This is a copy of the open letter that I wrote to Bessel van der Kolk and Jayson Gaddis in response to a fascinating conversation that they shared on YouTube. The original is posted on Medium.

Having sent tens of letters, containing rare and valuable perspectives on mental-wellness, to high profile personalities who have not responded, I’m wondering what will happen in response to this open letter. Readers who resonate with what I’m sharing are encouraged to contribute to the propagation of these ideas by clapping for this post and by using every creative and ethical means at your disposal to share it.

At one point during the conversation between Bessel and Jayson, this exchange takes place:

Jayson Gaddis: Why do people who have been abused as kids continue to find themselves in circumstances where abuse happens later on … what’s the explanation of that?

Bessel van der Kolk: Well that’s the 64,000 question!

I’ve spent much of my life seeking an answer to exactly that question, and more recently, developing an expertise in Behavioural Loop (B-Loop) Patterning. Here’s how I would answer that question.

Much of what I’ll share aligns with what Bessel went on to explain.

Philip’s Rule: The ONLY reason we ever do anything, or say something is to get from a less desirable emotion or sensation to a desired emotion or sensation.
Philip’s Rule
  • A person who feels uncomfortably thirsty can take away their thirst by drinking water.
  • Feeling uncomfortably tired? Have a rest and you’ll feel more awake.
  • Feeling lonely and wanting to ease the loneliness? Contact a friend.

At some level you’ve known this your entire life, but I’m wondering if you’ve ever heard it articulated in quite this way?

  1. More than one DO option: There are many ways of getting from A to B but, because we’re trapped in Behavioural Loop Patterns, changing how we get from A to B can be extremely difficult. Resting, for example, is only one of several ways that someone who is tired can feel more awake. They could, for example, drink something containing caffeine; do exercise; or splash cold water on their face.
  2. DO doesn’t always succeed: Before applying the rule to situations where abuse is occurring, it’s worth pointing out that Philip’s Rule also exposes all of those situations where the strategies, sub-consciously chosen, for getting from A to B, fail repeatedly.

Someone who experiences abuse as a child doesn’t have the luxury of choosing their strategies for surviving the abuse. The strategies that get selected are chosen sub-consciously. Some of them are helpful in reducing immediate and long term-pain, while others contribute to even more immediate and long-term suffering.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the person being subjected to abuse of any kind, is likely to be in a state of fight, flight or freeze — states-of-survival where parts of the brain have automatically moved into an ‘offline-mode’ in an (often misdirected) attempt to save the life of the ‘organism’.

Behavioural Loop Theory posits that the behaviours and attitudes that we adopted during childhood, in response to events and stimuli in our environments, are behaviours that we automatically apply throughout life, unless these ‘loops’ get consciously disrupted, or they become unusable.

Abuse conveys the message: “You are unworthy of love, you are unlovable”.

These messages create disconnectedness from others and from one’s-self.

The more disconnected a person feels, the more pain they feel.

The only way to diminish that pain is through connection.

And that drives a cycle where those of us who have experienced wounding, are willing to do whatever-it-takes to diminish the pain of involuntary-isolation!

We’re desperate for connection to take away some of our pain. And so we find ourselves making ‘compromises’ that lead back into abusive situations.

Because the pain of isolation can be so daunting, the pain of staying in abuse is often less than the pain of isolation!

Philip’s Rule predicts that we will move from HIGH PAIN (emotion/sensation A) to LESS PAIN (emotion/sensation B) by doing something.

Behavioural Loop Theory (B-Loop Theory) suggests that we choose how to respond to discomfort and pain based on options that were ‘embedded’ during childhood.

As healers, who have substantially-completed our own healing, we can illuminate these dynamics for our students and clients, so that they can see, for themselves, what is happening to them.

We can create environments where it’s safe enough for a person to compassionately observe their B-Loops, and where they can replace less-healthy Loops with healthier patterns — Unconditional-Loving environments where they can trade in their belief that “I am unworthy of Love” for the belief that “I am deeply Lovable”.

Bessel and Jayson, if you read this, and feel moved to connect, then I would love for this to turn into a multi-directional conversation.

Namaste, Philip Be’er