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Podcast: Self-Protective Self (Claim Your Freedom #5)

cognitive health emotional healing emotional health podcast ptsd Oct 01, 2019

In January 2019 I wrote Emotional Wholeness Checklist, a book about feelings and the importance of recognizing them in ourselves. The premise is this: all of our feelings- both the ones we typically consider to be “good” and those we often consider to be “bad”- are important. Emotions are to our souls the same thing physical sensations are to our bodies. 

Think about it…

  • When we feel physical pain, we understand that something is wrong. We could be sick, we might be tired, or we might be in danger. The “bad” sensation highlights that something is “off.”
  • When we feel physical pleasure, we know that things are (most often) right. The euphoric feelings of post-exercise or post-sex bliss communicate to our bodies that we are satisfied and safe.

Turns out, our emotions can work the same way. We just have to learn to read them before we react and then manage them before we make a mess of things. Joy and happiness and other positive feelings tell us that we’re in a good place. Emotional hurt tells us we’re not.

As I was sorting through all of this, trying to locate language whereby I could understand and express my ideas in that book, I knew I wanted to speak with Dr. Benjamin Perkus. Dr. Perkus (DP) has 20 years of clinical psychological experience. That’s his professional training. To be clear, whereas I can’t diagnose people, that means he actually can. He has the training, the earned credentials, and the wisdom only time (a lot of it) can bring.


Professional + practical + personable

One day DP told me, “I loved my craft, I never envisioned myself leaving it, and always thought I’d write a book about my practice some day. I just wasn’t sure when and how.”

Turns out, he worked extremely close to home. On his front porch, in fact. A few years into practicing psychology, he and his wife “closed-in” the porch, creating an office near the front door of his house where he saw clients.

An innovator, DP ventured into ground-breaking techniques when he began practicing two decades ago (i.e., EMDR, tapping, etc.). So, when he was first introduced to essential oils in 2001, he was open to the possibilities.

He and his wife became distributors with Young Living Essential Oils. Over time, as they had success using the products as part of their overall health and wellness routine (and invited others to do the same) their essential oil biz grew.

DP says, “I was was living a dual life in the good way, doing two things I equally loved.” 

From his office on the front porch he was a practicing psychologist, a good one. From his kitchen table, he was an oiler. People visited his home for one or the other constantly. Sometimes, many times, for both.

Fast forward to 2015. Young Living held their annual International Grand Convention at the Gaylord in Dallas (I remember it well, as I spoke twice at this event!).

DP says he spoke with his upline one day and confessed he was “torn” between his two professions. He didn’t want to give up either. He saw the power and efficacy of each- and the need for both of them. In effect, each one actually enhanced the other, making him more effective on both platforms. As a Platinum distributor in Young Living with a growing biz, how could he and his wife choose?

His upline leader, Connie McDanel (a Royal Crown Diamond, the highest rank in Young Living) encouraged DP to “create a tool.”

He decided the tool would be a book. Again, he always thought he would write one. He’d just assumed it would be related to psychology- not essential oils. 

By his own admission, “I had no idea it would involve both- and that it would be in everyday language that anyone could understand- even if they didn’t know know psychology and even if they didn’t know much about the oils.” 

At that point in his story, DP had been traveling (at Young Living’s invitation) to teach about memories and trauma and other things he taught via psychology. And, he’d begun using essential oils to empower people towards healing. It was all part of his presentation. 

In April 2016, almost 9 months after that enlightening convo with Connie, he decided he to jot a few notes for his eventual book while on a flight to Singapore. He returned and decided to churn out the book in time for the AromaSharing event (read: vendor hall) at next convention, slated for mid-June! He had 60 days to go from potential to print to press. The book was completed, people wanted training to help others with his technique, and the entire movement known as AFT (shorthand for “Aroma Freedom Technique”) was launched. Quickly. 

“I hadn’t even thought about certifying people to use my methods at that point,” DP told me. “After that, I knew I needed to figure it out. So we did, and the story continues unfolding.”

As we do with each monthly class for OilyApp+, I wrote the Emotional Wholeness Checklist book, taught the class, and then created graphics and other content relevant to the overall theme of soul health and wholeness. Since emotional health was a significant part of my personal focus during that season, I landed there for my content creation for about two months. 

