Living instead of Surviving
When energy is scarce due to stress, the adrenal systems jumps in to channel energy into parts of the body that are most crucial for survival.
The final result of this endocrine cascade is energy preservation when it comes to prolonged periods of stress to ensure survival.
This state of survival has only been designed to last for short periods by nature. Chronic stress, however, has most people reside in a permanent state of survival.
There are many reasons for chronic stress: nutritional deficiences, epigenetic issues, developmental trauma, unhealthy life style to name a few.
Midterm, all body systems will have to pay their due as a reaction to the shortage of energy.
All regeneration and growth requires energy. This is why chronic stress and the subsequent state of survival are the first and biggest obstacle to evolution.
Consequences of the State of Survival
A chronic state of survival will lead to several changes in the body’s functions:
Glucose (sugar) is the primary fuel for the mitochondria and the main job of carbohydrates is energy production.1Braun, Pathophysiology, 2017, Kindle-Position 15727-15728 The energy currency in the body is called ATP. A healthy mitochondrium will produce 36 ATP out of one glucose molecule, 2Starr, Biology, Concepts and Applications, 1997, S. 99 a sick mitochondrium, however, produces no ATP in the worst case.
In case of energetic emergencies, the body can switch gears and harvest energy through a process called anaerobic glycolysis. Anaerobic glycolysis takes place outside the mitochondrium in the cell’s plasma. The downside of this process is that one glucose molecule will only yield 2 ATP.3siehe Glykolyse, Silbernagl & Despopoulos, Taschenatlas Physiologie, 2012
It is, again, stress that leads to this massive loss of energy harvesting. While the body shuts down in order to preserve energy, the production of energy will also be down-regulated up to the point where only 5 % of the original energy yield can be harvested, see chart:
The body will also burn proteins and fat, in order to feed the Krebs Cycle. Proteins and fats can be converted into sugar and fats can be converted into ketones that are partly a surrogate for sugar in the brain. Ketones can also directly feed the Krebs Cycle to ensure survival. It is important to know that any switch away from the original conversion of carbs into energy come with a trade-off in the form of an increased release of stress hormones.
Another down side to any emergency fuel system is a shut down of the cell membrane in the expectancy of danger. A sealed cell membrane might protect itself from outside harm, but the traffic of nutrients into the cell and waste products out of the cell will also be affected.4Lipton, Biology of Belief, 2006, p. 150 It is well known that cells can also become resistant to insuline, which prevents glucose to enter most cells. Glucose deficiency will also prevent other hormones that are anabolic (thyroid, testosterone, progesterone) to enter the cell, along with minerals and vitamins. Long story short: Longterm stress equals starvation and littering of the cell, which in turn keeps the energy harvest down.
Whether genes are activated or deactivated, depends on signals from inside the cell, its environment and the environment of the organism as a whole.5Bauer, Das Gedächtnis des Körpers, 2016, p. 242 Only 2 % of all diseases are truly genetic, 98% of diseases are epigenetic in nature6Bauer, Das Gedächtnis des Körpers, 2016, p. 234 and therefore succeptible to environmental changes. This is especially true for genes that reign over healt and disease.7Bauer, Das Gedächtnis des Körpers, 2016, p. 222
Stress activates a special stress gene (CRH Gen), which sensitizes other body regions for stress. Positive and nurturing instances on the other hand can stimulate the growth of nerve cells among others.8Bauer, Das Gedächtnis des Körpers, 2016, S. 241 Emotional states can switch genes on or off within seconds.9Bauer, Das Gedächtnis des Körpers, 2016, p. 240
Since epigenetic changes can be passed off to offspring, it is more than possible to have an activated stress gene from the moment of conception. That way we may not only inherit a predisposition for certain diseases from our ancestors, but also stress patterns and trauma.10van der Kalk, The Body Keeps the Score, 2014, Kindle-Position 2707 Similarly, nutritional deficiencies that have been acquired by one’s ancestors are not only passed on, but potentiated over time. This can lead to permanent nutritional deficiences that can not be remedied by healthy eating habits alone. These deficiences will lead to more trouble with the energy production and create new dispositions for specific mental illnesses.11Walsh, Nutrient Power, 2014, p. 4
While stress will generally incapacitate clear thinking 12Lipton, Biology of Belief, 2006, p. 278, its role in a system that can not yet self-regulate grows out of proportion. As long as the nervous system is not hooked up properly to function autonomously, stress will basically shut down the whole body along with rational thinking. The nervous system matures in stages, the first important one being completed at the time a child starts to walk away from the mother asserting a certain degree of autonomy for the first time at about 1 year of age. The second big stage of maturation is completed with about 7 years of age. This stage of development finisches sensory integration and a fine tuning of motor skills along with balance and proprioception (internal body mapping and body awareness). Persisting neonatal reflexes are often at the rootcause of this arrested development.13 Goddard-Blythe, Reflexes, Learning And Behavior: A Window into the Child’s Mind : A Non-Invasive Approach to Solving Learning & Behavior Problems, 2005 Unfortunatelly, it is extremely common for people to have completed the first stage in brain development only half, meaning that these people’s nervous systems can be compared to brains of children less than a year old.
