Tag Archives: Reptilian Brain

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)”

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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

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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Stephen Porges: Social Engagement Heals

Neuroscientist Dr. Stephen Porges explained in my Sept.19 blog that when a survival threat pushes humans back into the ancient reptilian mechanism of freeze, that’s how trauma happens.  The autonomic nervous system (ANS in diagram below) just does this automatically; we don’t have a say;  it’s not cognitive.  Porges says that for humans to be out of trauma, mammalian attachment must happen.

Polyvagal Autonomic Nervous System
For that, Dr. Porges says, we need what he calls “the social engagement system… in which we listen to intonation in voice and use facial engagement.  When a person has vocal intonation, an expressive face and eyes open when we talk to them, this expressive individual is also contracting middle ear muscles that facilitate the extraction of human voice from background sounds,” he says. [FN]

“When people are smiling and looking at us, they are better able to pull out human voice from back ground sounds.

“We also use ingestive behaviors; the baby nurses. Adults use the same systems. We go to lunch or we go for a drink, as a way of socializing. Ingestive behaviors use the same neural mechanisms we use for social behavior.  We use ingestive behaviors to calm and to develop social engagement. And when that is done, the physical distance between people can be modulated and we can come close…

“Safety modulates our ability to develop secure attachments. Whether an individual feels safe with people during early development might modulate individual differences in vulnerability to trauma.”

Dr. Porges’ 1994 “Polyvagal Theory” says the autonomic nervous system is not a balance of two circuits, but instead “a hierarchical system” of three circuits, “in which newer circuits inhibit older circuits. And when we get challenged, those systems  degrade to older and older circuits, in an attempt to survive.”  We mammals start out trying to use our “social engagement system” to look at each other and resolve things warmly; that’s our first, myelinated vagus parasympathtic circuit.

If that fails, we devolve into more primitive fight/flight animals, where our sympathetic circuits take over and juice up our adrenalin.

And if that fails, our ancient reptilian unmyelinated vagus circuit takes over and knocks us out into immobilization, called dissociation in humans.

Play and Mammalian Attachment

Mammal Play dogs2One way to get people back out of dissociation, aka freeze — aka trauma — says Porges, is to surround them with friendly mammals, and stimulate their mammalian social engagement systems to come back on line.  He gives the fascinating example of play.

“Real play, is not playing with a ‘Game Boy’ or computer; it is not solitary,” Porges says. “Play requires social interaction  using face-to-face. ”  Notice how the two dogs above are looking each other in the eye.

“Play requires an ability to mobilize with the sympathetic nervous system and then to down-regulate the sympathetic excitation, using face-to-face social interaction and the social engagement system.  I have two little dogs; they chase each other, and nip. Then one will turn around to look at the other, a face-to-face interaction to ensure that biting was play and not aggression.”

In play, he says, we practice using our fight/flight systems properly – but we also practice to “diffuse them with social engagement.  So play requires face-to-face interactions. We see this in virtually all mammals.”

“I use video clips of Dr. J. and Larry Bird, a clip in which they are friends.doing an advertisement for sneakers,” Porges notes. “Then I show them playing basketball, bumping and hitting each other. Dr. J. hits Larry Bird in the face, knocks him to the ground and walks away. By walking away, he didn’t diffuse the mobilization behaviors from fight/flight.  So Bird goes after him and they have a fight.

“When we play, we mobilize physiological state changes that support fight/flight behaviors, but then we down-regulate defensive reactions by looking at each other – so that we learn to repair  If we hit each other by mistake, we say ‘I’m sorry.’

“Other forms of adult play have similar features – such as dancing. Most forms of team sports involve face-to-face interactions that include communication via eye contact.

“Play is actually a neural exercise of using the social engagement system, a uniquely mammalian system, to regulate our fight/flight behaviors, to be able to down-regulate this older defensive system.  Note that individuals with a variety of clinical pathologies often have difficulty playing.”

Heal Trauma by Acceptance – Not Stigma

Radical Acceptance Tara BrachSo when we don’t receive attachment — which allows us to use our mammalian myelinated vagus parasympathetic — then, we feel endangered. Then our bodies are triggered to devolve into our second, more primitive fight/flight response (mobilizing our sympathetic system).

Further, if we are overwhelmed and fight/flight doesn’t get us to safety, our neurological system hijacks us and forces us back into our third, most primitive response: freeze, aka immobilization or dissociation (using the reptilian unmyelinated vagal system).

Almost all trauma occurs when we are overpowered just like that, by dangerous environments or people.

