When a doctor takes your physical history and notes your symptoms, she’s comparing the symptoms you report against a list of symptoms of various conditions she suspects and looking for a match that fits your specific symptom profile. When she gets a hit, she might follow up with tests to confirm the diagnosis. Or, a doctor might run a batch of tests first, to rule out some conditions and see if others pop up.
The process of identifying the energetic roots of traumatic patterns follows a similar process. Trauma imprints have energetic profiles that can be discerned intuitively and symbolically/metaphorically. A traumatic pattern wreaking havoc in a person’s life reads like a list of typical perceptions, feelings, fears, expectations, survival responses to shock and other symptoms common to the experience, as well as certain aspects of the experience that are specific to the individual. In each chapter, common trauma patterns are listed with their presenting symptoms and “energetic signatures,” which I define as the theme that connects the presenting symptoms to what may be the root experience(s) that are fueling that pattern or issue.
Learning to “read energy” through interpretation of metaphor language
For example, asthma attacks have the energetic signature of “I’m dying,” because an asthma attack feels as if one’s breath is being cut off. If someone is suffocating or gasping for air, their life is in danger and they register the shock and terror consistent with a life-threatening experience. A panic attack can feel like one is “under attack”– a life threatening attack. People report being suddenly overcome by a tidal wave of intense fear they didn’t see coming. Some say it feels like the world is closing in on them. They gasp for breath, their stomach churns and they become paralyzed with dread. Some people shut-down emotionally; they just go numb and may dissociate. They’ve told me it feels like they’re going to die. Every year in this country, thousands of people end up in the emergency room of the nearest hospital during a panic attack, because the anxiety is so overwhelming they think they’re having a heart attack. Even worse, many clients report, is that once they’ve had one panic attack, the anticipatory dread at the very thought of being vulnerable to having another one at some unknown time in the future is enough to raise their anxiety level (and probably their blood pressure) into the red zone.
Panic attacks are truly emotionally debilitating. The fight/flight cortisol flood takes a toll on the adrenal glands, nervous system and the brain. People come in saying things like, “I can’t take much more of this. My nerves are shot, I can’t sleep, I’m always anxious, my wife is threatening to leave me. The fear never leaves. I don’t want to live like this anymore.”
Choking on food, having been literally choked by an attacker, smothered accidently or even emotionally can also bring on panic attacks. In “Dora’s” case history you will see how several different kinds of “smothering” were fueling her panic attacks and claustrophobia. Sometimes there is a present-time trigger for panic attacks, sometimes not. People may go into panic when driving or being in a crowd for example. In other cases, there is no discernable trigger. They’re just going through the day and suddenly a panic attack overtakes them without warning. Some people report that just thinking of a fearful scenario, like being on a bridge or in a tall building for example, is enough to bring on an attack.
Every one of the dozens of people I’ve worked with who had panic attacks had previously tried some combination of therapy, herbs, acupuncture, anti-anxiety medications, prayer, hypnosis, meditation, biofeedback, exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, desensitization, or some other psychotherapeutic approach. Some reported a minimal reduction in intensity, but had not healed permanently.
One problem with treating panic attacks and phobias with traditional psychotherapeutic approaches is that talking about them is painful and re-traumatizing. The victim may end up with a set of coping skills to contain and manage the terror, but it’s not a cure. Exposure therapy and desensitization techniques require the client to not only confront the sometimes nameless terror that stalks them, but they’re required to steep in the terror over and over.
Virtual reality, a form of exposure therapy, has the same re-traumatization disadvantages. The feared situation (ie. combat) or object (ie. snakes) is projected before the client’s eyes in 3-D through a set of special goggles. The real-time 3-D effect makes it seem that the client is actually “in” the terrifying situation. The client is exposed to successively more intense images of the feared situation or object until eventually they supposedly overcome the fear. Virtual reality for phobias has been shown to be effective, but it is highly re-traumatizing and sometimes takes many uncomfortable sessions to get results. To use an electricity analogy, virtual reality basically works by systematically overloading the client’s fear circuitry until eventually the circuit fries. A burned out, dead circuit can’t conduct any electricity. The normal “circuit-breaker response” of removing oneself from the fearful situation is over-ridden, which eventually fries the circuit connecting to that particular fear.
