Understanding PTSD and Post Traumatic Growth

Show Notes

I always thought you had to be in the military to get PTSD. Clearly, I didn’t understand what trauma really is…
  1. The definition of Trauma
  2. How to break down and understand what is happening during a “traumatic event”
  3. Understanding the difference between trauma and “normal growth”
  4. How trauma can stoke and accelerate the maturation process
  5. What is Post Traumatic Growth?
  6. Can you stoke the process by exposing yourself to “trauma”?
  7. How context affects how you process trauma
  8. The definition of Rumination
  9. The different types of rumination
  10. Understanding how rumination is neither good nor bad, the experience is dictated by the content…
  11. And she hits me with a surprise question that makes me stammer a bit, touche my friend.
Taryn Greene

A conversation with Taryn Greene

Imagine living your life as a ping-pong ball, bouncing from bumper to bumper, life event to life event; as if you’re at the mercy of every watt of stimulation that crosses your path. And when the input goes too high, too fast (and/or for too long), that is what is called a stressor or a traumatic event.

I’ve often wondered about PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I first learned of it in a military context, how it was used to describe the condition of veterans and soldiers coming back from war. My Pepe (maternal grandfather) was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed. He survived but then passed long before I had the chance to talk to him about it, but I heard stories of his psychology as a result.

But PTSD, or trauma, is much more than being exposed to war. I’ve often wondered about the idea of “micro-trauma”; almost getting hit by a car, losing a job, being betrayed by a loved one… anything that causes us to question our reality instantly. How do these events change our lives, how does our behavior change, and our outlook on ideals like trust, family, and hard work? If you’re just as curious as I am, give this episode a chance.

I sit down with my friend Taryn Greene, currently seeking her Ph.D. in Health Psychology from UNC with a focus on Post Traumatic Growth. This is a very candid interview with some surprises.

I hope you enjoy it – Steven

Resources Mentioned

  • In this podcast episode Eckhart Tolle discusses his journey with emotional pain, his journey toward mindfulness, and how to cultivate a practice of “alert attention to what is” (see: how to break ruminative thought cycles)
  • Tedeschi and Moore (2016) have created a workbook for Post Traumatic Growth intervention that can be used as an adjunct to therapy or as a self-help approach.
  • On Being Podcast, Krista Trippet
  • A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle
  • DSM-5, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5

Taryn Greene – Post Traumatic Growth

Steven: [00:00:00] Thank you so much for being on the show, and taking time out of your day. We’re honored to have you here.

Today, we’re going to talk about trauma, as it relates to PTSD, PTG, we’ll get into that, and rumination and all things talking about the stories we tell ourselves over and over, what we obsess over, how we respond to certain events and all things of the mind. So ,thanks for being here.

Taryn Greene: [00:00:28] I’m excited so much for having me, Steven.

Steven: [00:00:30] Yes. So we’re going to start at the beginning and get all the way to the crazy stuff. So, through both, I would say if you want to, today, speak out of your personal side of your mouth, and then maybe I would call it “professional or educated”. Because you are seeking a PhD in psychology. So maybe it’s an interesting place for you to be, almost there…

So that that’s a whole other thing. But to get us started. What is the definition of trauma from an academic perspective and say a lay “everyday” perspective?

Taryn Greene: [00:01:08] That’s such a great question. I’m so glad you asked me that. This is the stuff that I geek out about both professionally and personally. so…

From a psychology perspective. I spent a lot of time in the clinical space and a lot of the psychological publications are influenced from that space. And as probably a lot of your listeners will know that we have this diagnostic manual, the DSM-5. That is the “Holy grail” of here are all the different kinds of mental illnesses that somebody could experience.

And these are the criteria that somebody would need to meet in order to be diagnosed with this. And there is a lot of research about where the cut line should be in terms of how intensely somebody would be experiencing any combination of symptoms. But so the, the particular disorder you’re asking about is post-traumatic stress disorder or, there are also other kind of traumatic disorders that go along with that that are maybe not as severe.

But with that one, there is sort of a cocktail of symptoms that we look for. You have to meet all of these “DSM diagnostic” criteria. You’re seeing a clinician and they can diagnose you based on the symptomology that you presented with. And then we say you had a trauma. If you don’t come in for services and you don’t exhibit these symptoms or have anybody tell you that you meet the threshold for this, maybe you might go along thinking you have PTSD or you might wonder you might not have it. But the reality is that about 90% of individuals can experience potentially traumatic events within their lifetime. And from a post-traumatic growth perspective, we tend to view what qualifies as a trauma as a much more subjective scale. So it isn’t like you have to have this specific type of event and then have these specific types of symptoms.

It’s all about, whether your core cognitive belief system was shattered by something. So. You lost your father, let’s say, and now you are struggling because he was really pivotal in your life and you kind of never imagined a world without him and all of the different implications that that could mean for you.

