TEICHER NC PRENOTES
“The Neurobiological Consequences of Early Stress and Childhood Maltreatment
Neuroscience & Behavioral Reviews
vol 27, pages 33-44
I woke up this morning with a revelation, having had it sparked by the particular perspective I had when I sat in my rocking chair with my first cup of coffee for the day. I turned my head and caught sight of the black and white picture taken 34 years ago of Kerensa and me (by Bobbi) sitting on the table, leaning against the wall. The glass broke in the frame, so I can’t hang it up. It has always bothered me that the photographer missed the top of my head in that picture, cutting me off just a bit above my eyebrows. Yet is in a beautiful picture, and I cherish it of both of us.
Behind this picture is the water color painting a quick sketch artist did of me at Disney Land when I was 18. That picture, also without a frame, sits where I placed both pictures 2 days ago, this one behind the first one. Yet it is just tall enough that the top of my head in that picture “completes” the other one so that my head from behind appears to be related to the foreground picture – and I appear “whole,” even though the bck top part of my head is in color.
Hard to explain, but it instantly struck me as I looked over there this morning that the “something wrong with m brain” is captured both by the missing top of my head in the front picture, and in the completion that appears when the two pictures sit against one another like this. I realized that today’s feeling has something to do with a recognition and an awareness that there is something wrong with how my brain processes –or doesn’t process, memories. It has to do with the incoherence and discontinuity of my life (as it would appear should I take an Adult Attachment Interview). It has to do with all the floating memories of my childhood…..if they were lined up just right, and the viewer could see them all one behind the other, it would look like it was a whole person.
Like I would “look like” a normal person if I could “get all my ducks in a row,” line up all my memories “as if” they were connected to me.
I am still looking for this missing piece of my puzzle. I am still aware that “something is wrong with my memory.” I will go get my journal and write in here what I recorded this morning in there….
Our ability to have a memory of ourselves in our environment must form early on through our interactions with others. That part of my brain did not from right, either.
Those interactions create a kind of glue within us that “adhesives” our experiences to ourselves over time so that we get, at the end of the growth period, a self that is glued or attached to others and at the same time, to ourselves. Without this glue there is no self because nothing is truly glued – or attached – to it correctly. It creates a strange sort of amnesia – so that when I am not WITH my loved ones a part of me does not exist – when I leave them I leave that part of myself with them and do not take it with me – the glue is missing – so I can’t.
My experiences end up being “out there” instead of “in me.” So when I am, say, not with Ernie I am not only missing him, I am missing a part of myself that is “out there” stranded and unable to “come alive” until I am with him again. Or with my children again.
Like part of me remains glued (or externalized) to them and not to myself.
The biggest thing with the homestead is that there were no people in it. Like my “vision” showed me the inner condition of my own mind?
Our memory is what connects or attaches itself to our self. Without it, we do not have the experience of our own lives because we have no self to remember it with.
It’s a result – these are the “dead spots” Kestenberg wrote of.
I came to this today as I sat in this rocker and saw the black and white photo of Kerensa as a toddler in my arms – only the top of my head is cut off [missing] in the picture – and standing behind that is the taller painting done of me by an artist at Disney Land when I was 18/19 and the top of my head shows above the first picture. It’s like that – every experience is stored in a separate head – perspective of the mirrors within mirros I saw as a child as they curved out of my range of vision into eternity –
I do not hold my memories. They are separate from me. Like the pop beads of my childhood – but not even strung together.
There is no “flow”
n backwards –
n there was “flow” in the vision
Who I was when I went outside on the homestead was a sparate different person than who I was with m mother – or who I was with my mother – or who I was at school – or with my dad, etc.
Separate individuals without personality. No continuity or flow between them. No glue.
The girl without a self.
One part of my “selves” likes plants. One was a mother. Ernie – lots of my selves love Ernie – I am closest to whole with him.
Lots of my selves love baths and mountains and sunshine.
Kind of like those folding dolls cut out of paper and their hands are connected – mine aren’t.
Smoking is a connecting glue. Working with my hands is a connecting glue.
35 years of being a mother was a connecting glue.
And then later in the day I was able to pick up this Teicher article I had called in.
Instead of just looking at all the fragments of the damage done to the brain as being separate and unrelated, it is like this article’s authors have backed up far enough from the details to have been able to recognize what it is that they are looking at.
A different brain.
