by Ronald Ruden, MD, PhD When the Past Is Always Present: Emotional Traumatization, Causes, and Cures introduces a new treatment for trauma. Ronald A. Ruden is an internal medicine physician practicing in Manhattan. Since beginning his practice in 1983, he has dedicated part of the proceeds to follow research interests. His first efforts resulted in the book, The Craving Brain, a neurobiological discussion of addictive behaviors. In 2003 he redirected his interest in understanding traumatization.
Image via Wikipedia The holiday season is such a joyous time of year. Colored lights adorn houses and business. Thoughts of holidays past fill our minds and conversations. But not everyone can enjoy the holiday season. Some of us inevitably find as the holidays approach what is called the “holiday blues”. The holiday blues are quite common. We expect to enjoy ourselves during the holidays. Those around us expect we will enjoy holiday celebrations and their company as well.
I quit smoking 28 years ago. The final effort started the previous year on “Great American Smokeout“, 29 years ago. I’m very glad I succeeded. I used to joke that quitting smoking was easy, I’d done it 100s of times. Unfortunately it was all too true. I struggled with attempts to quite smoking over most of my adult years. It’s a major bad habit, with the further complication of addiction to Nicotine.
This is the seventh in a series of articles about emotional intelligence for personal growth.
Many people are unsure what they feel. Some deny feeling anything at all. Others report boredom much of the time and seek reckless excitement when they can. Still others have never felt like they fit in. They may have experienced being ignored, picked on, or even being treated like scapegoat. Others seem to have an emotional on/off switch; they’re either rational or raging.
Image by RightBrainPhotography via Flickr Unfortunately, this headline is very true. And it’s not because the mentally ill are more likely to commit crimes. In fact they are no more likely and often less likely to commit crimes than the general population. You might wonder, why are they in jail? The reason appears to be that though they are very much in need of treatment, they are not getting it.
This is the sixth in a series of articles about emotional intelligence for personal growth. In keeping with the idea that emotional intelligence is one of the foundational concepts of mental health, I dedicate this installment to May, Mental Health Month. It is often said that life is suffering. Some of that suffering is unavoidable. Life has a way of throwing us adversity. The pain of physical distress and illness as well as the psychological pain of loss is unavoidable.
This is the fifth in a series of articles on Emotional Intelligence for Personal Growth. Probably all of us have asked our self from time to time if our thoughts, feelings, or behavior at any single moment is “normal”. Actually, there are different answers for each one of these. Normal behavior is, like it or not, defined by our legal, community (family, neighborhood, social group) and religious institutions. The law is enforced by our local police, and sanctioned by our courts. Religious values might be said to be collectively defined by our church going population and it’s leadership. If we are observed behaving outside of legal boundaries, we may find ourselves in a court room facing a judge. If we stretch our community or religious values, we might be ostracized, and separated from the kind of support we have been reliant on through our life. Our internal life, our thoughts and feelings, that which goes on within ourselves may be our last real privacy. And that is indeed fortunate. Our internal creativity is uncomfortably broad. We are capable of thinking and feeling most anything from time to time. Under provocation, we are capable of thinking about things we would never do. Angry enough, we may think of assault, even murder. Seeing a pretty woman, a married man might think about cheating on his wife, but never act on that thought. Shocked about a death in the family, our first thoughts may be directed at the inconvenience of disrupting out usual routine and our feelings might be closer to annoyed. Our thoughts and our feelings often contradict each other. In a real sense, we live a dual existence. Duality Our body speaks to us through our feelings. Messages are typically fast, automatic, effortless, associative, not available to reflection, and often emotionally charged. Messages are also governed by habit and are therefore difficult to control or modify without time and significant effort. Curiously, since the messages do not require conscious awareness, they do not cause or suffer much interference when combined with other tasks. Our thoughts, however, are relatively slower, serial, effortful, more likely to be consciously monitored and deliberately controlled. Compared to feelings, thoughts are relatively flexible and thus change readily and can be directed by conscious or habitual rules. Because thoughts are effortful, they tend to disrupt each other. Thus monitoring mental operations for quality interferes with monitoring overt behavior. People who are occupied by a demanding mental activity are more likely to respond to another task by blurting out whatever comes to mind. Intuitive judgments combine the function of feelings and thoughts. The perceptual system and intuitive about perceptions generate impressions of the attributes of objects. These impressions are neither voluntary nor verbally explicit. Judgments are always intentional and explicit even when they are not overtly expressed. Thus, thinking is involved in all judgments and can be reflected upon, whether they originate in impressions or in deliberate reasoning. Monitoring of intuitive judgments is normally quite lax and allows many to be expressed, including some that are erroneous (Kahneman, 2003). We perceive reality by these two interactive, parallel processing systems.