It can really rearrange and shatter your cognitive schema is around who you are, what your place is in the world and all of that. So from a post-traumatic growth perspective. We use a tool to measure how somebody’s core cognitive beliefs were shattered by any kind of event. And that helps us to see if somebody is quote unquote traumatized by something.

Steven: [00:03:55] Wow. So I’m really glad you led with the example of losing a family member. Speaking for myself, I was always under the impression that only military got PTSD. I feel like that was kind of the beginning of PTSD coming to mainstream because veterans would come back and that’s when you kind of first started hearing about it.

So I always thought, well, you can only get PTSD if you’ve seen war, you know, it has to be an extreme kind of situation to fall into that bucket. But this is exactly what I want to dive into and thank you for, for kind of opening that up for our listener because maybe other people thought the same thing.

Taryn Greene: [00:04:35] Yeah. That’s so interesting that you thought it’s mainly for folks who have seen combat, where did that come from?

Steven: [00:04:42] I think that’s the first time I heard about PTSD was in the context of veterans and military. So I just thought it had to be extreme. You had to see war, death, carnage, that kind of thing.

That’s what I was saying earlier right before we hopped on. I was thinking, well, if something small happens and it, and it changes you in a way, but isn’t that like micro trauma, which I didn’t know if it was a thing or not, but, yeah. I mean, why not? Interesting.

Taryn Greene: [00:05:12] Yeah. So interestingly, the PTSD diagnosis did emerge from studies with veterans, post all the Wars in the 1900’s, you know, different areas.

And so that may be why that’s, it’s been sort of publicized in that space. But you’re right. I, in my mind, I view stress to trauma as a subjective spectrum. So it’s, you know, you can have these, what you call microtraumas or I might refer to those as stressors and honestly, depending on where you are in your life.

The situational context around you, how many other stressors are involved in your life at that time, it might feel traumatic to you in a different way than it would have down the road or previously. And so that’s why we call it very subjective. and we really allow the individual to describe how this experience affected them.

Steven: [00:06:14] So you mentioned that earlier, I’m glad subjective is coming up because you said you, you come in, you tell them what you’re going through, and if they meet a certain threshold, you might say “you have PTSD”, but what if they didn’t describe it correctly? And what if they walk out of there without said, “diagnosis” are they treated differently by you?

Maybe do they not get the care that they may or may not have gotten? How does that work? It’s it’s almost an immeasurable, thing. Is that a fair thing to say?

Taryn Greene: [00:06:46] Yeah, that’s a really interesting point. You bring up because one of the key components of what we’re, we’re talking about, official, like post-traumatic stress disorder is this avoidance behavior, this kind of all these different things you engage in to avoid becoming activated or facing or processing what has happened.

So yeah, oftentimes in a clinical setting and in regular life, we as people, referring back to your previous podcast episode about storytelling. We, as people tell ourselves stories that we are fine and it’s important to us to be fine. And to have others think that we’re fine, and to engage in all kinds of different behaviors that can convince ourselves and others that we’re fine.

Steven: [00:07:31] “FINE”, What is it? Freaked out? Uh, irrational, neurotic and excited. I think that was an Italian job. I was like, wow, that’s perfect.

Taryn Greene: [00:07:44] I’m fine.

Steven: [00:07:45] So we could unpack that, but just before we go too far, that was your excellent academic answer. What do you personally, as a person, personally, as a person, we’re going to edit that.

What is trauma to you as a mother, as a woman, as.

Taryn Greene: [00:08:04] I’m so glad you asked that. What a great question. So personally, I guess I have really come to like the idea of thinking of yourself in, terms of identity. So what identities do I hold? And that became a lot more prevalent for me as I was leaving the active duty military and going through that, what we call the transition of separating from the military and becoming a civilian again.

I really had to do a lot of work in that scenario of about “what is my identity and how much of my identity is my military identity?” And then again, becoming a mother and a wife, particularly a mother, because I think that is not like any other relationship you’ve ever had. You have this new identity where this little person needs you so much, and it’s such a selfless kind of identity.

That can be a lot different than; for me it was a lot different than how I was prior to being a parent. And so I think that losing certain identities for me can feel traumatic and I noticed this in other people personally, when I’m talking a lot of times when I’m talking to others and if I hear like, “Oh, Hey, um, I’m retiring.”

Wow. What a huge loss of an identity for you? I feel like that really could be a trauma.

Steven: [00:09:30] Hmm. So what’s interesting is, is, you know, I looked at your slide show, some of your research. If I may speak for some of our listeners may be, I think what we typically think of as trauma is some kind of explosive violent impact whether psychologically or physically happens to us.

But what it sounds like is at the core of that, it’s when our belief structure is shattered and said, trauma was simply the catalyst that broke that model. Does that sound right?