I am too tired now to be able to accurately record how excited I was reading this article. By the time I reached the end of the article, I was writing “Yes Yes Yes” beside every other sentence. They are on the right track. When these neuroscientists begin to record, piece by piece, all the different structures in the brain that area altered in size and function, all the changes in receptor ends and chemical levels, all the shifts in operation of the autonomic nervous system – it can be called “damage” or “developmental delays,” but what it really is in the end, is a completely altered brain.
As Teicher concludes, there is one kind of brain that grows under optimal, nurturing, safe conditions. And then there is the other kind of brain that grows under dangerous and threatening not safe conditions, because the brain is formed BY those conditions.
To me, this brain that has adapted to an unsafe world would then be equally as functional given the environment it was formed by as would be the safe brain. But the safe brain is designed to operate within a safe species. The danger brain has allowed us to survive the unsurvivable.
I find this life confirming – and it feels RIGHT! Teicher still refers to “mental illness.” Yet considering the conditions that these brains – such as mine – developed under, we have “mental wellness.” I still would go another step past Teicher: Our brains were formed under conditions that were life threatening, not life enhancing. We are not tied to the same world the rest of the average species is tied to. Somewhere in all of this we have gifts that the average people do not have.
Broadly speaking, we are throw-backs to the kind of brain that would have had to evolve when conditions were dangerous and threatening to everybody. The frightening concept, to me, is that our threat came from within our species. It came from the human being most close to us in the world – our mothers. Yet in ancient times, if a mother were under constant threat of extinction herself, she would not be able to have been relaxed, attentive, and playful with her infant. Any undue stress and distress she would have felt would have had to spill over into the arena of her interactions with her infant. And her stress would consequently have been built into her infant’s brain.
It seems to be a nearly inconceivable notion that a mother would not have her infant’s best interests in mind. But this happens when the mother has needs that are overwhelming to her own survival – physically or psychologically/emotionally.
Our altered, different brains do not appear to be adapted to the “safe” adult world today’s abused children grow up to join. But they were not prepared to join this “safe” world. They were prepared to endure and survive in a dangerous world, as Teicher points out. Yet it appears, really, that our brains are obsolete. We are supposedly now in a safe world, not a dangerous one. But our brains cannot adapt to this safe world. They are not developmentally delayed. They are not even damaged, then. They are just different.
I have to come back to this because I am very tired now.
I cannot conceive of the degrees of variability that exist among people. All I can do is stretch my mind in as many directions as I can, snatching possibilities out of thin air the way a frog’s tongue might catch a fly.
If all the people alive today were stood in a line side by side, and assessed by the degree of secure attachments that they experienced from birth that build their brains, therefore their minds and their selves, and each degree were assigned a color from the spectrum of the rainbow, what would we see?
We are dealing here with what we cannot physically see – the effects of the environment of safety or lack of it on the growth of the human brain – and then on the end result. What kind of brain do we have?
I think of sparrows. What if a sparrow’s mother could so deprive its offspring that in adulthood the bird had no wings. None. Off course it could not fly. What would its life be like and how long would it live? What would its chances of survival be?
This cannot happen with birds. But in the human species there is a wide range of genetic possibilities programmed into our common human DNA structure that ultimately determine how common or how unique we will be.
This story will need to be told on many levels at the same time. But I will not beat around the bush. I believe people can understand and utilize far more information than they think they can. The human brain is designed to learn, grow and change throughout the lifespan.
I am not motivated to tell my own story per se. What I want to do is to utilize every single drop of my early experience to illustrate and illuminate facts that will help others to improve the quality of society in the future, which means from this exact millisecond forward. The future is not some vague, distant and mysterious place we cannot foresee. It exists at each point of threshold as we move continually onward — both individually and as a species.
We can pretend all we want that we are omnipotent and above the laws of nature. But as we begin to understand that “pretend thinking” is a primitive mode of mental functioning that we are supposed to develop PAST, we can begin to mature in our perceptions and leave denial so far behind we will forget what it even was. We might like to think of ourselves as adults, but our primitive childhood conceptions of reality, if they are not challenged from within and from without, will destroy us as a species. There is that potential and that possibility – whether we deny it or not.
You cannot kill scorpions by spraying them with pesticides. You can only spray for the bugs they eat, and once the scorpion (hopefully) consumes the sprayed prey, they will die. It is like that with our thoughts, conceptions and perceptions. We can spray for what they feed on – information that we believe, know, and find of value and meaning.
If “mental illness” genes served no purpose for potential survival of the species they would have been eliminated a long time ago. They must, therefore, allow for some possible necessary adaptation to the environment should they be needed for survival. They remain among us as the “just in case.”