“The rational system , a relative newcomer on the evolutionary scene, is a deliberative, verbally mediated, primarily conscious analytical system that functions by a person’s understanding of conventionally established rules of logic and evidence. The experiential system, which is considered to be shared by all higher order organisms (although more complex in humans), has a much longer evolutionary history, operates in an automatic, holistic, associationistic manner, is intimately associated with the experience of affect, represents events in the form of concrete exemplars and schemas inductively derived from emotionally significant past experiences, and is able to generalize and to construct relatively complex models for organizing experience and directing behavior by the use of prototypes, metaphors, scripts, and narratives. Although the experimental system is generally adaptive in natural situations, it is often maladaptive in unnatural situations that cannot be solved on the basis of generalizations from past experience but require logical analysis and an understanding of abstract relations.
[B]ehavior is guided by the joint operation of the two systems, with their relative influence being determined by the nature of the situation and the degree of emotional involvement. Certain situations (e.g., solving mathematical problems) are readily identified as requiring analytical processing, whereas others (e.g., interpersonal behaviors) are more likely to be responded to in an automatic, experientially determined manner. Holding such situational features constant, the greater the emotional involvement, the greater the shift in the balance of influence from the rational to the experiential system (Denes-Raj & Epstein, 1994). “ One might ask, why are there two systems? Many of us have at times wished that our emotions could quiet themselves or even go away. Our culture has a bias towards logic and is suspicious of our emotional side. To quote Ayn Rand:
“A philosophic system is an integrated view of existence. As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation – or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a single, solid weight: self-doubt, like a bail and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown…” Not matter how much we wish we could be logical and rational, there is a burgeoning literature that says otherwise. Our decisions are evident in our brain activity long before we are consciously aware (For example, see Libet et al., 1983 and Dennett, 2003). We have a dual system of decision making because it works. Think about it. How often to we make decisions where we have all the information we need to be absolutely sure that our logical deduction is correct? I would venture to say that being sure is limited to only our most simple and concrete decisions. Most every other decision involves weighing facts, impressions, intuitions, and feelings and making as best a decision as possible.
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Phineas Gage is perhaps the most famous neurology patient of all time. After a gruesome injury in which he was impaled through his skull by a metal rod and then miraculously recovered, poor Phineas retained all the logic he ever had, but was completely unable to make a decision. He was also left without any awareness or expression of emotion (Demasio, 1994). The very act of making a decision is an emotional process. We choose our decisions among competing alternatives based not only the evidence, but what feels best to us, our “gut level” reaction. The story behind this dual system is most evident in normal social development. The Attachment Relationship John Bowlby (1969⁄1982) is credited as the founder of Attachment Theory, based on his observations that the quality of a child’s social development was largely determined by the quality of the child’s relationship with her caregiver. Mary Ainsworth and Mary Main began the research that would ultimately follow children over their first 20 years of development demonstrating Bowlby’s concepts to be true and elaborating that theory to account for how, as a child and adult, how freely and effectively she can think, feel, remember, and act (Ainsworth et al., 1978, Main et al., 1985 & Fonagy et al., 2002). Fonagy went on to find that a parents style of attachment before birth predicts their one year old child’s attachment style. The parent’s ability to mentalize strongly predicted their child’s subsequent security. Perhaps most importantly, the the strength of the adult’s ability to mentalize enables her to strengthen their attachment style.
“Attachment is not an end in it’s self; rather it exists in order to produce a representational system that has evolved, we may presume, to aid human survival. The quality of our attachment enables us to understand, interpret, and predict the behavior of others as well as our own behavior. It is the cornerstone of social intelligence (Wallin, 2007).” It is through attachment experiences as a child that she develops rudimentary affect regulation. In the loving care of her caregiver, the child senses that connection to others can be a source of relief, comfort, and pleasure. The child ultimately learns that she — in expressing its full range of bodily and emotional experiences and needs — is good, loved, accepted, and competent. One of the more interesting parts of the process is the role of imitation, mirroring and empathy. There is growing evidence that the same brain areas involved in the execution and observation of motor actions also become active when people listen to sentences that describe the performance of human actions using hands, mouths, or legs, or when people imagine performing an action without actual movement. It would appear that the processes of motor control, mirroring, and mental simulation (or imagination) rely on shared neural circuits (van Gog et al., 2009). While a mother interacts with her child, they interact in a largely non-verbal body-based union. This process of attunement builds within her child a largely emotional communication system that becomes the foundation of intimacy in all future relationships.
