When Bad Things Happen to Good People – What Can come of It?

When Bad Things Happen to Good People – What Can Come of It?                      (Live right … Do right … Get rewards… or Do You?)                                                     by Andrew M.  Leon, BSN, MS, CH

Most of us are taught that if we do all the right things in life, good things will come to us…but sometimes things happen that are not so good.  Sometimes they just seem incomprehensible!

In almost every culture, the issues of shame and guilt are often filled with rejection and painful emotional and even physical consequences.  Denial and anger seem to be the main rules in coping with terrible events both for the surviving participants and for friends and family.

Physical wounds eventually will close and may not even leave visible scars.  Emotional wounds, on the other hand, can be invisible: far more chronic than physical trauma or abuse and in some cases, may never heal if they are kept secret. The same must be said for soldiers, both male and female, who have gone to war and witnessed or participated in events that boggle the imagination of tranquil living civilians.  What may be considered nightmarish and terrorizing in peacetime living can be an everyday occurrence in cases of war or ongoing terror and fear.  What can be done for these people who have been culturally hypnotized into believing that their story does not deserve telling and that to tell it is to bring shame on one’s self and even on one’s family and society? 

Our minds act as filters that screen out important parts of the memory that are necessary to find comfort or wisdom in the survival of their experience. Even in the worst possible experience that a person could have, there is the possibility that there is a positive lesson in it for the survivor. Not to find that lesson is a product of negative hypnosis and can become dangerous, even fatal. 

John (Name changed to protect confidentiality.) was a sergeant who had gained a reputation among the other infantrymen as an expert in matters of combat.  If one had to go on a patrol or mission, this was the Non-commissioned officer (Non-Com) to be led by.  His men always came back safe.  On this one day, things would be different.  John was ordered to lead a patrol into a new area and “probe it”. Only light enemy activity was expected.  Instead John led his men into a clearing that was an ambush site.  He was wounded and the only survivor.  He escaped death by pulling a corpse over himself and then listening, motionless, as the enemy came through to finish killing the wounded Americans: his men that he vowed to keep safe.  The intelligence reports were wrong and when John healed and returned to duty, he learned that there was suspicion that the enemy had more strength and his patrol was expected to take high casualties if that were the case.  He was never told in his pre-patrol briefing.  He was angry with the intelligence agents but angrier with himself because he did not see through the officer’s plot.  He assumed the blame for the deaths of his men. 

John returned home, honorably discharged with medals for his valor but he was, no longer, the amiable and social man who had gone off to war.  He tried marriage and it failed because of his short temper.  Similar experiences followed as this likable and intelligent man tried to apply himself to civilian work.  Always the memories and flashbacks to that fateful day would seize control of his mood and ability to concentrate on his work.  He became more aloof from his workmates and his bosses.  He began drinking and taking drugs to try to control the emotional pain.  As depression set in and his addictions blossomed, he began to care less and less about his work or even his future. His energy was depleting.

It took twenty-five years to convert John from a handsome, very intelligent and dynamic leader into a man of the streets who could unleash his temper without care of consequences.  It took twenty five years for this wrecked human being with so much promise in his youth to arrive for treatment in the Veterans Administration hospital on my unit.  Shortly after that admission, he became diagnosed with HIV infection and within the year would die of AIDS.  No one knew the story of John’s patrol until he had a flashback and was reliving the events of the fight.  It had taken months of knowing John and building trust and being with him alone through that terrible flashback to get him to tell me his story.  By then, he was regarded by the staff as a manipulator and street trash and no one questioned how this boy, raised in a proper Hispanic family, evolved into the personality of a cunning cat.  No one could bring themselves to visualize or imagine themselves having his experience in war.  No one really wanted to go there to find within themselves the road to compassion for this man and many others.  There were 47 veterans at any given time on that unit and most had similar stories of killing and of watching death and of being so terrified that they lost sphincter control.  All of those stories were garnished with feelings of shame or guilt.  The code among the men was to keep the stories private and never again speak of them except, with rare occasion, to other combat veterans who could understand but tended to support their self imposed secrecy codes. In their search for peace or relief of stress, they had turned to substance abuse and the jungle-like life of the streets.  These men did not qualify for treatment under the newly designated Diagnostic Code for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, ironically, another byproduct of the Viet Nam War.  It was still too early in time to know that the anti-social behaviors they were exhibiting were actually symptomatic of PTSD.

