As we discussed in chapter 2 and chapter 3, quantum scientists are slowly demonstrating that energy drives the universe (Pagels, 2012)[i]. It is a puzzling element, although it can be measured and quantified, but scientists have no real idea of what it actually is. Yet, physics find that energy is the most fundamental property of the universe; everything can be created by or dissolved into energy, including matter itself. (Waller, 2010, p. 16).[ii]
While many have forgotten the impact this energy can have on us, it is the medium of spatially embodied knowledge and the most natural form of communication for highly sensitive children. It is what allows them to be deeply connected with the world. But energy does not only exist outside of us, it also lives within us. Not only does it carry sensory messages, it is also the carrier of messages from our internal inter-connected consciousness, our spirit.
Most ancient healing systems have known for millennia that energy is central to life. Most have a way to describe a protection energy layer around the body such as the “Wei” in Chinese medicine, a protective energy that circulates along the meridians at the most superficial level. But this energy is not just there to protect us; it also serves an important communication function:
“Ancient spiritual systems throughout the world – including Vedic knowledge in India, shamanism or Earth-medicine (of which all tribal peoples have a version) and spiritual healing methods – all agree with modern physics on this business of energy being everything, but give this a different slant. Everything that exists is made of energy, including us. Because of this, we can communicate with everything – there is a place within us that can experience and in a very subjective way understand and use this energy. (Waller, 2010, p. 16)[iii]
Any belief system that creates a connection between health and spirituality can be challenging for modern doctors. In part because this recognition of a spiritual dimension drastically alters how life is defined and as a consequence how health is understood. As Pip Waller explains:
“For most systems of medicine in the world, the spirit is in charge, healing must happen in the spirit and healing comes from the spirit. “(Waller, 2010, p. 318)[iv]
Thus our health depends on living in close harmony with what is all around us, including nature:
“The Hopi people have long understood the interconnectedness of life forms, warning ‘if you kill off the prairie dogs there will be no one to cry for rain’ – “amused scientists, knowing that there was no conceivable relationship between prairie dogs and rain, recommended the extermination of all burrowing animals in some desert areas planted to rangelands in the 1950s ‘in order to protect the sparse desert grasses’. Today the area (not far from Chilchinbito, Arizona) has become a virtual wasteland” (Bill Mollison in ‘Permaculture’). It turns out that all the burrowing animals, from gophers to spiders, create a network of tunnels under the earth that then allow the water deep within the earth to rise and escape as moisture laden air which forms clouds and thus provides rain. Stephen Harrod Buhner says in ‘The Lost Language of Plants’ “…indigenous peoples have always had access to the finest probe ever conceived, one that makes scientific instruments coarse in comparison, one that all human beings in all places and times have had access to: the focused power of human consciousness.” (Waller, 2010, p. 16)[v]
In this relationship to nature lies the character of our consciousness. In many cultures, the goal of life is to be connected to that consciousness. For instance: “ Vedic practice is about realizing one’s true nature; realizing that one is pure consciousness, therefore knowing everything, having access to all knowledge from within” (Waller, 2010, p. 17).[vi] This “knowledge within” is our interconnected consciousness, our soul or spirit. It is understood by many traditions that disease can have a spiritual cause.
For example, the Iroquois distinguish a particular type of illness related to “the resentment of the inner soul” when its basic needs are not met. Iroquois culture uses dream interpretations to make sense of messages from the unconscious or the “spirit” realm. Given that dreams express the desire of the soul, the fulfillment of a dream is of paramount importance to the individual. (Larsen, 1998, p.93)[vii]. Dreams are used for both personal and societal guidance, and as such they operate to support a psychological function. In shamanic traditions, one of the shaman’s roles is to decipher these dreams. Given that the particular mythology of a culture influences how dreams are understood, it is essential to preserve ancestral and knowledge myths alive. The timeless messages embedded within these myths by our ancestors can help us understand the imagery of our dreams and help us understand our identity.
Modern medicine does not understand that in many practices, this spiritual or soul level is also a powerful psychological tool and healing is often achieved through personal inner processes. This lack of understanding of spiritual practices in guiding us to fulfill the needs of our inner-soul, lead modern medicine to create forms of therapies that are ill adapted to many human experiences and eliminated any connections between the senses and our health. Going further, it created processes to eliminate behaviors related to our spatial communication system.
