Emerging from the Bush/Cheney Cloud to Face PPPTSD and Learned Helplessness
by Rob Kall
After eight years of the dark cloud and litany of abuses cast by the Bush/Cheney administration, many of us are dealing with PPPTSD– political, partisan PTSD and learned helplessness, even though America is back in the light. There are some answers that could probably help anyone adversely touched by the last eight years.
We had some good news on Tuesday night. The end of an era/error is near at hand. I wear several hats. One involves the world of Positive Psychology, matter of fact, f or a good six or eight years, I’ve been posting on and participating in a positive psychology listserve group.
This morning, a study was reported, which showed that anticipating positive experiences is good for you. Over 20 years ago, I wrote a book, referenced below, which described a model I came up with, The anatomy of positive experience. One part of it described the idea of anticipation as a valuable element in having positive experience skills. So I commented on the study.
This conversation got me thinking about Obama’s victory. The fact is, for the past eight years, we have been in a kind of hell, living under the cloud of Bush/Cheney rule, facing terrorism, unnecessary war, torture, invastions of privacy, economic catastrophy, the tearing down of the constitution, erosion of our democratic freedoms. Whether you’re a liberal, moderate or conservative, this cloud has been real and it has done some damage to our psyches– nationwide and world-wide.We’ve been suffering from Political, Partisan Post Traumatic Stress Disorder– PPPTSD.
Suddenly, with Obama’s win, the clouds have cleared, light has shown through and the future’s possibilities are very different. As we crawl out of our Bush/Cheney "fallout shelters" and other assorted emotional holes in the ground, it is understandable that some of us may wince or flich at any sudden movements, have flashbacks, have difficulty trusting, have moments of anger, panic or fear.
Some of us will recover from PPPTSD faster than others. Some will find themselves stuck.
University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman did dog studies which demonstrated that if, several times, you shock a dog if it goes to one part of a cage, the rat stops going to that part of the cage even if you remove the shock. He called it Learned helplessness.
Now, as editor in-chief of opednews.com, I have been facing commenters who are angry, negative and who believed nothing would change regardless who was elected. Now, they are saying that nothing HAS changed. In some ways, they’re demonstrating symptoms of learned helplessness, even though things may now, suddenly, be very different.
Seligman discovered that about a third of the dogs in the experiment did NOT develop learned helplessness. This finding contributed to Seligman studying OPTIMISM, and how some people are more optimistic than others. This research contributed to the development of the field of Positive Psychology and Seligman went on to become the president of the American Psychological Association and a pioneer in the field of positive psychology.
Frankly, before thinking through this PPPTSD aspect of the negative commenters, I was less tolerant of its victims. I was thinking, "The world has changed, things are better, there is more hope– get with the program." But viewing these victims– and they are from all ideologies– through this lens, I’m finding more compassion and tolerance. Their negativity is inappropriate and is really not longer tolerable, but they need help, not chastisement.
Today, the positive psychology listserve group brought a study to my attention which showed that if people anticipated a positive experience, they’d experience health benefits. That reminded me of one of the factors involved in a model of happiness skills I’d described in the anatomy of positive experience. Basically, the model suggested that people could build their happiness skills by planning and anticipating postiive experiences. I think this also applies to those people who are suffering from PPPTSD.
First, here’s the study report, and that’s followed by my comments.
LLU researcher finds that anticipating happy times may have health benefits
At a scientific conference in San Diego earlier this month, a Loma Linda University professor presented research further demonstrating that looking forward to happy experiences may have health benefits.
Lee Berk, DrPH, offered these findings during the 121st Annual Meeting of the American Physiological Society, which was part of the Experimental Biology 2008 conference. This annual conference, which is a multi-society, interdisciplinary scientific meeting, met April 4–9. Dr. Berk is an associate professor in the School of Public Health, and an associate research professor in the School of Medicine.
Specifically, Dr. Berk reported that the anticipation of a happy laughter experience lowers three stress hormones: cortisol (a steroid hormone), epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), and dopac (a major catabolite of dopamine).
This knowledge is significant because chronically high stress hormone levels can be detrimental to a person’s health, particularly the immune system.
