanding as to how things keep staying the same.
Let's give this more support with another quote from Dr Joe Dispenza's book.
"some of the common habitual thought patterns that people have might be I'll never get a new job, or no one ever listens to me or he always makes me feel angry or everyone uses me, I want to call it quits or my life sucks or it's my genetics I'm just like my mother, so if thoughts and feelings are producing events in the quantum universe then obviously staying in this same type of stagnant emotional state of being is only going to be producing more and more of the same"
Let's talk about these words like never, no one ever, always and everyone. These are known as universal quantifiers and so when when I'm coaching somebody I have them pay attention to the use of those kinds of words because in a sense they are false.
When someone says:
'everyone uses me',
That's not entirely true. I'm sure there's somebody's that's not using you. It only takes one tiny contradiction to make that whole blanket statement of these Universal quantifiers untrue
If you ever find yourself saying stuff like never, always or everyone, say it right back to yourself to prevent programming yourself with false beliefs.
For myself, I might think "I'll never get this video finished." Then I just say that 'never' word right back to myself.
And then I realize that's a false belief! Thinking unclear like that can have me locked into own thinking by using that kind of language.
'I'll never move on!'
'I won't ever get over this!'
'Everything is totally ruined!'
'Why is it always my fault?'
Those are lies that, if said loud enough and with some feeling, it's going to become part of you and built into your neurology and then you'll really believe those toxic lies!
Next I want to talk about this last sentence here where the example is 'it's my genetics, I'm just like my mother.'
There's a study called epigenetics. Epi, meaning above and what that means is you can go above your genetics with your thoughts. Our genes respond to the perception of the environment. If you change your perception, you can actually change gene expression.
For more details on that check out the work by Dr. Bruce Lipton and his work on the Biology of Belief.
Let's get right back on track now that we've looked out some of the ways to begin breaking the habit of being yourself. Changing the words and changing perception.
Now let's use this in more beneficial ways.
In terms of quantum creating, can you give thanks for something that exists as a potential in the quantum field but has not yet happened in your reality?
I'll go first and share a silly example. Let's say that I picked some kind of weird bizarre notion that hasn't happened yet. Let's say my goal is to win the Academy Award for Best Actor when I'm a hundred years old. I haven't had any acting lessons but let's just use this as an example.
Now its your turn to think about how to apply that to yourself.
And before you do that, here is another quote that I think is valuable to share...
'In terms of quantum creating, can you give thanks for “something that exists as a potential in the quantum field but has not yet happened in your reality? If so, you are moving from cause and effect (waiting for something outside of you to make a change inside of you) to causing an effect (changing something inside of you to produce an effect outside of you).
When you are in a state of gratitude, you transmit a signal into the field that an event has already occurred. Gratitude is more than an intellectual thought process. You have to feel as though whatever you want is in your reality at this very moment. Thus, your body (which only understands feelings) must be convinced that it has the emotional quotient of the future experience, happening to you now.”
-Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself
When you think back to that test tube experiment where thoughts plus feelings produce test-tube results, that people were able to actually make shifts in DNA. So when you recognize that this is real, that makes it a lot easier to be breaking the habit of being yourself by understanding the true value of being able to control your states of being in ways that are far more empowering for you and are a greater representation of the 'you' that you'd rather be.
Below is a video review of the Dr Joe Dispenza book, "Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One".
Download Your Free MP3 meditation based on the script from Dr Joe Dispenza's book 'Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself'
You have Successfully Subscribed and will be emailed.
Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was one of the first scientists to take the anecdotal claims about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans. What she found surprised her — that meditating can literally change your brain. She explains:
Q: Why did you start looking at meditation and mindfulness and the brain?
Lazar: A friend and I were training for the Boston marathon. I had some running injuries, so I saw a physical therapist who told me to stop running and just stretch. So I started practicing yoga as a form of physical therapy. I started realizing that it was very powerful, that it had some real benefits, so I just got interested in how it worked.
The yoga teacher made all sorts of claims, that yoga would increase your compassion and open your heart. And I’d think, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m here to stretch.’ But I started noticing that I was calmer. I was better able to handle more difficult situations. I was more compassionate and open hearted, and able to see things from others’ points of view.
I thought, maybe it was just the placebo response. But then I did a literature search of the science, and saw evidence that meditation had been associated with decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life.
At that point, I was doing my PhD in molecular biology. So I just switched and started doing this research as a post-doc.
Q: How did you do the research?
