Being taken hostage and finding freedom

What makes a young man, not yet thirty years old, held prisoner by Isis in Syria, stay grateful?

Daniel Rye was released from being hostage after 408 days during which he had been tortured, beaten and starved. A book by Puk Damsgard published by Atlantic Books (August 2016) reveals the horror of his life becoming less ordinary, just two years ago.

Reading of Daniel’s experience is not entertainment. Don’t do it, unless you want to know something about a photographer from Denmark who is now doing a project in Malawi, in effort to understand and communicate what it is to be starving in Africa.

What is impressive to me is how he still wants to make a positive difference in the world. This is a man who wasn’t trained, conditioned and inoculated with a military orientation to help him survive this kind of physical and psychological ordeal. Even the service personnel that are rigorously prepared for violence and war are finally being considered as perfectly human in their complex response of post traumatic stress (disorder).

Now, one of my considerations in providing psychotherapy which integrates the body, the mind and obviously the brain is that some clients take a considerably long time to come for help because they feel ashamed that their experience is of no comparison to that of others.

A quick internet search brought up many names of people who have become famous not because of trauma, but despite it. It is common for clients to berate and judge themselves as failures because they cannot do what these people have achieved.

So, the past continues to control their present. Much as they want to ‘put it behind them’ ‘put up and shut up’ ‘get on with it and stop whinging ‘ they are locked into the past and they don’t believe they are worthy of help.

One client, now highly successful in the fitness industry, had spent years training his body like a machine, to look and feel strong, masculine , overtly big and powerful in size , contoured and ripped. Yet he wasn’t in good shape emotionally. No matter how punishingly hard he trained his mind to discipline the body, his body seemed to betray him. How so?

This man could not understand why he was angry with someone he had fallen in love with. The irritability started with tension that came into his jaw. He wanted to lock in and lock down any unease and anxiety that he may lose the love. He would feel an uncomfortable heat through his face. His stomach lurched and his chest would become tight and his breathing faster and shallow. The more he realised he loved this person, the greater his anger became present and felt. More than anything he wanted to get rid of these feelings. Just one more run, faster, further. But it had only a temporary relief. How could “Iron Man’ feel so weakened by being in love?

So my training and approach is to pay particular interest in the smallest signs of how the physiology of the stress response is linked to triggers from how your brain has stored patterns of past stress. No matter how much talking you do, if the body is ignored, the reset and neuroplasticity of the brain will not be effective in getting you past the past!

So what made me think of Daniel Rye and my muscle man client? Both of them know the importance of relationship. Rye acknowledges that it is the people he cared about that gave him the spirit to live, and, in his words, they are “the reason that I am still a person.” His fellow inmates were also a big part of him maintaining his mental health.

My client had been held hostage mentally by events and circumstance from his childhood. He didn’t have any control over how he was treated. It was a life sentence until he, himself, could make sense of it differently. In psychotherapy, he learned that the attachment he wanted and needed is exactly normal, to feel loved and secure. Being with someone who could potentially leave him, was his internal persecution.

Daniel Rye needed a break from his girlfriend who had waited for his release. But he returned to their relationship once he had understood how his body, mind and brain had been affected by that which was out of his control and yet could be influenced with the right help. His psychiatrist said the break probably helped their relationship survive. Daniel Rye is grateful for his happy childhood and considers his family to be something special.

My client knew he needed to change. His girlfriend waited for him to change but neither of them knew what or how to make things get better. So they too took a break. Sessions focused on making the conscious and subconscious associations to the bodily sensations of anxiety linked to insecurity. The anger was protective and stimulated by the stored memory of hurt and loss in childhood. Every 90 minute meeting, this man reclaimed his power because he could understand how to change. As the thoughts and bodily sensations began to make sense, the emotional responses become proportionate and healthy. Iron Man was back in the race. He could now change his behaviour and his actions, because he understood himself differently.

Whatever issue you are finding it difficult to work past, this type of therapy can help you to understand yourself differently, too. In more traditional psychotherapy it can sometimes seem like the patient is being treated as if they are a brain on legs, but at MindBodyTherapy Clinic I have a more cohesive approach, and depending on your needs we can integrate movement, yoga or massage into your treatment.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.

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