Tag Archives: Limbic Resonance

Psychotherapy and Love

Thich nhat hanh PlumVillage.OrgI went through three bad therapists before I found my current one, and for the first two years, I kept asking him the same question:  “You’re just a hired gun, right?  ‘What’s love got to do with it?’  What good can this really do me, since it’s just business?”

Then one day I was reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” (photo above by PlumVillage.org).  On page 5, Nhat Hanh writes this of his youth in Vietnam: “I grew up in a time of war. There was destruction all around – children, adults, values, a whole country. As a young person, I suffered a lot. Once the door of awareness has been opened, you cannot close it.  The wounds of war in me are still not healed. There are nights I lie awake and embrace my people, my country, and the whole planet with mindful breathing…”

I dissolved in tears, that such a leader of men could live with this terrible pain.

Then he says: “Please don’t run away from your suffering. Embrace it, and cherish it. Go to the Buddha, sit with him, and show him your pain.  He will look at you with eyes of loving kindness, compassion, and mindfulness, and show you ways to embrace your suffering and look deeply into it. With this understanding and compassion, you will be able to heal the wounds in your heart…”

Just as suddenly I flashed on a picture of my therapist, grey beard and all. Whoa, he’s a Christian therapist, and I’m (or was) a nice Jewish girl from Long Island — so “trust me,” as we say in New York, Dr. R. was the furthest thing from my mind when I picked up Nhat Hahn’s book.

But now it hits me like a ton of bricks:

“Oh: Buddha!,” I said, speaking mentally to Dr. R.  “This is how you look at me, this is how you create deep changes in my soul…” And then I was really bawling and calling Dr. R’s tape to leave a message reading him Nhat Hanh’s passage — saying, more or less, “OK, now I get it!  This is real attachment, it’s the real deal!  Hey, Buddha…”

[ Find a good therapist: http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/resources/attachment-therapists-directory/  ]

Emotional Investment

Sir Walter Raleigh_by_'H'_monogrammistIn the years since, we’ve discussed it, and lived it, and he says it — but now I knew: Dr. R. is 100% invested in me.

Not the way he’s invested in 40lks or in paying his mortgage; he could make a living an easier way. Instead, he chooses to invest his emotions and attachment into his clients as a dear friend would. He chooses to lay his soul out under me like a warm limbic carpet of deep emotional support, as Sir Walter Raleigh did his cloak for Queen Elizabeth.

That takes courage and ginormous simply plain human compassion and sheer humanity.

Recently I read these words by Sir Richard Bowlby, son of the founder of attachment theory, addressing therapy for adopted children — but it goes for anyone who needs deep therapy, and it made my whole body sob:

“The… intervention …involves clinicians taping into their own empathic capacities to help children feel supported to such a degree that direct connections can be forged between the reality of children’s traumatic experiences and the parents and/or clinicians being able to tolerate their pain and so regulate the child’s distress down to a manageable level. The recognition that another person can truly understand and tolerate their pain can be a major contribution to the client’s therapeutic outcome. ” http://www.beyondconsequences.com/bowlby.html

If you consider the level of pain that I get into with developmental trauma since the sperm hit the egg, Dr. R. is tolerating hell on wheels – and that is because he did not shrink (ooooops, bad pun) from the only way to gain that skill: he has looked deeply within himself in years past, and he has done his own trauma healing as deeply as he’s asking me to do.

[This post originated when I saw a comment on an article by therapist Dr. Laura K. Kerr, in which the commentator felt that therapy can’t be more than a business transaction; original at: http://www.socialjusticesolutions.org/2015/04/01/trauma-informed-psychotherapy-puts-body-love-back-mental-healthcare/#comment-125547]

 “General Theory” on Therapy and Love:

Limbic Resonance - Boise State UnivThe psychiatric text “General Theory of Love” shows that human beings depends for survival on our mammalian “limbic brain,” and that as we grow, our minds and souls are healthy and feel well, or don’t, depending literally upon love.  [FN1]  (Click on graphic to open; from Boise State University News.)

It also documents that good therapy is nothing but love.  The problem, they point out, is that too many therapists can’t manage that kind of good therapy.

