Grandfathers are often the most beloved people in a young person’s life. Memories of our grandparents are powerful and formative at the beginning of our lives. In our recent SciStress work we had the privilege to work with two women. In each case it turned out that a nearly forgotten memory with their grandfathers had a major emotional impact on their lives.
Early childhood trauma and a beloved grandfather.
Memories of grandfathers are most commonly happy, sweet and joyful. In both of these cases, however, a particular memory turned out to be the reason for a severe childhood trauma. How could this be?
The science of stress in action
In SciStress, scientific stress management, we know that the reason for stress in our current lives is often found in past traumatic memories. These memories sit in the more ancient parts of our brain, the old brain. Each time they get triggered through circumstances in our current life we experience stress. These older parts of our brain are subconscious. Therefore, we do not remember the old memories easily. We do not have to be aware of those memories in order for them to be triggered. If current circumstances trigger them, they will cause us stress now. Our task in SciStress is to help uncover these memories and remember the feelings of the situation. At that point it is easy to use the SciStress techniques to reduce emotional intensity of the memories. Once the emotional intensity is reduced, the memories will not be triggered. Stress in our lives is reduced.
The story of one woman and her grandfather
A few weeks ago, we worked with Jenny, not her real name to protect her privacy. Jenny wanted to work with us because she felt often anxious and worried about her five-year-old daughter and other family situations. That anxiousness sometimes would turn into frustration and helplessness about her beloved child. The whole situation was very stressful for her.
How could this happen? What could she do about it?
After finding out more about Jenny’s situation we instructed her in the basic SciStress technique. This is the usual first step. To learn and use the technique always relaxes the client and makes them more comfortable. This then opens the door for more in depth detective work. What are the traumatic memories which lie beneath the current stressful reactions? What is the root cause of her issues? We asked Jenny when in her past she had these strong feelings of being anxious, worried, even helpless.
Jenny’s traumatic experience.
When Jenny was about seven or eight years old her beloved grandfather was in the hospital. She visited him often. Grandpa had stomach cancer and his health was rapidly deteriorating. Jenny remembered him there in his hospital bed with wires and tubes and instruments all around him. She saw the doctors and nurses who cared for him. Yet grandpa became weaker and sicker every day. She was deeply worried about him. As his health deteriorated further, she became very angry that all the doctors and nurses and instruments could not help her grandpa. Soon grandpa died. Jenny was deeply hurt and feeling helpless. Why could all these doctors and nurses and other hospital workers not save her grandpa?
Memories trigger the same emotions from 30 years ago.
Jenny, now in her 30s, began to cry. She tried to suppress her tears to no avail. She re-experienced the same raw feelings she had as a young girl in that traumatic situation. Without being aware of it, some of the same feelings were triggered by the old brain each time she was worried about her young child or other family members.
Now it was time for her to use the techniques she just learned to defuse the emotional charge these old memories would trigger. While fully experiencing these emotions, we told Jenny to use the techniques repeatedly. Soon her tears stopped. Her face became calmer. We checked with her. The memory was still painful but not so overwhelming anymore.
When the negative memory is defused, positive memories can return.
After using the techniques for about 20 minutes repeatedly Jenny’s face changed completely. Now she looked calm and even a happy smile briefly crossed her face. We asked again how she felt. She said she just remembered a happy time with her grandfather when he played with her. We asked her to close her eyes and hold that happy memory in her mind, to feel it intensely. Jenny had just experienced two phenomena which are very typical when using the SciStress techniques in connection with old traumatic memories.
Jenny’s experiences demonstrate again how our old brain processes survival information. It stores the memories of past stressful experiences to help protect us in the future, to help us survive. Stress is the natural response of the old brain when it feels threatened or in danger in some way.
A few weeks later, Jenny wrote to tell us that the image of her grandfather in the hospital is now free from any feelings of helplessness and that she feels more at ease and calm in general. This confirms our typical expectation that results of a client's tapping work often are permanent.