I wanted to dive deeper, though, as this was a topic that and continued resonating with me for the past 3 years or so, since that difficult 2016. Having been dealt traumatic blow after blow (many of them the results of my own actions; others the results of others’ actions), I decided to pause and explore this area more. Turns out, I have a “job” that offers me that freedom and flexibility. So… 

  • I hosted two podcast conversations with Dr. Perkus. 
  • I contemplated AFT certification- something I decided I’ll do in the near future when the right time presents itself. 
  • I scheduled a Zoom call and put our OilyApp audience in front of Dr. Perkus, where they could hear how his technique works, ask him specific questions about his AFT, and then actually experience his technique firsthand.

After telling me the story about how AFT was born, DP explained how it works. 

Now, this book isn’t about the AFT (you’ll need to buy his book to learn that). But, there are three powerful truths DP told me on those podcast interviews and during the Zoom call that have everything to do with claiming your freedom. And that is why I include this part of his story here.

DP told me, “There are three facts about human nature.” 

Then he outlined the three…


Designed to explore + more

First, we’re designed to explore and grow,” he said. “This happens from the day we’re born. Infants begin crawling- and even poking into areas they shouldn’t.”

“Yeah,”  replied. “It seems like little tots are always trying to poke forks into electrical sockets, jump into cabinets, and push the bounds of what’s permissible. It’s almost like you tell them not to do something…”

“… and then that’s what they do,” Perkus concluded. Then- “It’s because we’re created to explore.”

“What’s the catch?” I asked.

“That leads us to the second point. We’re designed to explore, but we’re also created to learn from our experiences and then- now, get this- to avoid pain in the future by creating inner rules.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the inner rules our are ways of coping with the fact that some of our experiments hurt us. Some exploration is good, some exploration is bad. You lose some of your innocence as you venture into new territory, causing you to start playing it safe.”

“When my kids were little,” I told him, “they all used to love it when I tossed them in the air. They would- every single one of them- run up to me, stretch out their arms, and ask me to chunk them up and catch them. So I did…”

He laughed. “Ever drop one of them?”

Never. But they all started getting nervous about being thrown ‘high in the sky,’ as some of them called it, about the age of 3 or 4. They used to beg me to do it, then they- almost overnight- all grew terrified of it. I never understood why, because no one ever even came close to getting dropped.”

DP had some insight: “By then they had all learned to walk, though. And they had fallen. They had begun to ride bikes and probably taken a few spills.”

“So they knew they should be afraid of heights,” I concluded. Then- “That makes sense. I was tossing them 8 or 9 feet in the air. So that helps me understand it, now.”

“OK,” Dr. Perkus said. “Now that you understand that, apply it to other areas of life. You learn not to cry, because you do it one day and someone belittles your feelings. Or you get stage fright because someone makes fun of your singing voice. You learn not to trust people because a friend shuns you at the playground…”

“Oh, my,” I replied. “I’ve already got a list that’s a mile long of things I continue learning not to do even today…”

“Well, most people do. The problem, though, is that we don’t even think about these rules we create. They’re often kept hidden from our conscious minds. They just become our default mode of operating, almost like we’re on auto-pilot.”

I thought back to my discussions with veterans- about cars backfiring and fireworks. And to convos I had with friends who had “yellers” and “screamers” in the house when they were growing up. Or people who got “frozen out” when they revealed something about which they had a disagreement with someone… how they all created these “rules” in order to avoid future pain, because they’d all done a bit of exploration and found out that life, though it’s good, is hard. The world isn’t always safe. Getting triggered is the logical outflow of these protective rules.

“I’ve got a confession,” I said. Then I hit him with it, half-joking. “I’m not an ‘animal person.' Used to be. Back when I was little. But I just figured out why I stopped being one…”

“You created a rule about animals, it seems.”

“Yeah. I loved dogs. Always had one. Then one day I went to my friend Daniel’s house and had a run in with one. His dog, Snoopy, was sleeping in the cockpit of an old fighter jet they had in their backyard. It was just the windshield. That was Snoopy’s house.”