Taryn Greene: [00:10:08] Yeah, absolutely. So post-traumatic growth is so amazing because it’s this model around trauma that is so much more inclusive and it doesn’t restrict trauma to a clinical setting where people have only had these acute or violent exposures.

It allows for everything you’re describing.

Steven: [00:10:28] Wow. I love that. So kind of going down my questions here. Um,

Taryn Greene: [00:10:36] Can I ask you a question really quickly related to the last one?

Steven: [00:10:40] Of course.

Taryn Greene: [00:10:41] So we had, so I was mentioning identities, the loss of identity, sort of being a trauma. And I know the whole reason you started this podcast is the context of kind of losing the identity of Steven who does not have bipolar.

And so I’m curious to hear from you on how that fits for you as a possible trauma or shattering of core beliefs.

Steven: [00:11:05] Wow.

I was not prepared for this.

Taryn Greene: [00:11:17] You can get back to me.

Steven: [00:11:18] No, I mean, up to I’m up to the challenge. What, um, thank you for, for asking that, um, I found that. The the years where I started to become aware, I would say of the feeling of my medication was kind of a barometer for telling me to consider coming off medication, which had been a long time, goal of mine, uh, under professionals care and doing it the right way and all that. But through that process, I found that looking back, the thing that held me back the most was letting go of this identity, “Steven without bipolar”, it was letting go of the certainty of the image that I knew other people had of me of, knowing that I could walk in a room and “be accepted”, which is a core need for, for any human. Letting go of that package deal that I spent an enormous amount of energy building.

Uh, letting that die. But you know, you’ve heard of ego death when it comes to psychedelics or meditation. It was kind of a combination of ego death and this persona that I built. And then the thing that I noticed with, addressing my identity and the roles I played in all that. A simpler model. Uh, that’s congruent to that is habits.

So people say they want to break bad habits, but it’s not enough to break the bad habit. You have to build a new one too.

You’re the same with you. Can’t let go of an old one as hard as it is until you actually build a new one that supports your new identity. And to cut this short, I would say the podcast was a big splash, you know, I took improv and then started the podcast to just kind of literally break it, break the old role break, the old identity, and then go from there.

So this is about you, but I would say, yeah, I would say that

Taryn Greene: [00:13:21] I love that. I love that you mentioned being able to allow a new identity to emerge sort of the grief work of grieving that identity and then accepting the new, the new world. And that that’s the post-traumatic growth work it’s letting go of whatever was shattered.

And then rebuilding and then accepting this new reality.

Steven: [00:13:47] So to add to that, you said accepting on the third step. For me, I would add acceptance to the first step. You have to accept where you’re at, what you’ve been doing and why you’ve been doing it. Almost admit that well, I’ll speak for myself. I was living a lie.

Taryn Greene: [00:14:04] Yeah.

Steven: [00:14:05] I had to accept that and yeah, there’s a lot, there’s a lot there.

Taryn Greene: [00:14:10] Yeah. That’s a lot of the clinical work that we do around that would be around the regret or the guilt maybe of, you know, feeling as though you’ve lived a lie and that you weren’t being your true, authentic self. And I think it’s sad to me that that work is mostly done in a clinical setting.

I’m sure people are getting to that work outside of the clinical offices and that is so important because, you know, if we beat ourselves up and live kind of having this well, this is how I was, but this is how I am now. And how I was before is not who I am. It’s, you know, it’s not true to who we really are because we do have to integrate who we were before with who we are now. We do kind of have to get to that, like you said, acceptance of that and bring it with us.

Steven: [00:14:59] Yes, grief was a large part of that. In that process, something else that well, Grief is definitely a large part of that and you mentioned in a clinical setting, do you think it takes kind of a, a big, hard hit to get them to that point for some people, because they may not be as introspective, so it takes kind of a cataclysmic event to get them there.

So then they realize, wow, I’ve been living a lie. Wow. I’ve been distracting myself. So everything is fine versus kind of smaller moments or smaller events.

Taryn Greene: [00:15:34] Yeah. So what, what we would describe that as in the psychology world is kind of the difference between post-traumatic growth versus regular growth and interesting.

It’s interesting that in post-traumatic growth, we have these five dimensions that we can quantify. And these are areas that people experienced dramatic transformation. That is something that we do believe that you need this shattering experience of your core beliefs in order to have, a very noticeable transformation like that, which isn’t to say that people don’t experience transformation and growth over time.

They do, and that’s kind of called maturing. And interestingly, also some of the post-traumatic growth outcomes; if you were to say, like I’ve gone through, one of these events that shattered my core beliefs, I’ve engaged in this cognitive and emotional work and I’m experiencing some of these dimensions of transformation.

