Prisoners of our thoughts

As I explore many avenues of healing from a traumatic childhood and healing from some trauma as a result of my marriage to someone with his own demons from childhood and how I coped with it all, I found this free downloadable book called Psychological Self-Help.

One thing I found really interesting, after a few moments of browsing, is  a section called Becoming Absorbed in One’s Own Wounds.  It actually contains a disclaimer, for the contents is so shocking to the unconscious that it’s most certainly a trigger:

Warning: The following paragraphs contain ideas that may seem critical and blaming or, at least, unsympathetic to a long-suffering person with deep wounds. If you are such a person, you may not want to read this section now. However, if you feel ready to read it, keep in mind that the author cited below is describing an unconscious process, not an intentional manipulation of others.

There is an old concept in psychiatry that certain symptoms may yield some “secondary gain”–some more or less unconscious payoff–for the patient. But, how could having depressing, upsetting thoughts or seeing oneself as weak, sick, abused, or dependent yield some psychological gain to the distressed person? Possible answers are offered by writers in a currently popular area of study called woundology–the study of emotional wounds. Wounds are frequently an aspect of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders, depression, dependency, long-term anger, forms of anxiety, and many other conditions.


A recent writer, Caroline Myss (1997), who gives herself the revealing label of “energy medicine intuitive,” has described at length how some suffering people can become almost completely immersed in the trauma and define themselves in terms of their wounds. When this happens to us, she says it is very difficult to heal ourselves and escape our own personal hole of misery. Myss offers many workshops to persons with long-term disorders. In this setting, she has been taken aback by the degree to which the many people seem to define themselves–their whole being–in terms of the assumed source of their troubles. Examples of the self-descriptions: “I am an incest victim,” “I am a cancer victim,” “I am an alcoholic,” “I am a Borderline,” and so on. Their minds seem to be filled with ruminations about their stressful history, their resulting current symptoms, and their interpersonal contacts (mostly therapists, caretakers, support groups, and sympathetic friends with similar pasts or problems).

What Myss is saying is that we become prisoners of our thoughts and I agree with her observations.  I’ve seen this and accepted this in myself, though only recently.   A dear trusted friend pointed this out to me before, and I wasn’t ready to hear it.  I think I might have even got pissed off at him too.

I’m becoming more aware of the sneaky ways my psyche would like to keep me stuck.  I’d write to my friend that I wanted healing and a part of me would believe healing was possible, but even as I’d write, I’d become dimly aware of this other voice in my head that would supply me with reasons why I believe healing can happen for other people, but there wasn’t any way I can heal (mostly because I have had this belief that there is “too much deeply embedded stuff” to heal from).   Pretty soon my writing would shift ‘tone’.  My emotional state would become saturated with negativity.  Sometimes, I’d even say something unkind which would set back the progress I’d made considerably.

I have recently accepted something novel.  I can no longer really talk about the details of “what happened to me” because I get stuck in the stories I tell.  For a while, telling my stories WAS healing.   But as I’m moving through my recovery, I’m learning that the very stories we tell ourselves and others can hinder our healing progress.

I think sometimes the stories I tell hypnotize me into thinking I have no choices.  The thing is that I’m realizing, I’ve accumulated a lot of painful experiences, and I survived them all.  What’s more, as I evaluate my role in the situations that happened, I realize in some, if not most cases, I was a willing participant in these events that took place.  The nature of co-dependence does involve a choice, even if we don’t realize or aren’t ready to accept it.

And the thing I’m learning about Buddhist principles about focusing primarily on the present moment (which is all we have, really), as I finally recognized and told my friend, a lot falls away with full awareness on the present moment, not focusing on the trauma or the mistakes of the past, nor the hopes of the future (that’s not to say we can’t make plans, just that we shouldn’t make that central to our focus, otherwise we miss what’s right in front of us).

I have to admit, when I first started studying Buddhism, a lot pissed me off, mostly because it challenges many of the false beliefs I held onto.  But I’ve returned to it now as part of my healing ‘toolkit’ (which I do plan to talk about some time soon), since I’ve gained a little bit of distance from my stories, shifted my perspective in tiny increments, and started listening to the wisdom of others who’ve been studying neuroscience and the effects of traumatic injury (and Eastern spiritual wisdom is being supported by Western neuroscience).

There’s a little scene in the movie Autumn in New York where Winona Ryder’s terminally ill character tells Richard Gere’s character “I’m right here, right now”.

