06 May Exhale – letting go of inherited fear
I love how random events can inspire the most life-changing moments. This blog relates to two separate events. The first is a line in a movie that took my breath away and moved me to tears; it touched something so deep within me. I struggled to know what it was and this led to me naming this blog “Exhale”. The other was a text message from a best friend suggesting I may want to listen to a Radio 4 programme about ‘Inherited Fear’; the subject of a previous blog of mine1.
It’s Friday morning and the fifth 0500 alarm this week; I’m aching, sleep-deprived and feeling tired. I make coffee, shave, shower and begin to consider the first of today’s many meetings; the stress kicks in. As I begin my daily mind exercises in the shower my subconscious reminds me, “Exhale”. I make a mental note and return my focus to my affirmation exercises.
The day progresses successfully from one meeting to the next and as I walk home, the late afternoon sunshine warms my face. Anticipating the long bank-holiday weekend and unwinding, my subconscious activates and immediately I exhale heavily. I smile widely as I recall this morning’s subconscious thoughts and the events that inspired this blog.
My recent exploration of the meta-physics of exhaling led me to the writings of classic and contemporary authors like Aristotle, Plato, Nietzsche, Brian Leiter and Johnathan Lowe. Simone Matthews however, spoke of breathing in a manner that resonated loudly for me: “every movement within Creation is a breath, a breath made of three parts, referred to as the Cosmic Breath. There is the inhalation (a contraction), there is the exhalation (an expansion) and finally the space between the peak of inhalation/exhalation, the period of transition. This is poignant for me in understanding my own inherited fear, where it stops me and my desire to transition.
Inspired further, I downloaded the podcast of the radio 4 broadcast. It centred on the experiences of a woman whose mother and grandmother were holocaust survivors. Their stories were interspersed with current and recent research by neuro-scientists and Psychiatrists into trauma and the genetic and biological causes of inherited fear and fear-paralysis.
One of the guests was expert psychiatrist, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk2, who described how clinical accounts have long evidenced that post-traumatic parents are more likely to have anxious, fearful children; not because of genetics but because of their fearful behaviour making their children anxious. Kolk, a specialist in post-traumatic-stress, states that repeat habitual fearful responses to trauma can cause us to become paralysed and stuck in our fear; stuck in the trauma. This he explains is to do with the periaqueductal gray (PAG) or mid-brain. The most primitive part of our brain and that responsible for functions including pain and analgesia, fear and anxiety. The PAG which is usually quiet becomes highly active in post-trauma patients, always firing at a low-level and sending out danger or shut-down warnings.
Throughout the broadcast I kept thinking of my mother and what could have been so traumatic that she was always scared. I listened to the story of the woman whose mother and grandmother had fled the pogroms of Russia in WW2 and tried to make a trauma connection with my mum. Born in 1939, I knew she had been evacuated to Wales as a young girl during WW2, like so many other children. Whilst I knew this I recalled no accounts of this being a horrible time for her. As the show ended I continued to contemplate my mum’s possible childhood trauma.
I then began to think about what kind of trauma Mum may have inherited, and my thoughts turned to my grandmother. I noticed my emotion immediately changed to a lighter, happier feeling when I thought about my nan. She was always cheerful and happy, there was no sense of fear and sadness here! Suddenly, it dawned on me; Mum was adopted! This was it, my mum was adopted as a baby because her mother had tragically died in childbirth. How could I not have made this connection before?
Mum must have spent the nine long months of my gestation scared, terrified, maybe even traumatised that she too would die in childbirth like her mother had? My mind raced, and my heart pounded as a million memories and cameos flickered and fought for recognition. How she hated hospitals, dentists, and health visitors; how she had five children at home, how my nan or a neighbour always took us to medical appointments and so on, now made sense.
Speaking with my dad in the days that followed, and I asked him to tell me how Mum was during her first pregnancy. He told me great stories of how despite her anxiety, she was beautiful. He recalled a story my mum told him about when she was a teenager; about how her grandmother went into hospital and never came home. Perhaps this was her earliest trauma? Then at the age of 21 she discovered that she was adopted and was informed about the fate of her biological mother.
Now I felt I knew the source of my constant slow-firing anxiety. Finally, I could understand. I could acknowledge the trauma-legacy and now I could perhaps accept that at last… “this is my time to exhale”.
- Other blogs by Brian Quinn
- Fear and how it stops usFive steps to gaining greater Self-BeliefCreating Ease