Then on the other side of that is kind of what we view as wisdom and resilience, which are also products of the normally occurring maturation process in people. So it’s sort of, if you can imagine it kind of these groundbreaking earth shattering events kind of accelerate the process of growth.

Steven: [00:17:01] Excellent segue. So my next question is, does a PTSD diagnosis help or hurt the person? Has it ever made things worse? The idea of a diagnosis, I have this whole hypothesis of how the diagnosis may exacerbate your psychological, uh, perspective of your world. Uh, speaking for myself, I wonder if I was never diagnosed bipolar, would I have not have lived the life of a man with bipolar, trying to deal with bipolar or would have just been emotional episodes that might’ve faded away?

Did I keep it alive? Cause I kept saying I am not bipolar. I need to figure, you know what I mean? Like I, I wonder.

Taryn Greene: [00:17:41] So interesting. I’m going to go back to the story that we tell ourselves piece, right? So, um, a big piece of trauma and of post traumatic growth and getting to maybe if you can kind of think of it as the other side.

Of a traumatic event is to be able to integrate it into your story. And maybe for some people having the post traumatic stress disorder diagnosis can help with that. It could be helpful. You know, what we do in therapy often would be to help somebody understand this is what you’re experiencing. And in the beginning they may be really resistant to that.

It may not fit. They may not see themselves in often trauma survivors don’t see themselves as having a severe reaction. They don’t want to have that be part of their story. And a lot of the work can be helping to convince somebody like, yes, “This is what you’re experiencing.” And once they can accept that it can help normalize it because you can show them there’s all these other individuals too. You’re not the only one. And that can be incredibly validating to know that, Hey, there’s a, there are many other people out there experiencing this. But I also agree with you that it isn’t always necessary. And there are probably other ways that people can come to understanding that they’ve had a trauma without necessarily garnering a diagnosis, especially if they’re very resistant to the idea of having PTSD.

Steven: [00:19:12] Mm. So the part where you said, uh, if they kind of get the label and then tell them there are other people with this label, it kind of helps with acceptance?

Taryn Greene: [00:19:24] Yeah,

Steven: [00:19:24] Did I say that right? So the idea of that, uh, from a, from an academic perspective, what is that mechanism?

Because I have experienced that, uh, both from a mental health perspective and from improv, uh, when you give permission to other people, by just being very strange, very funny, very whatever you are on stage, it gives them. And it’s kind of that inclusion mechanism, whether it’s on stage or it’s a mental health perspective, uh, What is that mechanism?

Why is that so powerful?

Taryn Greene: [00:19:56] Yeah. I think there’s two pieces of that. So one piece that we’re talking about here is kind of normalizing things. So, and often, when you look kind of biologically at what’s happening to somebody, when they have a trauma or, you know, a series of stressors that feel traumatic and they’re having this overactive fear center in their brain, so they’re feeling kind of triggered.

They may not be able to necessarily experienced empathy, they can get kind of isolated and they kind of feel like this is just me. “I’m so weird.” “Like, I don’t know why I’m struggling so hard.” And so normalizing it is really powerful. You know, being able to start laying the groundwork for somebody and say, “Hey, others have had this experience too.”

And your story is so important, but there are others that have similar kind of experiences that can it’s called normalizing and that can just help somebody to feel not alone and to start kind of opening up. The other piece is the, “unconditional positive regard” piece. So this kind of non-judgemental atmosphere that I think improv having listened to your episode on that seems to foster and also therapy rooms, foster that, really good relationships can foster this “Therapeutic Alliance”, this kind of relationship between people where it’s just unconditional acceptance for who you are and what your experience is.

That too is really powerful.

Steven: [00:21:36] Love that. Thank you. so to kind of flip, uh, the model of trauma, stoking growth, maybe in an accelerated fashion, is there a way to, in a positive way, maybe constructive way, maybe conscious way, uh, invoke trauma on oneself to stoke a growth process and is that talked about in your world?

Taryn Greene: [00:22:05] Oh, interesting. So going out and challenging yourself in order to kind of have this experience of growth?

Steven: [00:22:14] Almost like, uh, invoking flow or taking a psychedelic for a spiritual journey. Like how do you, can you kind of in a safe way, air quotes, safe, uh, stoke yourself through an air quotes again, traumatic event.

Mechanically speaking.

Taryn Greene: [00:22:33] Interesting. That is a really interesting question. I’ve never pondered this question. Um, so I guess what I’m thinking is that, so the core belief system that we talked about kind of like, who am I in the world? Um, like what do I expect from other people that really exists in the preconscious mind. It’s not really something that you are pondering day to day, unless you’re engaged in some kind of existential crisis. And so I don’t know that we would necessarily be driven to try to shatter our own core belief system, unless we heard this podcast and then decided to try and figure it out.

