Ecstasy: Sentiment and Conviction 2

This is another post about the relationship between sentiment and conviction, and how when they go hand-in-hand as they should, the response is individual responsibility. These posts seem popular, so I've made a point to write one now and then. Discussing issues related to this topic has helped many of my clients overcome obstacles in their lives.

So as background, in the last post [click here to link to this post], the definitions I gave were, for our purposes:

sentiment: an internal expression of strong emotions in reaction to a realization of something profound.

conviction: an acceptance of personal responsibility for newly-challenging implications that follow from a realization of something profound.

The idea in that post was that the road to meaning in one's life comes from not only strong emotions related to a challenging realization, but from a resolute decision to act in the face of it. And then meaning results from action, which is then defined as personal responsibility. And specifically, according to my opinion in the same previous post,

personal responsibility consists in:

  1. Acceptance of one's own responsibility for making decisions.

  2. Acceptance of one's own responsibility for the outcomes of those decisions.

  3. Acceptance of one's own responsibility alone in one's response to events outside one's control.

  4. Acceptance that one cannot take responsibility for others' refusal to follow the above three principles.

  5. Doing all of the above within a moral framework that is larger than oneself and not of one's own making.

There. So following that, the topic of this post is to suggest that sentiment is absolutely indicative of true conviction, but never to be trusted on its own, and can lead to false conviction (an inability to act). I would like to make two arguments, first from the positive, and then from the negative.


There is a lot of recent, well-respected medical research [click here for link to an example] demonstrating that psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in "magic mushrooms," can produce powerful emotional experiences identical to those found in the ecstatic worship or spiritual meditation found in many religious traditions, new and old. You can't judge any of that, because it's all quite real. An old example might be the Sufi "dervish" mystics in the Islamic tradition [click here for link], which is paralleled by the new movement of "Ecstatic Dance" [click here for link]. fMRI brain scans demonstrate the same sort of state produced in meditative or contemplative prayer conditions as comparable to the state induced by psilocybin and other psychadelics [click here for more research].

However, these religious traditions would emphasize that the sentiment produced by meditative prayer, for instance, is only important because the thing meditated upon ought to produce conviction through the sentiment. This does not always occur, and the criticism many understandably level at such religious traditions, is that the ecstatic experience is so satisfying in itself, it can possibly lead only to a desire for more of it, or to self-isolation. And that would be much like psilocybin. Drug use very rarely leads to meaning in life! Or real relationships. Or even action, unless you count ordering 10 pizzas. That is another topic--however, the point is that the most meaningful sentiment in human tradition can be replicated chemically, and is verifiably a physical, not spiritual, phenomenon. Therefore, sentiment without conviction can be illusory or deceptive at the highest level, as action will not follow.


As I see most every day doing trauma therapy, sentiment alone can lead to false conviction, which produces not action, but inaction--the learned helplessness common to developmental trauma at the source of most of society's ills. The most damaging traumatic experience, as proven by the profoundly influential and universally accepted Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse is essentially an extended experience of negative, self-destroying sentiment, that is, a profound emotional experience of worthlessness. I will reprint a quote and link to the article:

[...] recurrent humiliation by a parent caused a slightly more detrimental impact and was marginally correlated to a greater likelihood of adult illness and depression. Simply living with a parent who puts you down and humiliates you, or who is alcoholic or depressed, can leave you with a profoundly hurtful ACE footprint and alter your brain in immunology functioning for life.

The learned helplessness is so deep that it produces an inability to act even on a cellular level, leading to higher rates of heart disease and cancer. But on a cognitive level, this is even worse: the false conviction that one is worthless leads to a theft of meaning, in that one's actions are perceived as irrelevant to life outcomes. This is the common dilemma in emotionally abused and neglected foster boys, explaining why I have seen so many (and at a high percentage) self-sabotage to the point that they wind up in jail, where they feel they belong. It also explains why only four ACE's predict a 1600% increase in the likelihood of IV drug use (e.g. heroin). This is 2400% at seven ACE's. At seven ACES, the suicide and disease rates are so high that the average lifespan is reduced by 20 years.

EMDR, used as a trauma therapy for developmental trauma, is capable of entirely ridding the client from the "conviction" of worthlessness. This proves that the conviction is false, and leads to a different, realistic conviction that enables the client to take personal responsibility for perhaps the first time. But adolescent, foster-care boys are in my experience, the hardest population to work with.

This is good news. But, EMDR also proves that all sentiment, not only trauma-derived sentiment, is useless unless conviction occurs at the same time. Recent research in the Netherlands, performed by Prof. Ad de Jongh, studied how EMDR dulls or eliminates traumatic sentiment. In the laboratory, certain principles of EMDR were able to also dull "good" sentiment--such as that produced by ecstatic experience from drug use or religious experience. That's frightening, if you're religious, but it's also very useful if you're religious--as I am. It highlights the critical nature of conviction in leading to meaning. HOWEVER, what makes EMDR special is that there is no way to dull true conviction, even if the sentiment behind it can be desensitized. That means that EMDR, when used as a trauma therapy, cannot help but lead to permanent, true conviction. The new conviction concerning childhood trauma is that the experience, however horrible, is over, not one's responsibility, and actually proves one's inherent worth and ability to act.

But it is still up to the client to take conviction as a road to personal responsibility! The therapist can't make you walk. An no client was ever healed by protecting them from the inherent risks in living one's own life.


I hope that this encourages you to take personal responsibility. Perhaps that includes therapy--from whoever, not just me, and not only with EMDR. Taking personal responsibility is hard enough without the burden of false convictions and labels placed on you by a parent or an abuser.