Dr. Berk was the lead researcher on a team that discovered these findings. The other researchers were Stanley A. Tan, MD, PhD, of Oakcrest Health Research Institute, and Dottie Berk, RN, patient care coordinator of pain management, Loma Linda University Health Care.
“Our findings lead us to believe that by seeking out positive lifestyle experiences that make us laugh, we can do a lot with our psychophysiology to help us stay well,” says Dr. Berk.
In an earlier study, Dr. Berk, Dr. Tan, and James Westengard, MT(ASCP), found that the anticipation of mirthful laughter had surprising and significant effects. Two hormones—beta-endorphins (the family of chemicals that helps elevate positive mood states) and human growth hormone (HGH, which helps with immunity)—increased by 27 and 87 percent respectively when volunteers anticipated watching a humorous video. There was no such increase among the control group, who did not anticipate watching the humorous film.
Having found that the anticipation of a happy laughter event increased certain beneficial chemicals/hormones, they proposed that the anticipation of a laughter event might reduce stress hormones. To test their hypothesis, they studied 16 healthy fasting male volunteers for cortisol and catecholamine level changes. The participants were randomly assigned to either the control group or the experimental group (those anticipating a humorous event).
Using a similar protocol as in the earlier study, the current research found that the same anticipation of laughter reduced cortisol by 39 percent, epinephrine by 70 percent, and dopac by 38 percent.
Blood was drawn from both groups prior to the event (anticipation), four times during the event, and three times after the event (residual effect). Analysis showed that the blood levels in the anticipatory phase decreased for the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine, and dopac in the experimental group. Trend analysis showed a progressive pattern of the decrease for the three hormones through the event and afterwards.
As a result, the researchers suggest that anticipating positive events can decrease stress hormones that can be detrimental when chronically released. These findings have implications for understanding the modalities that can benefit stress reduction, not only in health and wellness programs, but also in everyday life. After all, Dr. Berk points out, Proverbs 17:22 states that “A merry heart does good like a medicine….”
The research is titled “Cortisol and Catecholamine Stress Hormone Decrease Is Associated With The Behavior Of Perceptual Anticipation Of Mirthful Laughter.”
Nice research. It validates the happiness and inner strengths model I first described about 1990, which uses a temporal approach to the anatomy of positive experience. The basic theory is that positive experiences are the building blocks of our inner strengths and capacity for happiness, capacity to face adversity, to develop self esteem, to build loving relationships, etc.
This study would support the second component in my model–
II} Plan, schedule, research, anticipate PEs– not just vacations or weekend evenings– but throughout each day of the week. Study your own behavior patterns, your inner and outer resources and your environment to build a PE knowledge base that helps you zoom in on PE opportunities– planned or unexpected– and schedule challenges, fun, pleasure, and good deeds.
Here’s an excerpt from my book on Positive Experiences and Good Feelings which details this aspect in greater depth. This was written about 1990, with minor updates since then. In light of this study, I’ll be fleshing ou the anticipation part of this. Over the years, teaching people to expect positive experience (PE) and be ready to ‘jump into them" when they pop up, as unplanned for surprises, has been a lot of fun, because when I encounter them myself, I alway think of the advice. I think some people are much better at being ready to have PEs than others. Of course, that’s what my Anatomy of PEs is all about– helping people to build their skills at all aspects of PEs before, during and after.
I should add that I used to focus more attention on the "good feelings" part of this model, but Martin Seligman pointed out, quite correctly, that a good number of people don’t have those good feelings associated with PEs. And reflecting back on the research, I agree. This was an example of my personal bias, since I DO have the good feelings. Researcher Professor Avrom Goldstein did a study which determined that some subjects– only about half, reported felling "thrills" or chills up the back of the neck, in response to music, inspiring stories, sex, perfume, touching certain things…. and he determined, using a double blind study, that endorphins– endogenous opioids– mediated the thrill experience. When he administered Naloxone, a drug that inhibits opioid responses, the thrills that had previously, reliably been produced in subjects listening to rousing music, were no longer produced.
Despite Dr. Seligman’s disputation on my statement that "PEs and the positive feeling they produce are the basic building blocks of happiness, the capacity for happiness, inner strengths and the ability to face adversity, develop loving relationships, etc." I still believe that for those people who do have positive feeling associated with PEs, the statement is true.