In the first seven years of life, the brain ideally expands its capacity from the very basic worm and reptile stages that are entrained for freeze, fight and flight to neomammalian brain structures that integrate into the aforementioned triune brain. The triune brain affords its owner the flexibility to react to life circumstances appropriately, but preferably with negotiation, empathy and communication that goes along with a well developed frontal lobe and ventral vagal complex (the smart part of the vagus nerve). It can’t be stressed enough that a brain whose default mode is stuck in the reptilian stage will live in constant fear of perceived threats to which it will only be able to respond with fight, fligh or freeze.
Sadly, an arrested development of brain structures is not the only aspect that can hinder the expression of the neomammalian brain along with ventral vagal skills.
Any kind of extreme Stress can throw us back to our more basic nature, since our system assumes that when our survival is at stake, fight, flight or freeze will increase the odds. During extreme stress, our instincts take over because the reptilian brain works up to a million times faster than our rational brain. In order to take over, the reptilian brain shuts down our frontal lobe with the neomammalian cortex.
Psychological trauma is a likely reaction to extreme stress, especially when it happens at a time when we still depend on support biologically and emotionally. Because of our dependency, any threat will be magnified in its potential to challenge our survival. This is true for any mono trauma (rape, accident, violence, catastrophe), but especially for developmental trauma. Lack of nurturing itself will become the biggest threat of all, instigating a fear of death in the infant (survival terror). Through the very nature of trauma, this fear will be preserved in dissociated ego parts within the psyche that stay in the age where the fear arose. Those ego parts do not allow for an integrated emotional development towards a self. Therefore, self-regulation won’t happen and the frightened ego parts run the show from their terrifying reality. From their perspective, the neomammalian cortex doesn’t even exist, they rightly don’t know how to use their frontal cortexes properly yet.
Besides fight, flight or freeze, hiding and submitting are typical defense reactions to new experiences when trauma is preserved in the system. There are two additional loops that trauma will provoke. One, being the release of hormones and neurotransmitters connected to stress, the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline being among them, which is how mental trauma ties in with the hormonal system. The other, being a learned experience that is stored in the frontal cortex. These learned experiences correspond with negative beliefs that will then be applied to any situation remotely similar to the original trauma.
Often these beliefs will end up with the conclusion that death or at least great pain is imminent. Let’s assume a baby wasn’t fed at the appropriate time for the child, but on a schedule, which is why the baby was often hungry. Since a child has a limited ability for physical self-regulation, hunger will greatly threaten and disregulate its body. From its perspective, death will be imminent. It may apply what it learned from this experience to every hunger in the future, even when it is well able to feed itself. This reenactment of the former trauma can even go along with body sensations like severe blood sugar crashes, panic, etc. that are not proportionate to the actual extent of the hunger. But then, many adults can’t self regulate on a physical level much better than infants – a vicious cycle very many of us battle with on a daily basis with more than one ego part on a rampage.
