Last week I looked at the lower and midbrain. Today let’s take a look at the connecting brain. Our new brain – the upper brain – which developed much later in our evolutionary trajectory.
“Taking up five times more room as does the primal brain, the cerebral cortex is the precious crown jewel of the human species. Herein lie our uniquely human capacities for complex reasoning, speech, logical thought, judgment, planning ahead, self-reflection, and for moderating the raw emotion that gets triggered, willy-nilly by the primitive brain. (italics added) The capacity for this moderation depends on how well the lobes are integrated versus whether one lobe is undeveloped or another dominant. Imago theory posits that beneath the psychological presentation of a couple’s problematic is an imbalanced and unintegrated brain.”(p.73)
I found that last statement interesting.
The Connecting Brain and How It Processes Information
Our primitive brain tends to classify incoming information as either safe or dangerous. Remember it reacts automatically and quickly. Our slower more deliberate cerebral cortex takes more time to process incoming information. And “there is another feature of the lower brain that does not help matters; it can’t tell the difference between the present and the past. Everything is happening here and now, no matter the actual date or address”. (p. 74)
The good news is that, unlike other members of the animal kingdom, we can think about our thinking. We have the power to shift our focus. “We have the ability to change what we are thinking about.”(.74) But here is the challenge.
The Challenge, Problems & Solutions
“Both our hardest human problems and their most effective solutions are actually living in the same house; they’re just on different floors. When all the regions of the brain are not linking, or connecting, they are often at war. Our brain is either our best friend or our worst enemy. Which one it is depends on the level of hemispheric balance and integration of the lobes. Balance and integration determine which part of the brain is in charge at the moment.” (.75)
How The Mind and Body Work Together
The authors go into a lengthy summary of how present-day neuroscience explains how the mind and body work together. They conclude:
“the nervous system structures implanted in the human brain and organs that keep us alive are the very same ones implicated in those emotional and behavioral patterns that keep us emotionally alive, which in turn relies on the quality of our perceived connectivity with other members of our species. That is, our physical survival is tied in with the quality of our felt connection with others.” (p.75) (italics added)
Safety is Key
The key, as I have said many times, is safety. If I feel safe, I can engage socially with other people without worry; if I don’t feel safe, I won’t.
“Safety, which is created in relationship and only in relationship, is what enables the brain to engage in socialization, nurturing, and growth-related activities. Without safety, the fight/flight or freeze responses take over, mobilizing the brain and body to respond to danger – whether the danger is objectively real or is merely imagined.” (p.77)
We’re Always in Relationship
What Harville and Helen are challenging is the present-day assumptions about the importance of the individual. “Despite all the evidence, our Western culture denies the obvious. That is nobody makes it on one’s own or by one’s own devices. We all required two biological parents to get here. … Try staying alive without the farmer who grew what you ate for lunch!”(p.79)
We were born in relationship & we were wounded in relationship. And their contention is that we can be healed in relationship. They really are taking the idea of relationship to the next level. “In the final analysis, we do not ‘have’ relationships; we are relating and that is our essence.” (p.79) (again italics added)
The first relationship any child has is with its caretakers and “there is a large body of literature documenting the links between children’s early experiences in relationships and their later capability in performing adulthood relationship tasks.’(p.78)
Next Chapter: Developmental Stages of Children
In the next chapter, they will explore the different developmental stages of children and examine how the relational challenges are met either well or not so well. But where they are heading in their book Doing Imago Relationship Therapy in the Space Between is their vision that we all have “the potential of recovering our original condition of connecting” (p.80) even if it wasn’t done well initially.