Groomed to Lose
For the abused, PTSD
sufferers and the bullied
by Marc MacYoung
For many years the
belief had been that our brains, once developed, were fixed.
Research into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder showed this wasn't
the case. Your brain can -- and does -- physically change in
response to your experiences.
A fundamental premise of Conflict
Communications is that we can get sucked into our
monkey brain faster than conscious
thought. Worse, the 'roles' we tend to play in conflict
scripts aren't necessarily a matter of choice, they can be
better understood as habits. And the more we engage in these
roles the more entrenched they become. The more entrenched
they are, the less actual choice we have about behaving another
Until we know about
the brain's, flexibility(1).
We are going to take a vastly complex scientific subject and
reduce it to a simple analogy. If you've ever been in the desert
you likely have come across a gully. Whether you call these
arroyos, washes or wadi, these are miles-long, dry creek beds
and ravines. Rain falls in the desert and whatever isn't
absorbed into the ground, flows downhill and into these routes.
In times of monsoons (heavy downpours) dangerous flash flood
conditions exist -- especially in arroyos with steep sides. In a
sense, the rain water has to run down these channels. And
when water collects and is channeled this way it creates a
powerful and dangerous wall of water rushing down the arroyo
There are pathways in your brain
that can be
likened to these arroyos. Again, grossly oversimplifying
a complex subject, if your thoughts and emotions are like water, they
run down these routes. The more we think and behave in a certain
way, the more deeply entrenched these neurological routes become. The deeper
they are dug, the higher the ravine's walls become. In doing
so, the more our thoughts and emotions will follow these
We used the
idea of a dry creek bed to show you the difference between
thoughts and neural pathways. Once you make the distinction
between the water of the river (thoughts) and the river bed
(neurological pathways) you'll begin to see, how they affect
each other. It becomes a 'chicken and an egg' quandary of do
your thoughts dictate these pathways or do these pathways
dictate your thoughts?
The short answer is 'yes.'
It is not a
contradiction to say that the flexibility of your brain allows
neurological pathways to be established and strengthened. Nor is
it a contradiction to say that until you start taking control of
your thoughts (and sending them down different pathways) how you
think is pretty much going to just be variations on a theme. That is to
say, no matter how creative you think you're being, you're still
operating within the confines of the 'arroyo's walls.'
(Think same script, different role and/or same script, different
Pain and emotions are motivational messages. When we feel them, we feel we MUST act.
If you have trauma in your past
and/or have been 'groomed to lose,' knowing about these pathways
is important for four reasons:
#1) These past
events created physical changes in your brain
The more intense and traumatic the experience, the deeper the
#2) Your thoughts and emotions --
running down these routes -- are like a flashflood.
These pathways have been created within you. They channel thoughts and emotions in a very powerful
form. When you are 'triggered,' you will be hit by a seemingly
unstoppable wall of emotions and reactions.
#3) EVERY instinct you have
will be screaming for your to react a certain way
Because of your past experiences, when you perceive a threat,
you will fall into these 'default' patterns. These arroyos in your mind, will guide you
down a path of behaviors that your
lizard brain KNOWS will work to keep you alive.
#4) You don't have to react that way.
You cannot run away from a
weakness; you must sometimes fight it out or perish. And if that be
so, why not now, and where you stand?
-- Robert Lewis Stevenson
Now we're not saying that you should let yourself be killed.
Nor are we saying your fears and thoughts aren't real. They are
What we're saying is that they might not be
Something we said is important enough to bear
repeating: When you're 'triggered,' your thoughts and
emotions are going to be rushing down these neural pathways in
your mind like a flash flood down an arroyo. While we all have
default conflict scripts we
unconsciously follow, people with abuse, trauma, Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder, bullying
in their pasts, have these pathways on steroids. These
pathways are deeply embedded and force your thoughts and
emotions down these pathways when you are triggered(2).
necessarily what is happening externally, are the source of your 'default'
emotional and behavioral responses.
These pathways were
created by your past experience. And it is to these pathways you
will be reverting to when you feel threatened. Although
technically not a 'flashback,' emotions, fears, reactions and
behaviors will come rushing down these pathways like a flash
flood down an arroyo. The reason we say it isn't a flashback is
they will be applied to the current situation.
When you are in this 'flash flood' state, it is your past experience that
you are 'judging' the situation by -- NOT what is actually
happening at this moment. As such, while you are experiencing
emotional terror and an 'adrenalin dump' over the perceived
danger, that does not necessarily mean there is actual danger.
But when you're caught in an emotional flash flood, it's going to look
Here's something else to consider. From a stationary
point, a flash flood comes in, passes and goes away. While
it may come rushing down a dry arroyo as a wall of water, just
as fast as it showed up, it's gone. Within seconds the majority
of the flood is past. In a half hour there's not going to be any
running water in that arroyo. A wash is not like a river that
always has water in it.
But remember, that is from a stationary
On the other hand, if you're swept up in the flash
flood, you are being moved down the arroyo with the
water. That extends the time you are caught up in the flood.
Pretending you could survive in an actual flash flood, you could
be swept 10 miles down the arroyo -- and all the way, you'd be
caught in that rush.