As we examined in chapter 2, with modern medicine, any external stimuli became considered a disease. Behaviors and conditions that would have been attributed by ancient cultures as a plea from the inner soul to change, or, in the case of highly sensitive children, behaviors of over-stimulated senses, or in the case of gifted individual changes associated with a positive disintegration process, or deeply processing the effect of trauma, can be understood as diseases. While these processes are a normal part of some people’s live, their intensity being much higher than what is socially acceptable renders them susceptible to be defined as signs of mental illness.
Some groups are putting into question the idea of mental illness itself:
“ The term “mental illness” is widely used to describe something which is very different than a disease of the brain. Many people today take it· for granted that living is an arduous process. Its hardship for modern man, moreover, derives not so much from a struggle for biological survival as from the stresses and strains inherent in the social intercourse of complex human personalities. In this context, the notion of mental illness is used to identify or describe some feature of an individual’s so-called personality. Mental illness — as a deformity of the personality, so to speak — is then regarded as the cause of the human disharmony. It is implicit in this view that social intercourse between people is regarded as something inherently harmonious, its disturbance being due solely to the presence of “mental illness” in many people. This is obviously fallacious reasoning, for it makes the abstraction “mental illness” into a cause, even though this abstraction was created in the first place to serve only as a shorthand expression for certain types of human behavior. It now becomes necessary to ask: “What kinds of behavior are regarded as indicative of mental illness, and by whom?”(Szasz, 1960)[viii]
Serious concerns about mental health institutions also exist. According to psychiatrist Henry A. Nasrallah the list of perceived misdeeds of psychiatry include:
- “Medicalizing madness (contradicting the archaic notion that psychosis is a type of behavior, not an illness)
- Drastic measures to control severe mental illness in the pre-pharmacotherapy era, including excessive use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), performing lobotomies, or resecting various body parts
- Use of physical and/or chemical restraints for violent or actively suicidal patients
- Labeling slaves’ healthy desire to escape from their masters in the 19thcentury as an illness (“drapetomania”)
- Regarding psychoanalysis as unscientific and even harmful
- Labeling homosexuality as a mental disorder until American Psychiatric Association members voted it out of DSM-II in 1973
- The arbitrariness of psychiatric diagnoses based on committee-consensus criteria rather than valid and objective scientific evidence and the lack of biomarkers (this is a legitimate complaint but many physiological tests are being developed)
- Psychoactive drugs allegedly are used to control children (antipsychiatry tends to minimize the existence of serious mental illness among children, although childhood physical diseases are readily accepted)
- Psychiatry is a pseudoscience that pathologizes normal variations of human behaviors, thoughts, or emotions
- Psychiatrists are complicit with drug companies and employ drugs of dubious efficacy (eg, antidepressants) or safety (eg, antipsychotics).”[ix]
While psychiatry practices have changed to eliminate some of the problems listed above, recently, a renewed crisis of confidence has been caused by diagnostic inflation leading to over-medicalization, particularly of children, given the serious or intolerable side effects of some antipsychotic medications by some.
The controversy focuses on increasingly broad definitions of mental illness. For diagnostics of mental illness, psychiatrists rely on the publication DSM: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders which lists conditions defined as mental illness.
According to A Frances[x], over the life time of its publications, the DSM has increasingly opened the door to loose diagnosis by defining conditions that were no more than slightly more severe versions of such everyday problems as mild depression, generalized anxiety, social anxiety, simple phobias, sexual dysfunctions, and sleep disorders. Over time, the DSM led to unexpected occurrence of 3 market-driven diagnostic fads. In the past 20 years, the rate of attention-deficit disorder tripled, the rate of bipolar disorder doubled, and the rate of autism increased more than 20-fold. Frances warns that the lesson should be clear that every change in the diagnostic system could lead to unpredictable overdiagnosis.