“Was Snoopy a dog that looked like the actual Snoopy?”

“No. He was a bigger dog. A big greyhound. A grey-blue color. He was normally pretty chill, but when I walked over to him- I was only 7 or 8 years old- I woke him up and startled him. He lunged at me. And snapped. It legit scared me. I started crying, even though he never bit me.”

“And you still don’t like dogs today?”

“It’s not that I dislike them. It’s just that, well, I’ve kept my distance from them since that run-in with Snoopy. Yeah. I guess have a hidden rule.”

“Most people do the same thing in their own unique ways. We learn most of what we know by experience. We do this with hot stoves. And heights. We make rules that say don’t touch hot things and don’t go too far away from the ground. Like your kids did.”

I thought for a moment and then continued, “I imagine we also learn to avoid certain things in relationships- we dump others before we get dumped. We hide our true selves. We guard our hearts. We stop being vulnerable. We withhold affection when we’re afraid it won’t be reciprocated. We stop trusting.”

As we talked, I sketched the “three facts” into my black Moleskine journal.

“We do all of that,” Dr. Perkus said. “Here’s what you need to see, though. The rules fall into two categories. They can be functional rules or they can be dysfunctional rules…”

He described them as you might imagine: 

Functional rules actually help us. They keep us from pain in healthy ways. 

  • Rules that keep us from touching hot stoves are helpful.
  • Rules that keep us from walking down dark alleys at night, swimming in the ocean alone, or walking into oncoming traffic are healthy.
  • Rules that caution us to take an Uber if we’re going to drink at dinner serve us.

You get the idea. Rules- even the ones we don’t think about- can serve us. 

Dysfunctional rules hinder us. They keep us from progress in harmful ways.

They’re based on perceptions of reality and are often consistent with our past experience. Think back to the mortar fire and bullets.

(By the way, sometimes these rules have a basis in past reality, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, they’re consistent with our past perceptions only.)

“The problem with these rules,” Perkus clarified, “is that our brains don’t distinguish between which rules are functional and which ones are dysfunctional. Our brains simply create rules and follow them indiscriminately.”

“Alright,” I said, “you mentioned there were three facts about human nature…”


Your hidden agenda

“Yes. The first is that we’re designed to explore and grow. The second is that we experience pain when we do. Third, our brains create rules to help us avoid pain…”

“And,” I interrupted, “some of those rules make sense, some of them don’t.”

“Right. That leads us right into the bigger issue as it relates to trauma and healing. Here it is: we hide those rules from our conscious mind.”

“What do you mean we hide them?”

“I mean you might not even know that the rules is there. Or, to say it another way, you might have a mental block to something and not even know the block exists.”

“So I may have an agenda and not even know what it is?”

“Kinda. You might have an agenda that’s hidden even to you.”

As I pondered mindsets and thinking patterns and the perception-isn’t-always-reality tension, Perkus offered me an example: “You’ve probably seen a dog with an invisible fence…”

“Yeah, there’s one down the street from my house. Whenever I run, he darts from the porch and makes a mad, rabid dash right at me. Used to freak me out because of my past experience with Snoopy. Until I figured out that dog would get shocked if he touched the sidewalk. He simply barks loud and toes the line all the way across his yard. I kinda taunt him now, to be honest…”

“You might need an AFT session for dogs only,” he said. We laughed, then he continued, “When that dog was young, he was trained not to cross that barrier- or he would be shocked. Today, the dog could actually get to you and bite.”

“Oh, my!”

“I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but he could. In time, the trainer removed that barrier that would have and certainly did jolt him, yet even now dog remains in his yard.” Then, after a short pause, he asked, “Why does he do it?”

“Because one day he went exploring- Fact 1. But, he experienced a big of pain- Fact 2. So he created a rule- Fact 3- not not step off that grass, lest he get electrocuted.”

“Right. No more exploration and growth for the dog. He’s not even aware that the shocker is gone. He just obeys the rule without thinking about it as his default mode of living. We often obey our own hidden rules as our default- regardless of whether they’re functional or not.”

“Like the elephant being held by a rope?”