Our caregivers create our infant brain via “limbic resonance,” they report, the resonating of an adult’s limbic brain with an infant’s limbic brain — via attuned deep eye contact.  “By looking into his eyes and becoming attuned to his inner state, a mother can intuit her baby’s feelings and needs,” they write. “The regular application of that knowledge changes a child’s emotional makeup.”

When the mother attunes to the infant with deep love, the infant learns that love is safe, forms a secure attachment, feels a sense of belonging and a sense of peace.  “Attachment penetrates to the neural core of what it means to be a human being” they write, and thus the book’s title. It’s all about love and nothing but love. More details: http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/love-theory-2/

The book’s second half demonstrates that psychotherapy works when it does, only due to love — love precisely of the above deep nature.  And therapy doesn’t work when limbic resonance and love don’t flower.  It’s got nothing to do with a charity date or even such foolishness as “re-parenting.”

It’s just plain and simple deep human compassion, eye to eye.  For that reason, “psychotherapy is physiology,” they state.

“When a person starts therapy… he is stepping into a somatic state of relatedness, ” they report. “Evolution has sculpted mammals… (to) become attuned to on another’s evocative signals and alter the structure of one another’s nervous systems.  Psychotherapy’s transformative power comes from engaging and directing these ancient mechanisms.  Therapy is a living embodiment of limbic processes as corporeal as digestion or respiration.

“Speech is a fancy neocortical skill, but therapy belongs to the older realm of the emotional mind, the limbic brain.

“Love is not only an end for therapy; it is also the means whereby every end is reached. (p.168-9)  The first part of emotional healing is being limbically known – having someone with a keen ear [a good therapist-kb] catch your melodic essence.” (p.170)

Unfortunately there are a lot of incompetent therapists hiding behind their desks and diplomas, refusing to really relate. “Some therapists recoil from the pivotal power of relatedness. They have been told to deliver insight — a job description evocative of estate planning or financial consulting, the calm dispensation of tidy data packets from the other side of an imposing desk,” writes “General Theory.”

“A therapist who fears dependence will tell his patient, sometimes openly, that the urge to rely is pathologic. In doing so he denigrates a cardinal tool. A parent who rejects a child’s desire to depend raises a fragile person. Those children, grown to adulthood, are frequently among those who come for help.

“If patient and therapist are to proceed together down a curative path, they must allow limbic regulation and its companion moon, dependence, to make the revolutionary magic.

“Many therapists believe that reliance fosters a detrimental dependency. Instead, they say, patients should be directed to “do it for themselves” – as if they possess everything but the wit to throw that switch and get on with their lives.

Limbic Revision

Limbic Revision tumblr_nbam9cX0hI1tbev4jo1_500“But people do not learn emotional modulation as they do geometry or the names of state capitals. They absorb the skill from living in the presence of an adept external modulator, and they learn it implicitly,” the book states.  ” Knowledge leaps the gap from one mind to the other, but the learner does not experience the transferred information as an explicit strategy. Instead, a spontaneous capacity germinates and becomes a natural part of the self, like knowing how to ride a bike or tie one’s shoes.”  (p.171) (graphic by N.Bam on Tumblr)

“People who need regulation often leave therapy sessions feeling calmer, stronger, safer, more able to handle the world. … The longer a patient depends, the more his stability swells, expanding infinitesimally with ever session as length is added to a woven cloth with each pass of the shuttle, each contraction of the loom. And after he weaves enough of it, the day comes when the patient will unfurl his independence like a pair of spread wings. Free at last, he catches a wind and rides into other lands.” (p.172)

“Knowing someone is the first goal of therapy…  Therapy’s last and most ambitious aim is revising the neural code that directs an emotional life. (176)  Psychotherapy changes people because one mammal can restructure the limbic brain of another… (p.177)

“Describing good relatedness to someone, no matter how precisely or how often, does not inscribe it into the neural networks that inspire love. Self-help books are like car repair manuals: you can read them all day, but doing so doesn’t fix a thing.

“Working on a car means rolling up your sleeves and getting under the hood, and you have to be willing to get dirt on your hands and grease beneath your fingernails. Overhauling emotional knowledge is no spectator sport; it demands the messy experience of yanking and tinkering that comes from a limbic bond. If someone’s relationship today bear a troubled imprint, they do so because an influential relationship left its mark on a child’s mind.

