Let’s first consider intelligence. There are many kinds of intelligence. The right brain knows this, the left brain would deny it, sitting like an empty page waiting for the right brain to tell it what to do, to tell it what it knows. The right brain is tied to the body and the information that comes to it from the environment, to what we sense including what we feel. The left brain does not pull information out of thin air to work with. It has to receive it somehow from somewhere. It gets it from the right brain, and then sequences it from there. Mirror neurons in the left brain are just that. They mirror, they do not make sense of things, they do not provide context or meaning all by themselves.
When someone says, “I have half a mind to do so,” they are talking about only having half of the information they need to complete a thought. What we do not want to recognize in our cerebral western culture is that the body has a mind of its own, and it feeds this information through the wisdom and workings of the right brain.
Men’s and women’s brains work differently, both receiving information in different ways through different pathways. I don’t believe the right brain can ever lie. What we have to watch out for is what the left brain does with the information it THINKS applies in any context and to any situation. The left brain is about particulars and we often think about how it works in terms of measuring intelligence, but it only tells less than half of the story.
When attachment experts talk about insecure attachments in terms of the lack of an ability to tell a coherent life story, they are talking about the left brain’s ability to sequence all the various events of a person’s life as they occurred in a particular pattern of time. That is sequencing. The right brain and the body have all the information from every experience we’ve ever had, but it is not uncommon for the left brain to be oblivious to the realities of our own lives as we live them. That’s because “it depends” matters when it comes to sequencing and ordering information, particularly if we are going to put it into the form of the language of words (a left brain specialty at this point in our later evolution).
The right brain understands the music of language. An infant is born already knowing much about the prosody, the rhythm, pitch, sound and patterns of language, and began to learn these in the womb through listening with its body to the language of its mother. In our mother’s body is where we begin to learn our mother tongue.
I believe that this is part of the earliest development of the attachment system. It is why an infant that loses its mother at birth already will have to grieve the loss of her. We are being prepared to be born into an intelligible world before we take our first breath. And in this intelligible world we develop our own particular version of intelligence. Think about this word in terms of “an intelligence operation.” That really is what our lives are about in the beginning and to the end. It has to do with our ability to communicate within ourselves to our self, and to others in our world.
Although we don’t tend to think of it this way, all womb experiences are about establishing patterns of trust within the body of the fetus. We aren’t designed to be moved from womb to womb so that we would have continually needed to adjust to all sorts of different conditions before we were born. We hear one mother’s heartbeat, are formed in relation to one mother’s movements and patterns and rhythms, one mother’s voice closest to our developing ears. We are forming not only in relationship to her, but we are forming a relationship to her that will continue once we are born.
I believe that through our evolutionary history we were breast fed from birth by our own mothers, but that activity once the infant matured could just as easily be carried out my different women surrounding the life of the infant. At that point our attachment system would have grown to include responses to and from others of our species, perhaps including the father and other males, as well. The attachment system is therefore flexibly designed to adapt and develop within a multiple caregiver environment complete with exposure to different voices.
But the pattern that has been established with our mothers in the womb, that of rupture and repair continues after we are born within the context or every human experience that we have from birth, and these patterns build our brain and are built into it. If rupture and repair are about rhythm and pattern, trust becomes the fundamental outcome of these patterns as they continue over time. A breach of trust happens when there is rupture at any time without repair occurring in a “reasonable” amount of time.
I believe that these breaches in trust are what insecure attachment styles are all about as these breaches communicate to the developing body that the world is not as safe as optimally possible (and, yes, I believe the body knows the difference). These breaches in trust communicate to the cells in the body that the world can be dangerous and threatening in some way, and the expression of our genetic code is then altered in adaptation and preparation for threats in the world.
It seems like a long stretch to say that the basic rhythms and patterns of language with their reoccurring rupture and repair trust patterns over time can directly communicate to our immune system the state of the world. Imagine listening to the engine of your car, humming along with nearly inaudible rhythms. Yet if your engine “misses” you notice, and know that something is “amiss.” You trust things that are working properly to hum along in a steady smooth pattern. When this is disrupted, you know it. The body operates in the same way.
People who know about the pattern of the yearly arrival of the swallows to Capistrano in California would know and notice if that pattern was disrupted. You would notice if your heartbeat changed and did not return to normal. But do we think of these patterns we can trust in terms of them being the signals of communications? If there were no dependable, trustable patterns then everything would be meaningless. Therefore the patterns are about meaning, and meaning is about signals of communication between entities, even if those entities are the cells within our own body.
We can think about them in terms of pulses, pulsations, transference of electrical signals, movement of elements within molecules, transmissions of information that maintain life on all of its levels. Changes happen when patterns of signals are interrupted or altered and this information is transferred accordingly. Refinement of these ongoing communications is what some Chinese biophysicists say is the purpose of evolution. Signals of communication are then both the substance of life and the purpose for it.