Lazar:The first study looked at long term meditators vs a control group. We found long-term meditators have an increased amount of gray matter in the insula and sensory regions, the auditory and sensory cortex. Which makes sense. When you’re mindful, you’re paying attention to your breathing, to sounds, to the present moment experience, and shutting cognition down. It stands to reason your senses would be enhanced.
We also found they had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making.
It’s well-documented that our cortex shrinks as we get older – it’s harder to figure things out and remember things. But in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of gray matter as 25-year-olds.
So the first question was, well, maybe the people with more gray matter in the study had more gray matter before they started meditating. So we did a second study.
We took people who’d never meditated before, and put one group through an eight-week mindfulness- based stress reduction program.
In this excerpt from the documentary "The Connection," which tells the stories of people adding mind-body medicine to their healing practices, Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar talks about the connection between the mind and body during meditation.
Q: What did you find?
Lazar: We found differences in brain volume after eight weeks in five different regions in the brains of the two groups. In the group that learned meditation, we found thickening in four regions:
1. The primary difference, we found in the posterior cingulate, which is involved in mind wandering, and self relevance.
2. The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory and emotional regulation.
3. The temporo parietal junction, or TPJ, which is associated with perspective taking, empathy and compassion.
4. An area of the brain stem called the Pons, where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters are produced.
The amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress in general. That area got smaller in the group that went through the mindfulness-based stress reduction program.
The change in the amygdala was also correlated to a reduction in stress levels.
Q: So how long does someone have to meditate before they begin to see changes in their brain?
Lazar: Our data shows changes in the brain after just eight weeks.
In a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, our subjects took a weekly class. They were given a recording and told to practice 40 minutes a day at home. And that’s it.
Q: So, 40 minutes a day?
Lazar: Well, it was highly variable in the study. Some people practiced 40 minutes pretty much every day. Some people practiced less. Some only a couple times a week.
In my study, the average was 27 minutes a day. Or about a half hour a day.
There isn’t good data yet about how much someone needs to practice in order to benefit.
Meditation teachers will tell you, though there’s absolutely no scientific basis to this, but anecdotal comments from students suggest that 10 minutes a day could have some subjective benefit. We need to test it out.
We’re just starting a study that will hopefully allow us to assess what the functional significance of these changes are. Studies by other scientists have shown that meditation can help enhance attention and emotion regulation skills. But most were not neuroimaging studies. So now we’re hoping to bring that behavioral and neuroimaging science together.
Q: Given what we know from the science, what would you encourage readers to do?
Lazar:Mindfulness is just like exercise. It’s a form of mental exercise, really. And just as exercise increases health, helps us handle stress better and promotes longevity, meditation purports to confer some of those same benefits.
But, just like exercise, it can’t cure everything. So the idea is, it’s useful as an adjunct therapy. It’s not a standalone. It’s been tried with many, many other disorders, and the results vary tremendously – it impacts some symptoms, but not all. The results are sometimes modest. And it doesn’t work for everybody.
It’s still early days for trying to figure out what it can or can’t do.
Q: So, knowing the limitations, what would you suggest?
Lazar: It does seem to be beneficial for most people. The most important thing, if you’re going to try it, is to find a good teacher. Because it’s simple, but it’s also complex. You have to understand what’s going on in your mind. A good teacher is priceless
Q: Do you meditate? And do you have a teacher?
Lazar: Yes and yes.
Q: What difference has it made in your life?
Lazar: I’ve been doing this for 20 years now, so it’s had a very profound influence on my life. It’s very grounding. It’s reduced stress. It helps me think more clearly. It’s great for interpersonal interactions. I have more empathy and compassion for people.
Q: What’s your own practice?
Lazar: Highly variable. Some days 40 minutes. Some days five minutes. Some days, not at all. It’s a lot like exercise. Exercising three times a week is great. But if all you can do is just a little bit every day, that’s a good thing, too. I’m sure if I practiced more, I’d benefit more. I have no idea if I’m getting brain changes or not. It’s just that this is what works for me right now.
Dr. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and Dr. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist based out of Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Medical School gives an interview on his findings with meditation and its effects on the brain.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Host Bob Macdonald: Dr. Davidson, what was the most striking thing you found when you studied the meditation experts the Tibetan Buddhist monks?
Richard Davidson: Probably the most striking thing was in terms of the scientific findings was the presence of these very high amplitude gamma oscillations that occurred in the meditation period when they were meditating, but also were very prominent in their so-called baseline state. And I should say that these are if you will professional meditators. These are people who have an average of about 34,000 hours of lifetime practice and listeners can go do the arithmetic at home. But that's a pretty big number.
