Dan Griffin, a Senior Fellow at The Meadows, recently sat down with Dr. Jon Caldwell, Medical Director for Meadows Behavioral Healthcare, for an in-depth conversation about early childhood trauma, attachment, triggers, reactivity and more.
The conversation was featured on Griffin’s new podcast, The Man Rules, in which he talks with guests about the challenges men face in finding success and happiness.
Dr. Caldwell talks at length about the various block and barriers that prevent men from being able to show up in their lives and relationships in the ways they really want to. He says, “We come into the world really dependent on other people for survival. We are social creatures and we are meant to develop in the context of other human beings. And yet we live in a world that is imperfect and our needs don’t always get met. Sometimes we even experience neglect, abuse, and trauma as children.
When this happens we typically have to find ways to survive and we develop certain patterns of behavior that help us. Those survival skills we develop are not necessarily meant to be long-term—they are supposed to be short-term quick fixes to surviving what you’re struggling with in those early childhood years, but we often end up holding on to them for a long, long time and carry them into adulthood. Sometimes, they end up getting in the way of meaningful, lasting relationships and cause a lot of reactivity because we get triggered, based on that old stuff.”
So part of what I like to do is help people deal with those moments when they get triggered out of past experiences that were less than optimal. So that they can connect with other people, they can receive love and offer love to others better and they can accept themselves more wholly and fully. That is the overview of what I hope people will gain from the kind of work that I like doing with people.”
He also talks about the reasons men get “triggered” and how they can choose, moment by moment, to respond and conscious and empathic ways, rather than damaging and reactive ways:
“What happens is that later on in life we might encounter a situation that brings up an old, painful scenario somehow. Maybe we encounter an angry man. Maybe we encounter a woman who is threatening to leave. Maybe we encounter somebody in the workspace who says they are dissatisfied with something that we’ve done. Those kinds of experiences would be challenging for anybody, but if they hit on our early template it can be an experience that goes all the way back to the very reactive, emotional survival parts of our brain and triggers a biological and physiological response pertaining to fight, flight, or freeze.
And when the survival brain gets triggered we have a hard time recognizing that we have options and that we can make choices. Our body is taking over and saying, ‘We’re going to use this old pattern that’s worked in the past. Even though it may not fit right now, this is what we know, so this is what we’re going to do.’
We can get very angry and reactive. We get fearful and want to avoid, numb, check out, or escape. Or we go into a freeze state where we’re disconnected with what’s going on around us. We may look okay on the outside but feel very differently on the inside.
These triggered state takes us out of the present moment and makes us more vulnerable to using an addictive process or a drug or alcohol in order to deal with the reactivity that we’re feeling because it’s a very uncomfortable and we’ll do just about anything to not feel what we’re feeling.”
You can subscribe to The Man Rules podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play or your favorite podcasting app. In addition to hosting the podcast, Dan Griffin also offers a workshop for clinical professionals at The Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows called “A Man’s Way.” The next one is coming up in August.
Dr. Caldwell also hosts a workshop at The Meadows called “Mind & Heart: A Mindful Path to Wholehearted Living.” The next session is in October.
To register for either workshop call 800-244-4949.