When you hear the word concussion, you probably think of blows to the head, getting your “bell rung” and periods of unconsciousness. I’ve been aware of physical concussions and how they can affect you for a long, long time. I got my first concussion at the age of 10 and collected another 6-8 during my teens, the military and rugby. They came through car accidents, American football (sandlot version without protective equipment), explosives, mid-air collisions and hard landings while parachuting, as well as through hard hits in rugby. I suppose I have some form of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that’s never been diagnosed, but I’ll leave that to my readers and friends to ponder. Perhaps they were emotional concussions.
A new term
I had never heard of emotional concussions until I listened to Mark Divine’s Unbeatable Mind podcast with Dr. Don Wood, author of “Emotional Concussions: Understanding How Our Nervous System is Affected by Events and Experiences Throughout Our Lives,” from the Inspired Performance Institute. Dr. Wood discusses such issues as anxiety, panic attacks and depression, all of which are quite common – even among high-performing individuals – and how difficult it is to cope, manage and live with the symptoms. But more importantly, he explains how to find out why you’re experiencing these issues. He doesn’t just treat the symptoms; he gets to the root of the problem by teaching people how to “reset and reboot,” as he calls it.
What is an emotional concussion, and how can I know if I’ve experienced one or several? Dr. Wood defines it as “an event or experience that has been disturbing or traumatic. The event or experience may have occurred at any time in your life, from birth to this precise moment.” And if you’re a high performer, you’re likely to have experienced many micro-emotional concussions in your career. Using the expression emotional concussion rather than trauma makes it easier to perceive, understand and then heal, according to Dr. Wood. Most people don’t get a good feeling from the word trauma.
Trauma affects people differently. Two people can experience the same event with completely different effects. One person can move on, while the other falls apart because of their previous experiences and how they perceive a particular event. “When I started using the term ‘emotional concussions,’ people seemed much more willing to accept this phrase to relate to their own experiences. Trauma sounds permanent, broken and damaged. A concussion, on the other hand, can heal. A concussion is a temporary situation, and we expect it to heal,” Dr. Wood explains.
Dr. Wood tells his patients that there is nothing wrong with their minds. They’ve experienced some events that are affecting the way their minds are responding now. Your mind filters through these events and experiences before creating a response to what’s happening now. And because your subconscious mind is survival-based and wants to protect you from being hurt again, it reviews these events before it formulates a response to what’s happening now. And that’s where the problem begins.
Some of these events have been recorded and stored in “high resolution and high definition images” and that’s what creates an error message. The subconscious mind sees these images in real-time and creates a response in the present situation because it believes something is happening now. This automatic response – an error message – is to protect you from something that isn’t happening, which creates the problem.Emotional concussions in the past affect how your mind responds today and might result in a particular behavior that could become a habit later on.
Wiring our brains
Emotional concussions can harm us as much as physical concussions. Emotional concussions flood our brains with stress-induced hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, wiring developing brains for flight, fight or freeze. Emotional concussions from childhood continues to loop through your mind reinforcing this flight or flight syndrome. Emotional concussions come in many shapes and sizes and they don’t discriminate. They can occur when a teacher, parent or coach constantly criticizes you, thinking that they are motivating you but are doing just the opposite. This causes people to live in fear.
Living in fear
This makes people always afraid something is going to happen, so they continuously look for new threats. This “loop” gets replayed over and over. Listening to this loop can cause a wide array of problems later in life, including a pattern of dysfunction that may include multiple divorces, bad choices, addictions and continuous drama that repeats itself over generations. For example, even a choice of words can trigger fear, anger and anxiety. Using the word “honey,” usually a term of endearment, can elicit a negative reaction when it was meant to be a positive statement. It all depends on how a person has experienced the word before. Even an inflection in a voice can trigger negative responses if a person perceives this as the beginning of a cycle of arguing and negativity. But there’s hope. Once you can identify what event or events created the emotional concussion, you’ll be able to change how you feel and change how you heal. You can listen to the entire podcast at https://poddtoppen.se/podcast/955637330/the-unbeatable-mind-podcast-with-mark-divine.