Sometimes I have to force myself toward the study of information that I KNOW will help me in my life.  The choice is between continuing to live in ignorance while experiencing intensity of emotions I don’t understand and cannot easily regulate (along with repeated dissociation which I believe is one of a survivor’s ‘tools’ for regulating overwhelming emotion), or trying to learn SOMETHING that can help me make sense of the way I experience my life in this trauma-changed body.

The information presented in the article in my post +TRUE HEALING POSSIBLE – MY #1 CHOICE FOR TREATMENT is about the limbic social-emotional right brain as it connects into our body.  It is about how we experience emotion.  It is about how our interactions with other people starting from the beginning of our life form the patterns that either regulate or dysregulate our emotional life.

Our emotions are supposed to be the factors of our existence as human beings that are supposed to guide us toward approach or avoid through a process that lets us know what is good for us and what is harmful for us.  In other words, our limbic brain is intimately connected to our appraisal system, and from there to our reaction-action systems.  Severe infant-abuse survivorship changes the development not only of this limbic region of our brain, but also of our appraisal and our reaction system.

I am going to present some very specific information today about what is termed our Windows of Tolerance as it applies both to our emotional well- or ill-being and to the ways that we get information in the first place through our body.  This information comes from the writings of Dr. Daniel J. Siegel in his book The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are.

The pages that precede the ones I am posting here today talk about how emotions are differentiated early infancy — or not.  These processes all occur within the earliest caregiver attachment interactions we have as our brain and nervous system-body is growing and developing.  All these processes are literally wired into the cells of our body and will determine how we ARE in the world.  The kind of therapy described in my earlier post is recognizing how fundamental these processes are and how they are wired into our body-brain.

Siegel states:

“Creating change within rigid patterns of specific appraisals requires a fundamental change in the organization of information and energy flow….

“Value circuits determine specific appraisal, creating the basic hedonic tone of “this is good” or “this is bad” and the behavioral set of “approach” or “withdraw.”  Value circuits also continue to assess the meaning of these initial activations as they are elaborated into more defined emotional states, including the categorical emotions.  What determines the nature of the appraisal/value process itself?  How does the mind “know” what should be paid attention to, what is good or bad, and how to respond with sadness or anger?

“For human beings to have survived, this complex appraisal process had to be organized by at least two components.  According to the fundamental principles of evolution, the characteristics of those that helped the individuals to survive and pass on their genes are more likely to be present today.  This is one explanation, for example, of why some people are frightened of snakes though they may never have seen one before.  This may also explain why infants have a “hard-wired,” inborn system to appraise attachment experiences as important.

“A second evolutionarily crucial influence on the appraisal mechanism is that it had to be able to learn from an individual’s experience.  Individuals who did not learn, for example, that touching a flame hurts would have been more likely to be repeatedly injured and unable to defend themselves, and therefore less likely to survive and pass on their genes.  Those individuals whose brains could alter their evaluative mechanisms would have been more likely to survive.  Hence, the appraisal system is also responsive to experience; it learns.  Emotional engagement enhances learning.”  (pages 252-253)

As pointed out in the article I posted two days ago on limbic resonance therapy, much of our learning ability happens through epigentic changes.  The healing that severe early abuse survivors need to accomplish happens at these molecular levels through processes that are also described in this article.

Early trauma overwhelms and over-arouses, over stimulates and over amps our nervous system, body and brain.  During our developmental stages that are designed to build emotional regulation into us, we were instead given far, far too much information at the same time we were left to our own physiological adaptations to survive.  As a result our appraisal system changed, a fact that means our Window of Tolerance for emotion and our reaction to emotion was also changed.


While many of us know perfectly well what it FEELS like to have had our emotional, limbic, right brain’s internal guidance system changed because we LIVE with the consequences every day, most of us have never been given the information we need to understand what really happened to us.  We suffer from so-called ‘symptoms’ and ‘mental illnesses’ that are directly a consequence of how our extreme early trauma changed our body-brain in development.

These pages I scanned today from Siegel’s book give us some vital information that lets us begin to think more mindfully and consciously about what we experience in our body.  While change and healing is always possible, I believe that we need to comprehend how pervasive our trauma-related developmental changes in our body-brain’s arousal and reaction systems were so that we can be realistic in our expectations of ourselves as we go forward in our lives practicing gentle kindness.

