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Analyzing Elizabeth Smart

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posted on Dec, 28 2013 @ 07:15 PM
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I actually came into this forum with the intent to start a thread called "Elizabeth Smart Hoax". I had seen one or two videos with her in which she appeared unusually self composed, little to no autonomic arousal visible in her voice or body language while she spoke about the trauma of being raped 3 times daily, and pretty much the whole trauma of being kidnapped, abused, threatened and restrained.

A trauma such as this is not easily forgotten. The vast majority of human beings would respond in exactly the same way: We pass through the defense responses, which include hyper-arousal to danger - which includes a massive release of adrenaline and cortisol within the nervous system to sustain attention to the stimulus. The body tenses up in a defensive posture: how should I act? Imagine a massive build up of energy within the body and consciousness - preparing for action. This is the sympathetic arousal that precedes all traumas.

But when these defensive "fight-flight" responses prove futile, when they are no longer doing anything to help you, the body shifts into another mode: "freeze mode". Freeze mode is a combination of sympathetic and parasympathetic activity within the nervous system. The muscles are still tensed, heart rate is still high, breathing is short and rapid; this is like realizing "oh my God, what am I going to do" in a very scary and traumatic situation. The freeze mode differs from the earlier sympathetic arousal mode in that the freeze mode involves dorsal vagal activity: you both want to attack, but you can't; the body feels "frozen", unable to act. It is slowly recognizing that it is helpless.

When Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped and brought to her dungeon of 9 months, she would have been in this mode. However, this is still a metabolically costly state to be in. Following this step, the body rests in a state of quiet passivity, which is the prime indicator of severe neurobiological trauma. In this state, called the "feigned death" state, the individual is truly helpless. Their nervous system has been taken over by the dorsal vagal tract, an extremely intense state of dissociation follows; the individual is "there" but they have completely resigned to their fate. They are in an extremely conservative, and very dangerous physiological state. Physiologically, muscles are completely flaccid; RSA (respiratory sinus arrhythmia) index is very low; the brain is being swathed in endogenous opiates, making life seem like a trance. You barely feel awake. This is the hypoarousal of severe trauma.

Now, Elizabeth Smart endured 9 months of this. 3-4 rapes a day. Helpless, lonely, horrified. She would have been in this parasympathetic state night and day so as not to address these exhausting emotions. She would become submissive towards her abusers. She would have no energy to "put up a fight". Being in this state for such a long time would have strengthened states of psychological dissociation.

Following an ordeal like this, the body is simply no longer the same. Cortical and limbic networks along with autonomic networks are traumatized. Following the trauma, although the mind can "understand" what has happened, the body often does not respond to the minds comprehension of the event. It's as if 3 different brain networks contain the memory of the event; the cortical areas hold a representation of the "memory" itself - most of which has been dissociated from i.e. cannot be recalled. The limbic networks are easily aroused by any slight reminder, even a seemingly vague reminder, like seeing a shirt that looks similar to the one the attacker wore; but worse of all, and as trauma research has shown, the autonomic brain networks are the ones which most strongly "hold in" the trauma.

Trauma severely interrupts metabolic functions happening within the body. Unbeknownst to most of us, but the mind-body is exquisitely interconnected. There are networks within the brain stem which handle "metabolic allocation" of energy. The body generates "this much energy" to support basic social engagement functions, which tend to be fairly hefty, and keeps the rest for maintenance of the body. When trauma occurs, the autonomic brain networks highly restrict metabolic demands to the conscious mind. The minds "energy reserves" are severely restricted. Remaining energy is reserved for carrying out bodily functions.

Following the trauma, the body stays in this hypoarousal state. The memory of the trauma has strengthened dorsal vagal (parasympathetic) connections with the limbic system and areas in the cortex which recall the experience. In the case of early childhood traumas, cortical areas completely "forget" i.e. dissociate from, the cause of the trauma. But the autonomic system doesn't. Because of early trauma, the body will maintain very low reserves for conscious i.e. emotional arousal.

Elizabeth Smarts response to the trauma she went through is truly astonishing. Initially, I was skeptical. I watched a few videos of her and found her behavior to be unlike someone who experiences trauma. But then I caught this video of Anderson Cooper, and in it, my reservations have been resolved. Elizabeth in this video exhibits tell-tale signs of someone who has experienced a major trauma.