BM: What was going on in their brains that's different from what would be going on in say my brain?
RD: One of the important characteristics of these long term meditators if you will is that the distinction between the state of meditation in their ordinary state if you will is blurred.
This is the what we think of as the transition from a state into a trait. That is, it becomes an enduring characteristic of their minds and brains, rather than something transient that occurs only when they practice meditation.
BM: Dr. Lazar, you also studied long term meditators which your subjects were not monks. What did you find most interesting when you peered into their brains?
Dr. Sara Lazar: Well we looked at brain structure and what we found is that there's several brain regions where there is more gray matter in the long term meditators compared to non-meditators. And as Dr. Davidson said that when you start meditating regularly that there is a shift that there's a blur between your meditation state and your everyday state.
And so we're interpreting these differences in gray matter to reflect that. That this is perhaps why and how you can get these shifts you're not meditation state looks more like your meditation state - the brain actually starts to rewire itself. And that's what we saw evidence for in these long term meditators.
Sara Lazar Ph.D. Asst. Professor Harvard Medical School
BM: Where did you see that changes in the gray matter?
SL: The most pronounced changes were in the insula. This is an area that's involved in integrating sensory experiences with cognitive thinking. And so you could think of that, sort of in a very loose hand-waving sort of way, as the mind body sort of area. We also found areas in the front of the brain which is an area involved in rational thinking and decision making.
BM: Dr. Lazar, we hear a lot about enlightenment, if meditation really does work. From a scientific point of view what is that possible do you see it?
SL: I think it's important to make a distinction between people who meditate for 20, 30, 40 minutes a day for stress reduction and people who are really committed to obtaining enlightenment. As Dr. Davidson pointed out, you could think of those monks as being professional meditators. And so I think that it really takes that sort of commitment -- full time commitment for many, many years -- in order to reach enlightenment. For the average Joe who's just meditating for stress reduction that that's not really a realistic goal.
BM: Dr. Davidson, you say that meditation could make people feel worse. What do you mean by that?
RD: It can exacerbate depression, it can precipitate psychosis. It can do some harm. It's really important for an individual who may be predisposed and have a history of some psychiatric difficulty to engage in meditation practice under the guidance of a teacher who is both a mental health practitioner as well as a meditation teacher.
And often if a person I think is doing worse it could very well be because the nature of the instruction is not as attuned to where the person is as it might be.
BM: Dr. Lazar, how do you feel about people going to a phone app for their guided meditations without a teacher present?
SL: The apps are like a book or any other recording or any other things that have existed in the past. I think they're great as a supplement but I don't think anything compares to having a teacher that you can talk to about your experience.
Summary: Researchers report practicing simple meditation and listening to music can have benefits for those with preclinical memory loss
Meditation and music improve memory and cognitive function in adults with subjective cognitive decline: A pilot randomized controlled trial.
Source: IOS PRESS.
In a recent study of adults with early memory loss, a West Virginia University research team lead by Dr. Kim Innes found that practice of a simple meditation or music listening program may have multiple benefits for older adults with preclinical memory loss.
In this randomized controlled trial, 60 older adults with subjective cognitive decline (SCD), a condition that may represent a preclinical stage of Alzheimer’s disease, were assigned to either a beginner meditation (Kirtan Kriya) or music listening program and asked to practice 12 minutes/day for 12 weeks. As detailed in a paper recently published by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, both the meditation and music groups showed marked and significant improvements in subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance at 3 months. These included domains of cognitive functioning most likely to be affected in preclinical and early stages of dementia (e.g., attention, executive function, processing speed, and subjective memory function). The substantial gains observed in memory and cognition were maintained or further increased at 6 months (3 months post-intervention).
Both intervention groups also showed improvements in sleep, mood, stress, well-being and quality of life, with gains that were that were particularly pronounced in the meditation group; again, all benefits were sustained or further enhanced at 3 months post-intervention.. Image is for illustrative purposes only.
As explained in the research team’s previous paper, both intervention groups also showed improvements in sleep, mood, stress, well-being and quality of life, with gains that were that were particularly pronounced in the meditation group; again, all benefits were sustained or further enhanced at 3 months post-intervention.
The findings of this trial suggest that two simple mind-body practices, Kirtan Kriya meditation and music listening, may not only improve mood, sleep, and quality of life, but also boost cognition and help reverse perceived memory loss in older adults with Subjective Cognitive Decline.
