Monthly Archives: February 2014

Dr. Vincent Felitti: “The Origins of Addiction”

Felitti ACE DVD 3-min Preview screenshotAfter I heard Russell Brand say that what compels addicts is the “hole in me,” I wrote Feb. 14 that this means:  “parts of my brain are dark.”  And it’s so painful, we just medicate.  Ten % of us use hard drugs and alcohol.  Another 40% abuse tobacco, food, gambling, internet porn, sex, sports and more.

All these, abused, cause premature death.  Huge numbers of us are in pain so bad, we’d rather die than live with it.

In response, Dr. Vincent J. Felitti with great patience sent me his 2003 article, “The Origins of Addiction: Evidence from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.”  It reported these facts 10+ years ago in hard statistics — and more.

Until we treat the underlying ACE trauma, Dr. Felitti says, nothing will change and a high percent of people will continue to die early.  These abuses create the top ten causes of death in the U.S.

This week I’m writing to send you Dr. Felitti’s article and make it your Friday read.  [ FN1]   Click here for the English pdf.

Methamphetamine 1943 AdDr. Felitti also sent this fascinating photo, a full page ad in a 1943 American medical journal for the successful new antidepressant of that day, Methamphetamine.  “Does it mean anything that in impure form and unknown dose the same chemical is sold as the street drug known as crystal meth?” he wrote.  “Like maybe, ‘My kid is buying antidepressants on the street’ ? ”

If anyone says Dr. Felitti “wants to hand out drugs,” I’d love to see them in libel court.  Nope, his message is short and sweet.

Unless we treat ACE trauma, traumatized people will find something, anything, somehow, to numb the horrific emotional pain of ACE trauma.  They’d rather be dead than live with it un-numbed.  And what they find will kill most of them prematurely.  Period.

“Our findings… imply that the basic causes of addiction lie within us and the way we treat each other, not in drug dealers or dangerous chemicals,” Dr. Felitti states.  “They suggest that billions of dollars have been spent everywhere except where the answer is to be found…

“Because cause and effect usually lie within a family, it is understandably more comforting to demonize a chemical than to look within,” he concludes.

Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.

FN1  Felitti, Vincent J. , MD, “The Origins of Addiction: Evidence from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study,”
English version of the article published in Germany as:
Felitti VJ, “Ursprünge des Suchtverhaltens – Evidenzen aus einer Studie zu belastenden
Kindheitserfahrungen,” Praxis der Kinderpsychologie und Kinderpsychiatrie, 2003; 52:547-559.

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Limbic Resonance

Stovepiped Brain Lizard Aardvark Monkey MedleyMy Feb. 7 post “Love Theory”  introduced “General Theory of Love” (GTL), the best book I’ve seen on the three-part or “triune” brain and human emotions.  Basic survival instincts are in the reptilian brain, mammalian emotions are in the limbic brain, thought is in the frontal lobe. [FN1]

After adding that the brain’s distinct parts create a “stove-pipe” problem because they don’t communicate well with one another, GTL proceeds to Attachment Theory.  The very development of an infant’s brain after birth, they say, depends utterly on the mother’s close affectionate attention, using a deep eye contact they dub “limbic resonance.”  If the baby doesn’t get deep eye contact and attunement? Brain damage.

Not Mom.  Not Again.  I’m sick of being upset about Mom. Couldn’t I be upset at someone else, say Dick Cheney?  OK laugh, but he’s relevant.  How did Mrs. Cheney’s  bouncing baby grow up to become Darth Vadar, anyway? Let’s look at the biological facts.

“Mothers use the universal signals of emotions to teach their babies about the world,” begins GTL. “Babies continuously monitor their mothers’ expressions. If a mother freezes her face, her baby becomes upset and begins to cry in short order…

“Why should a creature with relatively few skills be so monomaniacally focused on tiny muscular contractions beneath the skin of another creature’s body? Emotionality enables a mammal to sense the inner states and the motives of the mammals around him…

“A baby is born with almost no limbic programming.  It needs continual feedback from the mother’s face to learn how to run basic physical functions… Mammals developed a capacity we call ‘limbic resonance’… whereby two mammals become attuned to each other’s inner states” by deep eye contact.