NOTE:  It is important to realize that what Siegel states here about temperament are factors that are influenced in early development and by any exposure to trauma.  Hence, anxiety disorders, PTSD, depression, dissociation are all related to windows of emotional tolerance and our nervous system’s STOP and/or GO response, influencing how ‘shy’ or ‘bold’ we feel in our body-brain.  (It also might explain why/how things like this can happen:  http://www.kvue.com/news/KVUE-Live-Streaming-Video-81260087.html)




  1. Wow, I find such validating clear information related in books and on websites I have known nothing of, until very recently. I am a 48-year-old survivor, of my father’s sexual actions and my mother’s monetarily-driven inactions, healing now on my own, for lack of trust in anything or anyone else.

    I always appreciate and marvel at what I now find; I want to say, I could not find it previously; but must call out that lie, as I also now know that I was told years ago that I have this damage and must face it honestly. Or at least, I think that is what they wanted to say; I always stomped out of the counsellors’ rooms, frustrated that they would ask me about the years-ago past, when all I wanted help with was how to live at that point of my life.

    I mourn for the who-I-would-have-lived-to-be; and I still fight alone.

    Nan Martin
    Prince Frederick, MD

    • Your words remind me of the first time I sought therapy. I was 23, having come out of my terrible and terrifying childhood clueless, pregnant 4 months out of boot camp, carried and gave birth alone to a daughter, eventually married the pothead father when the baby was 6 months old, divorced him within a year, on and on and on until I got myself to a counseling center so desperately needing help with my life when my daughter was 3. I had nowhere and nobody to turn to, no hope for direction in my life, no idea of how my childhood of abuse had hurt me, no idea how I was going to parent this child, etc etc etc

      The first question the therapist asked me, looking straight into my eyes, was, “What was going on in your life when you got pregnant with your daughter.” I stared straight back at the therapist, my mind going a million miles an hour with all the emotions in my body in tow, and said the only thing back to her I possibly could. “You don’t want to know. You don’t EVEN want to know.”

      And of course I turned on my heel and walked out the door and it was years before I went again for help.

      The attachment development and neuroscience information that severe abuse survivors most need to know about how our development was changed in adaptation to trauma is NEW information. Depending on how extreme our early maltreating environment was, the more or less this information is critical to us. I needed THIS information, and it’s what I pour into this blog — that no matter how I might try to match myself up with non-abuse survivors, my body and brain operate in specific ways that their body-brains don’t.

      I try my hardest to learn to understand how I was changed so I could survive, and to look at these changes in as positive light as possible. I know from the inside what you are saying when you write: “I mourn for the who-I-would-have-lived-to-be.”

      We survivors accessed incredible resiliency gifts contained within the range of possibilities for our species. We are living miracles of survival. The same system that did not keep us safe, that did not pay attention to what was happening to us as infant-children, that did not intervene, that did not rescue us — is eager and waiting to label us ‘sick’ and ‘mentally ill’ and ‘pathological’ and ‘disabled’ and ‘damaged’, etc.

      You are so right when you mention that nobody in this ‘system’ earned our trust, nor do we owe it to anyone to give it to them now. That therapist/counselor I walked away from had no business asking that first question. For years I blamed myself for having abandoned the ‘right path’ in my life by not ‘letting’ that woman ‘help’ me. Yeah, RIGHT! She had me GONE at her first word.

      I think trusting our own self is a good idea, and that includes all aspects of our healing. I have had to wait for research to appear, time after time, that then matches what I already know inside my body-brain. We have a gift to be living at this time when the truth about our developmental adaptations can finally be told — and accessed by us via the internet.

      What good would it really have done us to slog around, to waddle around, to struggle with misinformation in the past that didn’t really apply to us anyway? So, I am glad you found my site, and please poke around looking for what fits for you and clicks for you — then take the terms and go hop around on Google — Please, trust your own inner knowing, your own internally guided process — it’s a continuation of the one that kept you strong and alive and good!

      All the best, and thanks so much for your comment! We are NOT alone — the world is too imperfect for that. When I look at the bigger picture of how much suffering there is in the world, I understand that those who were given the gift at least of having safe and secure early attachment TO THEIR MOTHER birth to age 2, and to any other safe attachment person after that age, really have been given the most important gift of a lifetime — a nervous system, brain and body that at least knows in its beginning circuitry what it feels like to be safe and secure and was able to build itself accordingly. Linda – alchemynow

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