Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Naomi Principle: Overcoming Trauma

This is a post about trauma and a unique way to overcome anxiety reactions after very stressful events.  It is yet another way that I learned something about psychology from one of my animals, as we saw with Mali and Mia

When we adopted Naomi, she was a traumatized kitten.  She was visibly shaking in her cage and did not want to be petted or held.  Once out of the cage, she hid under anything available and would not come out.  Her level of fear was beyond anything I had seen in a cat.  People clearly were a threat to her and she was always on guard. 

We tried everything to encourage Naomi to interact with us:  soft voices, no sudden movements, reaching out with food, you name it.  My first success was getting Naomi in our bathroom and then closing the door.  Without a place to hide, she went behind the bathroom curtain and shook.  I slowly moved the curtain away from her and she reached out to touch the moving curtain.  I moved the curtain a little more and she again went after it.  We continued this game for quite a while, with me giving her a little stroke, then moving the curtain, and Naomi going after the curtain.  

Interestingly, during the curtain game, she forgot to be afraid.  She stopped shaking and was content to have me stroke her.  This continued for a while until I picked Naomi up and put her on the bed (see above).  She was very alert and wary.  I placed my hand under the cover and moved it around.  She immediately pounced on the hand.  I scratched the sheet under the cover and she went after the sound.  The game continued for quite a while--and for a number of days--until Naomi was comfortable being in the bed with us.  To this day, she enjoys going after my hand under the covers.

If you met Naomi now, you'd think she was a shy cat, but not a traumatized one.  Somehow she went from reacting to people as dire threats to playing with them.  How did that happen?

No amount of coaxing or bribery with food could get Naomi out of her shell.  She only overcame trauma by tapping into a motivating stronger than her fear:  her natural hunting instinct and curiosity.  Making the environment more safe--by itself--did not break through her fear.  Rather, she overcame fear by replacing it with a different emotional experience and processing the world through that new experience.

This, then, is the Naomi Principle:  strong negative emotions can best be overcome by replacing them with strong positive ones.  The most efficient and effective way to reprocess emotional experience is through new and powerful emotional experience.

This is why we hold funerals:  the power of bonding with those closest to us can overcome the grief of having lost a loved one.  Some years ago I underwent emergency surgery for a near-ruptured appendix.  Interestingly, my recovery was accelerated by the fact that the person sharing my room had obvious emotional problems.  I became so concerned about helping my roommate that my physical discomfort was an afterthought.  

As the recent post suggested, outsized and unplanned losses can have traumatic emotional repercussions.  How do you overcome those and get back to trading markets normally?  The answer is to tap into positive sources of motivation that are stronger than your fear response.  After difficult losses, I will double down on research and investigate new markets, new patterns.  Inevitably I'll find something new, something promising.  Like Naomi, I'll pounce on it:  my eagerness to learn takes over.  Before long, I see something so promising that I have to trade it--and I'll return to markets with fresh perspective and resolve.  

The Naomi Principle recognizes that our deepest passions transform us, whether it is by tapping into our creativity, our spirituality, or our love for others.  It is difficult to be traumatized and mesmerized at the same time.  Bringing out the best within us goes a long way toward overcoming the worst we've been through.

Further Reading:  What It Means to be Free