Frances articulates a serious concern that is very much of interest to highly sensitive people, dangerous treatments and the over-prescription of potentially dangerous pharmaceutical drugs. Frances is not alone, organizations such as MindFreedom International and World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry argue that psychiatrists exaggerate the evidence of medication and minimize the evidence of adverse drug reaction. They and other activists believe individuals are not given balanced information, and that current psychiatric medications do not appear to be specific to particular disorders in the way mainstream psychiatry asserts; and psychiatric drugs not only fail to correct measurable chemical imbalances in the brain, but rather induce undesirable side effects. Today, this concern also incorporates the significant increase in prescribing psychiatric drugs to children. (Nasrallah, 2011)[xi]. For example, in 2007, the New York Times published the article “Psychiatrists, Children and Drug Industry’s Role” which reported the following:
“When Anya Bailey developed an eating disorder after her 12th birthday, her mother took her to a psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota who prescribed a powerful antipsychotic drug called Risperdal.
Created for schizophrenia, Risperdal is not approved to treat eating disorders, but increased appetite is a common side effect and doctors may prescribe drugs as they see fit. Anya gained weight but within two years developed a crippling knot in her back. She now receives regular injections of Botox to unclench her back muscles. She often awakens crying in pain.
Isabella Bailey, Anya’s mother, said she had no idea that children might be especially susceptible to Risperdal’s side effects. Nor did she know that Risperdal and similar medicines were not approved at the time to treat children, or that medical trials often cited to justify the use of such drugs had as few as eight children taking the drug by the end.
Just as surprising, Ms. Bailey said, was learning that the university psychiatrist who supervised Anya’s care received more than $7,000 from 2003 to 2004 from Johnson & Johnson, Risperdal’s maker, in return for lectures about one of the company’s drugs. “[xii]
In many cases, children are put on Ritalin and other psycho-stimulants to make them more obedient to parents and teachers (Breggin, 2000)[xiii]. As Breggin explained:
“The “therapeutic” effects of stimulants are a direct expression of their toxicity. Animal and human research indicates that these drugs often suppress spontaneous and social behaviors while promoting obsessive/compulsive behaviors. These adverse drug effects make the psychostimulants seemingly useful for controlling the behavior of children, especially in highly structured environments that do not attend to their genuine needs”[xiv]
For these critics, the diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder on the basis of inattention to compulsory schooling also raises critics’ concerns regarding the use of psychoactive drugs as a means of unjust social control of children.
It has been argued that psychiatry, through the ages, has continuously served to reinforce the values of social control of specific powerful social structures (Foucault, 1961)[xv]. The confinement of the mad to institutions that dominated the previous centuries began to be substituted by the use of medication. The spiritual mythology necessary to advance psychological health has been replaced with medical and media mythologies that, instead of encouraging internal processes favor suppression and oppression of spatial and internal messages, promote medication as an alternative to communication through the senses, redefine the distressing behaviors of sensory and other types of traumas as a sickness, and provide media mythologies that take us away from the symbols and images that could help us make sense of the needs of the inner soul while stimulating the senses towards their submission.
By the 21st century, this criticism of psychiatry has reached popular consciousness, and the dangers associated with drugging our children are better known. The hidden toxicity of these drugs potentially has dreadful consequences that scientists are beginning to seriously examine. Researchers have shown that the medical community may be inadvertently creating a new generation of illegal, recreational drug users by prescribing anti-anxiety or sleep medications to teenagers[xvi]. Scientists are also beginning to redefine the nature of mental illness. Medical researchers are studying the effects of permanent stress on the immune system and have been demonstrated that activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. [xvii]
These doubts about psychiatry are sending an increasing number of people to search for other solutions. To these medical approaches, others exist that have a very different understanding of what is referred to as mental illness. In modern times, various schools of psychology and neurobiology have offered gentler approaches to mental illness and health that take into consideration the “inner soul”, adapting some ideas from ancient traditions. And taking us back to the subject of dreaming.
On one hand, Freudian traditions understand dreams to embody the involuntary occurrences within the mind. In “The Interpretation of Dreams” (1900)[xviii], Freud inferred that dreams are a product of one’s individual psyche, the totality of the human mind, conscious and unconscious. The unconscious referred to the mental processes of which individuals make themselves unaware.[xix] To him, dreams were the road to the unconscious. Freud believed that significant psychic events take place in the unconscious mind, as hidden messages.