“Secure attachment resulted when a child was hugged when he wanted to be hugged, and put down when he wanted to be put down.  When he was hungry, his mother knew it and fed him….  By what grace?  Limbic resonance gives her the means to that telepathy…”

The “Still Face” Experiment

Still Face Experiment 2“By looking into his eyes and becoming attuned to his inner state, a mother can reliably intuit her baby’s feelings and needs,” says GTL.  “The regular application of that knowledge changes a child’s emotional makeup… Attachment penetrates to the neural core of what it means to be a human being.”

These concepts are demonstrated graphically by a one-year old baby in the “Still Face” experiment.  Dr. Ed Tronick of the U Mass Boston’s Infant-Parent Mental Health Program did his first “Still Face” work in 1975; his 2007 video  has over 1.3 million hits.  First a mother and child play in an eye-to-eye and also responsive, attuned way, so the baby learns to interact with the world.  Click here for video:

Then the mother presents a still, emotionally barren face – her eyes give the baby no feedback. The baby in seconds goes into a tailspin, unable even to maintain body posture.  When the mother resumes her normal empathic expressions, her baby is visibly relieved. “Prolonged lack of attention can move an infant from ‘good’ socialization, to periods of ‘bad’ but repairable socialization,” Dr. Tronick says.  “In ‘ugly’ situations the child does not receive any chance to return to the good, and may be traumatized.”

“A mother continuously adjusts her infant’s physiology,” as GTL puts it. “When the mother is absent, an infant loses all his organizing channels at once.  Like a marionette with its strings cut, his physiology collapses into the huddled heap of despair…

“The mammalian nervous system depends for its neurophysiological stability on a system of interactive coordination, wherein steadiness comes from synchronization with nearby attachment figures,” our three shrinks forge on. “A baby’s physiology is maximally open-looped; without limbic regulation from the mother or some human caretaker, his vital rhythms will collapse and he will die… Limbic regulation directs…the development of the brain itself.”

When I first read this in 2009, I felt a wave of fear.  Fear?  That makes no sense, why so much fear?  Oh, well, I can’t imagine my mom looking into my eyes much, let alone to do something as silly as figure out my “feelings and needs.”  I thought feelings were something stupid to get rid of.  Needs?  What does that even mean?  Mom wasn’t into eye contact, and who cares?  I sure didn’t; I had no idea people looked much at kids, except if we annoyed them.

Except, wait: now science sez this means my brain was maybe fried as an infant?  That could cause some fear.  As if reading my mind, the three shrinks proceed:

Isolating Mammals

“Take a puppy away from his mother… and you witness the universal mammalian reaction to the rupture of an attachment bond,” GTL writes. “A lone puppy first enters the protest phase.  He paces tirelessly, scanning his surroundings, barking, scratching vainly at the floor… He lets out a piteous whine, high-pitched and grating.  Every aspect of his behavior broadcasts distress…”

And it’s not all in his head.  “A mammal in protest shows a distinct physiology.  Heart rate and body temperature increase, as to levesl of catecholamines and cortisol… Cortisol is the body’s major stress hormone, and its sharp elevation tells us that the relationship rupture is a severe bodily strain.”

harlow-monkey-getty sm, better ResolutionBut wait.  “If the separation is prolonged, a mammal enters the second stage,” the doctors warn, and it’s called despair.  “Despair begins with collapse into lethargy; the animals stops his back and forthing, stops whimpering, and curls up into a despondent lump.  He drinks little and may show no interest in food… The physiologic signature of the despair phase is a widespread disruption of bodily rhythms.  Heart rate will be low…  sleep will change…  the level of growth hormone in the blood will plummet…”

My innards sank.  At the bottom of page 78 was a photo of a mammal fallen into the despair phase after prolonged separation, captioned “Isolated rhesus monkey” (above).  It was from the 1950s experiments by Harry Harlow. [FN2]

I didn’t know then what Harlow had done to the baby monkeys — but I knew that physiological state all too well. I physically felt it.  I felt my body scream that I had been in precisely that state many times, and I had a purely gut impulse to go “curl up in a lump” — like, now.

I fought with myself not to collapse in exactly such a heap for over 30 minutes until I no longer had any strength and did collapse sobbing in that posture on my bed. I had definitely been there before and it was almost impossible not to connect it to what my first non-attaching therapist Dr. Rita did by sending me on that trip to Isolation Row.