But I do think that is kind of the function though, of like we talked about the maturation process. And if you think about it, you know, as a youth coming up into sort of like the university college age, they’re wanting to go out and have new experiences, and then you you have these, there are kind of built-in things in life that can happen in different ways for different people that will just kind of inherently do that.

Maybe getting married, losing a loved one. Living abroad, all these kinds of things that could happen. And I do think there is kind of a generation of these like soul searchers who are, I guess it’s always existed that people are going out and trying to find themselves traveling. And maybe that’s what that is.

Steven: [00:24:10] Mm. Yeah. So what that leads to for me is… For someone who feels stuck and they feel like they’ve “tried everything”, air quotes, tried everything. Maybe this will give them the confidence and maybe a little assurance that there is science behind you going and living abroad. And no, it’s not you being reckless or you being a rebel, maybe instead it’s a positive context of you stoking a way to break your current core beliefs of yourself in that I can’t do anything, right. I’m not made for greatness. All these things go break it, go do something very healthy, uh, but different.

Taryn Greene: [00:24:51] Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting idea. And, you know, I’m passionate about post-traumatic growth getting to be more mainstream.

So a dream that I have is that these, the core belief, the idea of core beliefs would be more widely understood and maybe people would know that earlier on, maybe they would be able to go traveling with this in mind, but I think it’s not well known at this point in the mainstream. And so you’re right people are kind of just embarking on these adventures.

Steven: [00:25:22] Oh, okay. So we’re going to kinda change the channel, from post-traumatic growth and talk about some other things I want to really, leverage your academic experience here. Um, yeah. So in context of this show, trying to lift the stigma, trying to normalize that “It’s okay to not be okay.”… that thought process, something that I’ve been very curious about and have asked you before.

Is that, is there a line, and how do we know what that line is when it comes to making it through a rough patch and seeking professional guidance? I E can we self-diagnose is there a form of safe self-diagnosis uh, and how can our listener learn to understand themselves in a way to where they know, they need to go see someone or they can kind of tough it out and be that Caterpillar that’s breaking through, pain or growth is painful, “it’s just a growth day” versus it’s a day to get help before it gets worse.

Taryn Greene: [00:26:28] I love that. What comes to mind for me is social support, because I feel that social support is really key to kind of staying healthy and, and being able to get to a place of growth. Maybe in a way that’s healthier.

So I guess, let me kind of explain what I’m thinking. If we are going through a phase where we’re very emotionally distressed, maybe we even acknowledged growth is going on, but we’re sort of, you know, we can get into a hole. It can be really hard to, get ourselves out of that hole without somebody else being able to offer a new perspective and kind of back to the last question that you were asking about how somebody goes out and challenges their own belief system.

It’s that new perspective that you get, that is the catalyst for growth. And sometimes if we are so far down the hole, we may not be able to come up with that new perspective on our own. And so I think if somebody finds themselves severely distressed and repetitively thinking and stuck in a, in a thought pattern, especially if it involves any sort of suicidal ideation at that point, I think not necessarily do you have to have clinical support, but you do need social support and you need a mirror.

Somebody who can be a mirror back to you and can offer a different perspective.

Steven: [00:28:06] Very important to delineate. Thank you. There’s. Social support. And did you say medical support, professional support clinical, thank you. Social support, clinical support. I’ve never thought of it that way. It’s very simple. when you put it that way, so, as you were saying, all that, I was visualizing.

Walking into a cave and the deeper you go, the darker it gets. And when you try to put your hand in front of your face, you can kind of see it until it becomes a shadow until it becomes a figure and then it, then it goes away. So what I’m describing is contrast if you’re so far down the cave that you can’t see your hand, it’s so dark, you have no contrast to compare yourself to a good day because you’re so deep.

So maybe when you don’t have contrast is, is. When you need to seek some social support to get that alternate perspective, like you said, so you can Reset and come a little further out.

Taryn Greene: [00:29:06] That can be when it’s the most difficult to reach out. Right. Because at that point…

Steven: [00:29:11] “I don’t want to be a burden”, and all that

Taryn Greene: [00:29:13] Right. And, and, um, motivation can be really low, at that point it can be just really hard.

So I think we have to work on our social support systems also when we’re feeling well. You know, we, we don’t, it can be good not to just reach out when we’re struggling, but to also just try to build strong support systems around ourselves, even when we’re doing well, so that people will check in. I see you posting about that sometimes check in on your friends, the strong ones.

So you need to have that around you so that people will check in.

Steven: [00:29:46] Yes. I remember a long time ago. I was on the phone with my mom and. And I was quite manic, talking a lot. But I remember saying, when I have all this energy, I’ve gone through this cycle enough, so maybe some people haven’t gone through the cycle enough.

