Catriona designed this map as a way of showing the mental health journey all of us go on, in order to work out why people struggle with certain things and where it comes from. It shows how all our life experiences are linked together, how one affects the other and how each one can effect your mental health. When you can understand your own journey, and why you might struggle with certain things or have certain behaviours, you can have compassion and acceptance for yourself. From that place, real change can be made.
1. All of our journeys start with our attachment
Attachment is where we start, it’s the foundation and blueprint of how we regulate ourselves, how our needs were met when we were little and how we are in relationships. Attachment has very little to do with love and shouldn’t be measured in this way, we have to form attachments in order to survive, it’s not a choice but a necessity. Attachment is not the same as bonding and it bears no reflection on how much we were loved and cherished. Learning our attachment style is so important because it determines how we relate to others, has a huge influence on how resilient we are and how we’re able to regulate our emotions. Our resilience and ability to regulate is important as it can determine how well we cope with extreme situations and how likely we are to be traumatised from events.
2. Our attachment then leads us into how we regulate
One of the things we learn from our attachment is how to regulate ourselves and how to regulate our nervous system. Regulating is how we deal with our emotions, our physical activation in our body (e.g. constriction, tightness in chest, feelings of nausea) and our levels of stress. Our levels of resilience and ability to cope depends on how much tolerance we have. Regulation includes our nervous system, our digestive system and our body temperature. If we have high levels of overwhelm or stress then all these things can be affected, this is why it’s important to learn how to regulate and increase our capacity and tolerance levels.
3. Our relationships are an attachment bond and will reflect our own attachment style
Our regulation plays a major part in how we manage relationships. It determines how we deal with our physical and emotional needs and the needs of others. We often play out our attachment styles in our most intimate relationships unconsciously. It shows us what kind of relationships we have with others, what type of people we are drawn to and what kind of people we are repelled by. It can show us how we behave and adapt when we’re in a relationship.
4. Humans are very adaptive, we present ourselves in different ways with different people
Our different life experiences and our varied relationships with others will formulate how we adapt, behave, feel and think. As we grow, develop and have different life experiences we develop different parts of ourselves, for instance, our work self and social self can be very different. We can develop child parts, teenage parts, critical parts and controlling parts. They’re all of different ages and come with different roles and purposes. As well as having their own functions and roles, these different parts will also have physical characteristics and show up in different parts of our body, often outside of our conscious awareness.
5. The more regulated we are the less likely we are to experience trauma
The combination of our resilience from our attachment style, how we respond and regulate ourselves emotionally and physically, and how we relate to others has a profound bearing on how affected we are by extreme life events. It will determine how susceptible we are to trauma and suffering PTSD or other trauma related issues.
If something happens and we become too dysregulated, overwhelmed or terrified, so much that we can no longer cope, it means we’ve gone beyond our tolerance level. This then registers as a trauma memory and gets stored in a different part of our brain called the ‘Amygdala’. These trauma memories don’t age, shift or heal, they can be dormant but they can also be triggered. When they get triggered it fires up our nervous system, so we become dysregulated and sometimes a different part of us takes over to protect us.
6. Our behaviours follow patterns which are strongly influenced by our attachment, regulation and trauma
When we are affected by our emotions, relationships and trauma, it has a huge bearing on the way we behave and react. If we regularly have different parts of us taking over, because we’ve been triggered, they develop patterns and behaviours to cope and manage. These behaviours will often have an effect on our ability to regulate, but can also cause huge problems for ourselves. These problems can be things like addiction, eating disorders, OCD or self-harm. Without the ability to regulate and manage our nervous system and work with our frightened parts, our behaviours and coping mechanisms can feel like they’re running the show. This can leave us feeling confused, anxious and helpless.
7. When we can understand and learn to manage all the other sections listed above, we can begin to make changes and heal
Our behaviour and responses both emotionally and physically, will make sense when looked at in relation to life events and all the stages above. Healing has to be able to provide ways of giving us back control and understanding. It has to show us what’s happening to us and we have to get to know all the different parts of ourselves and learn to regulate. We need to have understanding of why our patterns and behaviours are there, so we can have compassion, acceptance and begin to know what’s needed. Sometimes we have to process our trauma, find ways of relating to different people, and have a different relationship with ourselves and our physical and emotional needs.
Healing provides growth and confidence. Understanding doesn’t always mean we have to talk about what’s happened to us and relive painful experiences. Understanding can come from the body, as it holds all the experiences and memories of what’s happened to us.