Tuesday, March 04, 2014. In one of the recent talks I listened to via YouTube (I’ve lost track of which one specifically) Dr. Daniel Siegel referred to research about how deaf children raised by parents who do not communicate with them via sign language lost “mindsight” abilities and can grow up to appear autistic. Years ago when I first began my neuroscientific studies into the long-term consequences of infant abuse on brain development my sister mentioned that she thought some of my characteristics regarding difficulty in “reading” other people appeared similar to autistic troubles with processing social signals. I have come to believe she was correct.
In this article — Theory of Mind and Language in Children with Cochlear Implants – researchers Ethan Remmel and Kimberly Peters present information about how hearing impairments affect a child’s development of what is known as “Theory of Mind (TOM).”
Dr. Siegel also states that empathy involves “mindsight” which is another word, basically, for empathy with self and others. Empathy is reading another person and is different from compassion. Empathy-mindsight are interactional experiences related to Theory of Mind. Dr. Allan N. Schore writes volumes about the development of the early growing right limbic brain hemisphere through infant-caregiver attachment experiences. This region of the brain is directly related to processing social information and to regulation (or dysregulation) of emotional experience and is altered in its development when relationship trauma is present in an infant’s life (as it was in mine).
Dr. Schore on page 280 of his book Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self Schore mentions that
“The right brain, the locus of the corporeal and emotional self is also dominant for the ability to understand the emotional states of other human beings, that is, empathy (Perry et al., 2001; Schore, 1994). Empathy, an outcome of attachment (Mikulincer et al., 2001), is a moral emotion, and so attachment experiences thus directly impact the neurobiological substrate of moral development. The orbitofrontal regions mediate empathy (Tekin & Cummings, 2002), and the prefrontal areas are now referred to as a “frontal moral guidance system” (Bigler, 2001).”
He continues on page 282.
“The functioning of the “self-correcting” right hemispheric system is central to self-regulation, the ability to flexibly regulate emotional states through interactions with other humans in interconnected contexts via a two-person psychology, or autoregulation in independent, autonomous contexts via a one-person psychology.”
These processes Schore describes are directly connected to quality of early attachments as those interactions shape the physiologically developing brain of an infant. Relationship with self and with “other” is impaired-changed through insufficient safe and secure attachment relationships during early critical brain-body growth stages.
On page 281 Schore states:
“It is important to stress the fact that the developmental attainment of a secure attachment bond of emotional communication and an efficient internal system that can adaptively regulate various emotional states only evolves in a growth-facilitating emotional environment.”
I know this can all seem very difficult to comprehend but I challenge readers to try to let the words percolate within because I believe this level of truth about what happened to early trauma survivors resonates with the truth of what we know through our experiences in the world. Remember, Schore is not talking about PTSD in what he says (below) but rather is describing a consequence of unsafe and insecure attachment relationships (neglect, abuse, trauma) during an infant’s earliest right brain developmental stages.
Schore goes on to say:
“Psychopathological regulatory systems contain poorly evolved frontolimbic switching mechanisms that are inefficient or incapable of uncoupling and recoupling the sympathetic and parasympathetic components of the autonomic nervous system in response to changing environmental circumstances. The inability to adapt to stress and the continued activation or inhibition of internal systems that is inappropriate to a particular environmental situation essentially defines the coping limitations of all psychiatric disorders.
“I believe that every type of early forming primitive disorder involves, to some extent, altered orbital prefrontal function. Indeed, there is now evidence for impaired orbitofrontal activity in such diverse psychopathologies as autism (Baron-Cohen, 1995), mania (Starkstein, Boston, & Robinson, 1988), unipolar depression (Mayberg, Lewis, Regenold, & Wagner, 1994), and borderline (Goyer, Konicki, & Schulz, 1994) and psychopathic (Lapierre, Braun, & Hodgins, 1995) personality disorders. Because the orbital system is centrally involved in the executive functions of the right cortex, these studies underscore the importance of the role of right hemisphere dysfunction in psychiatric disorders (Cutting, 1992). In light of the facts that this hemisphere mediates empathic cognition and the perception of the emotional states of other human beings (Voeller, 1986), and that orbitofrontal function is essential to the capacity of inferring the states of others (Baron-Cohen, 1995), regulatory dysfunctions of the prefrontal system would underlie the broad class of developmental psychopathologies that display “empathy disorders” (Trevarthen & Aitken, 1994).” [BOLD added by me for emphasis]
On page 35 of this same book Schore stated:
“Thus deprivation of empathic care [for an infant], either in the form of chronic excessive arousal intensification or reduction, creates a growth-inhibiting environment that produces immature, physiologically undifferentiated orbitofrontal affect regulatory systems. Furthermore, extensive dysregulating experiences at this time are permanently etched into forming cortical-subcortical circuits in the form of right-hemispheric “pathological” representations of self-in-interaction-with-a-dysregulating-other. Instead of a dual circuit organization that generates adaptive coupled reciprocal modes, these unevolved frontolimbic systems that maintain weak bidirectional connections with the sympathetic and parasympathetic components of the peripheral nervous system are only capable of generating coupled or uncoupled nonreciprocal (Berntson et al., 1991) modes of autonomic control. They thus show a limitation in strategies of affect regulation. The result is an organization that cannot adaptively shift internal states and overt behavior in response to stressful external demands.”
It was, as I mention, so very important to me to find the work of Dr. Martin Teicher (articles highlighted in last post) – so I could move past the idea of “pathology” and “psychopathology” in what happens to abused infants when their attachment environment is so traumatic that it changes the way their body-brain develops. We simply had to change our development to survive. Simply? Well, hardly that….
So — I cannot “read” other people in ordinary ways and this creates its own kind of sometimes nearly intolerable loneliness. I CAN, however, read some things about people that I am not SUPPOSED to be able to read. This kind of special empathy would be a topic for some other post – some other day.
(I still read all this kind of information and wonder about infants who are today often raised in large daycares (day orphanages) that I can’t imagine provide for them what is needed to grow a healthy right brain — what are the costs to this neglect? Societally approved neglect? Is anyone “in the know” asking the questions that I am? I mean, the ones with the big research bucks behind them?)
Here is our first book out in ebook format. A very kind professional graphic artist is going to revise our cover pro bono (we are still waiting to hear that he has accomplished this job) – what a gift and thank you Ben! Click here to view or purchase:
It lists for $2.99 and can be read free for Amazon Prime customers. Reviews for the book on the Amazon.com site are WELCOME and appreciated!
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