Mental

Pathway
Curated for Inaura by: Laura Gevanter | Felicia Gualda | Sean Merrick

Humanity has a long history of exploring the mind. It is a fascinating study that continues to evolve and offers many new insights into human behavior. In the modern-day, we find that new doorways open to deeper relationships and trust with the Self as we better understand the mind.

The mind can be viewed as an intelligent and living operating system—it perceives information and behavior from the environment, determines the optimal response, generates a program to interact with all similar stimuli, then records and stores that program for future use. Although this is generally beneficial, these programs often get stuck repeating over and over again. They become default settings that once served a valuable purpose but no longer take in new information from the environment to generate new experiences. This is basically a fancy way of saying that our early childhood experiences shape our personality, thoughts, and beliefs, which greatly impact our present-day behaviors, relationships, and circumstances. Fortunately, it is never too late to shift out of these outdated programs and into lasting well-being. 

We’ll cover three components that offer a comprehensive understanding of the mind’s survival function and how we can use this information to our advantage—the impact of trauma, the subconscious mind, and the many parts of the Self. First, trauma is pervasive. It is a phenomenon that has revealed protective personas that have become quite normalized in modern culture. This leads us to discussions on the subconscious mind, how limiting beliefs are formed and stored, and how to reprogram those beliefs. Lastly, we’ll look at how our sense of identity can get trapped in a limited part of ourselves, cut off from the experience of connection, and how to return to a state of balance.

The more we become aware of the inner workings of our own minds, the greater opportunity we have to liberate ourselves from repeated experiences of suffering and generate fulfilling and desired life experiences.

 

Personality as Adaptation to Trauma

Trauma has largely been identified as excessive physical abuse, sexual violation, and extreme emotional abuse, along with severe neglect or exposure to life-threatening events. Steven Kessler, long-time psychotherapist and author of The 5 Personality Patterns, describes this stereotypical trauma as “shock trauma.” In contrast, Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., trauma researcher and author of Psychological Trauma, endorses a more complex version of trauma called “developmental trauma.” Developmental trauma develops from adverse experiences early in life (e.g., broken homes, gaslighting, bullying, going unnoticed, family violence, abandonment, exposure to addiction, routinely criticized or yelled at, elevated expectations, or only noticed for mistakes or achievements) for which children lack adequate neurological and emotional aptitude to properly regulate negative arousal.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) suggests that trauma is shaped by emotional overwhelm and confusion felt during adverse experiences.  George J. Augustine, Ph.D. et al., in their textbook Neuroscience 3rd Edition, found that trauma cultivates sophisticated yet maladaptive defense mechanisms.  The primal brain overtly manipulates the rational brain into creating conditioned thoughts and behaviors carried out throughout life.The latest research reveals that overwhelm and confusion can create subconscious coping mechanisms that alter our current perceptions to protect the ego during negative arousal.  Within the past ten years, SAMHSA’s Trauma-Informed Care Model emphasizes that trauma can negatively impact self-trust and self-will. 

Dr. Gabor Maté, a trauma-informed physician and author, submits that our true self is lost within a jumble of adopted coping mechanisms formed by trauma. Kessler says that our personality is in fact-conditioned patterns that create behaviors due to trauma. And Stephen M. Johnson, Ph.D., psychologist, and author of Character Styles, asserts that our behaviors result from early life distress, creating lifelong internal conflicts exhibited as character traits.

As a psychotherapist, I have held space for many severe trauma stories.  More often, however, I hear trauma hidden within the narrative, “I had a normal childhood.  These clinical experiences, and my studies into trauma, have led me to consider that we are more directed by embedded, unconscious trauma patterns than conscious thoughts and behaviors.  Identifiable mannerisms, uncovered within layers of client’s processing, have allowed me to craft what I call “trauma personas.” Each persona reveals the originating wound, unique traits that highlight faulty coping mechanisms, discloses trauma patterns, and exposes our self-critic.  Below are the personas that present most often.

