Monthly Archives: July 2014

Dissociation Nation: Half a Brain

Dan Siegel Podium w. BrainDan Siegel’s webinar “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains,” which I found by accident in March 2011, insisted that we can re-wire our brains. Siegel actually used neuroplasticity and “mindsight” (see July 11 blog) to re-wire the brain of a ninety-two year old lawyer code-named “Stewart.” [FN1]

Stewart was an extreme case, but it’s how most of us live these days.  We live in “head talk” in our frontal cortex, pretty much in dissociation from the emotions in our mammalian limbic brain. Stewart existed entirely in his thinking brain, but said he didn’t know what feelings were.  He had almost no use of his emotional brain.  “He’s a good example of a need for bilateral integration,” as Siegel put it.

Emotions?  We think the objective is to get rid of ‘em, just “grow up” and be rational like Spock on Star Trek.  “Too many Americans are spurred to achieve (business, academia, etc.) rather than to attach (to other human mammals), warn three top psychiatrists in the key book “A General Theory of Love.”  We’ve been taught that our performance is our identity, so we over-perform, thinking non-stop. That leaves almost no hours for “face time” to simply “be” with and be present with live human beings.

Yet in fact emotions are sanity and mental health, not the reverse.  And that’s not an endorsement of road rage.  But we need secure attachment as kids, while our emotions first develop, to learn to govern (regulate) emotions by sharing them with our human mammal living group so we don’t go nuts.  Yet sharing emotions is far out of style these days, and  in the last census, “one third of American households were one person,” as Dr. Bruce Perry notes.  Having no social option, we dissociate from our emotions.

Stewart began acting strangely when his wife of sixty five years took ill, so his son brought dad to see Siegel. “Stewart comes in and his son says that he thinks his dad might be depressed,” Siegel said. “Stewart was withdrawn and cantankerous, but the feeling I got wasn’t that he was sad or depressed, but that there was something just kind of vacuous and disconnected about him.  When I got to talk to Stewart alone, he still didn’t seem depressed.  He seemed more aloof than anything else.”

Stewart’s thinking brain was in great shape; “his cognition at ninety-two was totally intact—excellent memory for facts,” said Siegel, and his legal business was  successful.

But when Siegel checked on Stewart’s emotions, the gent drew a complete blank.

Living with Half a Brain

Jill Bolte Taylor Brain Halves Crop, Ted 2-08And Stewart drew the biggest blank when Siegel asked him about his emotions during childhood.

“I did a brief Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) assessment, which I do with most of my patients,” Siegel said. (See my all-new blog on the AAI here; finally got the story.) The AAI shows how emotionally close the adult interviewee got to their parents as a child.

But that just annoyed Stewart. “He thought it was absolutely a moot point that I was reviewing his relationship with his parents almost 90 years ago…

“ ‘You’re out of your mind’ Stewart said,” Siegel laughed. “He insisted that ‘relationships didn’t matter,’ his son said; ‘he’s always had that attitude.’ ”  Stewart’s wife had more data.  “She said that his parents, as Stewart had also factually stated, were ‘the coldest people on the planet.’ They lacked the ability to see the internal world. Everything was about managing Stewart’s behavior and his physical externals—his food, his shelter, his schooling — but nothing was focused on feelings or thoughts, or the meaning of  things.”

Siegel pushed back, telling Stewart that they had to look into his childhood because “synaptic connections get formed early in life.” And then it came out that Stewart couldn’t remember much about his childhood experiences at all; he only remembered logical facts such as dates. This showed “a big difference between the left and right hemispheres of his brain,” said Siegel. Stewart could handle lots of facts with his left brain, but lacked recall of fleshed-out experiences, which are more an emotional phenomenon in the right brain.

Then Siegel gave Stewart the bottom line; he said that likely Stewart’s wife’s illness “had made him go more into withdrawal from relationships.”  He also said that his tests of right and left hemisphere functioning showed that Stewart’s right brain “wasn’t very developed.”

“I said, ‘I don’t think you’re depressed. I think you’re living with half a brain.

“And… I just want to offer you the idea that you did the best you could in childhood, but the lack of focus on you internal world didn’t develop that part of your brain, so you’ve lived a life dominated by one side and not the other.”

The photo above shows the actual normal separation of the two halves of a human brain, connected only at bottom by the corpus callosum, displayed by Jill Bolte Taylor in “My Stroke of Insight” on Ted Talks in February 2008.

“And when I asked how it felt when I said that, he paused and said he didn’t know what that question meant. He said that for his whole life, people have asked him how he felt, and he had no idea what they were talking about,” Siegel went on.

“Then, he paused again and said, ‘Maybe before I die, I can learn what that question means.’

“So then we went on a journey together,” Siegel said, “and the idea is this: if a part of your brain is underdeveloped, not destroyed, but underdeveloped, it can be changed. And even if it’s destroyed maybe you can sometimes get around that, as in abuse. I want to make sure to say that. Neuroplasticity, as you’ll see in Stewart’s case, exists throughout the lifespan.”

Next Friday August 1: More current news and videos from Dan Siegel and his collaborators.

Next blog Friday August 8:  Siegel and Stewart’s journey… not forgetting Jill Bolte Taylor.

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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.