Understanding the dominant the repressive culture of his time, Freud considered the unconscious as carrying what is actively repressed from conscious thought or what a person is averse to knowing consciously. He viewed the unconscious as a repository for socially unacceptable ideas, wishes or desires, traumatic memories, and painful emotions put out of mind by the mechanism of psychological repression. Without a connection to spirituality and its mythology, he believed that unconscious thoughts were not directly accessible to ordinary introspection, but could be “tapped” and “interpreted” by special methods and techniques such as meditation, dream analysis, examined and conducted during psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysts replaced shamans as the experts capable of interpreting their messages.
On the other hand, in Jungian psychology, while dreams still give us access to unconsciousness, it is believed that there is both a personal and collective unconsciousness. The personal unconscious being a personal reservoir of experience unique to each individual, while the collective unconscious collects and organizes those personal experiences in a similar way with each member of a particular species. Jung considered the scope of dream interpretation to reflect the richness and complexity of the entire unconscious, both personal and collective. He believed the psyche or self to be a self-regulating organism in which conscious attitudes were likely to be compensated for unconsciously within dreams. (Storr, 1983).[xx]
For Jung, the Self : “is not caused by consciousness, rather it is the base on which consciousness itself rests. As such it is of the order of instinct. (…) This instinct comes from within, as a compulsion or command (…) and in this process we are expressive of a psychological situation”[xxi](Jung quoted by Larsen, 1998, p.96). According to Jungian psychology, most of our difficulties come from losing contact with our instincts. The Jungian shadow refers to everything outside the light of consciousness, and may be positive or negative. “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”(Jung, 1938, p. 131) [xxii] It may be (in part) one’s link to more primitive animal instincts (Jung, 1952, p.12)[xxiii], which are superseded during early childhood by the conscious mind.
This may be a clue as to why highly sensitive children do not respond to acculturation in the same manner other children do. Could these primitive animal instincts be the source of our ancient inter-connectiveness with nature? Could it be that they are stronger in highly sensitive children and cannot be suppressed by the conscious mind? Could the shadow emerge as we deny our own nature, leading some to mental distress and eventually illness?
Horsley refers to sensory gifts as instinct and has this to day of its relationship to culture:
“(…), instinct is seen as the enemy of culture. Socialization and enculturation, as Freud described, entails the suppression of instincts in order to prevent unchecked sexuality and barbarism (i.e., mimetic violence). Yet animals get along fine without a culture, and whatever else they may be, humans are animals. Culture is meant to represent our superiority over the other animals; it is seen as an expression of our higher nature. But all the evidence would suggest the reverse. Bees know how to build complex structures. Birds know when and where to migrate to. Pigeon, eels, and most other creatures know their way home no matter how far they are from it. (…) If human beings have a similar, more advanced, internal guidance system to animals, then learning by imitation — adopting the social language — may not be essential to our survival at all. There may be no need for culture or for externally shaped group arrangements. These things may only be a distortion of our true natures and a distraction from them. They may also cause a disruption of our internal guidance system. “[xxiv]
Jung offered another answer. He equated these instincts with the “old-aged unforgotten wisdom” stored up in us, the “old man”. Also referred to as the “great man within” by the Naskapi Indians, he is a source of guidance and knowledge far more ancient and wise than man’s conscious self”(Speck[xxv] quoted by Larsen, 1998, p. 96). He proposed the wise old man to be the personification of the collective unconscious, accessible through dreams as archetypal messages. He understood archetypes as universal, archaic patterns and images that derive from the collective unconscious that manifested themselves in dreams, as dream symbols or figures. They are inherited potentials, which are actualized when they enter consciousness as images or manifest in behavior on interaction with the outside world (Stevens, 2006)[xxvi]. They are hidden forms, which are transformed once they enter consciousness and are given particular expression by individuals and their cultures. Acquaintance with the archetypes as manifested by these symbols served to increase one’s awareness of unconscious attitudes, integrating seemingly disparate parts of the psyche and contributing to the process of holistic self-understanding he considered paramount (Storr, 1983).[xxvii]
This notion of self-understanding is particularly relevant to highly sensitive children. As Elaine Aron points out:
“ Sensitive persons can certainly have mood disorders, but should not be mistaken for being chronically depressed only because of a pessimistic view of the future of the world or of their own abilities (a pessimism which may well be accurate, as in the case of depressive realism). Likewise they do not have an anxiety disorder merely because they worry more than the nonsensitive, and they do not have a personality disorder (avoidant, dependent, obsessive-compulsive, etc.) merely because their unusualness has been present throughout their lives as an impediment to the cheerful, resilient functioning expected of most people most of the time…. They cannot shut out the world’s achingly subtle, fleeting beauty or its inexplicable cruelty and suffering. They must find their own meaning in it.”[xxviii]
In opposition to the invasive modalities of treatment of modern medicine and psychiatry which can be traumatizing to a highly sensitive child’s body and spirit, psychology and ancient health approaches to the spirit offer gentler, kinder models of healing. While modern medicine has chosen to eradicate our “instincts” and ignore the importance of spirituality to health, it has become one of the pillar of health to an alternative modern health approach, that of holistic health.