  1.   Idealized Persona: The wound often comes from an imposed objective to be ideal.  The convincing inner critic will “shouldall over themselves and others (one should do this or should not do that), thereby doing what was done to them. The inner critic relentlessly surveys for faults in themselves, others, and situations.  They find it easier to express external experiences rather than finding internal meaning.  Their feelings are under control and allowed if internally accepted.  They are driven by external chores rather than internal connections with the Self.  To avoid errors and soothe underlying anxiety, they resist change, stay organized, control situations for predictability, and find pride in being correct. Unfortunately, however, everything tends to be a problem for the idealized persona, they have restless mind chatter, and they often avoid physical contact with outsiders.  Trauma pattern: lacks self-trust and fears loss of control.
  1.   Pleaser Persona: The wound often comes from experiencing that others’ needs are more important.  The inner critic pushes them to put the needs of others before their own.  They assess the environment to make sure everyone is okay, hoping for a sense of connection and worthiness.  To avoid feelings and emotions, they often acclimate, pacify, or even manipulate.  They identify as a nurturer or victim; some vacillate between both.  They are prone to allergies, asthma, and autoimmunity.  Their only option to recharge is to get sick, which provides an escape from caring for others.  To avoid disgrace and soothe internal scarcity, they emphasize empathy, have difficulty saying no, lack autonomy, engage erratically in self-care, and often indulge in addictions/dependencies.  Trauma pattern: lacks independence and fears loss of connection.
  1.   Immovable Persona: The wound often comes from squashed self-expressions.  The inner critic diminishes capabilities, deters pride, and reinforces retreat.  To foster confidence, they resist others’ recommendations and stay determined in their views.  Passive-aggressively, they downplay involvement with collaborative decisions or decisions that affect others.  To avoid disappointment, they evade achievement.  To protect themselves, they tend to remain secretive.  They are an anchor in a storm yet suffer brain fog.  Change is very formidable.  To avoid dishonor and soothe underlying self-remorse, they have difficulty identifying feelings and often self-sabotage to defeat themselves, which eludes disgrace, and they often carry martyr-like burdens.  Trauma pattern: oppose growth and fears humiliation, reprimand, and intrusion.
  1.   Betrayed Persona: The wound often comes from encounters of feeling unimportant.  The scorned inner critic projects significance by externally expressing competence.  They tend to overly assert their drive and strength.  Domination and control allow them to feel important.  Over-defensiveness is a result of exhausting vigilance.  They become the helper to be branded a savior.  To reinforce unimportance, their needs can be lofty and difficult to meet.  They may participate in intense healthy habits or intense unhealthy habits.  They can lack sympathy.  To avoid being deceived and soothe internal irrelevance, they often mask themselves behind charisma and superiority, command presence to look bigger than they are, only find value in proficiency, and habitually treat others as things, not beings.  Trauma pattern: lacks self-love and fears vulnerability.
  2.   Fractured Persona: The wound comes from significant abuse, neglect, or life-threatening events.  The inner critic is buried in self-hatred and uselessness.  They are often on edge and have trouble being grounded.  Emotions and feelings are very difficult to detect.  They have trouble relating to their body.  There is a high risk for addiction or dependence.  Boundaries are problematic.  Topics can be spontaneous, and they easily lose track of time.  They tend to be innovative and artistic.  They are usually socially avoidant to avoid stress.  They are hypervigilant and ready to escape.  To avoid threat or manage overwhelm and confusion, they forgo sleep, perceive others’ feelings to gauge safety, engage in self-harm, and display dissociation. Trauma pattern: self-loathing and fears physical and emotional openness.

 

Understanding the probability of trauma, Dr. Katie A McLaughlin, of Harvard University Department of Psychology, stresses an upsetting fact.  Most U.S. children and adolescents experience a trauma(s) that damages emotional maturity and self-identity in adulthood. Kessler, Johnson, Maté, and van der Kolk all agree that trauma exposure impedes key developmental skills and produces flawed coping mechanisms that are too often misperceived as our persona.  Identifying trauma patterns helps unveil the unhealthy parts of our psyche and self-critic that maintain internal suffering, create negative patterns, and interfere with a healthy connection with ourselves.

