Childhood Archives - Embodied Living

Neuroscience and neurobiology are now confirming what we know in our hearts to be true. That the role of the ‘good enough’ mother in the infants first 3 yrs of life is crucial in right hemisphere brain formation.

Development of self

This attunement that generally happens between mother and infant in the first few months of life affects the development of the ‘self’.  More importantly, it will impinge on the individual’s ability for self regulation and processing of negative emotions particularly rage.

Brain development through sensitive mother

It is absolutely essential to brain development that the infant has a sensitive, responsive mother to help be a ‘container’ for the developing self. This is a limbic-to-limbic brain relationship and if the infant does not get enough of this it is akin to a kind of ‘brain damage’. This is the concept of the ‘good enough’ mother.  Good enough means that we don’t have to be perfect or get it right all the time. In fact if we get it right just 40% of the time with our kids this is ‘good enough’.

When parenting is not ‘good enough’

Yet if the parenting is not good enough, the wiring goes wrong which has significant implications into adult behaviour. Traits or behaviours such as sarcasm , judgementalism (sexism being one) being a couple. Even worse are addictions, depression and withdrawal. Of course the inability to ‘do’ relationships will be a key factor in anyone who didn’t get enough correct attunement with a good enough mother. And sadly the risk of self harm, suicide, violence or sexual abuse, and serious mental health disorders increases when we haven’t had our emotional needs met in childhood. The ‘good enough’ father is also crucial but for different reasons at different ages.

Vicious cycle

Where is individual choice in this? If the mother’ right hemisphere was not nurtured and sustained by her mother, in turn she will not be able to nurture and sustain her own child. And so the cycle continues, into a ‘sick’ society. So for those of us who want to try to dismiss or rationalise this, it can useful to remember the miraculous plasticity of the human brain. In that even this deeply embedded wrong wiring can be changed with effort and acknowledgement.

Individual choice

That’s wherein individual choice lies. But it is not a rational process, we cannot ‘think’ our way out of the problem. But psychotherapy can be a limbic-to-limbic brain relationship that can change the very wiring and change lives in the most positive ways imaginable. Amazingly, even the repeat rate of sexual offending of children is dropped to 5% or less. And these are the reasons why mothers are ‘culpable’ but should not be blamed.

“it’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

It’s an old adage from neurolinguistic programming (NLP), and it was Richard Bandler, the co-founder of NLP, who said it. It was controversial at the time; and of course we are entering the realms of magical thinking if we think we can change the past.

We cannot change the past

The past happened. Fact. And our past is immortalised in our memory. But our memories are far from factual, and far from fixed. Think about how unreliable witness statements are seen to be in the eyes of the law. And have you ever experienced talking to a friend or family member about a childhood memory? But both of you seem to remember the same thing in a very different way?

How memory is coded

Memory is coded in each of us in a very subjective way. Memories consist of the emotions the interactions and the meanings that we each, individually, make at a certain time. Subsequently, every time we recall a memory, there is the potential to change the memory. If this happens, that memory is put back into your ‘memory banks’ changed. Our memory can, literally, play tricks on us, as with each recall we change it put it back, change it put it back.

Neuroscience’ view

The Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux had to say of this discovery:

“Most neuroscientists, myself included, believed that a new memory, once consolidated into long-term storage, is stable. It’s as if every long-term memory had its own connections in the brain. Each time you retrieve the memory, or remembered, you retrieved that original memory, and then returned it. Reconsolidation theory proposed a radically different idea — that the very act of remembering could change the memory. Therefore, every time you remembered, you’d recall the memory as it was the very last time you remembered it, rather than the memory that was created the first time. And it would be replaced as a new representation. This theory suggested that the very act of remembering might render memories fragile, subject to change or perhaps erasure.”

What we can change

But it’s not that we can change what happened to us in the past. However we change its emotional charge. The meaning that we wrap up in the memory can be updated. And if we can do that we can successfully difficult events in our past become events that happened, but we are no longer have to get disturbed or caught up in them. This is done in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. This part of the brain gets ‘damaged’ by trauma but we can reinforce healthy activity of this region of the brain in psychotherapy or yoga therapy.

How the healing works

It kind of works like this:

  • Limbic pathway (in childhood memories)
    Get angry at 4 when sister takes toy (emotional energy) > hit sister (action) > get punished by parents (interaction) > feel like a very bad boy (meaning encoded in feeling)
  • Reversal of limbic pathway, by re-presenting old memory to higher cortex as an adult (cortical pathway for remeaning)
    Little boy got mad and parents didn’t handle it well, therefore I am not bad (feeling of relief and memory is resolved)

Neurolinguistic psychotherapy

This is the basis of neurolinguistic psychotherapy (NLPt) – it frees us of the past. This is important because memory runs the show. In every moment of our lives we are subtly and subconsciously influenced by the memory of our past experiences. For example anxiety is often due to underlying and repressed anger. If we are repressing our anger (defence mechanism) part of our mind knows, and gets anxious because anger means we are ‘bad’ (see above childhood example). It is important to remember that the subconscious mind is simplistic and childlike (and incredibly potent) and makes powerful links between events and meaning.

Creating new memories

However what is even more remarkable about memory is that we can consciously create new nurturing memories that run parallel to the old unsupportive ones. This creates a deeply embodied sense of what it could have been like to have had a very different childhood experience. This is quite amazing.

Remember what Einstein (I think!) said, “The brain doesn’t know the difference between imagination and reality.” Actually I think the brain does; it’s the body that doesn’t. We can use our imagination to create an embodied ‘felt sense’ of what a certain (positive, nurturing) memory would feel like. When we get that ‘feeling of what happens’ it changes our very consciousness (see Damasio).

Pesso Boyden system psychotherapy

In a Pesso Boyden psychomotor (PBSP) session today, a client nicely sums up the experience:

“I’ve just had a realisation that if I can live this in my mind, the perfect family situation, and create a memory out of that, then it shows how much power the old memory has got to hold me down. I’ve been buried in them, I am letting them have power only I can give them. Only I decide to give them that power and invest in those old memories. Now I realise I can place my power of thought where I want to, and not invest in the old [negative] memories, but put my energy into the new experience I have just created. It gives me a fizzing feeling all over my body and I feel connected and whole. I feel at one.”

We don’t change reality – that would be (at best) magical thinking or (at worst) hallucination. But we change the meaning that we make of reality, and in doing that we change its hold over us. And simultaneously we can create, through our imagination, in  PBSP, new parallel memories that give us an embodied sense of ‘what it could have been like’.

The two together are a powerful partnership

Memory runs the show: present consciousness is woven from the threads of memory. The present moment by moment experience therefore is ‘loaded’ with the felt sense and meaning of the negative memories from our past. Change this and you change everything.