Polyvagal Theory also shows that our nervous system just does these things – trauma is simply not a voluntary decision.  “Outside the realm of our conscious awareness, our nervous system is continuously evaluating risk in the environment,” and shoving us into bodily actions that are just not subject to thought, Porges shows.

So Dr. Porges is asking doctors and therapists to realize that tramatized people can best be healed if everyone accepts and respects what their bodies have done – instead of stigmatizing them for it.

“Try something different with clients,” Porges tells clinicians. “Tell clients who were traumatized that they should celebrate their body’s responses, even if the profound physiological and behavioral states they experienced in past, are now limiting their ability to function in current social situations. Those bodily responses enable them to survive under the trauma, often as children. It reduced some of the injury. If they were oppositional during an aggressive traumatic event such as rape, they could have been killed.

“So tell them to celebrate how their body responded — instead of making them feel guilty that their body is failing them when they want to be social –and see what happens.

“Therapies often convey to the client that their body is not behaving adequately. The clients are told they need to be different. They need to change.  That kind of therapy in itself is too judging of these individuals. And once we are evaluated, we are in defensive states. We are not in safe states.

“Mindfulness requires feeling safe because if we don’t feel safe, we are, in a sense, neuro-physiologically evaluative of our setting which means we can’t be safe, and we can’t engage.  We can’t recruit the wonderful neural circuits that enable us to express the wonderful aspects of being human.  So if we are able to create safe environments,” starting with clinicians who make us feel respected and safe, “we have access to neural circuits that enable us to be social, to learn, and to feel good.”

Once the professionals accept reality, next traumatees can start to respect themselves, and stop judging and evaluating themselves negatively – usually for the first time since the trauma hit them.

That creates a “mammal to mammal” social engagement state inside the traumatized person, where their internal voices are kind and compassionate to them, rather than self-condemning as is the norm in traumatees.

“There is no such thing as a ‘bad’ response; there are only adaptive responses,” says Porges. “The primary point is that our nervous system is trying to do the right thing — and we need to respect what it has done. And when we respect its responses, then we move out of this evaluative state and we become more respectful to ourselves — and we functionally do a lot of self-healing.”

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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

FN Porges, Stephen, PhD, “The Polyvagal Theory for Treating Trauma,” 2011, http://stephenporges.com/images/stephen%20porges%20interview%20nicabm.pdf
—“Body, Brain, Behavior: How Polyvagal Theory Expands Our Healing Paradigm,” 2013, http://stephenporges.com/images/NICABM%202013.pdf
“Beyond the Brain: Vagal System Holds the Secret to Treating Trauma,” 2013, http://stephenporges.com/images/nicabm2.pdf
—”Polyvagal theory: phylogenetic substrates of a social nervous system,” International Journal of Psycho-physiology 42, 2001,  Dept. of Psychiatry, Univ. Illinois Chicago, www.wisebrain.org/Polyvagal_Theory.pdf

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Polyvagal Theory: Trauma as Reptilian Freeze

Polyvagal Theory Book Amazon1Neuroscientist Dr. Stephen Porges appeared in my last few blogs; let’s explore his 1994 discovery of the Polyvagal Theory.  Dr. Porges runs brain-body research at top psychiatry departments (University of Chicago and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill).

And he always says he wasn’t looking for a polyvagal theory. He was just researching ways to measure the vagus nerve, the 10th cranial nerve running between the brain stem and most of the body.

Until 1994, textbooks said there are two parts to the autonomous nervous system (ANS).  First, the sympathetic system mobilizes us for fight and flight, but is harmful if it stays on too long, making us tense, anxious and prone to disease. Second, the parasympathetic inhibits mobilization, so it was believed to be calming and healthy. Textbooks taught that “the net result was a balance between a pair of two antagonistic systems,” Porges says. The vagus nerve makes up a chunk of the parasympathetic; “it functions like a brake on the heart’s pacemaker.” [FN]

This two-part model broke down “as I was conducting research with human newborns to measure heart rate, assuming vagal activity was protective,” Porges says. “If newborns had good clinical outcomes, they had a lot of vagal heart rate going up and down with breathing. Babies with flat heart rates were at risk.  So I wrote a paper in the journal Pediatrics to educate neonatologists.

“Following publication, I received a letter from a neonatologist who noted that… the vagus could kill you, and that perhaps too much of a good thing was bad. His comments startled and motivated me to challenge our understanding of the nervous system.