Alongside the fear of great pain or death, the following beliefs are often found in trauma matrixes:
- I don’t exist / I don’t have a body
- There is something wrong with me
- I am a loser, I don’t deserve…
- My parents do not love me (which is often true, unfortunately) and subsequently: I am unlovable
Shoud the developmental trauma arise within the symbiotic stage (from conception to the 18th month), another phenomenon will probably take hold in the infat psyche: the “locus of control shift”. The locus of control shilft is a belief in which the child will consciously or unconsciously assume that it deserves what it is experiencing, that there must be a problem or fault within itself that justifies any kind of lack or bad treatment from its caretakers.14Schwarz et al, The Comprehensive Resource Model, 2017, Kindle-position 4541
Any attachment disruption in early phases of development will put the child in a very painful dilemma in which it needs people to take care of them (otherwise they die), but what they are getting may be suboptimal at best and horrible at worst. Other times, parents go through the physical motions all right (feeding, changing diapers, educating), but what they transmit to their offspring on an emotional and mental level can be emptiness, aversion (empty attachment) or unresolved trauma from themselves (through merging). In any of these attachment dilemmas, the child will apply some revese psychology to itself in order to be able to bear the situation or in order to justify that it is getting something vastly different from what it is expecting. It is astonishing that all of us have an intrinsinc knowledge about how true and satisfying attachment should feel like.
The locus of control shift, however, turns our needs against ourselves. They become something bad, something we don’t deserve.
It is needless to say, that the locus of control shift resides within all of us to a certain extent. After all, lack of nurturing has been passed down for generations since the beginning of time.
The net result of the locus of control shift is self-sabotage.
This self-sabotage can manifest in all kinds of self-destructive behavior, from being prone to accidents, always attracting the wrong partner to not asking for a better paycheck. In my experience, auto-immune disorders, which literally mean that the body is destroying itself, are another expression of the locus of control shift.
Another aspect of survival mode is its ability to block higher forms of intuition.
As the Finnish intuition researcher Asta Raami15Not much of her research and her books are translated to English yet, but this interview is pretty good in giving us a glimpse into her work. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsBIw6qLa_Q states, there are three types of intuition:
1. Instinctual Intuition
2. Expert Intuition
3. Super Intuition
Instinctual intuition is the most basic form of intution and very much connected to our reptilian brain and instinct of survival.
Expert intuition is acquired over time, think about the baker who “just knows” when the dough is right, or about the doctor who “just knows” what his patient suffers from by looking at him or a couple of test results.
Super intuition is the stuff that connects us to what people sometimes call the “super natural”. It includes clairvoyance, hunches, visionary and breakthrough inventions, knowledge about the past or future, empathic knowledge or accurate insight into who and others truly are and much more.
The problem is that an overblown instinctual intuition will a) narrow down the mind – people become lazy because they do not open up to new knowledge that exceeds their daily routine and b) muddle our connection to super intuition or block it alltogether.
Again, lack of nurturing, safety and stability are responsible for an instinctual intuition which got out of line. This brings us back to self-regulation or a lack of thereof.
As a global result, an underdeveloped nervous system will maximize stress and stress will hinder a proper development of the nervous system, both organically and psychologically.
That way, personal or spiritual development will only take place under considerable strain and with unfulfilling overall results or not take place at all.
And when the nervous system commands, the endocrine system will obey its master.
Developmental problems and trauma both lead to stress. Stress will always cause a dominance of the adrenal glands over other glands, especially the thyroid and sexual glands, as stated before. The thyroid gland and the sexual glands will become hypofunctional in order to react to the need to preserve energy. Long term stress will lead to adrenal fatigue and exhaustion as well. The exhaustion of the adrenal glands follows a pattern, which is not recognized by regular medicine who only recognise an organic failure of the adrenal glands (Addison crisis oder disease). Otherwise, the well documented and officially accepted general adaptation syndrome first described by the father of stress research, Hans Selye, is deemed to be only transient and never a chronic problem:
Here is another chart demonstrating how the synthesis of steroid hormones is influenced by stress, which is a recation to mytochondriopathies (lack of energy):
Chronic Stress leads to hormonal Imbalances
Chronic Stress will lead to manifestations that are commonly denominated as “hormonal problems”. The whole gamut of endocrine disorders that plague people all over the world can be attributed to the mechanisms shown above. It all starts with a reduced production of pregnenolone (which is synthesized in the mitochondria!) and its accelerated transformation into other hormones down the chain of hormonal synthesis (“pregnenolone theft”). The most common effects among the sexual glands are estrogen dominance, lack of progesterone or testosterone and DHEA. The adrenals will first become over productive and produce lots of cortisol (to ward off the threat) and then exhaust themselves. Adrenaline increases more and more because it is the only thing still keeping us alive. When we run on adrenaline, we are running on the emergency generator of the emergency generator. Thyroid hormones will not be dominant since they speed up basal metabolism and promote growth and repair. Even hyperthyroidism can be seen as a last attempt of the body to fight. There is nothing random about hormonal problems, they are an intelligent natural mechanism of energy preservation. As long as endocrine glands are intact, substituting with hormones will never actually take care of symptoms, especially since the desired hormones will be transformed into stress hormones mostly, as shown in the chart. The only way to really take care of hormonal problems is to find and eliminate the origins of chronic stress in one’s life. The most prominent culprits are nutritional deficiencies, an immature nervous system, iatrogenic diseases and emotional trauma.