 

The Subconscious Mind––How our beliefs shape reality  

Imagine this. You are a 30-year-old adult who has a 7-year-old child making your life’s decisions.  To clarify, this 7-year-old has lots of information but very little experience, yet they are making decisions about their relationships, career choices, finances, and even where to live.  Sounds scary, right? Well, it has been determined that your personality is fully formed by the time you are about 7-years-old. Up until that time, you are in the theta brain state, which is similar to being in a meditative, receptive mode where your brain is recording all sensory experiences and learning complex motor programs for speech, crawling, standing, etc.

 That period is the most influential perceptual programming of the subconscious mind. At the same time, this child is downloading massive amounts of information about the world, how it works, and making decisions, which form their beliefs. They observe behavioral patterns of people in their immediate environment (e.g., parents, siblings, etc.) and learn to distinguish acceptable and unacceptable social behaviors.  The decisions and beliefs at this time become the fundamental subconscious programs that shape the character of a person’s life. The fears and perceptions of that child play out throughout your life unless you question and shift those beliefs to ones that serve your life now. For example, consider the negative comments many people have repeatedly heard and internalized as a child. These statements are implanted into the subconscious and become the driving force behind their actions and beliefs, such as “you’re not good or smart enough” or “you’ll never amount to anything.”

If someone struggles with not feeling worthy or deserving of success, no matter how hard they work at something, if their underlying belief (and thus their energetic vibration) is that they are not worthy, they will unconsciously create obstacles or even self-sabotage to prevent them from having it.

 Understandably, many think the subconscious mind is a dark place that you aren’t supposed to look at because of what you may find, such as past repressed traumas or unmet childhood needs that keep playing out as an adult. People also associate the subconscious with the Freudian slip, some “truth” that gets blurted out as a mistake revealing something hidden. It’s easy to see why the subconscious gets a bad rap. However, the subconscious is not only doing its job faithfully, but it can also be your best friend.

The subconscious mind functions like a computer and records everything that you have experienced in your life. Its primary role is to keep you alive as it controls all the automatic functioning of the body, such as muscle control, breathing, etc. Scientific research has shown that our subconscious mind automatically operates at least 95% of our life without our awareness of it. The subconscious mind is like a warehouse of limiting beliefs and old outdated “programs” that may no longer be true for you.

A test to see your beliefs around a particular area in your life is to look at the physical evidence in your present situation. If you are happy with how things are showing up, your beliefs align with what you desire, but if an area of your life causes struggles and challenges, examine the beliefs you have about it. Once you change your beliefs, the results will change.

 

How and why does trauma get stored in our subconscious mind?

A life experience often triggers a dominance of one hemisphere of the brain over the other when responding to specific situations. The more emotionally charged an experience (usually traumatic), the more likely it will be stored for future reference. Moreover, the more likely we will automatically over-identify with only one hemisphere when faced with similar life experiences in the future. Therefore, not having the benefit of access to the attributes of each hemisphere. 

One way to change the perception of past traumatic events and stress triggers is by getting into what is called a whole-brain state*, which is a state of coherency in the brain created by a bilateral, symmetrical brain wave pattern allowing for maximum communication and the exchange of data between the left and right hemispheres.  A great deal of research has been conducted on what is called “brain dominance theory” or split-brain research. Each hemisphere of the cerebral cortex specializes in and presides over different functions, processes different kinds of information, and deals with different kinds of problems. It varies which part of the brain is dominant at a specific time.

Achieving a balance within both hemispheres of the brain in the whole-brain state regarding past trauma experiences enables someone to achieve a new perspective of their past. This new perspective can free them from the habitual perspective held in the subconscious, making a past traumatic experience into a current nightmare. By re-perceiving a past traumatic experience with new whole-brain filters, a person can be freed from the automatic response of past perceptions that limit their happiness and wellbeing. The whole-brain state also can be used as a quick and effective way to change self-limiting subconscious beliefs.

 

How beliefs affect the subconscious

Beliefs are like filters on a camera. What the camera “sees” is a function of the filters through which it views its subject. Through our beliefs, we define ourselves as worthy or unworthy, competent or incompetent, trusting or suspicious, loved or unloved, etc.