The appearance, maintenance, predictability and continuity of patterns provide contrast between order and chaos. As the Canadian Eskimos say of their language, speaking of a thing brings it into existence. Language is then itself an act of creation. Even the language of computers is based on a simple pattern of on and off again signals. The molecules of existence are no different. And most basically, if we can trust these patterns to remain patterns we are safe. If we can’t, we aren’t safe. Is a pattern a pattern if it dissolves into chaos? What information do they then impart to us, other than the fact that the world is a threatening and chaotic dangerous place where life itself is on the edge of blinking out? What sense is there in a chaotic pattern?
Here we find a similarity between how the two halves of our brain operate. The right brain knows the broad expanse of creative possibility that borders on chaos. Our left brain makes sense of that information, finds and establishes the patterns and creates order from the chaos fed to it hopefully by the right brain which can do no more because of the innate limitations of its existence and purpose. But this cooperative, balanced networking between our two brain hemispheres can be interrupted. The connectivity of our two hemispheres is influenced in our early development as is the formation and operation of the two hemispheres themselves. We can literally end up in a situation where our left brain is empty and knows not what to do while our right brain drowns in chaos and can’t help it.
When this happens, we have altered connections with “the mother ship,” that mother ship being our self, resulting from alterations in communication that built themselves into our developing brain. And yet the maintenance of life requires patterned order and cannot tolerate chaos and remain alive. Therefore our brains and bodies will establish balance in some way, and organize according to some pattern that innately “makes sense.” Some combination has to and does occur to create stability if life is going to be maintained. It is this combination of patterns that bring order out of chaos that demands our study as we attempt to understand the long term consequences of infant and child maltreatment that happen during critical developmental windows and thus force alterations and adaptations to establish and maintained vital balance required to sustain and maintain life.
Our studies at this point will bear the most fruit because they address what lies at the center of a person’s development and therefore the source of behaviors that we see far down the line from when the whole operation of a person was formed. Here we can gaze into “the big bang,” the genesis of a person. That the genesis of a person is continual and ongoing through the expression of their genetic material shows us that once the trajectory of a person’s involvement in the world is set off in one direction, the directions given to the mechanisms that direct our gene expression will follow those directions to the end of the tracks.
Think about a child’s bare footprint embedded in now hardened cement of a sidewalk. One can never remove that footprint and make that sidewalk like it would have been in the beginning if that footprint had not been placed there. When we truly look back at the impact of our earliest experiences and begin to understand how they interacted to form our bodies and our brains in response to them, we begin to understand that we are left in the end working with what was created in the beginning. It should come as no surprise, then, that in cases like my mother’s her footprints kept right on walking without deviation along the course that was established in her body from her beginnings. Her abuse of me was some sort of logical consequence that resulted from her inner attempts to balance and bring herself to upright in a falling down world.
We cannot alter the footprints our early caregivers stomp into our own freshly forming sidewalk of life. An infant has very limited abilities to control and influence its own environment from the start of its life. So if we want to make sense out of “senseless” abuse of infants and children, if we want to make these patterns intelligible to ourselves, we have to use a most basic form of societal intelligence known as common sense. It is not hard at all to understand that if you plant a seed and neglect its needs it might not germinate, might not grow into anything like a fruitful healthy plant. A seed cannot control the amount of light or moisture it receives, cannot keep toxins from harming it. How are tiny new humans any different from a vulnerable seed? At what point to choice and control enter the picture?
Just because we might like to think that something is “so” does not make it “so.” That is childhood magical thinking, not common sense. We need the “secret intelligence,” the “inside information” about how we develop in the first place in order to understand how we end up in the long run.
What is this taboo that we have against holding our early caregivers at all responsible or accountable for the way we turn out, for the bodies that are formed in direct relationship to how they treated us, particularly from conception to age 7? If we don’t hold them accountable, then we don’t have to hold ourselves accountable for how we interact with our own children? That might have been OK during times when we were all threatened with extinction from warfare and disease on a regular basis, but in today’s world we survive! We continue on being.
We are left trying to live in our “civilized” world, the secure and insecure of us combined as if we are all the same. We are not ever all the same, and certainly those of us raised in a benevolent secure world are far different from those of us raised in malevolent insecure worlds. We were formed in, by and for different worlds. We must understand that and understand what this means. Not to understand this is to practice blatant unfairness both to ourselves and to one another. If we know the facts and then decide that we don’t care, that is a different matter all together. If we don’t know and understand the impact of our early developmental experiences, we are living in blind sight.
I know it is scary to look back there in our lives, back to when we were helpless and being formed by huge forces outside of our control. It’s terrifying to stand at the edge of chaos and watch genesis as a life is being formed, particularly and especially when that life is our own. Remember that I am talking about those who were raised within extreme conditions of deprivation and trauma. While everyone’s early experiences form them, most people do have their basic needs met and therefore develop within the range of well being that allows them freedom to use a brain within a body that matches the “near” end rather than the “far” end of our specie’s evolutionary potentials. Don’t look for troubles where they don’t exist. Be realistic with your assessments as you look for connections between your present experience of being alive and your early one. What I am saying is be aware and be fair.
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