People are often hurt in ways that they cannot or choose not to forget.  Energy is diverted to maintain the emotion brought up by the event.  That energy is part of a fixed amount of energy that the person has for life.  Once it is tied up, it cannot be used until it is redirected.  In cases of guilt, shame, anger and vengeance, healing the wound becomes secondary and serves to fuel the grudge.  Sometimes so much energy goes into thoughts of retribution, guilt, shame or regret that the original reason is forgotten.

In other cases, the energy goes into remembering as much detail of the trauma as possible…every minute of one’s time, as if somewhere in that script is an escape hatch that might have rescued the situation… but it never is found because it does not exist.  Soon other thoughts with the potential for healing, cannot find their way in to the mind and the person begins the process of “emotional anesthesia”.  Not only will the emotions about the event be shut down, but so much energy might have to be diverted that compassion and joy for any event are numbed.  The person who is traumatized may begin to make erroneous assumptions: “If loving or trusting is what caused me to have this great pain, then I will not trust or love anyone or anything and never be hurt again.”  When that message is repeated often enough, negative hypnosis can set in and the suggestion becomes doctrine.  Relationships will be distanced or terminated without apparent reason.  Above all else, the pain of loss must be avoided and so, loss occurs prematurely or unnecessarily. Eventually joy will cease to exist in the person’s life.

Conscious efforts to overcome or reverse the negative hypnosis in play can take very long times and may frustrate anyone trying to overcome the system of self deprivation. Hypnosis can be of help if the person is willing to engage with the hypnotist after deciding that the present system is not serving a good or useful purpose.  The use of hypnotic suggestions and imagery can assist the wounded person to safely deal with the blocks to happiness that have been built.  Too often they are there because of some rule or tradition that no longer is appropriate for the situation.

In hypnosis, like in the dream state, one is able to redirect or “reshoot” the scene in question.  All the forces in play can be identified in the hypnotically induced dream state where time stands still and one can deal with one issue at a time.  Like a time bomb with multiple fuses, each one can be dismantled in an order that renders the painful memory of the event as just a memory.  The memory itself is then made manageable.

The experience is ultimately converted into a useful story that has useful meaning in the person’s life.  Ultimately, the positive consequences of the experience are harvested and the story becomes processed information to be kept in the subconscious memory and called in from time to time to help resolve future similar problems.  Forgiveness of self and others can then be exercised and gratefulness can be recognized giving real respect and importance to the events in question.

Each of us can be thought of as having essential life energy.  It is a fixed amount and is the fuel of everything we choose to do in life.  Energy, once trapped by reaction to trauma, is now released and returned to the person’s reserves and is available for future work to be chosen by the person.  Emotional anesthesia is replaced by renewed emotional awareness and choice.  Positive changes in health can follow as hope begins to displace despair.  Post hypnotic suggestions can begin to take root as the client’s future thinking becomes more active and he/she accepts that their survival was not a coincidence but part of a greater plan in the larger universe.  The clients can come to understand that the severity of their tragic event may have been like the blacksmith’s fire and water that heats and cools the metal to extreme temperatures in order to prepare it with strength for its future missions.  The losses need not be forgotten.  Instead they are memorialized and honored for their contributions to the surviving life and all it will achieve.

Andy Leon is an NGH Certified Hypnotherapist since June 2001.  In his prior career as a Registered Nurse, he specialized in mental health and development of psychiatric treatment support programs in both inpatient and outpatient settings.  Currently he is also Chairperson of the Virginia Veterans Hypnosis Project.  He can be contacted by email: hypnosone@andyleon.com  or telephone: 434-962-2136.

Visit the website: www.andyleon.com

 

 

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