Our brains filter incoming information through a bundle of nerves at the base of our skull called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). One of its several functions is the ability to filter out data. The RAS acts as a gatekeeper deciding what information gets into your brain and subconscious and what information and experiences are kept out.  It looks for situations that will validate and prove your beliefs, and it filters out those that don’t. Because there is so much data coming at us being picked up by all our senses, the brain can only process so much at once, so it relies on the RAS to only allow certain important information to come through. It knows what to let in from beliefs/thoughts you have stated over and over again or what you expect to see. Your RAS will give you evidence to support what these are.

 

How do we reprogram the subconscious? 

There are different modalities that one can use to reprogram the subconscious or change the perception of past events. First, there are affirmations, which are empowering statements that you repeatedly say to form new neural pathways. Visualization is also a very powerful technique, as the mind cannot distinguish between something which is real and what is imagined.  A modality that I use with clients that is extremely effective and fast is something called PSYCH-K. It stands for “key to the psyche” and is a way to communicate directly with the subconscious mind to replace limiting beliefs with those that support and empower you and transform past trauma and stress triggers. It utilizes muscle testing and the whole-brain state referenced above. There are also other methods such as EMDR, brainspotting, and hypnosis. You can also challenge beliefs that have been “given” to you to see if they are actually true and then choose to adopt more empowering ones. This process takes dedication and daily affirmations to rewrite these old programs.

Once you understand how the subconscious mind works, it can be extremely freeing as you change any subconscious programming and shift the perception of past trauma by using modalities that directly address the subconscious to uncover what’s been programmed and then give it new information.

* https://psych-k.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/FanninWilliams.CQ-copy.pdf

 

Discovering the many parts of Self

What are parts?

The idea of “parts” was popularized by a family therapist, Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., the creator of the Internal Family Systems model. He witnessed an intriguing pattern in the narratives and behaviors of his clients, who would consistently refer to “parts” of themselves taking over and inhibiting their capacity to prevent unwanted behavior. In response, other “parts” would emerge who felt guilt, anger, grief, sadness, etc. It seemed that each part held a unique worldview, complete with their own personality, beliefs, and varying needs. Yet, they each seemed to play an important (albeit somewhat outdated) role in support of the being as a whole.

We are often unaware of the existence of our own parts when we’re not consciously looking for them. To put it into everyday context, suppose you are on the phone having a heated argument with a family member. Then your coworker calls you on the other line and, within a split second, your anger is muted, and you are immediately able to switch into the most professional and well-behaved version of yourself. It is a shift from one part monopolizing the control seat of the body/mind to another, each playing out their roles.  

 

Image showing an example of a “part.”

 

We have the ability to instantly configure into the part that our body/mind system deems most appropriate for the situation based on the collective experiences of our past. 

Our sense of identity can fuse with these parts, running the show of our lives unbeknownst to us, recreating the same painful experiences, dressed up in different settings with different faces. It is because we are looking out at the world through the eyes of parts rather than looking at the parts and how they came to be.

 

How parts came to be

Suppose a developmental need goes unacknowledged or neglected in childhood (e.g., to be nourished, feel a secure connection, be delighted in, seen for who we are and not what we do, etc.). In that case, the body will experience it as a traumatic event. A rupture occurs in that phase of development. The child’s sense of identity can fracture into parts, most commonly a protective part and a vulnerable part. This can also occur from a single traumatic event. The child’s developing nervous system has a limit as to how much emotional charge it can metabolize by itself, so when an experience is overwhelming, the creation of parts is an ingenious mechanism for survival. It is a mechanism to prevent the system from overloading by distracting (protector) from the discomfort of unresolved emotional pain (vulnerability).

Protector parts will intuitively strategize ways to avoid or prevent the vulnerable parts from taking over entirely because, in their reality, allowing the vulnerability to fully surface is unknown territory and could mean death. If you often find yourself caught in negative thought loops, you are in a protector part that would rather you stay in your mind thinking than in your body feeling. It is trying its best to help you. It doesn’t realize that the body has grown up and has a fully functioning nervous system with the capacity to safely feel, witness, and process the trauma held within the vulnerable part. 