A few days later I phoned two friends and read them each the passage about protest, despair, and the physiological down-spiral which felt so horribly real inside my own body. “Gosh I hope you don’t feel like that poor baby monkey” said one. “I don’t just feel like, I know I am that baby monkey” I shot back.

“A mother continuously adjusts her infant’s physiology… when the mother is absent, an infant loses all his organizing channels at once,” GTL concludes. “Like a marionette with its strings cut, his physiology collapses into the huddled heap of despair.”

At this point in my first read of GTL in 2009 I was sure I was a dead bunny, er, monkey — and I’d only made it to page 83 of 240.


Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.


FN1  Lewis, Thomas, MD; Amini, Fari, MD; Lannon, Richard, MD; “A General Theory of Love”, Random House, New York, 2000. Dr. Lannon interviews :
Preface excerpts:

FN2   Harry Harlow worked with Attachment Theory founder John Bowlby to demonstrate that attachment trumps Freud’s earlier mechanistic assertions.  Harlow was known for his maternal-separation and social isolation experiments on rhesus monkeys at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he mentored pioneer psychologist Abraham Maslow as a student in the 1930s.  The cruelty to animals got out of hand, but behind it was an attempt to halt the Freudian and Behaviorist cruelty to humans which dominated psychology and medicine in the 1950s and 60s.

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The Hole in Me

Philip Seymour Hoffman“Philip Seymour Hoffman is another victim of extremely stupid drug laws,” writes Russell Brand in The Guardian on Feb. 6 at commentisfree/2014/feb/06/russell-brand-philip-seymour-hoffman-drug-laws   I posted this Feb. 7 in the comments of his article:

What causes that “pain” which drives us to use?  Russell calls it “the hole in me,”  “the gutter within,”  “the unfulfillable void,” his “private hell.”  What causes “the hole in my soul,” as William Moyers dubs it in “Broken,” in the first place?

It’s all about “the hole in me.”  Hardly anyone speaks of it – but “the hole” is the real problem. Hardly anyone speaks of it because 50% of the population in most OECD countries suffers some degree of it and it scares the heck out of us all.

Russell Brand says 10% have this pain so severely, they use hard drugs and alcohol.  OECD statistics show upwards of 30% of us have it so bad we abuse food and are overweight to obese, which kills too.  I’ve not seen statistics on child abuse, gambling, or  “respectable business folk” like me or my ex husband who are work-aholics or addicted to sports, political power, abusive romance, internet porn, sex, and so on. That’s at least another 10% (if not far higher).

In fact, the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study of over 17,400 college-educated employed Americans done by top medical doctors shows that over 50% of Americans have some form of childhood trauma and of these, a significant percent suffer from food, alcohol, or other addictions.

Plus, it showed that we die prematurely of both these “hard” and “soft” addictions — the stress eats away our body parts. It shows ACEs are the primary causes in the first place of heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and the other top ten causes of death in the U.S.

Hole Under My Feet

Loss That Is Forever Maxine HarrisI discovered “the hole in me” by accident. I never heard of it, either, after 50+ years of extensive education. After my divorce in 2008 I just starting saying “I have a hole in my heart” because I literally felt it in my chest.

In 2009 I got Dr. Robin Norwood’s “Women Who Love Too Much” which says that if we simply sit quietly, we can “feel the wind blowing through the empty place where our heart should be.”  I could feel the hole in my chest.  She notes that this is why we never sit quietly (without which cure is impossible). [FN1]

In 2010 I got “Motherless Daughters” by Hope Edelman, case studies of people who were little when their moms died, and a similar book by Dr. Maxine Harris. My Mom died in 2008; why read such books?  It fell into my hands “by accident.” Yet time and again the case study subjects spoke of growing up feeling as though they had a “hole under their feet” or a “hole in the heart.”  [FN2]

I started to bawl as it hit me that I’d felt as if I had a “hole under my feet’ all my conscious life.  I just alternated between denial and praying my parents wouldn’t notice my terror.  My first memory of TV was a documentary about open heart surgery on a “blue baby” with cardiac perforation. As the camera showed a scalpel probing a gap in bloody tissue, the announcer intoned, “Here is the hole in Julie’s heart.”  I could never forget his voice.