Time Doesn’t Heal
Like the software on a computer hard drive, the stored shock/trauma imprint will remain, where each time it is recalled, (or dreamt about) it will re-play like a VCR stuck on automatic re-run. And like the brain, the body will also resonate with those trauma signals and automatically engage the fight/flight response, which floods the body/brain with stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin. Until one’s body/mind realizes and accepts that it’s not under attack anymore, panic attacks, traumatic memories, PTSD and the accompanying physical dysfunctions will not heal. Why? Because the shock/fear energetic and cellular imprint is still stored in the amygdala, the seat of emotion in the limbic brain and in the body. Cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of counseling have a high failure rate with traumatized veterans, for example. The trauma imprint burned into the limbic brain continues to send signals to the areas of the brain and body that are storing the energetic imprint of that particular trauma.
Cognitive therapy aimed at the pre-frontal cortex, the seat of the rational thinking brain, will not release stored shock/trauma from the amygdala, hippocampus and the other structures in the limbic (emotional) brain. It is physiologically impossible. This is why time, in most cases, heals nothing. My 80-year-old client still cried when he recalled a traumatic incident from his youth, 70 years prior. Survivors and first-responders of 9/11 are still traumatized and suffering nightmares years after that horrific day. Late onset PTSD in Vietnam veterans who suddenly break out with full-blown PTSD symptoms 10-30 or so years later has been studied in the Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study. There are still legions of walking wounded veterans, some of them homeless and addicted, from WWII to Iraq and Afghanistan, still suffering from debilitating PTSD symptoms. Many are medicated into numbness with dangerous, toxic drug cocktails. Others commit suicide. Statistics released by the Dept. of the Army in 2010 confirmed that in selected months, more soldiers committed suicide than were killed in combat.
Panic Attacks, Agoraphobia and OCD
People who suffer from panic attacks may also have agoraphobia, which is a need to avoid public places for fear of having a panic attack in public. It’s not merely a fear of open spaces, although it manifests that way in certain people. Sometimes people can’t leave the house at all, or they force themselves to drive kids to school or go to work, but it’s exhausting, lip-biting torture for them the whole time. Others fear driving themselves, but they’ll go out if someone else drives them. Still others can handle limited movement. They can go out, but somehow establish an arbitrary “safety zone” within which they are skittish but reasonably ok, however they go into panic mode if they venture outside the zone. The zone might be the mailbox, or the grocery store and back, or it might be within a certain number of miles from home.
Sometimes panic attacks and agoraphobia can deepen into OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder, which complicates healing considerably. OCD presents as an elaborate, interconnected system of defensive, fear-based strategies called “OCD rituals” that need to be followed in order for the OCD person to stay in their self-imposed safety-zone. This can include excessive washing and cleaning for fear of germs, needing to take a certain object with them as a sort of talisman to protect them while they’re out, not going anywhere alone, or refusing to drive, for example. OCD rituals can multiply like a nasty virus. They can take root in the fear and virtually take over a person’s life.
One client put it this way: “It reminds me of “step-on-a-crack-break-your-mother’s-back.” It’s crazy-making. I make myself crazy with all this, and I make everyone else crazy, but I can’t stop. If I try to stop, I feel so vulnerable, I might die.”
The energetic signature of some OCD rituals can be a subconscious need to find control, protection, safety, the need to defend and protect the self, and sometimes others. Perfectionism is a prominent factor for some people with OCD. The rituals are a symbolic effort to gain control and safety in a world that they perceive through hypervigilant lenses as having life-altering threats embedded in every possible scenario.
