Pandemic Behavioral Diseases

The current virus pandemic is the tip of the iceberg of many, many social behavioral diseases that have been frozen for a very long time. Using our laser vision to look deep within the ice could trigger a melting of the multiple ways in which we have been socially distancing ourselves, to our own detriment.

The submerged “mental model” of this stack of frozen behavioral layers is shame, the most condensed form of social distance.

Healing the shame will release “empathy, humanity, inter-connectedness, hope, spirituality, aliveness, belonging, joy and generosity.” Sound good?

Let’s first define “behavioral disease.”

Criteria for a behavioral disease, that are normally applied to students:
▪ Learning challenges that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors. [but maybe PTSD?]
▪ Trouble keeping up or building satisfactory relationships.
▪ Inappropriate behavior (against self or others) or emotions (shares the need to harm others or self, low self-worth) in normal conditions.
▪ A overall attitude of unhappiness or depression.
▪ A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears.

Alcoholism and addictions of all kinds fit this definition and have been classified and treated successfully as behavioral diseases since the 1930’s, in spite of the common and shallow judgement of addiction as a moral deficiency. In reality, these behaviors are amazing, adaptive, survival responses to the traumatic wounding of our core identity. The scars of those wounds become painfully tragic, ugly distortions that mask the strength and beauty that lies underneath them. Without the blessing of those scars, we would bleed to death very quickly, spiritually, emotionally and physically. Unfortunately, the accumulation of many wounds is like the “death of a thousand paper cuts,” and our core identity becomes buried so deep that it seems irretrievable.

Addictions include:
food (sugar, salt, fat, caffeine),
media noise (radio, TV, newspaper, texting, internet),
work (overtime, caretaking, career stacking),
and more…

The global pandemics of these behaviors result in:

Destruction of eco-systems and planetary weather systems,
Depletion of human social capital,
Economic manipulation and chaos,
Mass shootings,
Heart disease,
Mass migrations,
and much, much more…

Our most pressing question today is can our core identity as human beings be restored, re-discovered, rebuilt? Yes. Many individuals have chanced upon a map (one possibility) that guided their return journey. Today, because those pioneers have worn rutted trails into the wilderness of frozen feelings, that return could happen on a massive scale. Here’s the most concise exposition I’ve ever seen of what melting the layers of the iceberg look like by Vanissar Tarakali (adapted from the “Layers of Shame” model from Staci Haines’ Somatics and Trauma training).

Surface behaviors:

denial, defensiveness, isolation, under/over responsibility, image management, self-absorption, absolution seeking, paralysis

Emotions underneath: 

anger, aggression, fear, collapse and sadness

subtle, scary emotion underneath:


scarier emotions underneath: 

terror, despair, hopelessness, powerlessness, abandonment, death

emotions underneath (accessible after release of upper emotions):

Empathy; humanity; interconnectedness; hope; spirituality; aliveness; belonging; joy; generosity

Vanissar’s Commentary: 

It is my experience and belief that shame (and the scarier emotions beneath it) can be a transformative doorway into empathy, a sense of humanity, compassion, intimacy, and connection to: self, others, nature, spirit. Compassion and trust give us the courage to pass through this doorway, to pass through despair and profound vulnerability. Passing through reminds us how much we need one another. As we remember our interconnectedness and common vulnerability with all humans, hope and creativity is restored. Organic accountability becomes possible.

© 2010, Vanissar Tarakali, Ph.D.

You know your path through this storm. Every time you have sung a song, danced a dance, watched a sunset or a dawn, been part of a birthing or a dying, climbed a mountain or lain down to watch the stars or clouds move, you have felt this. Give it your attention now and stay with it, allow it to suffuse your entire being, and you will become the storm, it will not blow you away, it will fill you with great joy and peace.

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