We tell you this because, just because
you're having an emotional flash flood, doesn't mean you
have to give into it.
Yes, your brain is physically wired to
create these responses. Yes, it's going to feel -- with every
fiber of your being -- that you are in immediate danger. Yes,
you're going to go back to a horrible and emotional place when
And now for the bad news, if you try to 'fight'
this flash flood, the result will be the same as giving into it
... it extends the time your caught up in it.
problem with giving in, if you give into the flash flood of
emotions and adrenalin that is rushing through you, then you
will react as you have always reacted.
We must point
out: If you don't change your beliefs, your life will be like
this forever. Is that good news?
Simply stated, if
you were groomed to lose, these arroyos of your mind
exist. That is a physical reality that effects how you think and
feel. Also, if left unattended these arroyos will get deeper and
If you give into these flash floods, you will continue
with the same strategies and behaviors that
a) keep you having the same reactions
b) keep you having the same results
c) keep you being a victim
Be kind, for everyone you meet is
fighting a hard battle
Overcoming these emotional flash floods is not just a matter
of 'willpower' or 'changing how you think.' That's like saying
you can stop a tidal wave with willpower alone.
But, this is why knowing about the brain's flexibility is so
You can bulldoze those arroyos and create new neural
pathways. It's not easy, it's not fast, but it can be
done. As experience developed them, new experiences develop
Even if the pathways are so deeply embedded that they can't
be totally gotten rid of, you DO have control over whether or
not you allow yourself to get swept up in the flash flood!
Stop and think about that for a second, because it is important.
This is what we meant when were listing those four points.
Basically we're saying even though you will be feeling an
overwhelming urge to act a pre-determined, 'groomed to lose' way
... you don't have to.
These arroyos give some credence to the idea that you can't
control how you feel. But, you can control whether or not
you act on those feelings. If instead of getting swept up in
that flash flood (which will extend and reinforce the emotions), you can dig
in for a moment (take a fixed point) and let the emotions pass.
This isn't trying to stand in front of -- and trying to stop --
an emotional flash flood. It's not trying to fight them and
letting them pass
While the long term strategy will be
to develop different neural pathways (so your emotions don't
have to run this way), the short term goal is learning how
not to get swept up in the flash flood.
As long as you're sitting there in front of it trying to
fight it, that emotional flash flood is going to seem all
powerful. The reason knowing about these arroyos in your mind is
important, is that now you know the challenge is not to
try to fight your emotions, it's to just keep from getting swept
up. This can be likened to scrambling out of the way when a
flash flood comes rushing down the arroyo.
No experience is a cause of success or failure. We do not suffer
from the shock of our experiences' so-called trauma - but
we make out of them just what suits our purposes.
-- Alfred Alder
To change the analogy, but to get the same idea across,
stopping run away emotions can be like driving in your car when
the accelerator gets stuck and the engine starts wildly racing.
Now you could try to fight the out of control RPMs through
braking and steering. OR you could shift into neutral, steer
your car to the side of the road and then turn off the ignition.
The later option is less likely to result in a crash.
Regardless which analogy you use, the idea is that you don't try
to fight your emotions while at the same time trying to resolve
the conflict. You can step back, let the emotional flash flood
rush past and then choose to take conscious control of your
While we all have conflict scripts that we follow, people
from abusive, traumatic backgrounds, PTSD and those who were
groomed to lose by bullies have to take extra steps to
The first step in that is to realize two points:
first, overwhelming (dare we say almost instinctive?)
reaction when 'triggered' are those old scripts and a flash
2) That you aren't stuck in an either/or option
Expanding on point two. When every nerve in your body is
screaming at you during an emotional flash flood, it
looks like you only have two
choices, fight it or give in. (Both of which set you up
We're saying; You do have another option that doesn't beat
you up so bad. This option is based on you understanding both
the arroyos in you mind and that this flash flood will pass.
Learning how to sit calmly and let the flood pass BEFORE you
do anything IS an option.
Just because you feel an emotional flash flood doesn't
mean you have to act upon it. You don't have to do what
it's telling you to do. Regardless of the fact that emotions are
motivational messages. You can crawl out of the arroyo
and let the flood pass without getting beat up by it or falling
into old patterns.
But that's an option many experts forget to
mention. Or maybe nobody has explained that this option
exists in such an understandable framework.
It's like "Why didn't
anybody tell me there's a third option of go get a cup of coffee
and wait until the rush passes?!?!"
Well, someone just did. You
don't have to react that way -- IF you're willing to climb out
of the arroyo and let the flood pass. Will you always be able to
get out? Well, not at first. But it does get easier over time.
We'll also mention that before you can take control of your
feelings and reactions and build new ways of reacting, it really helps
not to get caught up in
a flash flood of the old ways.
while you're waiting for the flood to pass, do you take cream or
sugar with your coffee?
I know of no more disagreeable
situation than to be left feeling generally angry without
anybody in particular to be angry at.
-- Frank Moore Colby
#1) The concept is commonly known as Nueroplasticity
Two books on the subject are
The Mind and Brain by Schwartz/Begley.
The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge MD.
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#2) So too, incidentally, do people with anger management issues.
The same emotional flash flood is rushing down their
mental arroyos and overpowering them.
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