Footnotes

For biography, website, books and more: see Footnotes at bottom of  http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/Daniel-Siegel-3/

FN1   Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains,” National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), www.nicabm.com; 2010 Webcast and my first NICABM webinar, downloaded March 31, 2011. Rebroadcast October 11, 2011.  http://www.nicabm.com/nicabmblog/meditation-medication/ and http://www.nicabm.com/mindfulness-2011-new/

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Dan Siegel: Re-Wire Your Brain

91 Overpass-2 006Like I say, Dr. Dan Siegel introduced me to brain science, and I write about brain scientists like him ‘cos they saved my life.  It was all an accident… or a God-send.

In August 2010  I heard psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud on CD saying, “we can now do scans of the brain of older kids who were… not held, comforted or soothed, and there are parts of the brain which are dark. There’s nothing growing in there — because nothing was planted; neurologically there’s literally no brain activity.”

That was me, and it hit me in the gut: “Oh, s#$%!  Parts of my brain are dark!”  I thought it was fried for life.  I was commuting and almost drove off this I-91 overpass near Anaheim, CA at 70 mph (view from my car, above).  It was no trip to Disneyland.

Later I learned what I had was  “developmental trauma.”

But in March 2011, Dr. Dan Siegel taught me that we can re-wire our brains. It was literally an answer to prayer.  I clicked the wrong link in a friend’s email and ended up by mistake watching a webinar by some guy named Siegel titled  “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains.” [FN1]

He announces with characteristic excitement (I do love him) : “We’re in a moment now of making one of the most revolutionary findings from neuroscience: neuroplasticity.

“Neuroplasticity is the way we can study how the connections in the brain… continually change throughout the life span… we’re now learning  that the brain doesn’t stop growing after childhood or adolescence; it continues to grow throughout the entire life span.”

Re-Wiring with “Mindsight”

Dan Siegel Mindsight cover1 “Experience drives those changes by activating the firing of neurons, and then as neurons fire, they can rewire their connections to one another,” and make new synaptic connections, Siegel said. We can even grow more myelin coating on the neurons involved in the new thought patterns where we want to focus our attention.

That leaves the bad old brain patterns we don’t want to repeat, the ones which cause us emotional pain, not so myelinated.  And as our new brain patterns create more myelin on the cells we’re deliberately firing in new ways, our new neural patterns  become supercharged to fire faster and at way higher efficiencies, he continued.

We can use mindfulness meditation, therapy, and even brain exercises, he said, to “focus attention, which is basically harnessing the power of the mind to focus energy and information flow through the substance of the brain. As you do that, you can change synaptic connections, you can stimulate the growth of new neurons” and develop mental skills which grow myelin. “In all those ways, we can change the physical structure of the brain to the focus of the mind.”

Plus, Siegel said, we can specifically use a technique he invented called “Mindsight” to become mindful of all our mental activities, and reorganize them, to re-wire our brain even more efficiently.  We can recognize that whatever happens to be mechanically flowing through our brain is not really “us.”  It’s just the mechanical patterns of neurons which have been firing on autopilot (brainlessly!) without our wanting or needing them to fire, often since infancy, and most of them since adolescence.

“Mindsight is the capacity to sense that those mental activities are, in fact, not the totality of who you are, “ he said. “So in that sense, it overlaps with mindfulness… but it goes beyond mindfulness because once you have this ability to sense that these mental activities are just part of your identity, you then specifically can move the way your energy and information flow is happening in your mental life, in your relational life, or even in your neuronal life….”

For more, get Dr. Siegel’s book ”Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation,” (Bantam, 2010) (see http://www.drdansiegel.com/books/mindsight/ ).  Also check out his Mindsight Institute at http://www.drdansiegel.com/about/mindsight/.  [FN2]

What immediately blew me away was how Siegel used mindsight to work with a  ninety-two year old lawyer who came into Siegel’s office with half a brain (Lawyer? Was that a no-brainer?)  Siegel completely rewired the man.

Details in my next post — in two weeks, on Friday, July 25.  I’ve got to bear down on completing my book, so I’m moving to a new schedule to blog every other Friday.

Next Friday July 18,  I’ll send you current news from Dan Siegel.

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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.

Footnotes

Daniel J. Siegel, MD, http://www.drdansiegel.com is clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine on the faculty of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development and founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center.  He is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute. He is also Founding Editor for the Norton Professional Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology which contains over three dozen textbooks.

FN1   Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains,” National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), www.nicabm.com; 2010 Webcast and my first NICABM webinar, downloaded March 31, 2011. Rebroadcast October 11, 2011.  http://www.nicabm.com/nicabmblog/meditation-medication/ and http://www.nicabm.com/mindfulness-2011-new/

FN2  Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation,” Bantam Books, 2010

Must-read interview:
Siegel, Daniel J., MD, “Early childhood and the developing brain,” on “All in the Mind,” ABC Radio National, Radio Australia, June 24, 2006 at: www.abc.net.au/rn/allinthemind/stories/2006/1664985.htm

Books by Dan Siegel:
–”The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are,” (Guilford, 1999). How attachment in infancy and childhood creates the brain and the mind.
–”Healing Trauma: Attachment, Mind, Body, and Brain,” Marion F Solomon, Daniel J Siegel, editors,  New York, NY:  W.W. Norton and Company;  2003.   357pg  Reviewed by Hilary Le Page, MBBS at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2553232/
–”The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being,” (Norton, 2007)
–”The Mindful Therapist: A Clinician’s Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration,” (Norton, 2010)
–”Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation,” (Bantam, 2010)
–”Parenting from the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive,” (Tarcher/Penguin, 2003) with Mary Hartzell
–”The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind,” (Random House, 2011) with Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D
–”Brainstorm: Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain,”  (Tarcher, 2013)

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