“When a limbic connection has established a neural pattern, it takes a limbic connection to revise it. (p.177)”

“The person of the therapist is the converting catalyst, not his credo, not his  location in the room, not his exquisitely chosen words or silences… The dispensable trappings of dogma may determine what a therapist thinks he is doing, what he talks about when he talks about therapy, but the agent of change is who he is. (187)

“The brevity of mini (psycho)therapies is another efficient forestaller of healing. The neocortex rapidly masters didactic information, but the limbic brain takes mountains of repetition.  No one expects to play the flute in six lessons or to become fluent in Italian in ten. ”  (p.189)   “The skill of becoming and remaining attuned to another’s emotional rhythms requires a solid investment of years.”  (p.205)

“The limbic connectedness of a working psychotherapy requires uncommon courage. A patient asks to surrender the life he knows and to enter and emotional world he has never seen; he offers himself up to be changed in ways he can’t possibly envision. As his assurance of successful transmutation he has only the gossamer of faith…

“Only human love keeps this from being the act of two madmen. (p.190)”


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 at: www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/
Preface excerpts at:  www.nytimes.com/books/first/l/lewis-love.html
Dr. Lewis specifically on therapy:  www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/1503539.Thomas_Lewis

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Bruce Perry and Children’s Choirs

Cantoria1 Youths larger della_robbia_02I’ve reported Dr. Bruce Perry’s in Washington May 4 to talk on healing trauma at the National Council.

What’s that got to do with this sculpture of children singing in the Cathedral of Florence in 1436 to kick off the Renaissance?  Everything!

Dr. Perry says it’s brain science to regulate the brain stem with “patterned, repetitive, rhythmic regulation,” featuring yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and singing, principles so fundamental they go back to the dawn of man. [FN1]

Who can imagine life without singing?  In every culture, long before writing, the only way to pass down an idea was to sing it. Aryans have sung Vedas since 5,000 BC or before. Hebrews sang Psalms as far back as 2,500 BC, long before they were written down ca. 1400 BC. [FN2  ]

Want to regulate kids? Teach them to sing! Gathering children to sing in choirs was the core of the Greek educational system since at least 700 BC, and there were choir schools for kids in Europe at least since the 900s AD. [FN3]  Singing in choirs brings kids into organized personal connection with other living, regularly-breathing human beings.  Being connected and in harmony with other humans is what best regulates human beings – today brain scientists call it “limbic resonance.” [FN4]

Amira Willighagen 1Singing gives kids a voice!  Children have been known to sing gloriously even today. Watch 9-year old Amira Willighagen sing in Amsterdam last year.

She did it without any training.  Amira just went on the internet looking for songs, found this Italian aria, and learned it by imitating.  Clearly she found a terrific adult soprano – we can hear the inflections of a highly-experienced adult in Amira’s voice. [FN5]

St Thomas Choir1AOr take the St. Thomas Boys Choir of Leipzig. When J.S. Bach became music director in 1723, the choir school was already 511 years old. Click here for the boys singing a Bach “Gloria.”    [FN6]

Born to Sing

Cantoria2 Boys10-12 & Teens della_robbia22If a child can speak, he can sing; most kids can sing before they can speak. Training children to sing as young as possible is a principle of civilization. Electronic culture has forgotten it to our peril as our kids whack out on machine-made noise. We need a revolutionary approach as old as the hills.  We need children’s choirs on a mass scale.

These children singing on the “Cantoria” by Lucca della Robbia, sculpted 1431-36, were placed in the Cathedral as public ads, to urge parents to bring in their kids for training. This is the level of culture and education which later produced Bach, Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven. Was their genius just magic?  Why don’t we have composers today, who produce music on such a scale (and they did it all without electronic equipment) ?

Answer: Bach & co. were trained as children to sing harmonic, complex polyphony (4-6 different musical lines at once).  So complex, harmonic music was what they heard in their heads as little kids. They were bilingual; music was their second mother tongue.  To them, it was simple: as soon as they could hold a pen, they would just start to write down their musical ideas. That tradition continued in Europe until the end of the 19th Century.

