The first time a friend ever betrayed me stands clear in memory more than 60 years later. I was 8 years old. My sister Andrea, older by 7 years, had prepared dinner and called me to come in and eat. I refused. I wanted to stay out and keep playing with my friends. Ann became angry and frustrated. She began making threats: “If you don’t get in here right now, you’re not getting any dinner now or later.” “Don’t let me get ahold of you.”
I, of course, made faces and tantalized her until she suddenly sprang from the porch and came running after me. Naturally I turned to run, but the moment I did, the friend I was playing with – Junior Jackson – grabbed both my arms and held me until my sister got there. She took me from Junior’s grasp and holding one of my arms tight, slapped me hard repeatedly across the back as she dragged me toward the house. I can still feel her hand where she repeatedly hit me as I write this decades later: it’s mostly in my mid-back, just below my right scapula.
Alienation Is Not Integration
Junior Jackson and I never played together again after that betrayal. A year later, just as she was teaching me to dance, my sister Andrea would “abandon” me, literally tossed out into the street by our mother for becoming pregnant at age sixteen. And she and I were never close again.
For the incidents I just described, and for other reasons as well, neither of them felt safe or comfortable for me to be around ever again. They had apparently significantly altered my stress profile – how my body triggered and released stress peptides and hormones in their presence. They made my body and brain feel the way Donald Trump often makes my body and brain feel – tense, contracted and on guard. My face doesn’t spontaneously break into a smile when I see pictures or think of them.
A Frog Went a Urocortin
It turns out there is one specific stress peptide that appears to play a major role in the lack of joy, affection and affinity I feel for my older sister, Junior Jackson and Donald Trump. It’s called Urocortin 3. Urocortin 3 is different than 1 or 2. The main difference is that it is primarily responsible for the release of cortisol from the adrenal cortex. Cortisol and adrenaline are the two major stress hormones. It’s difficult to feel kindly toward or be friends with people who involuntarily and repeatedly trigger excessive amounts of stress hormones in us.
Difficult, but not impossible. Because, like many parts of the brain, which we know changes throughout our lifespan due in part to neuroplasticity, our stress profile can change as well. People, places and things that made us nervous at one time, we can come to feel real affection for or at least neutral about. We can actually learn to master the ability to prevent our adrenals from making us their bitch!
To Haven or Haven Not
One method that anecdotal evidence suggests might be effective in changing our stress profile is called “Havening.” It’s a treatment protocol recently developed in the United Kingdom that appears to be a creative blend of Emotional Freedom Therapy (EFT) and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR). Here are the 8 simple steps:
1. Find an exact word or phrase that represents your current emotional difficulty. Scale the word/phrase from 1-10, with 10 being the highest/most distressing score.
2. Clear your mind or think about something nice.
3. Use both your hands to tap on both your collarbones while opening and closing your eyes twice.
4. Continue tapping, keep your head still, and move your eyes fully to the left and to the right, and then down to the left and down to the right, and finally in a full circle clockwise, and then counter-clockwise, keeping your head still.
5. Place your arms across your chest and close your eyes; while your eyes are closed, imagine walking up a flight of stairs and count out loud from 1 to 20 with each step you take.
6. Gently rub the sides of your arms, for the duration of the counting.
7. Re-scale the emotion 1-10. Repeat the procedure with the visual element and auditory element changed slightly; i.e. instead of climbing up stairs visualize skipping a rope and instead of counting 1-20, hum Happy Birthday.
8. Allow your arms to drop and relax, move your eyes in circles and then close your eyes, while stroking the sides of your arms again 5 times and speak the words “Let It Go” on the final stroke. Finally, open your eyes and scale the feeling 1-10 again. Repeat until the emotion is 1-3.
Does Havening actually work? There’s one way to find out. Try it with a friend to bear witness. If you begin to feel compassion towards sisters, friends and presidents with broken hearts and vulnerable brains just like yours, well, then you’ll know the answer.