Germ phobias are a common manifestation of OCD. People develop excessive hand washing, cleaning and disinfection rituals as part of their uncontrollable compulsion to protect themselves against metaphorical contamination. The energetic signature of a germ phobia, for example, is feeling vulnerable, fear of anything perceived to be dirty or contaminated, overpowered, invaded, infected, etc. can sometimes be a metaphor consistent with a sexual abuse experience.
Until the advent of TFT, Thought-Field Therapy, an acupressure tapping technique invented by psychologist Roger Callahan, EMDR, ( Eye Movement Desentization and Reprocessing) invented by psychologist Francine Shapiro, EFT, (Emotional Freedom Technique,) another acupressure tapping method originated by Gary Craig, and the emergence of the scientific field of “energy psychology, there has been no effective, non-retraumatizing cure for panic attacks. Symptom-suppressing benzodiazapines such as Valium, Xanax and Klonopin have a dampening effect on the over-activity of the amygdale but are not curative. When a client says “I have panic attacks,” I immediately engage symbolic vision and intuitively scan their childhood first, since we know that children are inherently helpless, vulnerable and unable to control their environment, thus they are particularly vulnerable to overwhelming, paralyzing fear.
The energetic signature of panic attacks is a survival level (fear of death) condition that has some or all of the following energetic signatures, depending on the person and their particular history:
Fearing the worst, dread
Can’t let guard down, can’t relax
Inability to protect self
Fearing that they‘re going insane
Unsafe, at risk
Feeling vulnerable/defenseless when in public places and/or open spaces
Hypervigilance/Anticipatory anxiety—anticipating being attacked, but never knowing when or how. In other words “waiting for the other shoe to drop, walking on eggshells, etc.
Avoidance and Isolation as Defenses
Perceptions of extreme vulnerability and life-threatening fear feeds panic attacks. In some people, the free-floating anxiety never leaves, it just spikes up to a 10 on the 0-10 intensity scale when a panic attack hits, then goes back down to about a 4-6 level of general dread they live with every day. People tell me they feel this energy in their stomach which is the 3rd chakra located in the solar plexus, sometimes spreading up into the chest and throat as well. Remember the 3rd chakra is the core identity and sense of self, the level of self-esteem, and personal power, for example an ability to set protective boundaries.
Many clients have come in with a history of panic attacks complicated by chronic anxiety and depression from being bullied, tormented,( some use the word “tortured”) harassed, picked-on, teased, beaten, verbally abused etc. by older siblings or bigger kids at school. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re a helpless victim, trapped with no recourse because parents, teachers or other authority figures do nothing to protect you. In the parent’s chapter I’ll cover the dangerous side of sibling rivalry and bullying that every parent, teacher and school administrator needs to know.
Let’s take an in-depth look at two cases from my private coaching practice: one case of panic triggered by claustrophobia, the other triggered by social anxiety. Each case presents with a different root trauma and different energetic signature.
Case History #1 “Dora” MRI and Date Rape
Dora called me one evening to ask if she could have an emergency session. She was scheduled to undergo an MRI for diagnosis of chronic neck pain the next morning and was terrified of going into the open MRI machine. She had suffered from claustrophobia all her life and had no idea why. She had tried to have the MRI a few weeks earlier and had a panic attack, so the technician quickly removed her. Her doctor gave her a prescription for Valium, and a few days later, they tried the MRI again. And again, even sedated on a hefty dose of Valium, she couldn’t go through with the test. Dora was getting desperate. She needed to complete the test in the next week so she could have the cervical disk surgery she needed before her surgeon took an extended vacation.
When Dora arrived, she was nearly in a meltdown from anxiety. I assured her that we would get to the bottom of the panic attacks, I’d help her to heal them herself, and teach her an EFT calming and centering procedure she could do herself to clear any leftover anxiety prior to the MRI.