ABOUT THIS PSYCHOLOGY RESEARCH ARTICLE
Source: Olivia Pape – IOS PRESS Original Research:Abstract for “Meditation and Music Improve Memory and Cognitive Function in Adults with Subjective Cognitive Decline: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial” by Innes, Kim E.; Selfe, Terry Kit; Khalsa, Dharma Singh; and Kandati, Sahiti in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Published online January 17 2017 doi:10.3233/JAD-160867
Meditation and Music Improve Memory and Cognitive Function in Adults with Subjective Cognitive Decline: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial
Background: While effective therapies for preventing or slowing cognitive decline in at-risk populations remain elusive, evidence suggests mind-body interventions may hold promise. Objectives: In this study, we assessed the effects of Kirtan Kriya meditation (KK) and music listening (ML) on cognitive outcomes in adults experiencing subjective cognitive decline (SCD), a strong predictor of Alzheimer’s disease.
Methods: Sixty participants with SCD were randomized to a KK or ML program and asked to practice 12 minutes/day for 3 months, then at their discretion for the ensuing 3 months. At baseline, 3 months, and 6 months we measured memory and cognitive functioning [Memory Functioning Questionnaire (MFQ), Trail-making Test (TMT-A/B), and Digit-Symbol Substitution Test (DSST)].
Results: The 6-month study was completed by 53 participants (88%). Participants performed an average of 93% (91% KK, 94% ML) of sessions in the first 3 months, and 71% (68% KK, 74% ML) during the 3-month, practice-optional, follow-up period. Both groups showed marked and significant improvements at 3 months in memory and cognitive performance (MFQ, DSST, TMT-A/B; p’s ≤0.04). At 6 months, overall gains were maintained or improved (p’s ≤ 0.006), with effect sizes ranging from medium (DSST, ML group) to large (DSST, KK group; TMT-A/B, MFQ). Changes were unrelated to treatment expectancies and did not differ by age, gender, baseline cognition scores, or other factors.
Conclusions: Findings of this preliminary randomized controlled trial suggest practice of meditation or ML can significantly enhance both subjective memory function and objective cognitive performance in adults with SCD, and may offer promise for improving outcomes in this population.
“Meditation and Music Improve Memory and Cognitive Function in Adults with Subjective Cognitive Decline: A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial” by Innes, Kim E.; Selfe, Terry Kit; Khalsa, Dharma Singh; and Kandati, Sahiti in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Published online January 17 2017 doi:10.3233/JAD-160867
In post-traumatic growth, one of the steps is to talk about the problem. People that can verbalize what the challenges are have an increased probability for restoring mental health.
New research in neuroscience now gives additional confirmation.
Summary: Study reveals cognitive behavioral therapy can strengthen specific connections in the brains of people with psychosis, and the stronger neural network connections are associated with long term reduction in symptoms.
A new study from King’s College London and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust has shown for the first time that cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) strengthens specific connections in the brains of people with psychosis, and that these stronger connections are associated with long-term reduction in symptoms and recovery eight years later.
CBT – a specific type of talking therapy – involves people changing the way they think about and respond to their thoughts and experiences. For individuals experiencing psychotic symptoms, common in schizophrenia and a number of other psychiatric disorders, the therapy involves learning to think differently about unusual experiences, such as distressing beliefs that others are out to get them. CBT also involves developing strategies to reduce distress and improve wellbeing.
The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, follow the same researchers’ previous work which showed that people with psychosis who received CBT displayed strengthened connections between key regions of the brain involved in processing social threat accurately.
The new results show for the first time that these changes continue to have an impact years later on people’s long-term recovery.
In the original study, participants underwent fMRI imaging to assess the brain’s response to images of faces expressing different emotions, before and after six months of CBT. Participants were already taking medication when they took part in the study, and so were compared to a group receiving medication only. The group receiving medication only did not show any increases in connectivity, suggesting that the effects on brain connections could be attributed to the CBT.
For the new study, the health of 15 of the 22 participants who received CBT was tracked for eight years through their medical records. They were also sent a questionnaire at the end of this period to assess their level of recovery and wellbeing.
The results show that increases in connectivity between several brain regions – most importantly the amygdala (the brain’s threat centre) and the frontal lobes (which are involved in thinking and reasoning) – are associated with long-term recovery from psychosis. This is the first time that changes in the brain associated with CBT have been shown to be associated with long-term recovery in people with psychosis.