“I immediately understood what the neonatologist meant. From his perspective, the vagus can kill, since it is capable of life threatening bradycardia and apnea — massive slowing of heart rate and cessation of breathing. For many pre-term infants, bradycardia and apnea are life threatening.  I now framed the ‘vagal paradox.’  How could the vagus be both protective and lethal? For months I carried the neonatologist’s letter in my briefcase.”

Poly Faces of Vagus

Polyvagal Anatomy Diagram

Porges went back to the evolution of anatomy, and saw that in fact there are two different vagus circuits — a total of three ANS circuits, not just a pair.  The two circuits “come from two different areas of the brain stem, and they evolved sequentially,” one far earlier.

“This motivated me to develop the polyvagal theory, which uncovered the anatomy and function of two vagal systems, one potentially lethal, and the other protective,” he says.

“Immobilization, bradycardia, and apnea are components of a very old, reptilian defense system, ” Porges says. “If you look at reptiles, you don’t see much behavior — because immobilization is the primary defense system for reptiles… it’s an ancient vagus nerve.”  This pre-historic nerve has no myelin, a nerve coating of  protective protein and fat.

Porges found mammals have this unmyelinated vagus, on the dorsal (top) side of the nerve, which immobilizes us, too —  “and that immobilization reaction, adaptive for reptiles, is potentially lethal for mammals.”

Porges also saw that among the “firsts” which began with mammals, a new vagus with myelin develops on the ventral underside of the nerve.  “So mammals have two vagal circuits,” he found. ” The myelinated circuits provide more rapid and tightly organized responses. The new mammalian vagus is linked to brain stem areas that regulates the muscles of the face and head. Every intuitive clinician knows that if they look at people’s faces and listen to voices,  controlled by muscles of the face and head, they know the physiological state of their client.”

Neuroception:  It’s Just Not Cognitive

Porges adds that our more primitive neural circuits operate by “neuroception” — totally involuntarily.  “Neuroception is not perception,” he says. “Neuroception does not require an awareness of things going on.  It is detection without awareness. It is a neural circuit that evaluates risk in the environment… When confronted in certain situations, some people experience autonomic responses such as an increase in heart rate and sweating hands. These responses are involuntary. It is not like they want to do this.”

The polyvagal theory emphasizes that our nervous system has more than one defense strategy – and whether we use mobilized flight/flight or  immobilization shutdown, is not a voluntary decision.  Outside the realm of our conscious awareness, our nervous system is continuously evaluating risk in the environment, making judgments, and prioritizing behaviors that are not cognitive.

Next, he says, “humans and other mammals, as fight/flight machines, only work if they can move and do things. But if we are confined, if we are placed into isolation, or if we are strapped down, our nervous system reads those cues and functionally wants to immobilize.  I can give you two interesting examples: one is a news clip I saw on CNN and the second  from my own personal experience.

“I saw a CNN news broadcast with a video clip of a plane whose wings were tipping up and down as the plane was tossed by the wind. The plane did land safely and the reporter went to interview the people. He asked one of the passengers how it felt to be in a plane that looked like it would crash. Her response left the reporter speechless. She said, “Feel? I passed out.” For this woman, the cues of a life threat triggered the ancient vagal circuit. We don’t have control over this circuit.

“Many people who report abuse especially sexual abuse, experience being held down or physically abused. These abused clients often describe a psychological experience of not being there. They dissociate or pass out. The abusive event  triggered an adaptive response, to enable them not to experience the traumatic event.”

Porges’ second example, noted in my Aug. 22 blog, was his own attempt to have an MRI – in which his body flat out overruled his powerful thinking brain. “I wanted the MRI.  But something happened to my body when I entered the MRI that triggered my nervous system into…wanting me to mobilize to get out of there.” So the nurses let him out.

Porges was asked by one interviewer, “What would have happened if you called to be let out — but no one came?”

“Now we’re talking!,” said Dr. P. “So now I am stuck in there, I can’t get out; I am in this confined area. That would be totally like being physically abused, being held down, going through all these same things.” Like the plane passenger who defaulted back in evolution to her most primitive system, he might have dissociated or passed out.

“The problem, of course, is how do you get people back out of that?” Porges asks. ” If a life threat puts a human into this state, it may be very difficult to reorganize to become ‘normal’ again.”

Friday Sept. 26:  Videos and audios on Polyvagal Theory

Friday Oct. 3: Dr. Porges on how to “get people back out of” the reptilian freeze of trauma.