1) shy and fearful as a child– smothered, over-protected. Mother passed on her fears about “the world is not a safe place” so you learned to fear first instead of trust. Imagery of a pillow being placed over your face. (Is this real or symbolic?) Energy of violation. “Others are more powerful than me—so I’m weak and always at a disadvantage. (vulnerable, unable to protect self) Father didn’t stick up for you. Mom wore the pants in the family.
2) The use of your power in the world, job, relationships, etc. is hesitant. Your antenna is always up. Good at reading people—learned early on to “scan” for potential threats—reactive not proactive—others can take advantage of you and trample over you emotionally very easily. You are aware of that but don’t know how to change this pattern, so you just deal with it. You’ve decided that submissive is the safe way to be—everyone likes a nice quiet girl.
3) “I’m here to serve others.” (the Servant archetype) “I get my sense of self through sacrifice” —martyr energy also—secret sense of shame about this pattern, especially prior to age 20.
4) You betray yourself in favor of others—(the Caretaker archetype) “The way to get love and approval is to be and do what others want.” This seems on the surface to get you what you want, but keeping the peace is costly for you, energetically and health wise.
5) “I speak in turn.” –supporting cast member, not the star of the show—you need approval before you’re able to make a choice—making a choice from your own desire first is too risky—what if others don’t like it—energy of “stay in your place.”
6) Sometimes you think about your own dreams and desires but they stay in the embryo stage—no power to grow and birth them—needs of others interfere. The shadow side of this pattern through your life has helped you develop intuition to navigate safely.
7) “God is my refuge and my strength.” You have decided these issues are your cross to bear, but this is not accurate—your gifts and potential are on hold until you get rid of the fears. You hold yourself back.
I asked Dora to describe what thoughts go through her head and what emotions she feels when she’s being prepped for the MRI and when she’s actually in it. What I am looking for are her perceptions of the energetic signatures I picked up in her intuitive scan. I wrote down verbatim exactly what she said. Her perceptions are what need to be treated.
“I’ll die if I go in that machine.”
It’s too close to my face, in my space, I can’t breathe”
It’s violating my space
I’m trapped, I can’t breathe
It’s holding me down, I can’t move.
I’m smothering, there’s no air
Remember that when viewing a situation symbolically and metaphorically, you have to remember to correlate what really happened in the past (or likely did happen if there’s no direct memory) with the presenting fears or behaviors in the present. Then, you link the energetic signature that is the common denominator between both.
There were several traumas in Dora’s life that, when viewed symbolically, appeared to be underlying her claustrophobia and supporting the beliefs listed above. The earliest trauma was a difficult and prolonged labor and delivery when Dora was born. We can speculate that a baby could feel deprived of oxygen at times during a prolonged delivery and thus would feel she was smothering. She might also have subconsciously internalized being trapped and unable to move.
Dora’s father, although loving and supportive in other ways, used to hold her down and tickle her until she cried.
On the way home from school at age 7, Dora was pulled into some woods by an older male classmate and molested.
At age 18, she was nearly date-raped in a car. Her date got on top of her and held her down. She was terrified he was going to rape her. She could barely breathe because he was so much heavier and was crushing her into the car seat. She was terrified, trapped and unable to protect herself.
When identifying the roots of panic disorder, the metaphorical or energetic diagnostic process was simply connecting the many traumatic dots in her past to the MRI experience. The energetic signature had to do with being held down, trapped, with something close up in her face, feeling smothered, terrified, and feeling she was going to die.
When Dora went into the MRI, her body/mind transferred the unhealed traumas listed above onto the MRI experience, which is basically being trapped and unable to move, with only a few inches between her face and the metal tube. Even the motion of lying on her back and being pushed into the cylinder-shaped vessel could trigger the imprinted struggle for survival in the birth canal. At any rate, some combination of Dora’s past traumas literally came up in her face, and she panicked.
