People Who Have Had Personality Changes and Post-Traumatic Growth

People Who Have Had Personality Changes and Post-Traumatic Growth

“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.

Lady Gaga : I Changed Myself Completely After Rape.

Lady Gaga : I Changed Myself Completely After Rape.

Lady Gaga opened up about her being raped at the age of 19 and how that traumatic experience changed her life.  She had first disclosed being raped as a teenager last year on Contactmusic while speaking about a film The Hunting Ground'The Hunting Ground'.

I didn't tell anyone for I think seven years.  I didn't know how to think about it.  I didn't know how to accept it.  I didn't know how to not blame myself or think it was my fault.
It's something that really changed my life.  It changed who I was completely.  It changed my body, it changed my thoughts' she said.

She was asked how that experienced physically transformed her, Lady Gaga said, 'when you go through trauma like that, it doesn't just have the immediate physical ramifications.'

Lady Gaga then revealed that it took her several years to begin not blaming herself for what had happened.

'Because of the way I dress, and the way that I'm provocative as a person, I thought that I had brought it on myself in some way.  That it was my fault,'

Lady Gaga epitomizes rockstar resilience and is an example of post traumatic growth especially when she says 'I'm not going out on this sad chord'!

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How to Stop Depression After a Breakup

How to Stop Depression After a Breakup

The book Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being contains a lot of research, stories and some mental training strategies to be able to get over stressful and traumatic events.  This is important because stress has been proven to compromise emotion regulation circuits in such a way that it prevents a person from bouncing back.  By having neural pathways that have been habituated to continually surrender prevents a person from getting out of that mindset which also causes a person to have a higher incidence of depression. One convincing study on how bad stress can be for the brain was done by Dr. Richie Davidson. He graduated Harvard in 1976 in psychology and since then he's been studying happiness and the circuits in the brain responsible for resilience.  In this study he found out that prolonged marital stress is associated with short-lived responses to positive stimuli.  The stress, after time compromises emotion regulation circuitry in such a way that causes bouncing back to be very challenging. So when you're in a relationship and you do something good and your partner says 'hey babe you did a good job' that allows circuits in the brain to be more resilient.  In supportive relationships if someone screws up on something the partners might say 'okay we'll get them next time' and this is actually a really good thing.  Having more positive states enables greater cultivation for overall well-being.   Having more positive states of being for longer periods of time is a lovely way to go through life because you end up seeing things better and you have less stress and a longer, healthier lifespan. Now what happens when the partners or ex partners give each other stress? What the study has shown is that when a person is in a stressful relationship, what ends up happening over time is that a positive event will happen and feel good but only for a brief amount of time and then they'll quickly get back to baseline.  When you show them a negative picture, such as car crashes, not only will they see that and feel lousy, but it takes them a long time to get back up to a normal baseline. This is why there's so much depression related to marital stress.  Stress compromises the circuits in your brain that would normally have enabled you to be respond with greater resilience. The research by Richie Davidson also references other studies that shows how marital strain is a powerful stressor with serious costs to emotional well-being.   So if you have had a breakup and you find yourself having a tough time, such as feeling anxiety and/or perhaps you're replaying things in the past over and over and over, it's really not your fault.   It's your brain I call this the X program.  The X program runs in the brain and is created from consistent stressful thinking which automatically generates responses that becomes habituated and causes a person to be remain stuck in their lives and increases the likelihood of being less resilient.

One way that people create this dysfunctional program has been outlined step by step by author Linda Graham. The reason to mention the steps is so that you can recognize that if you start doing this, how dangerous it is and what you can do to stop it.

Stress is the number one killer in the world. Stress can come from job pressure, money issues, health crisis, relationships, divorce, death of a spouse, arguments with a friend's, feeling loneliness and more.  And again, it's not that things are stressful, it is our own responses to things that creates the stress.   It can feel like the stressors of the past have locked away our future in a dismal dungeon of despair.

It's like Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet Act II Scene 2, 'for there is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.  To me it is a prison.'

So how do you make it not so?

For this, I have to give a little back story.  In your brain is a system called the limbic system.  This mammalian part of the brain is responsible mostly for emotions and memories.  So if you're going to be getting over your ex or breakup, obviously there's going to be some emotions and memories that would benefit with some updates.

Since this system is related to memories and emotions, some kind of change there has to happen. Now let's go a little deeper here.  In our bodies we have this nervous system.  And it is going in one of two states.

One is sympathetic response which is like a stress response.  So if somebody comes running at you with a knife you're not going to think 'what should I do?   I wonder if I should send blood to my arms and legs to fight, run and defend myself?'   No, that physiological response will happen automatically. Whenever their is a significant stress response, our body spikes with adrenaline and glucocorticoids so that we have energy to mobilize ourselves and survive.   Great  🙂

The flip side is the parasympathetic response. This is mostly a nighttime response and it deals with things like digestion and rebuilding cells and it is associated with the release of oxytocin which gives feelings of cuddling and warmth.

So, the simple way to think of these two responses is red light, green light.  Red would be the stress response (sympathetic) and the green light would be the peace response (parasympathetic). So now that we've briefly touched on this bit of backstory now we can understand how this degenerative X program can be created in our mind and bodies.