The results show that increases in connectivity between several brain regions – most importantly the amygdala (the brain’s threat centre) and the frontal lobes (which are involved in thinking and reasoning) – are associated with long-term recovery from psychosis. This is the first time that changes in the brain associated with CBT have been shown to be associated with long-term recovery in people with psychosis.
Lead author of the study Dr Liam Mason from King’s College London, who is a clinical psychologist at the Maudsley Hospital where the research took place, said: “This research challenges the notion that the existence of physical brain differences in mental health disorders somehow makes psychological factors or treatments less important. Unfortunately, previous research has shown that this ‘brain bias’ can make clinicians more likely to recommend medication but not psychological therapies. This is especially important in psychosis, where only one in ten people who could benefit from psychological therapies are offered them.”
The researchers now hope to confirm the results in a larger sample, and to identify the changes in the brain that differentiate people who experience improvements with CBT from those who do not. Ultimately, the results could lead to better, and more tailored, treatments for psychosis, by allowing researchers to understand what determines whether psychological therapies are effective.
The study took place at the Psychological Interventions Clinic for Outpatients with Psychosis (PICuP), a specialist service based in the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.
Funding: The research was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and the Wellcome Trust.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Brain connectivity changes occurring following cognitive behavioural therapy for psychosis predict long-term recovery” by L Mason, E Peters, S C Williams & V Kumari in Translational Psychiatry. Published online January 17 2017 doi:10.1038/tp.2016.263
Stony Brook researchers discover a method to change emotionally charged memory patterns.
Imagine if memory could be tuned in such a way where good memories are enhanced for those suffering from dementia or bad memories are wiped away for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder. A Stony Brook University research team has taken a step toward the possibility of tuning the strength of memory by manipulating one of the brain’s natural mechanisms for signaling involved in memory, a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Their findings are published in the journal Neuron.
Brain mechanisms underlying memory are not well understood, but most scientists believe that the region of the brain most involved in emotional memory is the amygdala. Acetylcholine is delivered to the amygdala by cholinergic neurons that reside in the base of the brain. These same neurons appear to be affected early in cognitive decline. Previous research has suggested that cholinergic input to the amygdala appears to strengthen emotional memories.
“Memories of emotionally charged experiences are particularly strong, whether positive or negative experiences, and the goal of our research is to determine the mechanisms underlying the strengthening of memory,” said Lorna Role, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and Co-Director of the Neurosciences Institute at Stony Brook Medicine.
In the paper, titled “Cholinergic Signaling Controls Conditioned Fear Behaviors and Enhances Plasticity of Cortical-Amygdala Circuits,” Dr. Role and colleagues used a fear-based memory model in mice to test the underlying mechanism of memory because fear is a strong and emotionally charged experience.
Brain mechanisms underlying memory are not well understood, but most scientists believe that the region of the brain most involved in emotional memory is the amygdala. Image is for illustrative purposes only.
The team used optogenetics, a newer research method using light to control cells in living tissue, to stimulate specific populations of cholinergic neurons during the experiments.
Two of the team’s findings stand out. First, when they increased acetylcholine release in the amygdala during the formation of a traumatic memory, it greatly strengthened memory making the memory last more than twice as long as normal. Then, when they decreased acetylcholine signaling in the amygdala during a traumatic experience, one that normally produces a fear response, they could actually wipe out memory.
“This second finding was particularly surprising, as we essentially created fearless mice by manipulating acetylcholine circuits in the brain,” explained Dr. Role. “The findings provide the basis for research examining novel approaches to reverse post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The challenge of continued research is that cholinergic neurons remain difficult to study because they are intermingled with other types of neurons and are few in number compared to other types of neurons in the brain.
Because acetylcholine is a natural signaling mechanism and seemingly essential for memory, additional research will center on non-pharmacologic ways to manipulate or fine-tune memory.
“The long-term goal of our research is that we would like to find ways – potentially independent of drug administration – to enhance or diminish the strength of specific memories, the good ones, and diminish the bad ones,” summarized Dr. Role.
ABOUT THIS MEMORY RESEARCH
The research involves faculty and students from the Stony Brook University Departments of Neurobiology and Behavior, and Pharmacological Sciences, as well as the CNS Disorders Center, the Neurosciences Institute, and the Program in Neurosciences. Co-authors include Li Jiang, Srikanya Kunda, James D. Lederman, Gretchen Y. Lopez-Hernandez, Elizabeth C. Ballinger, Shaohua Wang, and David A. Talmage.