“[T]hrough a kind of “social biofeedback,” the child comes to associate the initially involuntary expressions of her emotions with the responses of the caregiver. That is, the infant comes to “know” that her affects are responsible for evoking the caregiver’s affect-mirroring responses. Thus, in the most desirable scenario, the infant is learning a number of very useful things: (1) that expressing her feelings can bring about positive outcomes–which generates positive feelings about the self and others; (2) that she can have impact on others–which generates a dawning sense of agency or self-initiative; and (3) gradually, that particular affects elicit particular reactions– which helps her begin to differentiate and eventually name her feelings (Fonagy et al., 2002) A relationship of secure attachment can thus be seen as a school in which we learn to effectively regulate affects not only in early childhood but throughout our lives (Wallin, 2007)” Through the secure attachment experience, the child learns to reflect on her feelings and thoughts. Her sense of security, flexibility, and internal freedom becomes very much enhanced. Secure attachment embodies a quality of attunement and contingent responsiveness between mother and infant that is close but imperfect. By the very process of attunement, distraction and reconnection, the child learns that her own internal states are sharable and, at the same time, distinct from those of her caregiver, she recognizes herself and her caregiver as a separate persons, rather than objects. From the loss and regaining of attuned connection emerges from the discovery that the other, and the relationship itself, can survive anger and conflict, and learn to balance the needs for self-definition and relatedness. The parent must reflect on emotion, her’s and her child’s, so as to make sense and inform her responses. She effectively regulates her own emotions while modeling how the child can regulate hers. Raw feelings become namable and integrated in interaction with her. The child creates representations of her emotion, then the parent names those emotions through her body, feelings and finally words. Much learning is acquired in non-verbal form while the child acquires language skills. Some learning may be stored unconsciously, for example, when thought, felt, or spoken, this information could threaten vital relationships, especially formative and traumatic experiences. The center of verbal memory, the Broca’s area of brain doesn’t come on-line until 18-36 months, remains a secondary process until after a child enters school and continues to mature well into adolescence. Traumatic experiences cause overwhelming emotions, which effectively shuts down Broca’s area, limiting verbal learning. So much emotional learning happens after childhood during highly emotional experiences. Explicit memory, the verbal memory of Broca’s area of the brain, can be consciously retrieved and reflected upon. This memory can be readily turned into words, it is symbolic, and it’s content is information and images. Implicit memory is present from birth and includes reflexes that are not learned as well as emotional learning acquired in childhood or traumatic learning at any age. It is largely nonverbal, nonsymbolic, unconscious in the sense that it can’t be reflected upon. The content includes emotional reactions, patterns of behavior, and skills related to knowing how to do things without thinking. These memories cannot be recalled, but they can be recognized, for example, like deja vois. From implicit memory comes our personal style, implicit relational knowing (gut-level knowledge) and some relational expectations. Perhaps most significant to this article, implicit memory includes the internal working model of attachment. Our attachment style is often enacted without awareness, especially in non-verbal communication. Ultimately, through our early intimate relationships, we make sense of ourselves and others in terms of a “coherent autobiographical and biographical narrative”, a personal story (Wallin, 2007). Adult Experience – Duality Integrated We have a built in need to be around people. Our social nature has been built in for thousands of generations with genetic and biochemical support. We feel pleasure just being around people with whom we feel safe. Our social group also influences our behaviors and values. We are reminded by our knowledge of social expectations within the Continue reading The Essence of Human Experience: What is Normal? Emotional Intelligence for Personal Growth, Part V.
I’ve been a skeptic about self-help books as have many of my colleagues. Self-help concepts often represent the home grown philosophy of the author. Seldom is there comprehensive research documentation of the foundations of the concepts shared. And so you can never be sure you are reading something that applies real science to every day needs. Cover via Amazon This book is an exception. Buddha’s Brain – The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom.
This is the fourth in a series of articles on emotional intelligence for personal growth. Self-knowledge is something we all strive towards. But how many of us have done a complete review of our emotions and how they influence our thoughts and behavior? Most people find that pretty hard to do, especially since they struggle to put their feelings into words. We talk about “will power” as the ultimate motivation.