I have written a whole book about the intricate interrelationships of the hormonal system and why even natural treatment methods are mostly no more than a band-aid that doesn’t take care of the problem. But this book is not yet available in English, unfortunatelly. If you would like to know when it comes out in English, please sign up for the newsletter.
Stress arrests Development
A chronic state of survival and its manifestation in the hormonal system will not only have a negative effect on physical development and procreation. Since body, emotions and mind are connected, stress will add to everything said about the nervous system: „Therefore stress, in addition to being itself and the result of itself, is also the cause of itself”16Supposedly, a quote by Hans Selye, 1951. Chronic stress will keep us from reaching self-regulation, lack of self-regulation perpetuates adrenal dominance and its consequences. Creativity and self expression will not come forward, since in my experience, the thyroid gland and the sexual glands are physical ambassadors of these two aspects.
The immune system will also be challenged by stress. Generally, the white blood cells are responsible for the cellular defense within the immune system. They communicate through biochemical transmitters that inform all concerned cells on how to behave. A part of the white blood cells constantly vasculates the body in order to neutralize threats.
Stress hormones either suppress or over activate the immune system.
Cortisol suppresses over active immune Reactions
The stress hormone cortisol suppreses over active immune reactions in times of need by tuning down the lymphatic system 17Berghold et al., Biochemie des Menschen, 2015, S. 367– . which is why patients get a prescription for cortisone, one form of cortisol, in order to suppress undesired symtoms caused by the immune system. It is important to understand that cortisol will not eliminate the infection, just the symptoms. Therefore, people who never get sick may not be as healthy as they think. In the beginning stages of chronic stress, people may still get sick on weekends or vacations when their cortisol levels go down. In later stages, when the adrenals are fatigued, the body may not be able to react at all anymore. Lack of cortisol generally leads to an over reaction of the immune system, but some parts of it will show a lack of reaction. 18Fries et al., A New View on Hypocortisolism, 2005 Silent inflammations are one of the downsides of this mechanism. It is good to keep in mind that the lymphatic system is supposed to transport wastes out of the body as well, and stress will keep this from happening.
Estrogen Dominance promotes the formation of Auto Antibodies
Too much estrogen can influence the white blood cells to an extent that promotes the formation of auto antibodies, 19Rink, Kruse, & Haase, Immunologie für Einsteiger, 2015, Kindle Positionen 6011-6019 increasing the chances of auto immune disorders such as Hashimoto thyroiditis, rheumatism etc. to come up.
Shift of the TH1/TH2 Axis: Viruses against Bacteria
The immune system can roughly be separated into two branches, of which the first (TH1) is responsible for viruses and intracellular bacteria (like Borrelia and Chlamydia), while the second one (TH 2) will take care of allergic reaction, parasites or extracellular bacteria.
A high level of cortisol will tune down the activity of the TH1 system. 20Elenkov et al., Stress Hormones, Th1/Th2 patterns, Pro/Anti-inflammatory Cytokines and Susceptibility to Disease, 1999 The person concerned will be prone to develop viral infections (all member of the herpes family are common, such as mono) or those caused by intracellular bacteria (Lyme’s disease being a classic one).
If one branch of the immune system becomes over active, the other one will be suppressed. Usually TH2 is over active and TH1 suppressed.
Viruses can survive inside human cells, which makes them hard to spot for the immune system. Viruses can be dormant for a long time waiting for the right moment to come out. This moment may come when the TH2 branch is over active.