Last month, I finally heard a specialist identify “the hole” as that which must be cured or nothing works. It was therapist Dr. Tara Brach in her talk “Reacting Wisely to Desire” (Aug.10, 2011) min 24:

She quotes William Moyers, an alcoholic activist, speaking at a scientific conference. “I was born with a ‘hole in my soul,’ a pain that came from the reality that I just wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t deserving enough, that you weren’t paying attention to me, that you didn’t like me,” he said. “For us addicts, recovery is more than a pill or a shot. Recovery is about dealing with that hole in the soul.”

“Drugs and alcohol are not my problem — reality is my problem. Drugs and alcohol are my solution,” as Russell Brand told The Spectator March 9, 2013:

Parts of My Brain Are Dark

But what is this “reality” of so many human beings?  What causes the “hole” and “private hell of pain” in the first place?

Brousblog1a Perry brains X-secThe cause of “the hole in my soul” is Attachment Disorder, a mental and physiological condition both, which results from injury to an infant or child’s brain stem while the brain is still developing.

Science has only recently demonstrated that unless kids (and other mammals) are given solid emotional connection and eye contact (“attachment”) from birth by parents or others, infant neurological systems just don’t develop well. The infant brain literally requires programming by an adult’s eyes and facial expressions to begin to program its own neurons, dubbed “Limbic Resonance” and documented in “A General Theory of Love.” [FN3]

When a mother doesn’t respond to her baby this way (she’s being battered, stress at work, is unable to attune to others), the infant’s brain stem reads that as a survival threat.  This floods its bloodstream with fight/flight stress chemicals.  If an adult doesn’t make the baby feel safe, stress chemicals overwhelm its brain and within 45 minutes the baby goes into shock (dissociation). [FN4]

What began as emotional stress ends in physical brain damage. We can now do brain scans showing that whole chunks of neurons in some brain regions don’t fire; I felt this as “parts of my brain are dark.” There is literally a “hole in me.” You can see the dark holes in the brain scans above; the left side is a normal 3-year old, and the right side a 3-year-old with attachment disorder. [FN5] The pain we feel is immense; more in: the-silent-epidemic-of-attachment-disorder/

That’s why an “attachment wound” made when a lover (for example) rejects us sends us running to our drug, as Russell almost did in March (see his Spectator piece). It touches the original wound, an infant or childhood wound buried deep and not accessible to consciousness.

“As a baby’s precarious neurophysiology falls under the steadying spell of his mother… he is modulating his emotions via an external source… an attuned parent can sooth him; he cannot sooth himself,” as “General Theory” reports. “As a consequence of thousands of these interactions, a child learns to self-quiet… The child of emotionally balanced parents will be resilient to life’s minor shocks…

“Those who miss out… find that in adulthood, their emotional footing pitches beneath them like the deck of a boat in rough waters. They are incomparably reactive to the loss of their anchoring attachments — without assistance,they are thrown back on threadbare resources. The end of a relationship is then not mere poignant, but incapacitating.” [FN3 op.cit., p.156-8]

That’s what Russell Brand said drove him off the edge and halfway down the freeway to a Santa Monica crack house just last year — his woman broke the attachment bond (see his March 2013 Guardian piece).

I’ve felt doubled over in just that way by romance so many times. Now I know why and I know what drove my addictions.

Alcoholics Anonymous Works

That’s why the “attachment wound” responds to the compassionate sound of a friend’s voice when Russell calls from LA to London; the pain eases for a day.

Addiction as Attachment Disorder Philip FloresThat’s why the “Anonymous” programs work: we have a wound made when we didn’t get the simple human acceptance and compassion that a child’s very brain needs to grow. When we walk into a room of co-sufferers and we receive that human acceptance, and compassion, it literally fires up some of those dark neurons in our brain, and the pain eases. With regular attendance, this can work for decades.

See “Addiction as an Attachment Disorder” by therapist Philip J. Flores. [FN6] See also numerous related studies in “Does Science Show What 12 Steps Know?,” Aug. 2013:

But why do people like Philip Seymour Hersh or Russell Brand relapse after twenty or thirty years?  Why do I still feel the occasional twinge from my old addictions, after four years clean and nearly 24 x 7 study of all this?  (Hope it’s not my new addiction…)  Blame genes if you like but I don’t buy it.