Notice:

  • how she paces herself in the video. People who experience trauma face hyper-and hypo arousal states. In this video, although Elizabeth maintains a good comportment, she is make a great effort to "slow down" i.e. to calm herself, to keep herself within an optimal state of arousal

  • At times, her voices flares up. At other times, her voice "falls". This is the general dynamic of people with PTSD. They fly between the poles of hypo-hyper arousal. She either becomes "overly" anxious, and her voice and prosody suffers, or she becomes hypoaroused, disconnected and removed from her body, and you hear a deepening in her voice.

  • She seems to know a few things about PTSD. For example, she mentions how her room was the archetype of safety. This is something trauma survivors learn in therapy: why they responded the way they did. It's important to recognize the connection between environment cues and emotional-autonomic responses.

    Anyways, I made this thread because there are a few sites online that try to "prove" that the whole Elizabeth Smart kidnapping was a hoax. So I investigated further. Analyzed Elizabeth Smarts body language in relation to what we know about what happens to the mind and body following trauma, and my verdict is: she seems to be exhibiting those tell-tale signs you expect to see in people who've survived a major trauma.

    Although trauma can be overcome and peace can be made with the past, it'll probably always be a little difficult to discuss the trauma. I think Elizabeth spent the last few years, before she went on this recent PR tour, in rigorous psychotherapy. She does exhibit impressive regulation skills - which only goes to show the power of the human mind to integrate horrible experiences into its continuing life narrative.




  • posted on Dec, 28 2013 @ 07:51 PM
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    Also, the claim that shes acting doesn't seem plausible to me.

    When someone acts, they only have 'so much' control. For example, in this interview, Elizabeth seems consciously involved in what she's speaking about. This is where her "conscious mind is". This is what she is directly controlling. Yet, when she speaks, you hear fluctuations in affect (feeling) which are occurring within her body, affecting her stability in speech.

    Since trauma is "kept in the body", this is how one is able to determine whether she is acting or not. Her body is inducing rhythmic changes that correspond to a trauma dynamic. You can see that it is a painful subject she's going up against; She continues talking, she continues to "build emotion" while she speaks, but in the background, the body speaks, it undulates with commotion, with "terror", with the signs of trauma.

    That said, she is doing an incredible job regulating herself while she speaks, given what she went through.



    posted on Dec, 28 2013 @ 09:38 PM
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    And what of the trauma survivors who are able to completely dissociate all emotion when recounting their experience?



    posted on Dec, 28 2013 @ 11:44 PM
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    reply to post by CIAGypsy
     


    I'm not sure what you're saying.

    If you mean, dissociate "all emotion" i.e, not experience any emotion while describing the event, thats what called an unresolved trauma. Not feeling any emotion is hypoarousal i.e. a state of dissociation. Cognitions, emotions and body sensations should be occurring together. This is what Pierre Janet pointed out when he first described the effects trauma has on the personality. It disintegrates it; it breaks it up into separate parts.

    Or if you mean, they don't experience "traumatic emotions" i.e feel anxious, tense, (hyperarousal states) then yes, that is the ideal state, when you can recall the traumatic experience, accept it as part of your past, but not feel limited by the memory of the experience in the present.

    There is a state of optimal arousal which lies between hypo and hyper arousal. In such a state (which is seen as synonymous with whats being called the "social engagement system" by researchers in the field of traumatology) cognitions, emotions and body sensations occur together in a continuous subjective emotional present.


    edit on 28-12-2013 by Astrocyte because: (no reason given)



    posted on Dec, 28 2013 @ 11:50 PM
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    Sorry not familar with the story of Elizabeth Smart. So can't relate to the post. Some back history please, of why she is of interest and telling her story to the media ( other than Money, Money, Money ).Thanks for reply.



    posted on Dec, 28 2013 @ 11:59 PM
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    reply to post by 13th Zodiac
     


    She was all over the news 10 or so years ago. She was kidnapped by christian cultists, brought to their secret bunker up in the colorado mountains, and raped, abused, threatened etc for 9 months before she was found.