Maybe they’ve hit a, just a very deep, low for an extended period of time. Again, they have no contrast, but for me, because there were so many cycles, I was like, wow, I’ve been here before. It occurred to me, not consciously, that when you have this energy, when you have an overabundance of energy, I found myself building upon my castle so that the castle was ready when I went to war or so that when I dipped so that when I didn’t have the energy or the resources, it was already built, you know…

Taryn Greene: [00:30:31] that’s incredible.

Steven: [00:30:34] It just, it only happened because it happened so many times, you know, it’s like getting hit in the face over and over.

Maybe next time, if you get anyone who’s listening, who may not have had multiple cycles, when you feel better, put a lot of energy towards like Taryn said, building that support system, whether it’s socially, whether it’s healthy habits, whether it’s your environment, all those things.

Taryn Greene: [00:30:55] Absolutely. And I love that you acknowledged that, that it’s so important.

People can have very different journeys and be in very different places with this. Some people, may have never had a trauma and then they have one and it’s just going to feel like complete out of body experience. You wouldn’t even know to reach out for help, or in the context of other mental illnesses.

Maybe it’s, it could be something that just hits you that emerges, or it could be something that you’re struggling with for, for many years and could feel almost familiar.

Steven: [00:31:28] That reminds me, I always bring up cigarettes. So cigarettes are so subtle. It takes them 40, 50 years to kill you. So every day, like you said, it just seems normal.

Right. And that can happen with feelings and psychological issues as well. If it’s so subtle over time, like you said, you just kind of normalize that. That’s scary.

So another big topic we’re gonna kind of shift again. Big part of your research that relates to the past episode of story is rumination.

And I want to look at this from all sides.

From a academic and personal perspective, what is the definition of rumination?

Taryn Greene: [00:32:09] Okay. Yeah. So, rumination is part of a larger construct, really called “repetitive thinking”. Rumination has kind of emerged from the clinical literatures on depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.

So it’s a lot of times associated with those kinds of mental illnesses or problems. Right? So we think about ruminating as a type of repetitive thinking where we are, stuck kind of having the same thoughts over and over. There are different types associated with the different kinds of disorders.

But what I want to emphasize is that there’s also a whole spectrum of repetitive thinking outside of rumination. So. We consider also, daydreaming can be a type of repetitive thinking. Meditation could be a type of repetitive thinking. Problem solving can be a type of repetitive thinking. When you get down to it, there are different dimensions to how somebody thinks and the different dimensions of how you’re thinking and what you’re thinking about, can be construed as these different styles of repetitive thinking. And the truth is we all engage in all different kinds of repetitive thinking. And it’s really a spectrum of normal thought where you’re not thinking repetitively about any one thing to, Hey, now I’m thinking repetitively.

Steven: [00:33:47] Is there a way to measure that?

Taryn Greene: [00:33:49] There sure is.

There are lots of ways. So with rumination in particular, that’s where my area of expertise is, and we measure both positive and negative forms of rumination in the, in the depression literature, we can measure how somebody is brooding or being repetitively stuck comparing themselves against some unachieved standard. In depressive literature we can measure how someone’s reflecting. So maybe they’re starting to reflect back deliberately on, their mood and their life. And that can be more productive. In the traumatic literature, we study intrusive ruminations that often happen after a traumatic event where you’re just, you’re thinking about it and you don’t want to, we can measure that.

And we can also measure deliberate rumination, which is a lot like mindfulness, where you’re deliberately thinking back on what happened and trying to make meaning there’s also measures of mindfulness and meditation and all kinds of other things.

Steven: [00:34:47] I love that. So it reminds me of either; losing a job or coming out of a relationship, especially in my twenties, when we’re less emotionally prepared, emotionally matured, we have less resources.

And it also makes me think of the habit model. You can’t just break a bad habit. You have to build new ones. And I remember thinking either obsessing over the idea of what could I have done different to create a different outcome over and over and over. I found myself sitting there just saying, I wish I could just stop thinking about this, but that doesn’t work.

You have to think of something new to think about or to kind of fill that. So question for you a two-part is there a way to clinically or otherwise interrupt a rumination cycle, whether it’s good or bad and secondly, how can someone do it for themselves, and how do they know when to do that?

Taryn Greene: [00:35:43] Great questions. Okay. So as far as being able to interrupt your own ruminations and your own repetitive thought processes, you were right. That there is, like you said, the emotional component. And interestingly, that is often very related to whether we are ruminating and what style of rumination or repetitive thinking we’re engaged in.

So obviously if you’re heightened and activated emotionally, you may be getting more easily stuck into some of the negative or what we would say, unconstructive styles of ruminating. And so one of the things that people can do is to work on grounding and breathing and trying to, Dampen the physiological arousal that happens with heightened emotions.

So we do so yoga is a great kind of intervention for that. So doing breath, work, slowing things down, engaging your body and something else to try and get outside of your mind and quiet those emotions down that can create some space where you can start to think about your thinking.