The “Anonymous” programs are as indispensable as food or water; without their “people support” we can’t even make a start. Yet they can’t possibly provide enough support or go deep enough to heal the original wound.

When will we see that “so many broken people” must be caused by society’s ignorance, and not by the individual user’s screw-up?  Why is the true cause of all this pain never addressed?   Society is militantly oblivious and illiterate about it.  And why?

Some 50% of the population in most OECD countries suffers some degree of the childhood emotional pain of Attachment Disorder. There’s an Adult Attachment Interview which has been used by psychologists in enough studies to prove it since 1994. [FN7]  The ACE Study backs this up with 17,400+ hard medical exam statistics.

The number is so high that the very existence of Attachment Disorder and of its symptoms are literally incomprehensible to most who suffer from it.  Sufferers include large percentages of “high achievers” in business and government.  Denial is rampant to the point of arrogance.

Our entire society is virtually structured for, and dedicated to, the precise purpose of providing these distractions from the “hole within.”  Such distractions give us temporary bursts of endorphins to ease the pain.  But since they can’t heal the real pain, we require more and more of our addictions until the stress kills us.

Fact is, 50% of us have some degree of “hole within,” and 40% are in denial.  The other 50% are uneducated.

Until the “hole in the brain” from Adult Attachment Disorder, and the causes of Adult Attachment Disorder are addressed, the 40% who don’t use hard-core drugs or booze, will go on wagging their fingers at the 10% who do use – blaming the wounded for the wound.  These superior folks have the same wound killing them, only more slowly.

We need mass education to publicize the cause of the “hole in the soul” so that people know not to walk around all their lives thinking they are the only one on earth who feels it.  We need publicity to wake up the many who don’t feel the hole because their hyperactivity and addictions numb them – especially those in high places.

Congressmen check their cholesterol, but Adverse Childhood Experiences are the real cause of heart disease as the ACE Study shows.  If they knew the truth, wouldn’t they get an ACE score and an Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) check-up?

People need to know to go for help – and to know that if they go for help, they won’t be stigmatized, as they are today, but supported. We need more publicly-supported programs modeled on the Anonymous groups for healing hearts and minds.  We need those groups in every flavor, for every addiction, in every city and town. We need them to be publicly supported so that large numbers of people know that it’s ok to go for help.

We need a referral system so that people in enough pain after doing all – like Russell and me – get referred to therapy.  We need a real mental health system in which therapy has insurance which makes it feasible, not a pipe dream as it is today for 99.99% of Americans.

“General Theory of Love” also demonstrates in depth that a huge percent of therapists haven’t healed their own “hole inside me” and so are tone deaf and clueless about how to heal.  We need a serious overhaul of our therapy training programs and remedial re-education programs for therapists now in practice.

Why the big deal? Huge numbers of our population are in pain so bad they’d rather die than live with it.

Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder—How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.” Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.


FN1  Norwood, Robin, PhD, “Women Who Love Too Much,” Pocket Books, New York, 1985

FN2  Edelman, Hope, “Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss,” Da Capo Press, 2006.  See also: Harris, Maxine, PhD, “The Loss That Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father,” Penguin Books, New York, 1996

FN3 Lewis, Thomas, MD; Amini, Fari, MD; Lannon, Richard, MD; “A General Theory of Love”, Random House, New York, 2000. Dr. Lannon interviews at:

FN4  Herman, Judith, PhD, “Trauma and Recovery,” Basic Books, New York, 1992

FN5  Perry, Bruce, MD, “Overview of Neuro-sequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT),”, 2010

FN6  Flores, Philip J., PhD, “Addiction as an Attachment Disorder,” Jason Aronson, Inc., 2004:  “Addiction is a disorder in self-regulation. Individuals who become dependent on addictive substances cannot regulate their emotions, self-care, self-esteem, and relationships.”