    Surprised you've never heard about her.

    Also, going through a trauma like the one she went through is amazingly difficult. As the above post points out, survivors of trauma deal with hyper and hypoarousal. But the one they have the most difficulty and frustration with is hypoarousal. They feel dead inside. The dorsal vagal tract which evolutionarily speaking, is the oldest subsystem, also known as the reptilian brain, expends very little energy for social engagement activities.

    I'm sure Elizabeth has had a hell of a time working through the difficulties trauma causes. So, how can she generate energy? How can she feel alive again? How can she reestablish cortical-autonomic connections? How can she return to normal?

    Many people who experience trauma devote their lives to spreading awareness, whether that be to increase awareness of rape, violence, bullying, or even of trauma itself, by "finding something" they put themselves into a strong social engagement mindset, enabling them to reorganize their nervous systems and returning their mind-brain-body to a state of homeostasis.

    Lots of people tend to pass harsh and superficial judgements on people like this without considering other, plausible alternative explanations.



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 02:07 AM
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    reply to post by Astrocyte
     


    Thank's for the reply. No, being Australian.I had not heard of her or her story. I get the pyschological aspect, but to understand what I am to see or not to see in her behaviour. I needed to understand her and the story to judge. Will watch your clips. Thanks.



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 03:05 AM
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    Elizabeth Smart hoax? You think she's lying about being raped?
    She was kidnapped and held prisoner for 9 months... Obviously the man who abducted her had bad intentions in the first place. You don't abduct people and hold them prisoner because you care about them and want them to be happy and healthy. For all the men who kidnap women and hold them prisoner, why do you think they do it? Common sense says he was probably raping her. He was obviously already willing to commit crimes at another person's expense.



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 07:04 AM
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    reply to post by Astrocyte
     


    Secret bunker?
    How about a camp site. Also Elizabeth came from a strong loving family. She had the background to be strong against these people. She escaped as soon as she was able to. Not everyone who is kidnapped becomes a Patty Hurst.
    I think it stinks that you are calling this poor girl a liar. . I think it stinks that you try to make her families ordeal into a game.



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 09:21 AM
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    Great thread Op, you seem to know a good deal about the subject.

    I have seen that look before, the way she acts, constantly needing to withdraw, as if she keeps flinching. I had never connected this before with trauma, such as she experienced, but I have seen it. Now I know what it looks like.

    Haunting.



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 09:26 AM
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    reply to post by Astrocyte
     


    Another thread based on the premise that people should act the way you think they should. Earlier this year I was in a very traumatic situation that left me on life support for two weeks, followed by months of rehab. The other day, someone asked me what I got for Christmas. "Towels," I replied cheerfully. "All of my towels were destroyed in the fire."



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 09:27 AM
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    reply to post by Astrocyte
     

    Umm...she wasn't kept in a dungeon, she was in different places on the public streets with the 2 kidnappers in disguise.

    And one major thing: They are MORMON. And even if she would've been...she was used to dark closets. Voluntarily.

    READ:
    The Mormon Themes in Elizabeth Smart's Memoir | Flunking …

    janariess.religionnews.com/.../mormon-themes-elizabeth-smarts-memoir

    "When Elizabeth Smart was fourteen years old, she slipped away from her large family and knelt in a closet, entirely alone, to pray to God about the direction of her life."



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 09:58 AM
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    This video is what....ten years after it happened? I think she's had a little time to think about it and come to terms with it. What is she supposed to do? Hang on to the memories and relive them every day and let it rule her life? Judging her as fake based on a video interview ten years after the fact is more than just a little foolish....



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 07:38 PM
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    reply to post by AutumnWitch657
     





    I think it stinks that you are calling this poor girl a liar. . I think it stinks that you try to make her families ordeal into a game.



    The only thing weirder than you misunderstanding my thread, is the 4 stars your post received.

    Obviously you didn't notice. My thread refuted claims that she was lying. As I made clear in the last few lines (which you probably didn't bother reading)




    Anyways, I made this thread because there are a few sites online that try to "prove" that the whole Elizabeth Smart kidnapping was a hoax. So I investigated further. Analyzed Elizabeth Smarts body language in relation to what we know about what happens to the mind and body following trauma, and my verdict is: she seems to be exhibiting those tell-tale signs you expect to see in people who've survived a major trauma.