And there’s another reason everybody loves music: it’s because every body loves music. Music is literally built into kids’ bodies from the hour of conception.  Our bodies physically need it. And kids know that instinctively, from infancy.

“The first music encoded deep within your memory are the earliest vibrations that made you – the rhythms and tempos of your first cells,” writes Galina Mindlin, MD and music therapist.

“As your cells began to develop with the rhythms of your mother’s heartbeat and the whooshing sounds vibrating through her placenta and your umbilical cord, these first musical scores began entraining (two or more rhythms synchronizing into one) in your brain… your brain was already establishing the relationship for how music affects you today…   Newborns can almost immediately show some memory of sounds they encountered in the womb… Before any of us is capable of speaking words, we can recognize changes in notes and rhythmic patterns…” [FN7]

The Mother of All  Trauma

Cantoria3 Boys 10-11 playing stringsWhat about trauma healing?  Consider this: from 1348-1350, the Black Death, the mother of all trauma, killed half the population of Asia and Europe. In Italy, Florence’s population was reduced from 120,000 in 1338 to 50,000 in 1351. Many thought civilization was finished. [FN8]

Then a handful of intellectuals devised the idea of a re-birth or “Renaissance,” a project to unite a new economics to feed the population, with the science, philosophy, and arts to uplift them.  Florence had a famous problem whose solution could inspire people with hope. At the city’s center lay the massive Cathedral of Florence, begun 1296 — but no one had any idea how a dome could be built large enough to cover such a space without collapsing. Work was also delayed by waves of plague for decades. The roof lay open for over a century as people prayed in the rain.

During 1402–1404, Filippo Brunelleschi and his friend Donatello visited Rome to study the ancient ruins and the Pantheon on which the Cathedral was modeled. They returned to build the first “classical” buildings in Florence. In 1420, Florentine banker Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464) bankrolled Brunelleschi to work  16 years to complete the first octagonal dome in history to be built without a wooden supporting frame. [FN9]

What did they do in that Cathedral? They brought in the children of the city and taught them to sing, to show there was hope for the future, that  the children could be saved from the jaws of death. These sculptures just above show that by the age of 9-11, kids were singing (and playing) complex four and six part polyphony.

Note the rounded mouths in all the sculptures (and in the St. Thomas boys). Vocal scholars can tell you what note they’re singing by how large of an egg-shaped mouth they’re making.

The dome was ready in time for the Council of Florence which opened in the Cathedral on March 25, 1436, the date often cited as the start of the Renaissance. Inside were featured these sculptures of children singing in the choir loft by Lucca della Robbia.  Flemish composer Guillaume Dufay and many of his colleagues were brought to Italy to teach advanced musical composition.  Dufay’s advanced motet Nuper rosarum flores was composed for the 1436 opening and sung from della Robbia’s choir loft by kids like these in the sculptures.

Cosimo de’ Medici and his grandson Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449-1492) also backed philosophers Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. Pico’s 1486 “Oration on the Dignity of Man” stated the Renaissance Idea: each individual human soul is a divine spark of God, not a beast of burden as under feudalism.

Cantoria4 Boys 5-10 Sing-Dance1A webThese sculptures show that in Florence, the Dignity of Man began with the dignity of the children.  These kids have been taught to sing even younger, at 5 to 8 years.  Della Robbia did several sculptures of toddlers singing as well (more than I have space to show!).

Cantoria5 Infant singingEven infants sang, singing with their families perhaps while they learned to speak.This child is not much older than 2.  Kids who started this early acquired the experience it took to produce genius in many fields.

San Diego Trauma-Informed Renaissance?

I’ve seen this kind of singing of fine music in choirs make traumatized children happy.  Musicians who run children’s choirs will tell you that.

San Diego Childrens Choir1 earlyyears_collageThe San Diego Children’s Choir (right), founded 1990, now has 5 branches with  over 250 participants. It also has a neighborhood outreach program that spans many low-income areas full of traumatized children including City Heights and other areas.