This comes from Linda Graham who wrote Bouncing Back Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being.  In this book she talks about how people can have a negative response to an event such as a breakup or divorce and how those responses can affect the way their nervous system responds.  This is important because you can see how an event can go from bad to worse by the way you think about it. So let's begin with how people can wire themselves to have this horrible "X program".

Step one: Criticism. Internal or external.  By internal/external what that means is you can just be imagining criticism or remembering a time when that ex was having a fight with you or yelling at you are pointing the finger at you or saying things that made you angry or sad or guilty.  So that's internal. External could be criticism that is  actually happening in real life.  So when we get criticism it shocks the sympathetic nervous system into survival (sympathetic response) mode.

Step two: Shock the system.  Shock rapidly activates the parasympathetic nervous systems submit and collapse response which cancels the sympathetic branch set in motion so we get stressed or right and then we go into rest and relaxation mode. in the sense so instead of mobilizing for action fight/flight, we demobilize collapse or cave in for protection this is where it gets worse.

Step Three:  Collapse into other rejection memories. This collapse can evoke implicit memories conditioned by previous experiences. Just by getting yourself into a negative state of being will cause you to remember other times when you were feeling rejected.  You start remembering other failures in the past or the times where things just weren't going all that great.  Then it's a slippery slope with feelings created related to times of deficiency, unworthiness, inadequacy and feel like a fraud.  Ouch!

Step 4:  Repeat and detach.  With enough repetition, the brains response to these memories is to dissociate, to go numb, to check out or disappear because if no one can find us no one can hurt us.   This is like shame so we undermine ourselves and we close ourselves off and the love and support that would bring us back into connection and action. This is one way how this X program can become wired into our behaviour. This is partly why authors such as Dr. Joe Dispenza write books about breaking the habit of being yourself.  It's because we can create these kind of habits of behavior that are against our own betterment.  And it's not our fault!   Human beings are predisposed to building habits and automaticity in our lives in order to make things easier.  However,  this is a habitual program where things don't get easier.

Things get worse and worse because we end up only collapsing.  Very bad, not a good thing According to the Linda Graham, the best way to crawl out of the swamp of shame is to come into connection with another person who loves and accepts us exactly as we are.  Sounds good but what if you don't have someone else? I know that for myself, when I split up with my wife, I felt really embarrassed about it and so I had disconnected from all my friends and all my family.   I didn't really have somebody to come into connection with to help me get out of the swamp of shame. If you are in a similar situation, you can do what I did which is to conjure up a person in your imagination and then build on that love to come into your own love and acceptance of yourself exactly as you are. So if you think earlier to the beginning of how this X program is created, you'll recall how it starts with internal or external criticism?  Well you can do something better than that by imagining internal love,  What it would be like to feel loved?  If you don't have anybody don't have family and friends to help you out, you can make it up in your brain and imagine people that are helping you out and loving you unconditionally because the brain really can't tell the difference emotionally between fact and fiction so you might as well give yourself the fiction that gets you out of the swamp of the X program. 'The greatest thing about education is to make the nervous system our ally instead of our enemy.' - William James, -Harvard, known as the Father of Psychology. The easiest and fastest way to stop the X program is to not do step one.   Remember how step one of the X program was criticism? So whenever you have that going on, recognize it, be aware of it and stop it. If you're giving yourself that harsh criticism such as by asking yourself bad questions (how could I have been so stupid, why didn't I see it coming, how did I get myself into this catastrophe etc) or by replaying memories of the past,  stop it because you know how bad it is and you know where it can lead. If someone offered you a pathway to gloom, depression, despondency, dejection and rejection,, here's the door, would you take step one or would you say  'no thanks, not for me'? Stopping the X Program.  If you've got criticism going on, internal or external, yes it's wise to stop it but how? What I suggest doing is using an NLP tactic of changing the submodalities, which is about changing the qualities of the memories such as adjusting the brightness, frame, associated, dissociated, the sound, the focus etc.. So if you are experiencing criticism and imagining all that kind of stuff or even speaking to yourself in that harsh tone,  what if you were to change the tone to something much sexier?   Doing so will change the experience which will in turn change the meaning of that criticism.  This is a good thing because then that old neural pathway that used to head towards doom and gloom can begin to change.   By changing what the signal means, you can change your response to it and then that branches out into having better forms behavior while rebuilding the circuits in your brain that allow you to be able to bounce back.  Meditation can be used to reprogram your mind and this would be helpful in changing that x program.  Here For more about how to reprogram your brain to get over stuff and bounce back, you may want to listen to hypnosis for breakups. The focus in that audio is to relax the listener and give them the opportunity to focus on rebuilding their future instead of dwelling on the past.  The video is on youtube and has thousands of views and positive comments.  One of the reasons for its effectiveness is by adjusting the submodalities related to the ex while increasing focus on a solution that outframes the problem behaviours.  By making the new future without the ex more enticing, the easier it is to let go of something that is considered of less value.

Prochaska and the Stages of Change

The stages of change are a model of the steps people go through when achieving transformation.
The man that is credited with creating this model and each stepping stone along the way is Dr James Prochaska. Watching the video below will give you a better idea as to where you might be in your own personal transformation.

From adversity can come victory.  James Prochaska lost his father when he was a little boy.  After that, he devoted his life to finding out the steps that people go through to make personal transformation a possibility.  To become more familiar with his work you may want to check out his book, Changing for Good by Dr James Prochaska.

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