Billi Gordon Ph.D.

Obesely Speaking

A Hot Mess

Survival of the psychosocially besieged

Posted May 28, 2016

shutterstock Purchase by UCLA for Dr. Gordon
Source: shutterstock Purchase by UCLA for Dr. Gordon

Meet Francis, he weighs over 500  pounds, and is lying in the Intensive Care Unit, or morgue, of any given American hospital.  Francis is “a hot mess.” Francis might not be a food addict.  He might be an alcoholic or another type of substance abuser - a sex addict, compulsive gambler in financial ruin, or have chronic episodic violence syndrome (serial killer, rapist) etc. “How did he become a hot mess he’s too smart and well brought up…” It happened because Francis’s brain is desperately trying to survive psychosocial pain that is so severe it threatens the survival of his psyche.  

Genetics and Epigenetic Influences

Although genetics is a biological science, its essence is communication and revolves around, sharing and responding to information on a cellular basis that tells a 50,000-year-old tale articulating physical and behavioral information.[1-5]

shuttterstock Purchased for Dr. Gordon By UCLA for his artistic purposes
Source: shuttterstock Purchased for Dr. Gordon By UCLA for his artistic purposes

Epigenetic factors influence how your genes are expressed. Your grandparents’ and parents’ social and cultural experiences have an epigenetic affect.[6-14] That is how suffering occurs in families – how the descendants of the Nazis pass the guilt of the holocaust from one generation to the next, and how the offspring of the Jews pass the devastation from parent to child.[15]

Think of genes as light switches, and recent ancestors’ experiences as the hand determining which switches to turn on, off, or to use a dimmer. Epigenetics affects how you store and recall memories, which determines your perception of threat and control, which is the architect of the kinds of behavior that make a person a “hot mess.” 

Pre and perinatal contributions

When pregnant women experience stress, neurochemicals cross the placenta and influence the fundamental construction of the fetal Hypothalamic Pituitary Axis (HPA).[16, 17]When the structural integrity of an individual’s HPA is remodeled, its functionality is compromised. The HPA is the main engine of the fight-or-flight mechanism in humans and compromised HPA function contributes to obesity, inflammatory disease, behavioral and substance dependencies in various ways. [18-21]   

shutterstock Purchased by UCLA for Dr. Gordon
Source: shutterstock Purchased by UCLA for Dr. Gordon

After birth, the young brain observes its environment and wires itself to survive best in a world that it presumes will be like its observations.  Psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse as well as environmental toxins, bad nutrition affect the structure and function to the hypothalamus and hippocampus (a key structure in learning, memory and hence perception). [22-30]

Social Currency

The final component is social experience. Early experiences in tandem with genetics contribute to our sense of self and worth.   That’s the cake.  Society’s ability to insinuate current social norms into our sense (or lack of) self is the frosting.   Most social norms are consensual realities.  Today’s supermodels might have been used as bear bait in an ancient society.  Pretty, class, worth, are what we agree they are. However, we are a social species and being separated from the group was lethal for the ancients, so mass social subscriptions to consensual realities matter. We care what people think, even though people rarely think. . 

Nobody wants to be thought of as ugly or worthless because it registers as the potential of becoming a social outcast in  our Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) which monitors social connectivity.[31-38]  The perception of social connectivity is equivocal to the perception of safety  to the old brain.  Thus, what others think of us matters to the old brain, which does not think, and just reacts to cues. So living in a society that continuously tells you that you are less than is very traumatic

Connecting the Dots

shutterstock Purchased for Dr. Gordon by UCLA CNS
Source: shutterstock Purchased for Dr. Gordon by UCLA CNS

If you have extreme psychic pain, the brain will shut down communication channels for self-protection. [28, 39-47]When you shut out the bad, you also shut out the good, and worse yet, you decrease or eliminate the abilities of your informational substances, such as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, to communicate. It’s like the soldiers who blow up a bridge to keep the enemy out… but regrettably it's the same bridge used to bring supplies.  

In this case supplies are the neural substrates of self-awareness, i.e., you become a hot mess because you are desensitized to the events occurring in your body and your life.  Survival is basic in the old mammal brain – get enough of the brain’s happy dance drugs (dopamine etc.) to get through the day by detecting the right cues. Remember the old brain’s mantra is – survive now ask questions later. Survive now – are the destructive behaviors – ask questions later is the deconstruction of your life. Intellectually, Francis understands the problem.  But the reward circuitry, memory, and perception are subcortical, and not responsible to intellect. When the bridges are out this part of the brain cannot respond to the cues because they are not getting through.   

So what then to do?  Each person is different.  The first step is realizing that any human in your position would have done exactly as you have done – so forgive yourself.   Then you need to love and accept yourself just as you are - meaning step into the light and be proactive about who you are, and what the Universe intended for you, which is counterintuitive after years of being reactive to the darkness of who you are not.  Then moment by moment, change will come.  Remain fabulous and phenomenal.  

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