Source: Gregory Filiano – Stony Brook University Image Source: The image is in the public domain. Original Research:Abstract for “Cholinergic Signaling Controls Conditioned Fear Behaviors and Enhances Plasticity of Cortical-Amygdala Circuits” by Li Jiang, Srikanya Kundu, James D. Lederman, Gretchen Y. López-Hernández, Elizabeth C. Ballinger, Shaohua Wang, David A. Talmage, Lorna W. Role in Neuron. Published online May 5 2016 doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2016.04.028
Cholinergic Signaling Controls Conditioned Fear Behaviors and Enhances Plasticity of Cortical-Amygdala Circuits
•Photostimulation of ACh in BLA during cue-fear training makes memory more durable
•Stimulating ACh input to BLA in vivo and ex vivo increases neuronal excitability
•Stimulating ACh input to BLA can elicit LTP
•All of the above effects are dependent on acetylcholine receptors (AChRs)
We examined the contribution of endogenous cholinergic signaling to the acquisition and extinction of fear- related memory by optogenetic regulation of cholinergic input to the basal lateral amygdala (BLA). Stimulation of cholinergic terminal fields within the BLA in awake-behaving mice during training in a cued fear-conditioning paradigm slowed the extinction of learned fear as assayed by multi-day retention of extinction learning. Inhibition of cholinergic activity during training reduced the acquisition of learned fear behaviors. Circuit mechanisms underlying the behavioral effects of cholinergic signaling in the BLA were assessed by in vivo and ex vivo electrophysiological recording. Photostimulation of endogenous cholinergic input (1) enhances firing of putative BLA principal neurons through activation of acetylcholine receptors (AChRs), (2) enhances glutamatergic synaptic transmission in the BLA, and (3) induces LTP of cortical-amygdala circuits. These studies support an essential role of cholinergic modulation of BLA circuits in the inscription and retention of fear memories.
“Cholinergic Signaling Controls Conditioned Fear Behaviors and Enhances Plasticity of Cortical-Amygdala Circuits” by Li Jiang, Srikanya Kundu, James D. Lederman, Gretchen Y. López-Hernández, Elizabeth C. Ballinger, Shaohua Wang, David A. Talmage, Lorna W. Role in Neuron. Published online May 5 2016 doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2016.04.028
“The ”self-image” is the key to human personality and human behavior. Change the self-image and you change the personality and the behavior.” Maxwell Maltz. author of Psycho-Cybernetics
Gradual personality changes can be normal with the aging process and experience that one receives. It is a part of human development. Psychologists generally view personality as one of the most stable and difficult-to-change human traits. But radical personality changes are seen in psychotic illnesses and organic brain damage. Sometimes exposure to traumatic combat experiences could cause acute changes in behavior and emotions. Many case studies coincide with the personality changes following traumatic combat exposure. These changes include confusion, delusional beliefs, altered awareness, violent behavior, detachment including withdrawal from family and friends, paranoid behavior, trigger events with vivid intrusive traumatic recollections, dissociative states and radical changes in lifestyle.
The Magnitude of Trauma and Personality Change – Research by K. Fink
The researcher K. Fink studied the correlation between Psychological trauma and possible personality changes. He postulates that, in post-traumatic personality structures caused by overwhelming traumatic experiences, pre-traumatic personality features and childhood experiences are of little or no relevance. In this study, sixty-four survivors of Nazi concentration camps were clinically interviewed and examined, their concentration camp experiences detailed and pre-persecution histories and post-persecution psychopathology studied. The significance of a concentration camp experience were analytically discussed and evaluated. This study showed that 52 cases (81.2%) of the 64 survivors of concentration camps presented an almost identical depressive personality structure irrespective of their pre-persecution life history. The 64 survivors of concentration camps were psychologically compared to 78 cases of people who, in view of the menacing circumstances, decided to emigrate and in this way were spared from becoming victims of the Nazi ‘final solution. (Fink,K. (2003) The Magnitude of Trauma and Personality change. Int J Psychoanal. 2003 Aug;84(Pt 4):985-95.)
Negative and Positive Personality changes following Combat Exposure
Combat trauma can cause drastic personality changes. Often these changes are negative. These negative changes are associated with pessimism, depressive feelings, anger, intense rage, lack of interest in libido (or sometimes the opposite: hypersexual behavior), extremism, inclination towards self-harm or suicide etc.
Regardless of the negative aspects of combat trauma, some studies indicate that there were positive changes after experiencing combat. There are many case studies on positive posttraumatic growth that helped a person to overcome his trauma and see the world in different perspective.