“Yes. Or like the person being held back from their dream, the person afraid of success, the person stuck in a negative pattern. Somewhere, if they think back through it, they have some hurt… so there was a basis for the creation of the rule.”

“But now there’s not?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. But if something is holding anyone- back from their destiny, it’s certainly worth exploring.”


Soul memory / muscle memory

Last week I made a quick day-trip to the Nashville area for an online project I’ve been working on for a few months. On the way back to Birmingham I stopped in Huntsville to eat dinner with my parents. While splurging on Red Robin’s bottomless fries (me) and the never-ending salad (my dad), some of these concepts started crystallizing in my mind. There’s nothing like a few hours of windshield time alone to mentally process some things.

Dad offered me the regular (and always sincere), “What are you writing right now?”

I was midstream into writing this book, so I explained the previous few chapters. 

“Did you see the NBA finals?” Dad asked.

“No. I watched zero minutes of NBA basketball all season…”

“Oh, well, Steph Curry is an example of what you’re writing about. Except it’s muscle memory, not emotional or mental or soul memory. He practices his three-pointers over and over until they’re almost automatic. When he releases the ball, it's almost a given that it’s going to go in the hoop. It doesn’t matter how many defenders jump on him, how much they get in his face, how bad his balance is at the moment, or even if he gets bumped…”

“… At some point his muscle memory just kicks in. That’s why he gets paid big.”

“Yes. Golfers, too. A lot of the guys on the PGA circuit hit the same drives over and over. They repeat them. Ad nauseum. More than I’ve ever seen. But, when the crowd is there and the stakes are high, they put the golf ball exactly where they want it to go. Muscle memory. It’s a real thing.”

“And so is emotional, mental, soul memory. We live forward based on what’s happened in the past- even if the present is nothing like the past.”

I wondered what would happen if a basketball player practiced his shot wrong for, let’s say, a few thousand reps. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes, well, more of whatever you practiced. 

  • Practicing the wrong thing creates the wrong muscle memory.
  • Believing (and even feeling) the wrong thing creates the wrong soul-memory. 

In other words, if you follow those hidden rules too often for too long a duration, you may need to release and then intentionally rewrite them. But that requires that identifying the rules that are even there.

Shooting a game-winning three-pointer is actually quite a feat when you face a handful of almost-seven-feet-tall-Herculean-athletes charging you. The situation creates a heap of tension. 

But the championship game doesn’t have to be on the line to experience such drama. Just about anything in life can do the job. 

For instance, many of us actually know what we want to do, what we desire in life:

  • We crave a thriving marriage- but need to face some tough convos in order to get there
  • We desires to grow a large, prosperous business- but need to “put ourselves out there” and lead others in order to do so 
  • We imagine ourselves going back to school- but need to make some scheduling things happen before such is a possibility  

You get the idea. There are probably a lot of important things you want, things just on the other side of an invisible fence that you’re afraid might shock you.

But, and this is the kicker, most of those hopes and dreams often stand in contrast to what’s safe. Those things are our version of the game-winning three-point shot, made while falling backwards and jumping amidst galloping foot traffic while hearing people in the stands cheering for us and against us at the same time. While all this occurs, our rules continue informing us- even if we’re unaware of them, even if the boundaries are no longer in place. 

It may be that we have the wrong soul-memory, right?

In fact, as you began envisioning what any of those “victories” or “dreams” might be for you, your mind might have begun flooding with negative thoughts almost immediately. 

Sometimes, we “go to war” with our thoughts. Doing so often creates an internal tug of war, a true struggle. So, we push our way through until we, inevitably, hit a wall and stop. The “stop” often reinforces a rule- an invisible one- we have in place. And, a bunch of rules strung together often create a script, a story line we begin living, all as a means to manage our environment and protect our self from pain.

In the next episode we’ll talk more about this script, as well as what we can do if we don’t like the string of scenes in which we find ourselves. 




Links from this talk

Take the PTSD Self-Check at 

Stream the PTSD documentary, Invisible Scars, at

Stream the film, Honoring the Code (Moral Injury), at

Claim Your Freedom- the book- (5.5x8.5, 264 pages)-  

Warrior Hope- the book- (8.x5x11, 230 pages)-  



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