The immune system is not only connected to the nervous system and the hormonal system. It is also lower on the pecking order and needs to follow suit when given commands by a higher order. Once the body is in “stress mode” and “locus of control shift mode”, it will likely turn against its host instead of efficiently eliminating threats coming from the outside. However, the immune system needs to know what is self and not self in the first place. Once again, a coherent and mature self is key. As we can see, the old saying “know thyself” applies down to the celular level.
From Survival to Living
The possibility to switch into a stand-by mode when energy resources are scarce is a clever and necessary natural strategy for our survival as individuals and as a species. Abilities like instinctual defense, setting boundaries and even the use of violence are just as valuable and necessary in a healthy society. The devalution of these “base instincts”, as often seen in so called civilized societies, is a good example of an evolution that is not integral. The potential for violence is an important part of who we are as humans. Denying that fact will not prevent, but cause destruction, either through uncontrolled outbursts or by self-destruction. On a societal scale, it upsets the balance of power. While a few people will act out their delusions of grandeur, the vast majority of the population will be subservient.
Stuck in Survival Mode
As important as it is to have survival mode at one’s disposal, it is equally important not to run it as a default mode. Unfortunatelly, this is where the vast majority of the population is stuck in, As a result, fight or withdrawal are the poles between which most people oscillate in personal relationships and on a socieatal level, instead of cooperatin and communication.
It is important to notice the discrepancy between the dominance of survival mode and its actual societal need, since there is no threat to our physical survival in vast parts of our civilized world any more. One should think that material and relative societal safety should automatically promote growth beyound survival mode. But that is not the case. Potential resources alone do not promote evolution, let alone an integral one. Our emotional and social awareness has not yet learned to put available resources into good use. Collectively, we promote and live a reality of lack, misery and suffering on all levels. Caught between symbiotic merging and lack of individuadion, we first need to nourish our body-mind unit with what it needs before we can pass on abundance ideally and through manifestaion in reality to our children and fellow men.
Finding a Path into one’s own Life
The only way out of the eternal survival mode is to nourisch the body-mind unit with what it needs in order for evolution and integration to take place. As demonstrated, only an individual and multi-level approach that includes all aspects of a human being implemented in the right order will be able to trigger evolutionary steps that have not yet been accomplished and therefore integrated.
Since we live in a polar reality in which resources are not boundless, shadow and light, life and death, feminine and masculine naturally need to coexist. From this perspective, integration means balance between polarities in ourselves. We need to find ways to pacify the relationship between “you” and “me”, selfishness and altruism.
Being stuck in survival mode does not only account for personal tragedies, it also testifies to a tremendous waste of energy and human potential in the end.
Our first steps in evolution are shaped by our need for survival. The actual unfoldment of individual personality traits, gifts and skills builds on a strong instinctual foundation, but self-regulation and maturity on all levels are what we need to bring the conflicting polarities or our physical and spiritual natures together. When we start to live and not to survive, body, mind and soul do finally become a unit that serves a coherent self. This is where personality development and spiritual development start.
The Hierarchy of Needs as Evolutionary Model
Maslov, in his well known pyramid of needs, has come to similar conclusions (Image by Chiquo, Wikipedia):
The end of Brain Dominance
The ego construct is an amalgamation of traumatized ego parts that project their misery from the past into the present and the future. It is controlled by lower brain regions that do not only hijack higher parts of the brain, but other parts of the body, too. “The brain’s function is to coordinate the dialogue of signal molecules within the community. Consequently, in a community of cells, each cell must relinquish control to the informed decisions of its awareness authority, the brain. The brain controls the behavior of the body’s cells. This is a very important point to consider as we blame the cells of our organs and tissues for the health issues we experience in our lives.”21Lipton, Biology of Belief, 2006, p. 126 Therefore, it is crucial to make sure the brain is acting from the right perspective. Without having evolved itself, the lower brain forces its perspective on other parts of our being, especially our physical body and our emotions. Stuck in survival mode, the brain will force its will onto the whole body-mind unit turning it into an authoritarian regime of fear, in which the body and emotions are merely instrumentalized. In an integrated self, however, the brain with its higher parts acts as a functional and flexible leader in a system that includes all aspects and dimensions of human potential.