The story of the Emperor Ashoka (273 – 232 BC) is one of the best examples of positive personality changes following combat trauma. In his early days, the Emperor Ashoka had an undying desire to conquer. His last battle- the Kalinga War was full of human misery. He saw the death and dying of countless soldiers. He saw the human suffering. After the Kalinga War, the Emperor got a new insight. He renounced war and worked for the betterment of humankind embracing Buddhism. Ashoka in human history is often referred to as the emperor of all ages.
The Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) returned from the Crusade as a tired soldier. He fought for Spain and when he returned to Madrid after slavery, he found out that the government ignored his services and did not pay any significant attention. His mind was full of battle images and hallucinations. After coming home from long years of battle, Cervantes created the character Don Quixote that filled with humor and pathos. His fictional character Don Quixote goes in to dissociative episodes. He fights with windmills assuming it as enemy figures. Don Quixote’s vivid hallucinations reveal Cervantes tired mind after long years of battle. Cervantes once said, “The truth lies in a man’s dreams… perhaps in this unhappy world of ours whose madness is better than a foolish sanity.” Was Cervantes affected by combat stress? The answer could be yes.
The Count Leo Tolstoy participated in the Crimean War in 1854 fought against the French, British and Ottoman Empire to defend Sevastopol. He was exposed to numerous war traumas that changed his personality. The climax of this personality change occurred many years after the war when he was traveling to buy an estate. He had to stay in a motel and in the middle of the night, he woke up with a mortal fear. This could have been a severe anxiety attack and this incident made distinct changes in him. He experienced persistent sorrow and emptiness, which he described in his autobiographical book Confession….
"I cannot recall those years without horror, loathing, and heart-rending pain. I killed people in war, challenged men to duels with the purpose of killing them, and lost at cards; I squandered the fruits of the peasants’ toil and then had them executed; I was a fornicator and a cheat. Lying, stealing, promiscuity of every kind, drunkenness, violence, murder – there was not a crime I did not commit…Thus I lived for ten years.”
The posttraumatic growth in Leo Tolstoy helped him to become the best novelist of the World. His great epic novel the War and Peace deeply analyzes the war and human psyche ranging from heroism to cynicism and from glory to emptiness.
Even after many years, some of the personality changes troubled him. In January of 1903, as he wrote in his diary, Tolstoy had still experienced deep unshakable sadness.
"….I am now suffering the torments of hell: I am calling to mind all the infamies of my former life—these reminiscences do not pass away and they poison my existence. Generally, people regret that the individuality does not retain memory after death. What a happiness that it does not! What an anguish it would be if I remembered in this life all the evil, all that is painful to the conscience, committed by me in a previous life….What a happiness that reminiscences disappear with death and that there only remains consciousness…"
Mahatma Gandhi participated as a volunteer in the Ambulance Corps during the Boer war that fought from 1899 to 1902 between an alliance of the Boer governments and the Great Britain. In Boer war, Gandhi saw killings, torture and horrifying atrocities. This experience affected him greatly to embrace non-violence further deep. Gandhi was against any kind of War. He refused to support the revolutionary activities of Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose who wanted an arms struggle to free India from the British. Gandhi once wrote: "I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could."
The Nobel Prize Laureate Ernest Hemingway served in the Lincoln Brigade as a volunteer during the Spanish Civil War. According to the Military Psychiatrist Dr William Pike, half of the Spanish civil war veterans suffered from severe combat related stress. At one point, Dr Pike was able to take 28 shell-shocked men hiding in a wine cellar. Ernest Hemingway was disgusted with the war and its horrendous nature. This new experience inspired him to write his novel Farewell to Arms. In the later years, he suffered from recurrent depression and took his own life.
Personality Changes Following the Elam War Experiences
Many combatants who fought in the Elam War had experienced psychological disturbances. Some underwent acute stress reactions on the battlefield and some had late posttraumatic reactions. The chronic post-traumatic stress symptoms changed their cognition and behavior pattern. These psychological damages had long-term effects on the combatants. It affected their personal, professional and social lives.
Lt. HXX43 had served 9 years in the operational areas. In 1998 he was posted to protect the Jayasinha Pura Camp and there he underwent strenuous military duties and faced enemy fire. In 1999 when he was serving at the Kokkuthuduvai camp the LTTE attacked them. It was a dreadful battle and many people died. Lt. HXX43 witnessed the deaths of the enemy carders as well as the deaths of his own men. It was a shocking and devastating period for him. Over the years, he witnessed a number of deaths and how soldiers were getting wounded. At the Kovil Point in front of his eyes, a soldier lost his leg due to an antipersonnel mine. The soldier’s leg blown in to pieces all he could see was blood and bone fragments. These traumatic experiences changed this thinking pattern and made him more and more cynical.