City Heights is also where Principal Godwin Higa has been turning Cherokee Point Elementary into an advanced trauma-infomed school since 2008. Three professors at San Diego State and community organizers Dana Brown and Dorothy Zirkle worked with the City Heights community to develop a two-year $684,094 pilot project at Cherokee Point, the Wellness and Restorative Practice Partnership (WRPP), funded by the California Endowment.

I can’t be with Bruce Perry in Washington May 4, but I will be in San Diego May 2, talking to  my friend Dana Brown and other members of the San Diego Trauma-Informed Guide Team (SD-TIGT) about Bruce Perry, Bessel van der Kolk, and the brain science of trauma.  SD-TIGT is leading the way among county health and welfare institutions to implement trauma-prevention and trauma-healing practices in schools, medical, and social facilities.

If Principal Higa and Dana haven’t met the folks at the San Diego Children’s Choir yet, maybe I’ll be able to provoke something.  Even if they’ve met, maybe we can expand their forces. As a result of the economic crisis, San Diego just lost its opera company, the San Diego Opera.  The city must be full of struggling singers, school music teachers and private voice teachers who would jump at the chance to teach every child at Cherokee El to sing Bach.

Next step: find our Cosimo de’ Medici to pay these already financially-pressed musicians and educators, so they can put in the hours necessary every week at Cherokee El. Then stand back.

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  Lucca della Robbia, Cantoria (Choir Loft), shows children singing, dancing,and  making music to “praise the Lord” in the words of Psalm 150. Photos  at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cantoria_di_luca_della_robbia_11.jpg

FN2  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Arctic_Home_in_the_Vedas

FN3  Chorus members in Greek theater were trained in childhood from around 700 BC.  Greek theater always included a chorus, whose members also danced and spoke, but also sang. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_chorus ]  Both boys and girls were trained to sing.  [http://www.amazon.com/Choruses-Young-Women-Ancient-Greece/dp/0742515249 ]  Greece and Rome founded many children’s singing schools [ http://www.boychoirs.org/library/history/hist014.html ] The Schola Cantorum in Rome was formed in the seventh century to train boys in reading and singing.
The Vienna Boys Choir, formalized in a 1498 letter by Maximilian I Habsburg, goes back to the year 957 when Bishop Wolfgang of Regensburg created his cathedral choir [ http://www.boychoirs.org/library/history/hist014.html  and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vienna_Boys%27_Choir ] The first choir school was founded at  St. Paul’s Cathedral, London in 1127, the second at St. Thomas’ Church, Leipzig in 1212. A boarding school for choristers at the Kreuzkirche in Dresden is mentioned in 1300, a choir known now as the Dresdner Kreuzchor. The Vienna Boys Choir received a solid musical education, many went on to become professional musicians such as Franz Schubert.
[ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Choir ].

FN4  Lewis, Thomas, MD; Amini, Fari, MD; Lannon, Richard, MD; “A General Theory of Love”, Random House, New York, 2000.  Lannon interviews : www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/

FN5  Amira Willighagen video: http://news.distractify.com/default-category/a-shy-9-year-old-girl-takes-the-stage-these-people-will-never-forget-what-follows/

FN6  St.Thomas Choir video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-apSehviiQ&list=PL517BEEF15EA64268

FN7  Mindlin, Galina, MD, PhD, “Your Playlist Can Change Your Life,” Sourcebooks, Inc., Naperville, IL, 2012  More here:

FN8  The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350 with 30–60 percent of Europe’s population killed. It reduced world population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in the 14th century. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequences_of_the_Black_Death

FN9  Walker, Paul Robert, “The Feud That Sparked the Renaissance: How Brunelleschi and Ghiberti Changed the Art World,” Harper Collins, 2003

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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: www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0&feature=youtu.be

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 : www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/
Preface excerpts: www.nytimes.com/books/first/l/lewis-love.html

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 www.theguardian.com/ 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: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hka8c4OteYA

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: www.spectator.co.uk/features/8857821/fixing-a-hole/

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:  http://attachmentdisorderhealing.com/ 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: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/08/130809-addiction-twelve-steps-alcoholics-anonymous-science-neurotheology-psychotherapy-dopamine/

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: www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/

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

FN5  Perry, Bruce, MD, “Overview of Neuro-sequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT),” www.childtrauma.org, 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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