Since time was of the essence, we applied EFT to the most highly charged memories first, using a combination of EFT and AIT, (Advanced Integrative Therapy) a powerful chakra-based energy healing method. The molest incident on the way home from school and the date rape incident, both rated “10” by Dora, were neutralized to a zero in less than two hours. The next morning Dora reported for her MRI and breezed through it uneventfully. She returned the following week for more work and we proceeded to work through other traumatic issues in her life. Upon follow-up in late 2005 she reported no further incidents of claustrophobia.
Case History 2: “Bill” Terrorized and Bullied at School
“Bill,” age 47, called me after suffering from an increasingly debilitating social anxiety phobia for over 20 years. Although trained as a teacher, he was unable to hold down a full-time position, choosing instead to sub whenever he was able to handle the anxiety enough to leave the house and sweat out a day at school. His marriage was suffering, bills were mounting and none of the conventional drug or talk therapies Bill had tried had worked for him. Bill had resorted to using alcohol to manage his depression and anxiety, and the drinking was getting out of hand.
Overview: The first image I see is imagery of a house being jolted off its foundation, as if there was a huge earthquake. Huge anxiety, fear of death and destruction–imagery of a fiery explosion knocking you off your feet. You grew up afraid. Chaos and disorder at home, parents fighting? “I’ve never felt safe.” In some way you are blaming yourself. “It’s my fault, I should have done something.” Your nervous system is still running on high alert, and this is exhausting your mind as well as your body.
1) a feeling that you had to “tiptoe” thru childhood in your house, to stay safe. “I’ll be judged.” “I have to protect the others”… protect siblings? Was Dad a rager? Was one parent an alcoholic?
2) anxiety and dread, vulnerability and fear, a sense of impending doom. “I can’t protect myself.” Were you being abused? “I never saw it coming.”
3) I’ll never be the same. I want to die.” “It’s my fault, I should have done something to stop it. “ I’m empty, devastated, hopeless.”
4) A protective shield over your heart, it’s not safe to trust. Hypervigilance, being on guard all the time. Imagery of a knife in your heart… “I was betrayed.”
5) Your voice and ability to speak up for your self has been choked off. “I can’t protect myself” which means I can’t defend my boundaries. Vulnerability, defensiveness and hypervigilance, always looking to see who or what might be a threat of some sort.
6) Anxiety and sadness mixed. Unexpressed grief in the mind. Victim archetype. Your emotional development seems to have stopped in some ways at about the age of 10-12, due to trauma. Did anything bad happen around that time that you recall?
7) Strong connection to the divine, but the wounded inner child wonders why, if God is so powerful, He didn’t save you.
Bill grew up in an unstable home in which his father, a career Navy officer, was constantly deployed overseas. His mother, who didn’t drive, was left to fend for herself while raising Bill and his two brothers. Bill’s mother drank and verbally abused him and his brothers. Bill remembers a particularly painful incident at age 14 when his mother blamed him for her drinking. “It’s your fault, you drive me crazy.” When Bill was in second grade, his mother threatened to give him up for adoption. In spite of the problems at home, Bill’s biggest traumas happened at school. He went to school in a racially mixed area of a large city in California. White students were the minority, and he was bullied and tormented constantly by a hostile band of African-American, Filipino and Mexican boys from 7th grade until graduation. A Mexican boy pulled a gun on Bill in 8th grade. They called him “honky white boy” and other derogatory names. He got into frequent fights, and always lost the fight. e Because of the years of unrelenting stress, constant threats and violence that teachers didn’t stop and that his parents did not protect him from, Bill developed a severe hypervigilance that has deepened into agoraphobia and social anxiety. He also exhibited several symptoms of classic PTSD, which was diagnosed by the psychiatrist who sent him to me.
Using EFT, we neutralized several vivid memories of Bill being tormented, threatened and beaten by older, bigger boys at school. We also neutralized his beliefs that he was still at risk and couldn’t ever relax and let his guard down. His agorophobia gradually lessened and then disappeared. He regained his ability to speak up when confronted and to set boundaries. All symptoms of PTSD released.