After serving a number of years at the Northern war, front Lt. HXX43 came home as a tired man. Generalized body pain fatigue and frequent headaches often troubled him. He became more and more irritable and could not control his anger. He suffered a general apathy and could not feel happiness and did not derive any satisfaction by doing any pleasurable activates. His friends, parents and the wife noticed the melodramatic personality changes in him.
L/ Cpl. AXX39 served many years in the North facing hostilities. During this period, he witnessed a large number of combat related traumatic events. He saw the deaths of his unit’s soldiers as well as the enemy. He was utterly devastated following these sorrowful experiences. After coming home L/ Cpl. AXX39 became a different man. He physically and verbally abused his wife, often imposed heavy punishments on his children and became extremely suspicious. He lost the motivation and will to survive.
Personality Changes Following Traumatic Brain Injuries
A large numbers of soldiers sustained head injuries in the Elam War. These wounds were predominantly caused by the gunshots, mortar blasts and artillery attacks. Many injured soldiers had a range of neuropsychological problems and personality changes following the brain injuries. Apart from the personality changes these victims experienced impaired memory, difficulty in concentrating, cognitive difficulties especially in logic and in rational judgment with lack of impulse control.
Lance Cpl. NXXS32 sustained a MBI (Mortar Blast Injury) to the parietal region of the skull. He immediately lost his consciousness. Later he was transferred to the Anuradhapura Hospital then to the NSU (Nero Surgical Unit) National Hospital Colombo. After months of treatment, his physical condition improved.
Although he survived the MBI, the head injury gave him occasional epilepsy. He was then diagnosed with Posttraumatic Epilepsy. After the head injury, there were drastic personality changes in him. He had memory and cognitive problems, emotional liability with intense mood swings, hostility and inappropriate sexual behavior. He was treated with SSRI s, mood stabilizers, and CBT.
Sgt. CXXT56 served nearly 8 years in an artillery battery. There he was constantly exposed to artillery shellfire and vibration. By 2004, he had constant headaches, termers of the hands, sexual dysfunctions, inability to tolerate loud noises, hostile feelings, and marked cognitive changes.
Adopting Positive Stress Coping Methods
Personality traits play an important role in military training. Professor Joshua J. Jackson of the Washington University in St. Louis is of the view that the military attracts men who are generally less neurotic, less likely to worry, less likely to be concerned about seeking out novel experiences. Therefore positive stress management would increase the productivity of the military and it protects soldiers for great extent from possible psychological harm in combat situations.
Mismanagement of combat stress can lead to misconduct stress behaviors (insubordination, desertion, social disruption, and harassment of civilians) as well as negative stress coping methods like alcohol abuse, drug abuse, domestic violence and cruelty to children. The combatants must be taught positive stress coping methods such as seeking counseling services, meditation, engage in recreational activities, doing sports, participate in religious work etc. creative work like art , sculpture , writing also help to get away from stresses.
Private PX43 served in the operational areas over 8 years and throughout this period he witnessed death and destruction. He became restless, agitated and gradually experienced posttraumatic symptoms. His nights were full of battle dreams and horrors that he underwent in the North. When Private PX43 was referred for psychological support services in 2004, he was treated with medication and psychotherapy. In addition, he was referred for spiritual therapy that was consisted of Meditation. (Rev Harispattuwa Ariyawansalankara-Chief Incumbent, Sri Lanka International Vipassana Meditation Centre helped us enormously to organize meditation and spiritual therapy for the war affected combatants) Within several months, his mental condition improved and Private PX43 practiced meditation with a great interest. He became more positive about the life experiences and was able to overcome his posttraumatic features. By the late 2006, he was free of posttraumatic symptoms.
Cpl JX54 sustained a gunshot injury to his leg and underwent below knee amputation. His life was devastated after he became disabled. Several times, he planned to take his own life. He became hostile, blaming others for his misery and started abusing alcohol. In 2003, he was diagnosed with adjustment disorder and treated accordingly. Gradually his stress and anxiety reduced and he was able to see his present life condition with a positive attitude. Today Cpl JX54 is free of his traumatic and self-destructive behavior and engages in an income generating handloom business.