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 07:49 PM
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    reply to post by poet1b
     


    Trauma is a very scary thing.

    Any expert in the subject can see it in the "pull" between sympathetic and parasympathetic processes.

    The chief thing survivors need to learn is how to "slow down", and you can see it very clearly while she speaks. You can see that her body is undulating while she speaks. It's that damn combination of dorsal vagal and sympathetic activity. The dorsal vagal throws you into dissociation, into numbness, while the sympaethetic throws you into over-arousal.

    Being in a state like this leads to HPA (hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal) exhaust. When theres not enough cortisol to counter the stimulating effects of adrenaline, you are so easily aroused. This is why hyperarousal occurs so easily with trauma. How does the body respond to this ridiculous over-arousal? It floods the brain with endogenous opiates!

    Maintaining an "optimal arousal" state is therefore a very significant feat for any person who has experienced a severe trauma (and don't kid yourself, it can happen to anyone). The main thing is, you need to increase the regulatory capacities of the orbit-frontal cortex. Doing this requires "reintegrating" the broken pieces that traumatic dissociation requires, both in its sympathetic and parasympathetic sense.

    I'm surprised that a few people responded to this thread essentially criticizing me for thinking Elizabeth Smart is a liar. I've done nothing of the kind. I've brought her under the microscope to prove that she exhibits all those telltale physiological signs you expect to see in a trauma survivor. She's very well spoken; the trauma is not "overt" but covertly marked in the "spaces", in subtleties in body language and vocal fluctuations; in the knowledge she expresses, and the concomitant excitement she expresses in discussing the events she went through, the maturity and understanding she expresses, as well as an underlying anxiety, that sometimes becomes apparent, but for the most part is being well regulated by Elizabeths frontal areas.



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 07:54 PM
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    reply to post by Astrocyte
     



    The main thing is, you need to increase the regulatory capacities of the orbit-frontal cortex. Doing this requires "reintegrating" the broken pieces that traumatic dissociation requires, both in its sympathetic and parasympathetic sense.


    How do you do this? Ten push ups a day?

    Are there recommended methods, meditation techniques, exercises, than can repair the broken pieces.



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 08:19 PM
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    reply to post by poet1b
     


    Mind you, the things I'm noticing in her body language would probably be less noticeable if she weren't talking about her trauma. That she can still muster so much energy, retain such composure, and mindfully regulate her information flow, just goes to show how incredible she is - and how incredible all human beings are.




    How do you do this? Ten push ups a day?



    Essentially. 10 push ups, as well as 10 pull ups a day, strengthens connections between anterior orbitofrontal areas and the insula (aka the emotional cortex).

    I kid.

    Nope, you need to increase your awareness of both top-down and down-up informational flow. This means, understanding why you experienced trauma (top-down), understanding that it is a simple mammalian response to danger; that it is nothing to be ashamed about - most people in a similar context subjected to the same stressors over such a long period of time would have responded in the same way. IT IS AUTOMATIC.

    Just today, for instance, I was walking my dog by the lake. The lake is frozen over, but Maggie (my dog) as she walked passed the lake, instinctively knew she had to stop. Why? Do you think she "consciously" thought about it? No. Evolution has provided animals with automatic and unconscious ways to handle external dangers. What happens is, Maggie is walking by the lake; her hippocampus (explicit memory) links up with her amygdala (which kicks off emotional responses within the brain) letting her know that this frozen mass ahead is really a lakd.. Autonomic brain processes basically do things like this without our conscious awareness all the time. If animals don't do this automatically, they'll walk into the frozen lake they should know is frozen, fall through, drown and die. It's pretty incredible that our brains are so intelligently designed to maximize survivability.

    Thus, it is important to understand the evolutionary basis for why trauma happens. An arousal fight-flight response is useful to get away from the danger. But you cannot kick and scream forever. It hurts doing that. So, eventually, you dissociate; your brains dorsal vagal tract - which is unmyelinated, unlike the vagal tract, which links up with the cortex - reduces energy output towards the brain; also, another area in the brainstem called the periaquaductal grey secretes endogenous opiates, essentially "blunting connection". This whole process creates a "safe-zone" within the mind. But by doing so, it severely restricts the minds connection to the body.