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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

FN Porges, Stephen, PhD, “The Polyvagal Theory for Treating Trauma,” 2011, http://stephenporges.com/images/stephen%20porges%20interview%20nicabm.pdf
—“Body, Brain, Behavior: How Polyvagal Theory Expands Our Healing Paradigm,” 2013, http://stephenporges.com/images/NICABM%202013.pdf
“Beyond the Brain: Vagal System Holds the Secret to Treating Trauma,” 2013, http://stephenporges.com/images/nicabm2.pdf
—”Polyvagal theory: phylogenetic substrates of a social nervous system,” International Journal of Psycho-physiology 42, 2001,  Dept. of Psychiatry, Univ. Illinois Chicago, www.wisebrain.org/Polyvagal_Theory.pdf

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“General Theory of Love” on Mammals

BrousBlog6c General Theory“A General Theory of Love”  by Thomas Lewis MD,  Fari Amini, MD, and Richard Lannon, MD, is all about why it’s so important that we are mammals.  They say it’s vital that we value our mammalian attachment system and stay close to other mammals.   Here are  quotes and some great MP3 audio clips from “General Theory,” to follow up on Dr. Stephen Porges’ writings on our mammalian attachment system last week.

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

“When mammals showed up on the planet, their method of reproduction was different. Unlike reptiles, they gave birth to live helpless young that had to be nurtured or wouldn’t survive,” said co-author Dr. Tom Lewis in a 2008 interview.   “The parent had to monitor the physiology of the baby.

“This lead to the development of a part of the brain called the Limbic Lobe, which we share with all mammals.  Infants’ physiology is incomplete on its own; babies can’t get to sleep on their own, they need to be lulled to sleep; they can’t soothe themselves, instead they seek out someone who can soothe them.

“Just as infants need the regulating presence of the external contact figure, all of us are like infants, only bigger, and we also need the regulatory influence… Most people think their body is self contained, that sugar levels are monitored internally and so on, oxygen, hormones.  It’s very surprising that this not true – there are physiological parameters regulated by other people outside own body.

“In our culture we construe loneliness as weakness, as a character defect… But it’s based on brain evolution; there’s no choice about it. Just as when you’re hungry, or low on water and feel thirst, loneliness is a real physiological feeling telling you you need something vital.  It hurts so much because it’s important to your health.”

Love is the glue that keeps people and societies together, says Dr. Richard Lannon in a terrific series of mp3 clips of  interviews by radio host Paula Gordon.  He explains fundamental human biology which makes our connections to others fundamental.

He relates the mammalian brain’s limbic system to being alive, to parenting, to being happy, to appreciating beauty and explains why we cannot “think our way” to fulfillment:   http://www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/mp3/RLannonConv2.mp3

Dr. Lannon says it is good mothering which leads to secure attachment and explains the profound implications of the importance of optimally tuning in to a child. He describes how the ideas in General Theory of Love expand on (as well as part company from) traditional psychotherapy.

He reviews the profound, central importance of long-term, sustaining support networks for humans.  He notes that most social forces currently work in the opposite direction:
http://www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/mp3/RLannonConv3.mp3

Dr. Lannon explains why self-help books usually are no help. He distinguishes General Theory of Love from that genre, explaining why we cannot intellectually (neocortex) control our emotions (in the limbic brain.) He argues for integration of the different ways of knowing – thinking neocortex and emotional limbic – urging us to give the limbic system its due – while pointing to the terrible social price we are paying for not doing so.

He describes what happens when people do not attach, personally and in society.  http://www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/mp3/RLannonConv4.mp3

Humans have been given the gift of being a social animal, says Dr. Lannon, who urges us to be more of what we are. He reminds us that emotions are innate and that we all have them and must “tune” them, comparing this to tuning an instrument.

He describes humans as open-loop systems, deeply affected by our relationships with other and NOT independent of each other. He expands on, “We create each other.” He assures us that we can change, but only with the help of other people. He reminds us of the tremendous power social interactions have to heal, reminding us of research which shows that brains continue to grow into old age. http://www.paulagordon.com/shows/lannon/mp3/RLannonConv5.mp3

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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

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

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The Hole in Half of Us

Brousblog1a Perry brains X-secThe Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) study since 1994 shows that  50% of Americans have some degree of failed attachment in childhood.  These are rigorous psychiatric studies of the general public which have nothing to do with “addicts.”  It’s not just about “them.”  [FN1]

It’s about “the hole in me” inside half of us.  Secure attachment is necessary for the neurons in a baby’s brain to develop. “The hole” is caused by any problematic bonding with the mother.  That means “parts of my brain are dark” — the neurons just don’t fire. (Above left: normal 3 year old. Right: major attachment disorder)

No coincidence, 50% of Americans also abuse not only alcohol and drugs (including prescriptions) but also tobacco, food, gambling, internet porn, sex…  Those of us who’d never “use” anything, often become work-aholics.  All these, abused, often cause premature death.