FN7  Ainsworth, Mary D.S., Blehar, M.C., et al, “Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the Strange Situation,” Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, 1978.  See also: George, C., Kaplan, N., Main, Mary, “An Adult Attachment Interview,” Unpublished MS, University of California at Berkeley, 1994

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Love Theory

BrousBlog6c General Theory“A General Theory of Love,” after Einstein’s “General Theory of Relativity,” is by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon, three MDs and professors of psychiatry.  They’re men on a mission to break the truth about the brain to America.  It was passed to me with the promo that it has the latest science on how to re-program painful mental patterns like a broken heart.  [FN1]

Emotions, they report,  are imprinted in the infant brain via what they call “limbic resonance” and create how and whom we love, which creates who we are.  See Part 2: Limbic Resonance.

I never meant to get into brain science.  But once I read “General Theory of Love” or GTL as we dubbed it, I saw that what I didn’t know was killing me.  It became obvious that I had brain trauma from infancy and I was walking around mis-attuned to people from deep in my brain stem.

GTL also demonstrated that no matter how much “lonely pain” I had after my divorce, romance was only getting me into deeper kimche because my mis-attuned brain kept “finding” mis-attuned men.  It showed why my men couldn’t relate; it also showed that I couldn’t, either.

The doctors  conclude (no surprise)  that truly good, attuned therapy is the only way to get our brains re-tuned — at the  expense of five to ten years’ time and the price of a college education.

But I’d just been through therapy —  it only made me feel much worse.  They explain that, too: most therapists are poorly attuned to their clients!   One must take pains to locate the select few who can manage.  In fact, GTL is a wake-up call by three top shrinks to alert the public that therapy is failing us.

Now we have: my brain is fried; romance only creates more pain; most therapists are clueless; and every time I see my best friend, I have to look at what a suicide in the family does to survivors.  I faced No Exit from the emotional pain.

That left me two choices: become a nun or research the brain.  I sang and listened to Schubert’s song “The Young Nun” quite a bit to test-drive the impulse, but my body wasn’t buying it.  On to brain science.

War on Emotions

Triune Brain1 McCleanGTL starts with a bang: American society has declared war on emotions and that’s a tragedy, they state, because emotions, led by love, are what allow mammals to survive, humans included.

“Traditional versions of the mind hold that Passion is a troublesome remnant from humanity’s savage past, and the intellectual subjugation of emotion is civilization’s triumph,” says the Preface.  But the last ten years’ brain science discoveries show instead that “the brain’s ancient emotional architecture…is nothing less than the key to our lives.”

“Modern America plows emotions under, a costly practice that obstructs happiness and misleads people about the nature and significance of their lives.  That… is more damaging than one might suppose” they write.  “Science has discovered emotionality’s deeper purpose: emotions allow two human beings to receive the contents of each others minds…

“Emotions have a biological function — they do something for an animal that helps it to live.”

The authors show the importance of emotions with the “triune brain” model, posited by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean, MD in the 1960s and proven by subsequent brain scan techniques.  Mammals have three distinct brain regions with different physiologies and functions almost as different as those of the lungs and kidneys. Even the neurons in each region are different. [FN2]

Take the three in archeological order of appearance.  At the top of the spinal chord sits the reptilian brain stem.  It provides raw survival instincts, basic functions such as breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and digestion, and also appears in the most primitive reptiles.

Triune Brain2 w. functionsNext, mammals uniquely have developed the limbic brain, which provides emotions, something entirely new with the advent of mammals; it wraps around the brain stem.  It allows mammals to carry and care for their young (rather than hatch and eat them as do reptiles).   (I’m not familiar with but they do a great cartoon.)

For this the limbic brain gives rise to love, nurturing, joy, etc., which release “feel good” opiates into the bloodstream so we do more of that.  It also provides hatred, fear, anger, etc., which release “feel bad” stress chemicals, so we know when we’re being hurt instead of loved.  Hopefully.

Wrapped around all that is the third and late-comer frontal cortex, best developed in primates, which allows thought, language, future planning, willpower etc.  During development, every mammalian fetus recapitulates this three-lobe brain phylogeny.

“A body animated only by the reptilian brain stem is no more human than a severed toe.  Reptiles don’t have an emotional life,” GTL notes.  “The advent of the mammalian limbic lobe, uniquely, allows mammals to care for their own, have emotions, and risk and lose life for another.”

“Emotions are good?  I can’t think them away?  These societal voices in my head telling me to ‘just stuff it and grow up’ are wrong and maybe damaging?  That’s a relief,” I thought.  “But I’ve sure got a lot of ’em and they’re a mess; now what?”