And right here, right now is all we ever have.

What am I going to do with this moment?



It turns out I was going use the present moment to clean up my dining room while listening to Eckhart Tolle’s Stillness Speaks on cd.  I bought it a few years ago, but wasn’t ready to listen to it (which specifically means I was resistant to the teachings of Tolle at the time.  Something he said in one of his other works bothered me enough to delay it.  I remember being pissed off, but I don’t remember why).

I have to chuckle because right there in the second chapter, Tolle says,

Most people spend their entire life imprisoned within the confines of their own thoughts. They never go beyond a narrow, mind-made, personalized sense of self that is conditioned by the past.

I humbly submit that when we are ready to commit to real healing, we will find it.  We need to move beyond the conditioning of our minds.  And, I’m finding something more exiciting about it, in my journey.  As Goethe would say,

Until one is committed there is hesitancy, a chance to draw back. Always ineffectiveness concerning all acts of initiative and creation. There is one elementary proof – the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans. This is, that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one, that would never have otherwise occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has power and magic in it, begin it now.

Yeah, I do get amazed because I am reminded in so many ways in my own life that this is true.

About Casey

“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ ~ Jack Kerouac, On The Road Again
This entry was posted in Complex-PTSD, depression, Eckhart Tolle, Mindfulness, Personal growth, PTSD triggers, Sacred Teachings, Spiritual Teacher, spirituality. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Prisoners of our thoughts

  1. minismita says:

    Simply WOW……………..its so thoughtful and profound, as if you read my mind 🙂

    • Casey says:

      Hi Minismita, it’s so nice to ‘see’ you again.

      I have acquired a fair bit of knowledge over the course of my lifetime, but only recently have I been able to acquire a tiny bit of wisdom.

      And just think, when we were very young children, we didn’t have to give it a second thought – we all lived in the present moment, unconditionally loved everyone, and found joy in nearly every thing we touched.

      We are more powerful than we are led to believe.

  2. Very cool stuff.
    Like many things, you can lead a person to the door (of healing, of enlightenment, of self-improvement, etc.) but can’t force them through before they’re ready for that step. As you mentioned: sometimes it’s not even just not stepping through, but a reaction against the thought of just stepping through that doorway. I know that for a long time I thought I wanted to change things about myself, but never had the proper impetus to actually do it (until recently).

    I think that the book I’m working through now – Full Body Presence by Suzanne Scurlock-Durana – would dovetail nicely with the Eckhart Tolle and other Buddhist “stillness” principles you talk about. She not only talks about being disconnected from your body and the world, but offers audio “explorations” (kind of like unguided meditations) to help you practice reconnecting with yourself and the universe.

    The main thing that caused me to comment though, is the Goethe quote about commitment and providence…
    As I’ve been fence-sitting about possibly rejoining my old career or accepting that my new one might be able to provide, things have been stagnant. Once I’ve embraced the “new” me and stopped feeling bad about not finding a “real” job, the Universe has opened up a couple of new avenues in just the last couple of weeks that may really vault my career to what I had originally envisioned. The funny thing is that these just came totally out-of-the-blue; it’s not like I went out soliciting for these opportunities. Just trust that the path you’re on is the right one, don’t doubt yourself, and be present to the opportunities that get put in your path.

    Or in other words: “Either you karate do ‘yes’ or karate do ‘no.’ You karate do ‘guess so,’ [makes squish gesture] just like grape. Understand?”
    [from the philosophy of Mr. Miyagi]

    • Casey says:

      Well, hello dear husband. 🙂

      There’s a saying that goes “when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing, we change.”

      Some of us have very high tolerances for pain and I think that is the result of our what we were taught in our families of origin and reinforced by social conditioning.

      I think we’ve found out our limits. And I think we’ve stepped over that threshold and we can see there is a new way of being in the world.

      I’m amazed at what’s opened up for you since you became a massage therapist interested in therapeutic healing modalities like craniosacral work and myofascial release.

      And as I’m thinking about it, I am grateful to that same friend for introducing you to craniosacral work in the first place because now, in turn, you are an instrumental part of my own healing journey.

      Your job IS a real job and you provide the potential for others to come to a healing place. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I am very excited about the new possibilities for you. And even if they don’t pan out, something else will.

      I know it will all work out.

      [and that Mr. Miaygi quote is funny, thanks for sharing]

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