Next:Holistic Health Model
[i] Pagels, Heinz R. (2012).The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics As The Language Of Nature. Dover Publications.
[ii] Waller, Pip (2010). Holistic Anatomy. An integrated guide to the human body. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, California.
[iii] Waller, Pip (2010). Holistic Anatomy. An integrated guide to the human body. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, California.
[iv] Waller, Pip (2010). Holistic Anatomy. An integrated guide to the human body. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, California.
[v] Waller, Pip (2010). Holistic Anatomy. An integrated guide to the human body. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, California.
[vi] Waller, Pip (2010). Holistic Anatomy. An integrated guide to the human body. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, California.
[vii] Larsen, Stephen (1998). The Shaman’s Doorway: Opening Imagination to Power and Myth. Inner Traditions.
[viii] Szasz, Thomas S. (1960). The Myth of Mental Illness. American Psychologist, 15, 113-118.
[x] Frances A. The New Crisis of Confidence in Psychiatric Diagnosis. Ann Intern Med. 2013;159:221-222.
[xii] Gardiner Harris; Benedict Carey; Janet Roberts (May 10, 2007). “Psychiatrists, Children and Drug Industry’s Role”. New York Times.
[xiii] Breggin, Peter (2000). Reclaiming Your Children: A healing Plan for a Nation in Crisis. Perseus Publishing.
[xiv] Breggin, Peter R (1999). “Psychostimulants in the treatment of children diagnosed with ADHD: Risks and mechanism of action” (PDF). International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine 12 (1999) 3–35 3. IOS Press
[xv] Foucault M.. History of Madness. Translated by Khalfa J.. NY: Routledge; 2009.
[xvi] Carol J. Boyd, Elizabeth Austic, Quyen Epstein-Ngo, Philip T. Veliz and Sean Esteban McCabe. A Prospective Study of Adolescents’ Nonmedical Use of Anxiolytic and Sleep Medication. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Nov. 24, 2014 DOI: 10.1037/adb0000026
[xvii] Ruhr-Universitaet-Bochum. “Mental disorders due to permanent stress?.” ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141121082907.htm (accessed December 27, 2014).
[xviii] Freud, Sigmund (1900). The Interpretation of Dreams the Illustrated Edition, Sterling Press 2010.
[xix] Geraskov, Emil Asenov (November 1, 1994). “The internal contradiction and the unconscious sources of activity”. Journal of Psychology.
[xx] Storr, Anthony (1983). The Essential Jung. New York.
[xxi] Jung, C.G. (1970). Psychological Reflections. Bollingen Series XXXI. Princeton University Press. P. 76
[xxii] Jung, C.G. (1938). “Psychology and Religion.” In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.131
[xxiii] Jung, C.G. (1952). “Answer to Job.” In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.12Jung, C.G. (1952). “Answer to Job.” In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.12
[xxiv] Horsley, Jason (2013). Transforming the Obligatory into the Desirable: Autism & Shamanism (Perceptual Warfare 18). Auticulture. Jan 2013. https://auticulture.wordpress.com/2013/01/15/transforming-the-obligatory-into-the-desirable-autism-shamanism-perceptual-warfare-18/
[xxv] Speck, Frank, G(1935). Naskapi. University of Oklahoma.
[xxvi] Stevens, Anthony in “The archetypes” (Chapter 3.) Ed. Papadopoulos, Renos. The Handbook of Jungian Psychology (2006)
[xxvii] Storr, Anthony (1983). The Essential Jung. New York.
[xxviii] Aron, E. N. (2006). “The Clinical Implications of Jungs Concept of Sensitiveness”. Journal of Jungian Theory and Practice 8: 11–43.