Steven: [00:36:57] I love thinking about thinking, wait, I feel like side note, I feel like thinking about thinking can become a ruminating,

Taryn Greene: [00:37:04] Totally

Steven: [00:37:05] …thought.

So maybe. Maybe rumination isn’t necessarily good or bad. It’s just what it is. Rumination is the mechanical process. It’s what’s in that process that makes the difference, is that fair to say?

Taryn Greene: [00:37:22] Yes? And different styles of rumination may happen because of different circumstances. So I think earlier you were describing some repetitive thinking, it sounded like depressive kind of thinking, right?

Like, perhaps your mood was, Low. And you’re thinking about, how you feel that you haven’t achieved this or that you’re disappointed in yourself. That’s a fundamentally different style of ruminating than what would happen after say a trauma where you’re having intrusive ruminations and it’s important to note that depending on the person and what they’re experiencing, sometimes the unconstructive ruminations are kind of necessary.

So after a trauma, you’re going to have intrusive ruminations. That’s going to happen to you. It is part of the process and actually more intrusive ruminations tends to be associated with more deliberate ruminations that happen because of this emotional upheaval.

You now are thinking about your thinking and, the question that you asked about how can we intervene either within ourselves or have a clinician help us to intervene with that? That’s a great question. And what that points to what the literature points to is, acceptance based therapies and mindfulness based therapies.

So where we kind of help individuals to start to accept the thinking, accept the thoughts, not be disappointed in yourself for having this kind of style of repetitive thinking, understand where it’s coming from, start to accept it and then start to be able to unpack it and analyze it and look at the content of it and understand what’s, what am I thinking about and how is it serving me? And. Ultimately getting this sense of control that perhaps I can start inserting my own narrative there. Maybe I can influence my own thoughts.

Steven: [00:39:25] I absolutely love that. That that is giving credence to the idea that pain is necessary. Sadness is necessary.

All emotions are necessary. They’re there for a reason. I want to get away from, it’s not that it’s not okay to not be okay. I want to get, I ran away from depression. I ran away from sadness, all “negative feelings” for so long. What’s really neat about the way you described that is it’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to.

It’s causing you to question your own model. Obviously the model wasn’t working, that’s why you went through that situation to begin with. So it’s forcing you to question that and reshape and rebuild in that, is growth. So the more we accept it, you already said it that self-acceptance let the process happen.

Embrace the suck, embrace the shit. Embrace the crap. And through that. It’ll that’s awesome.

Taryn Greene: [00:40:19] Yeah. Key piece of that is that we have to learn how to recognize our emotions and allow them. And that is not something that our parents are had taught us, not in our generation. You know, so that’s, that’s, it’s a hard thing to do.

It’s a hard thing to learn this when you’re an adult and you’ve already got all these habits. But when you, when you can start to recognize, like this is anger and it is ugly and I feel it, and I don’t like it. And instead of turning away and trying to minimize it, sit with it. And say, what is this telling me, like, do I need to make a change?

Is there something that I can do to kind of change the situation for myself? So I don’t have to experience this or do I just need to be here for a bit

Steven: [00:41:09] …and then caution, comment and question. there is a fine line between embracing and loathing. So, have you ever talked to anyone about that in your world?

Taryn Greene: [00:41:23] No. Tell me more.

Steven: [00:41:24] So let’s say you get out of a relationship. It didn’t end well, and you are grieving. You’re ruminating. What could I have done different all those things, but then. That keeps you, you know, let’s say you’re sitting around the house, watching movies all day. You’re grieving. You’re licking your wounds.

You’re feeling bad for yourself, but that can get very, very comfortable. I have this whole idea that depression is safe. It’s comfortable, it’s predictable. And sometimes you don’t want to leave. Cause it’s very cozy under those blankets and you know exactly what’s going to happen. Day after day. So where is the line, whether you say this to someone academically or through your social support, uh, how can someone identify the difference between grieving and loathing, kind of soaking in it?

Taryn Greene: [00:42:17] Yeah, that reminds me of the question that you were asking about. How do you know when you should reach out for help and like actually try to make change or how do you know when it’s okay, to just keep going along in this. That’s a great question for me that comes back to the narrative, like the story work, which I think also has allowed to do with your core beliefs.

So core beliefs also have this sense to them of what do I want to aspire to in the future? What, what do I expect out of my future? And I think depending on the person that can look very different. So maybe if somebody isn’t having a lot of future aspirations, it might feel okay to sit around and have this experience that you’re describing and it might take somebody else as that mirror to notice their potential, notice their strengths and help them see themselves in a more broad context. This is, you know, maybe this is something that would, for you as a future, you where you might feel more meaning in your life. But I think that can be really hard for somebody to hear.

