Addiction and Reward: The Nucleus Accumbens and Empathy – April 2015

Addiction and Reward: The Nucleus Accumbens and Empathy – April 2015

Addiction and Reward: The Nucleus Accumbens and Empathy – April 2015

 April 15, 2015

Sarah Peyton

12 Things You Need to Know to Support Brain Well-Being

Brains can have a hard time.  Brains have the hardest time when bad things have happened, and we have had to be alone with those events.  Events like bullying, all kinds of abuse — even just witnessing domestic violence — leave identifiable traces on the brain.  Poverty and all kinds of trauma affect us, both in our brains and at the level of our immune systems.  This makes us vulnerable to life events.  And what creates resilience?  More than anything else, warmth and resonance make our brains resilient, no matter what happens to us.

For me, the tricky thing has been allowing myself to be lovable and to be loved.  I have found that I have to explicitly lower my own guard and let people in.  It is all easier for me when I see my own brain with gentleness and acknowledgment. The process of letting warmth in is made more possible when I remember the following 12 things:

  1. We all have a default network. It is the automatic way our brains work when they are left to their own devices. Our own default networks can treat us well, or they can treat us badly. If they treat us badly, we can teach them to treat us better.

  2. Self-regulation is the most important life skill anyone can have. We can self-regulate by trying to control our environment or by controlling others, or we can manage ourselves by bringing in past experiences of emotional warmth and resonance to move through life without stress.

  3. Our sense of self is created from every experience we have with other people. If we have not been met with welcome by others in our lives, and we have not been reflected so that we know ourselves, we need to grow our own sense of who we are.

  4. We have two hemispheres, with which we see the world very differently: in one of them we are acting, and in the other we are being. We are all continually living with a foot in each worldview.  As we heal, the right hemisphere begins to lead the way, letting us take actions that reflect our essential longings and loves.

  5. Our brains run energy and information along separate emotional circuits depending on what we feel and what we are longing for. As we see them with clarity, we start to be able to understand and support ourselves more easily.

  6. These emotional circuits connect with the body, and when we get angry or afraid, we are in fight/flight, and everything changes. The more we can find the true life energy within our anger and our fear, the easier it is to connect with our passions.

  7. When we lose all hope, we move into Shame, dissociation, depression and grief are all signs that we have moved into the frozen places of our self.  When we are in these places we need warmth, gentleness and resonance.

  8. Moments of frozenness, when not met with warmth and resonance, can turn into trauma, and can show up as recurring, intrusive memories. This is because there are two forms of memory in our brains: implicit, or timeless remembering with emotional content, and explicit, time-stamped memory, which comes with clarity and can be fully recalled with ease. We can heal our traumas and transform the way we hold our memories, so that they no longer intrude upon us.

  9. We pass along the way we use our brains to the people we care about, especially our children. The different ways we respond to being connected to others are called our Attachment Styles.  However we were raised, we can move toward earned secure attachment as we heal, keeping these 12 things in mind.

  10. Children learn how much of their life energy and expression are welcome starting at the age of 4 months, in the interchange of facial expressions with their mothers. They carry this information as internalized emotional limits that I call the “Window of Welcome.” With resonant empathy, we can expand our previous limitations and become fully alive without shame.

  11. The more we are fully supported by this learning and healing, the less of a hold depression has on us, and the more we claim our full aliveness.

  12. The more easily we are able to self-regulate with warmth, the more we can create habits that support our well-being, instead of having to use addictions and compulsions to manage our pain.

The world of Interpersonal Neurobiology provides a roadmap to brain integration and healing.

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