Debbie’s story, another traumatic experience with grandfather
Debbie is the leading nursing practitioner in a world-class cancer treatment and research clinic. For over 20 years she has worked with and cared for patients with the most serious cancers. She feels a lot of pressure and stress which lead frequently to migraine headaches. Her work is naturally very stressful. Her responsibilities for human beings who may be close to death is enormous. It appears natural that she would often feel overwhelmed with migraines. Yet Debbie tells us that other people working with her are able to deal with the same stresses more effectively and without apparent impact on their health. Is there another root cause in Debbie’s situation?
Finding the root cause step-by-step.
Debbie identified her first layer of stress as the sadness and grief of the loss of her dad. She laughed and admired her dad. He had died just a few months ago. She reduced the stress of this loss while learning and practicing her new techniques. Now we could explore deeper levels of stress with her. We asked her to look for memories where she felt great responsibility and pressure.
Difficult decisions: What to study in college?
Debbie’s dad was a carpenter. Her parents wanted her to go to college. She would be the first one in her family to get a college degree. Debbie felt tremendous responsibility for what she should study. Her first love was to become an interior designer. But she was afraid she couldn’t succeed because she had difficulty drawing houses and blueprints. Fearing that she couldn’t succeed as an interior designer she decided to study nursing.
She became an excellent student with outstanding grades. Later she went on to get a master’s degree in nursing. But the memory of that decision process and the responsibility she had felt for her dad and her family was still keenly present. There was still a strong stress value attached to this memory. We now used SciStress techniques to reduce the stress value of that memory. Now Debbie could think back to that situation without feeling the pressure of her responsibilities. Was this the root cause for her current feelings of pressure? Was there something else in her life earlier than that?
Grandfather explaining death to a five-year-old.
Yes, it didn’t take Debbie very long to remember very heavy stressful experience when she was five years old. One of Debbie’s aunts had died. She was now in the funeral home with the rest of her family. There were her brother and sister and other kids. Now her grandfather would gather all the children around him to help them understand what was happening. He wanted to help them understand death. But for five-year-old Debbie this was a very difficult traumatic experience. She felt a lot of pressure with all the grieving relatives around her. And now trying to understand the finality of death in her little child’s brain caused a sense of overwhelming responsibility.
When Debbie remembered this experience now, it still created an overwhelming level of stress. Could this early experience in her life have subconsciously guided her to work in a high responsibility position with people who could not always survive? In any case this memory clearly had the characteristics of the root cause for high stress response to difficult situations around illness and death. We coached Debbie to use the SciStress technique repeatedly to reduce the difficult feelings which were attached to her grandfather teaching about death in that funeral home many decades ago.
In a relatively short time Debbie was able to reduce the intensity of this traumatic memory step-by-step. Now when she checks the memory, she could still remember the scene in the funeral home, but the stressfulness of the situation was gone, the heavy sense of responsibility for a little girl to understand death was much reduced. After a little more work around the situation Debbie felt ready to leave and look forward to her responsibilities in the clinic without threat.
The root cause of our reactions to stressful situations
The stories of the two women you just read about demonstrate how our old brain makes us react with more or less stress to situation. Similar situations may appear easy and even joyful to many people. For example, Jenny’s situation of raising a five-year-old little girl is joyful and fun for many mothers. The root cause of Jenny’s reaction of worry and anger was an earlier experience her old survival brain held onto. In Debbie’s case, the important high-responsibility job would cause great satisfaction and rewards for many people helping patients with a difficult life-threatening illness. Certainly, both situations can be very stressful, but the extreme stress reactions of Jenny and Debbie were clearly related to these early memories which triggered survival responses in the old brain.
Want to experience the same transformations?
If you or some of your loved ones have experiences like that, we would be happy to help. Our coaching may not solve all problems, but we can help people reduce stress in many situations. They also will learn techniques to help themselves any time and any place. You may recommend our book, which explains the brain science in easy to understand terms and teaches the techniques in detail.
Warm regards, Fred & Judy
Fred George Sauer, MS, MS Eng., Chief Stress Coach, Performance & Productivity Specialist
Judith Lynch-Sauer, PhD, RN, Scientific Advisor, Clinical Professor of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing
PS: Create a daily routine of managing stress. Check Appendix 2 of the book for quick help with stress.
Fred George Sauer Founder of SciStress
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