Mind-Body Syndrome: Insight Into Childhood Priming Key To Anxiety Cure

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Above: Traumatic childhood ‘priming events’ sow the seeds of future anxiety and anxiety disorders. Such anxiety is especially likely to be manifested in response to ‘triggers.’ See below for
an explanation.

In their book, Unlearn Your Pain: A 28-day process to reprogram your brain, Schubiner and Betzoi propose that understanding ourselves and the true origin of our anxiety (very often, childhood traumas such as abuse or other distressing events), is key to conquering our anxious feelings.

As such, it is, first of all, important to understand the terms: PRIMING EVENTS, TRIGGERING, PERSONALITY TRAITS.


Priming’ refers to an unconscious process whereby the effect of one stimulus affects our response to stimuli that we encounter later on. For example, a young child who has been bitten by a dog (the ‘stimulus’) may become anxious and afraid whenever s/he subsequently encounters both that dog and any other (stimuli encountered later on). In this case, then, the PRIMING EVENT would be the original experience of being bitten by a dog, and this sets off a process whereby the child’s fear is generalized and transferred onto all other dogs.


A triggering event occurs when an individual is exposed to a stimulus that reminds the individual of an earlier trauma (the priming event) on a conscious or unconscious level that reignites feelings associated with the original trauma. So, in the example given above, the priming event would be the child being bitten by the original dog and triggers would be subsequent encounters with any dogs.

Protracted and repetitive stressful (priming) events in childhood may result in the child learning to fear and this, in turn, powerfully reinforce neural pathways in the brain that become activated when danger is perceived, causing them to become deeply rooted. This can lead to a vicious circle:
The more reinforced these neural pathways become, the more sensitive and reactive they become in response to a perceived threat.
This, in turn, means that ‘danger’ is signaled more and more frequently which leads to the neural pathways becoming yet further entrenched…and so on…
People affected in this way, by the time they become adults, may have developed, due to this vicious circle, hypersensitive and hyperreactive neural pathways that, as a result, are constantly ‘raising the alarm, even in situations where no real threat exists.
These learned neural pathways are often closely associated with specific emotionally wounding events that occurred in childhood such as rejection by a parent or emotional abuse.

Whilst we are most likely to have our anxiety triggered by events related to the original priming event. if, as children, we have experienced multiple trauma/ priming events (e.g. divorced parents, having a mentally ill mother, an alcoholic father, and an older sibling who was abusive towards us) we may develop a condition whereby our anxiety is triggered by non-related traumatic events. In other words, our anxiety can become generalized.

It is worth stressing again that triggering most frequently occurs on an unconscious level and we are therefore not aware that our current anxious state is intimately connected to past, adverse childhood experiences. In support of this assertion, Schubiner and Betzoi cite  Wilson (2002) as having shown that we are usually not consciously aware of how our thoughts and feelings are being generated anyway, and LeDoux (1996) as having shown that we have no control over triggering events that activate the neural pathways associated with responding to perceived danger as the activation occurs in just milliseconds; in other words, activation of the anxiety/fear responses is automatic and reflexive.
According to Schubiner and Betzoi, the process described above can lead not only to anxiety but other conditions as well such as headaches, depression, migraines, fatigue, fibromyalgia, and mental and physical pain, to mention only a few. The name he gives to the phenomenon whereby past trauma is the underlying cause of such conditions is MIND-BODY SYNDROME (MBS). This is sometimes referred to as Tension Myostis Syndrome (TMS) and psychophysiologic disorder (PPD).
Once we see our the original source of our anxiety lies in our past, not in the present, this flash of insight alone can drastically reduce our anxious feelings and other associated symptoms.
According to  Schubiner , if we are suffering from MBS we can reduce or eliminate their pain in the following 3 stages:
  1. changing our understanding of our pain
  2. processing the emotions which underpin our pain
  3. taking advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity to alter learned neural pathways by using the power of the mind to create new ones (Schubiner states that this involves a mental process similar to the mental process we undergo when we form new habits.
Based on the ideas presented above, Schubiner has developed the Mind-Body Program to help us unlearn our pain. To visit his site, click here.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

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