Until we treat the underlying childhood trauma, says Dr. Vincent J. Felitti, nothing will change and people will keep dying early. That’s the point of his 2003 “The Origins of Addiction: Evidence from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study,” published here last week:  click here.  [FN2]

“My point is that there is a Public Health Paradox,” Dr. Felitti wrote in transmitting his article, “wherein some of our most difficult public health problems are actually unconsciously attempted solutions, at the individual patient level, to problems that are unrecognized because they are lost in time and then protected by shame, by secrecy, and by major social taboos against exploring certain realms of human experience…

“Needless to say, vacuous cautionary advice doesn’t do much, coming from people who have no idea what has gone on.  Thus, ‘Obesity is bad for you,’ but it’s sexually protective; ‘Smoking is bad for you,’ but nicotine has been known for almost a century to have potent anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, appetite suppressant, and anger suppressant activity.  Moreover, those occur within 15-20 seconds of inhalation, whereas the risks, which are certainly real, occur in 15-20 years.”

“The current public health approach of repeated cautionary warnings has demonstrated its limitations,” as Dr. Felitti put it in his 2003 piece, “perhaps because the cautions do not respect the individual when they exhort change without understanding.”

Treat ACES  vs Early Death

BrousBlog7a ACE pyramidDr. Felitti is elegant and to the point: unless we treat Adverse Childhood Experiences per se, people will find something, somehow, anyhow, to numb the emotional pain of childhood trauma.  Details on the ACE pyramid. [FN3]

“People with attachment-based developmental trauma can start to feel so threatened that they get into a fight-flight alarm state, and the higher parts of the brain shut down first,” neuroscientist Dr. Bruce Perry, MD told a 2013 UCLA conference.

“First the stress chemicals shut down their cortex (thinking brain).  It’s instinct; they can’t control it.  Now they physically can not think. Ask them to think and you only make them more anxious.

“Next the more primitive emotional brain (limbic brain) goes. They have attachment trauma so people seem threatening; they don’t get reward from emotional or relational interaction. Their own emotions feel like a threat to them.

“Now the only part of the brain left functioning is the most primitive: the brain stem and diencephalon cerebellum (reptilian brain).  Here they can get rewards, but only from sweet/salty/fatty foods, drugs, sex — only the strongest sources of opiates can sooth these lower brain parts.

“They know cognitively it’s wrong to steal from Grandma, they may even love Grandma, but the brain is state-dependent.  At that moment, cognitive thinking or emotional-relational consequences, just can’t relieve their anxiety.  They are in such distress in the lower parts of the brain that they need the food, drugs, etc.  too badly.

“You can get to the point where you can’t even reach the lower part of the brain.  If you’re so ramped up and anxious, the only thing you want is to relieve the distress, and the only thing that can do it is to drink.  Alcohol will reduce anxiety, and make us more vulnerable to other unhealthy forms of reward pleasure.”

The problem is that the emotional pain from ACE is buried inaccessibly deep in our neural structures since our brains first developed, so we don’t even know it’s there.

“If you want a person to use relational reward, or cortical thought -– first the lowest parts of the brain have got to be regulated,” Perry concludes.  “We must regulate people, before we can possibly persuade them with a cognitive argument or compel them with an emotional affect.”

Perry has proven in thousands of clinical trials that the only way to do this is to treat the underlying childhood issues. [FN4]

—————————–
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

FN1  George, C., Kaplan, N., Main, Mary, “An Adult Attachment Interview,” Unpublished MS, University of California at Berkeley, 1994;  and Ainsworth, Mary D.S., Blehar, M.C., et al, “Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the  Strange Situation,” Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, 1978

FN2  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.

FN3 ACE Study Pyramid, www.cdc.gov/ace/pyramid.htm; and “Adverse Childhood Experiences by Vince Felitti, MD,” 13 min video, Academy on Violence and Abuse, 2006: www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQwJCWPG478

FN4  Perry, Bruce D., MD, PhD, “Born for Love: The Effects of Empathy on the Developing Brain,” Annual Interpersonal Neurobiology Conference “How People Change,” UCLA, Los Angeles, March 8, 2013 (unpublished).  See also Perry, B.D. and Hambrick, E. (2008) The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 17 (3) 38-43, at: http://childtrauma.org/nmt-model/references/

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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.

Footnotes

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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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 www.bible.ca 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.

Footnotes

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

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 http://www.nicabm.com/mindfulness-2011-new/  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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