It is obviously a little bit of a catch 22 to convince a brain that is pathologically entitled and full of mistrust that it needs to lay down power. But this is exactly what any person that has grown out of childhood in years is called to do. The first not so magic key to unleash one’s own development is to claim responsibility for all of one’s aspects first and to look the truth of one’s life square in the face. The second not so magic key is to methodically and chronologically implement methods that are able to offer the body-mind unit the resources it needs to be able to reach the next step.
One of the biggest fears a person will have to conquer is the fear of one’s own body, along with the fear of embodiment. Our reptile brains are not just trying to ward off death. It is overwhelming pain that comes before it that we fear most. And we never fear what we have not experienced before, one way or the other. Unconsciously, our bodies become the enemy, while in truth, it is our allie. It has never betrayed us. It is us who have betrayed our bodies.
Stepping out of the idea that nourishment needs to come from someone else, which is the central idea of symbiosis and only healthy in the life of children, is an important aspect of taking up responsibility for all our disintegrated, hurt and frightened ego parts. And with emotional separation (from mother, the tribe, country etc.) comes individuation.
Preparing our Body as a Vessel for higher Aspects of ourself
Individuadion is the psychological term for personality development and spiritual evolution. While brains are dominant, evolution stops at early stages of mental development. When brains take their healthy place, they understand their role as humble servants of the self. The self, however, is much more than a brain in any stage of its evolution. It is also much more than consciousness, that equals a purely mental state. The self is a construct that embodies transcendental parts, namely our spiritual bodies and our infinite soul, that use the brain as interface in our material reality.
Since we are so little accustomed to the idea of life as opposed to survival, a definition seems appropriate.
While there are only a few examples of individuals who have either mastered their evolution or are well on their way, the notion of what it is like is encoded into our very human core.
The most prominent feature of life is to be in control of one’s own manifestations. Life is something that we live, while survival lives us.
Power over our Manifestations
All of us are creator beings. The question is not whether we create, but whether we create intentionaly. While the representatives of the “law of attraction” want to make us believe that intentional creations are a question of consciousness, the overall results prove them wrong. Conscious belief is the least important when it comes to reality management.
Our degree of self-empowerment shapes our reality along with our beliefs. Depending on the nature of our beliefs, we manifest misery or abundance. Since beliefs are mostly subconcious, it is not enough to think positively. Our power to shape reality according to our own will stems from all parts of our mind, but mostly the 95% of subconscious and unconscious parts of it.
That is why it is so important to tackle neurological immaturitiy (unconcious mind) as well as our trauma history (subconcious mind) when we evolve into self-regulation and our neomammalian brain structures.
Self-empowerment also depends on an operational and integrated self, otherwise we will only further empower the ego – which will manifest what it knows: our shadow.
A functional and integrated self is not only able to focus its attention on a goal without counteracting the will with subconcious sabotage.
It will also receive guidance about its true purpose and its true needs from our liberated trio of intuitions, the super intuition being the part that interfaces with our spirit and soul.
The meme of a life in abundance has vastly been promised as a reward for spiritual growth throughout human history, first by traditional religions, now by the New Age movement. The concept goes back to the tenth verse of the biblical gospel of John. It describes the life of a good shepherd, contrasting it with the life of a robbing sinner: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” In a theocentric worldview, it is God or his or her representatives on Earth that will reward us with abundance. In a self-empowered worldview, we are called to manifest abundance ourselves.
And it is important to understand that getting to a point where we attract positive synchronicities and our heart’s desires without effort is a lot of work. This fact is what makes the promise of paradise given by divine power so appealing.
But it is the opposite of self-empowerment. And self-empowerment requires the transformation of our shadow. This is no easy feat. Transcending the pull of symbiosis to reach individuation is an exciting process, but it will also confront us with a depth of pain we have tried to push away our whole lives. The truth about our life, the society we live in and even many choices we made will be uncomfortable. Any kind of “spiritual bypassing” mfn]Masters, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters, 2010, Kindle Position p.3[/mfn] will only prolong our suffering.
So what is it going to be: the red or the blue pill?
If you are team red, continue reading here.
Picture credits: Jon ‘ShakataGaNai’ Davis, Wikipedia