    A single "shock" trauma, or a series of little traumas, can result in PTSD, where the entire HPA axis is majorly dysregulated and the dorsal vagal tract is given priority by the autonomic nervous system as a default mode for awareness.

    The entire process of healing from trauma involves mindfulness. Mindfulness strengthens orbitofrontal activity, leading to synapse growth, extra myelination, and even neuronal growth within specific areas in the hypothalamus and hippocampus.

    Becoming conscious of the physiological effects of trauma is an indispensible aspect of dealing with it. By doing so, you strengthen neuronal connections between frontal lobe areas and brainstem (autonomic) areas. The ventral tract of the vagus, also known as the nucleus ambiguus, is considered by neurobiologists to be the neuroevolutionary source for mammalian social activity. In trauma, this nerve becomes deemphasized while the dorsal tract becomes activated. Thus, it is imperative that trauma survivors repeatedly activate this tract - put themselves back into society, back into social relationships, because it is through connecting with others that we are able to strengthen cortical-autonomic connections. An additional bonus of socializing is that it isn't a one person affair, but a dyadic back and forth flow of energy. We all know this. When you're talking to someone who is generally happy, we become "infected" by their happiness. Trauma survivors need to take advantage of interpersonal dynamic to help bring their nervous system under control.

    This, btw, is only the tip of the ice-berg. Trauma is the newest and biggest thing in psychology. It is providing a general framework for understanding the majority of mental illnesses, and even physiological illnesses (via it's sister field of psychoneuroimmunology) like crohns disease, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and more.

    How, you ask? Early childhood traumas affect right brain development. Because we do not develop left brain linguistic skills till 2 or 3 years old, any trauma that happens before that time will be coded in the brain in a non-verbal form. This makes these sorts of traumas very difficult to address and resolve.

    In the case of fibromyalgia, researchers have postulated that tensed muscle movements during REM sleep (when we dream) cause muscle fatigue, and thus the inflammatory aches and pains that people with fibromyalgia complain about. Why would someone tense during REM sleep? If they experienced a trauma early in their lives, they are reexperiencing it while they dream in REM sleep. As we getter older, as we know, our muscles, bones, etc begin to degenerate. A 50 year old body isn't as vital as a 15 year old body. Hence, fibromyalgia tends to strike older people.
    edit on 29-12-2013 by Astrocyte because: (no reason given)



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 08:41 PM
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    reply to post by Astrocyte
     


    When you defend the ridiculous, you become ridiculous as well. Are you next going to tell us not to believe the flat earthers? I think it is disgusting to cast any light on the possibility it was faked or to give that idea credence in a thread.



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 08:56 PM
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    reply to post by Astrocyte
     


    Maybe not everyone is as overtly and physically emotional as you. It may be considered psycho or sociopath to be able to discuss horrific things with little or know emotional attachment or feeling, but that could also be due to the experience of psycho and sociopathy. I wouldnt have any physical emotional tells or signs if I had to retell any horrific trauma or experience, especially if I went through something like that, it must have taken years to completely separate what happened in her past to the new person she is and new life she is living.



    posted on Dec, 29 2013 @ 09:38 PM
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    sligtlyskeptical
    reply to post by Astrocyte
     


    When you defend the ridiculous, you become ridiculous as well. Are you next going to tell us not to believe the flat earthers? I think it is disgusting to cast any light on the possibility it was faked or to give that idea credence in a thread.


    Okay. While I am admittedly a little slow, I don't understand why everyone thinks the OP was trying to call Elizabeth Smart a liar. She is very composed, and people were doubting her. The OP seems to be trying to lend a bit of expertise (albeit buried in a great deal of lingo that sounds awfully good but I don't really understand, and I'm a psych major), to actually add credibility to her story.

    People cope with trauma in different ways. She is doing very well. This is how she may be doing it. That seems to be the gist of it. Lighten up guys, or maybe look for a fight where there actually is one.




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