Parts limit our ability to take in the full scope of reality in the present day, like seeing the world through blinders. They are quite literally stuck in time, unaware that overwhelm is no longer the survival threat it once was. Parts are one of the reasons why two people can experience the same event and have two completely different reactions.

Our parts will look for evidence to reinforce their worldview to ensure our survival, which they will prioritize over our well-being.

A part may also be referred to as an inner-child. It has a child’s consciousness, at the age it was created, with the operating system of an adult human body and all its functions at its disposal. You may also hear the term “shadow” used to describe parts we are unconscious of or have repressed. Inner child, shadow work, and parts work are processes of becoming aware of parts, holding them with kindness, understanding their world, allowing them to express, and meeting their needs. 

 

Getting unstuck

How do we transition out of parts and into a more expansive and fulfilling reality? In the simplest terms, we offer them presence and compassion while getting to know their world until they feel safe enough to relax and metabolize the emotions they hold.

Parts formed for a reason––they are intelligent creations fulfilling their duty of escorting your whole human Self to this present moment despite how bumpy the road may have been.  They are waiting to be understood with kindness and respect for their courageous service. In fact, they will settle for nothing less.

Parts are often misunderstood. If we condemn ourselves for the aspects we don’t like, demand that those parts change (even if they are wreaking havoc in our lives), or accuse them of being wrong or try to fix them, they will strengthen. Protectors will only stand down when they feel safe, which often reveals a wave of emotion releasing from a vulnerable part.

Parts need the felt sense of safety to begin their unburdening process — meaning they need the body to register safety.

If we are fully merged with a vulnerable part, operating with the belief that these painful emotions will never change, we are stuck in the past. The remedy is an experience of safety, particularly in connection with another human being who can offer attuned presence (practitioner, healer, guide, etc.). 

Parts may also require different qualities of presence. For example, one part might need to be met with the energy of patience and groundedness, while another part might need soothing and warmth. Basically, our parts need to receive the energetic experience they missed in childhood (i.e., new evidence that something different is occurring this time), which updates the system and lets it know there is no longer an imminent threat. It unlocks the part from the past by allowing it to become aware of the present reality, giving it the space it needs to feel and resolve the vulnerable emotions safely.

We can then rest into our natural state of well-being and live in alignment with our true nature. We become available for our internal guidance system to generate life experience from inspired action sourced from an already present state of wellness, belonging, and overflowing abundance. It is a landscape ruled by love, the unobscured view of reality where fear cannot abide. We become intimately connected with life, deeply supported, harmoniously co-creating experience in each unfolding moment. 

As we have seen in examining the topics of trauma, the subconscious and parts of our minds are a complex, dynamic and integral part of defining who we are. Beneath our level of awareness, the mind constantly evaluates information, decides what to allow into our consciousness, and determines appropriate reactive responses to experiences and our environment. While it’s only doing its job, many times due to experiences and programmed beliefs, it does not serve what we desire the outer expression of our lives to look like. Thankfully, due to a tremendous amount of research and study, there are modalities that can shift and transform long-term patterns and trauma into past experiences and lessen their impact on our present, and help us redefine our future. 

Curated By
Laura Gevanter

I am an energy alignment coach and PSYCH-K facilitator. This combination yields fast and long-lasting results as we are communicating directly with the subconscious mind and are able to shift the perception of past trauma and stress triggers as well as release limiting beliefs by imprinting new empowering ones into the subconscious mind. I believe everyone has the answers within them and just need the proper guide or facilitator to help them see.

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Felicia Gualda

I’m Felicia, an Energetic Alignment Guide, here to support you into your heart intelligence, the place where embodied human being meets awakened soul wisdom. We activate your internal guidance system to lead you into sustainable well-being, meeting challenges with ease & generating fulfilling life experiences through inspired action. I use several modalities and unique quantum-field tools to guide you into alignment with your optimal life, from somatic attachment repair to energy medicine.

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Sean Merrick

A New Paradigm In Total Well-Being - Educated by mavericks in the field of Integrative Psychology & Holistic Medicines, I focus on Mind-Body-Spirit healing by utilizing depth psychotherapy, within a trauma-informed model, that sparks Life-Force. While including conjoint functional medicine interventions and spiritual insights.

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