Tag Archives: Richard Lannon

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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“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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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.

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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 : 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?

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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

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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