And so I would say then, on the flip side of the coin, somebody who might have a lot of future aspirations and be very, driven and, and that core belief would be really strong for them about what they need to achieve. They may struggle with staying with that emotion, on the opposite side of the, coin.

And that may also, that could affect. I guess it’s all part of that narrative, like, so where do you see yourself going and how are you going to get there? And as this kind of, you’re staying with this emotion, is it helping you get there or not?

Steven: [00:44:04] So on that, on the flip side, the lab, the mist, they might say, but I’m destined for greatness. I don’t have time to sit around here and process this and feel like crap. I got things to do. Right. But they may have under processed and carry that with them a little longer than the other side of that coin…

Taryn Greene: [00:44:21] right

yeah. So, I was hoping you’d bring up something like that. So, cause I think it’s really interesting.

One of the most interesting things that I learned in my clinical training was about the vicious cycles that we create for ourselves. Sounds really harsh, but like we all do it, everyone creates vicious cycles for themselves. And like you said, unprocessed baggage is where that comes from. So you go out in the world and you create your experience, the kind of energy you put out in the way that you behave.

It encourages your environmental factors to reflect that back to you. If you’re, if you go to the grocery store and you are frowning and being rude, you’re not going to have the same experience as somebody going out and, maybe spreading positivity. So I think that. Well, if we don’t do the work to uncover, what is the vicious cycle?

Where did it come from and why am I engaging in it? Then, yeah, we can continue to have just carry the baggage around and not even know it.

Steven: [00:45:19] Mm, thank you. And the other comment I was thinking when we talked about the individual who may stay in it for too long, a little reminder for any listener who was like, I was, you can’t do it alone.

Because you can easily slip away Taryn, you keep mentioning mirrors or it takes someone to be the mirror or someone to give you contrast again, if you go too far down that cave and it gets real dark and you can’t see your hand, you don’t know that you’re lost. Cause there’s, there’s no nothing to compare it to.

So you can’t do it alone. Uh, you, you will get lost.

Taryn Greene: [00:45:54] Yeah. Yeah. So it’s really important. Emotions, give us a lot of information about what’s going on within ourselves and other people give us a lot of information about what’s going on within ourselves.

Steven: [00:46:08] Um, well, we’re gonna start to wrap up. I have two more questions.

One is, um, both academically and non, so maybe some dense literature in some non, do you have any resources that come to mind that have shaped you, inspired you, that you think our listener might appreciate from this episode?

Taryn Greene: [00:46:31] Absolutely. So I’m a huge fan of the podcast On being with Krista Tippett that, it really is like a spiritual existential podcast and obviously spiritual existential work is very much a part of the post-traumatic growth work.

There are a couple of episodes from a few years ago, I think in 2017, but there’s one with Eckhart Tolle was a huge turning point for me when I heard that and I listened to it habitually now, just to check in with myself. When you find something like that, that speaks to you, I would recommend that could be a way to, um, even if you don’t have the social network, You know that listening to this podcast, for example, helps you to like turn your brain into a different space.

You can save that and hold that and that’s what I, use that podcast with Eckhart Tolle for. But she has some really amazing ones with Mary Oliver, Bessel van der Kolk, who is a trauma psychiatrist and talks at length about, the effects of trauma on the brain, body, and mind. And then, Also just to put it out there, there is a post-traumatic growth workbook that my colleagues here at UNC Charlotte published, and that is a self-help workbook.

So you can always get that workbook and work through it and hopefully find a little bit more out about your own process.

Steven: [00:47:57] I love that. Thank you. And all those will be included in the show notes.

Taryn Greene: [00:48:03] Okay. Great.

Steven: [00:48:04] Uh, so in closing, this was wonderful. Is there anything you would like to put out in the universe?

Taryn Greene: [00:48:12] Wow. Um, I just think that it’s important to be super vulnerable with yourself and others. When you feel safe, it’s also okay if you’re not at that place. But, it seems like vulnerability is a catalyst for growth. So if that was, you know, one of the questions that kept coming up in your interview, it seemed like, I would say just for everybody listening, try to be vulnerable, try to be honest with yourself and with others and, forget the facade because the real work is underneath it’s within us and if we can listen in, listen to ourselves, there’s a lot of information that’s trying to emerge.

Beautiful. Thank you, Tara. And love you.

Yeah, you too, Steven. Thanks. .

Connect with Guests & Host

Taryn Greene

Taryn Greene

Doctoral Candidate, Health Psychology, UNC, May 2021

Taryn is a former Air Force Officer and Combat Veteran. A passionate mental health advocate, she used her own journey with posttraumatic stress and posttraumatic growth to fuel a dramatic career shift towards becoming a Psychologist. She is currently a Doctoral Candidate at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where she focuses on Posttraumatic Growth and Resilience interventions.

Steven Fage host

Steven Fage

Producer & Host

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