Stovepiped Brain

Stovepiped Brain Lizard Aardvark Monkey MedleyThere’s the rub. Unfortunately, this “Lizard-Squirrel-Monkey Medley”  is “stove-piped together” to optimize our survival long enough to reproduce, but “can often make for lousy quality of life,” as Dr. Ron Siegel puts it.  Our brain is “fragmented, in-harmonious, and to some degree composed of players with competing interests” agrees GTL. [FN3]

The limbic brain “hasn’t changed much in size or function from primitive mammals to man, and is pre-historic relative to the frontal cortex,”  GTL continues.  All three lobes “interdigitate like… like dusk and dawn,” but light and dark are not the same.  “The cleavage between reason and passion is an ancient theme but no anachronism; it has endured because it speaks to the deep human experience of a divided mind.”

The frontal cortex only imagines that the other two take orders and obey logic.  “Not so” says GTL.  “Words, good ideas, and logic mean nothing to at least two brains out of three.  Much of one’s mind does not take orders.”  In reality the lower two lobes regulate the thinking cortex “unseen, unbidden, and largely uncontrolled…

Real Masters are Sleeping elephant-rider”We say ‘I will’ and ‘I will not,’,” they quote novelist Gene Wolfe, “and imagine ourselves our own masters, when the truth is our true masters are sleeping.  When one wakes within us, we are ridden like beasts.’ ”

Cripes, my heart won’t obey my head because it lives in a different country!  “Frontal” (head) can’t tell Limbus (heart) to “just shape up” because Limbus doesn’t speak Frontal.  My thinking cortex tells me not to run out into the street for my next romance and get hit by a truck, but my emotions ride me like a beast.  So it’s baked into my physiology to keep running out into the street to be hit and eaten by reptiles in trucks.  I’m really screwed.

Moreover, we need love to live and without love, we die, GTL continues.  Here my anxiety went through the roof.  I sure did feel like I was going to die without love, and soon; that was the whole nature of my roiling emotional pain.  But I’m not finding any cozy mammals; I keep meeting reptiles who treat me like prey, so my doctors tell me to stay on Isolation Row.

How am I going to survive out here alone in the wilds without love?

Kathy’s news blogs expand on her book “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME:  The Silent Epidemic of Attachment Disorder How I accidentally regressed myself back to infancy and healed it all.”  Watch for the continuing series each Friday, as she explores her journey of recovery by learning the hard way about Attachment Disorder in adults, adult Attachment Theory, and the Adult Attachment Interview.


FN1  Lewis, Thomas, MD; Amini, Fari, MD; Lannon, Richard, MD; “A General Theory of Love”,  Random House, New York, 2000.  See Dr. Lannon interviews at:
Preface excerpts at:
On therapy:

FN2  MacLean, Paul, MD,  The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions, Springer, 1990, 704 pgs.  MacLean formulated his model in the 1960s as the head of the section on the limbic system at the Laboratory of Neurophysiology, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

FN3  Siegel, Ronald D., PhD, “The Neurobiology of Mindfulness,” NICABM, April 15, 2011, available at  reports:
“Basically our brain evolved over a series of evolutionary accidents.
We have what’s often called the reptilian brain, which is the brain stem and disassociated structures. You could think of that as the “lizard brain.”
Then, on top of that is the mammalian brain, which involves our limbic system, all of our different emotional response systems, which we actually share with most of the other mammals, and of which a principle feature is our fight-or-flight system that responds to danger.
Then, we have the primate, or monkey brain that’s sitting on top of that. Here are all the higher cortical structures, so heavily developed in humans compared to the other animals, which allow for judgment, thought, and prediction.
So, this combination is sometimes called the Lizard Squirrel Monkey Brain Medley, and that’s what we have inherited.
And these different structures don’t always work so well together.
As we know, how many of us haven’t experienced ourselves at three in the morning suddenly awake because some combinations of these three brains are terribly activated, worrying about something, with lots of psycho-physiological arousal, when there’s actually nothing at all we can do about it. There’s no adaptive purpose to it, but, were up, and we’re aroused. And we have countless other examples where we experience ourselves being stressed, even though, rationally, we know it doesn’t really make any sense to be stressed.”

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