we start off life with a fully functioning amygdala, ad a non-functioning hippocampus
—this means we're capable of experiencing fear, anxiousness, wailing disappointment, traumatic big emotions without any narrative contextualization
—the amygdala tags as threatening anything we experience during an emotional state
if we're scared and our parents are too busy paying bills, working, dealing with their own lives, we experience 'people not paying attention to us' with vulnerability and fear
—again, we have no hippocampus in crucial, formative years, to bring a sense of background perspective into why our felt needs aren't being met
—regardless of how attentive or inattentive our families really were, the mind can build up these associations (of not being emotionally mirrored when we need it) into entire complexes of traumatic feelings, such as being abandoned, rejected, unconnected, unprotected, unloved.
being abandoned is the most threatening vulnerable experience a child can feel, as children cannot survive on their own.
the complexes are associated around threatening experiences for a child, such as being alone or frightened (by someone or some felt inner state, like hunger, and not having the need assuaged by the world)
—the association is made between external lack of attention and inner feelings of being unloved
—we're also making associations between somatic experience (where our body becomes uncomfortable), rejection and abandonment
—the external reality in the end matters less than what we experience emotionally
the second stage of trauma\an additional stage of suffering:
the development of narrative thinking arrives later, and tries to explain these core feelings of fear and being abandoned. the result: No one loves me/ I'm unloveable, thus I have to do something to get love and security I need to survive.
—I feel I'm not getting enough protection, security, emotional mirroring from the world.
—i have to be funnier, a better musician, theatrical, I have to stomp my feet, or run away, all to get the secure attention from others I need.
As we go through the childhood individuation process, many of these core dramas repeat themselves through new interpersonal adventures—socializing with other children, interacting with authority, dating.
Each time we feel rejected, abandoned, unaccepted, the rattling experience shoves more associations down into associative pit of "there's something wrong with me" or "no one gets love for free."
We add fuel to the fire by relating to these feelings as if we alone have felt them, thus furthering the traumatic undercurrent of being alone and unconnected.
coping strategies that address these core traumas:
1) we try to get attention/connection by all means possible. Love me, say I'm ok, be there for me.
—we can people please, shout, tell jokes, act wildly, sex,be the smartest kid on the block, start families
2) when attention isn't available, we develop strategies to anesthetize or numb the feelings of aloneness, lack of connectedness
—we numb out via television, drugs, focus-intensive work, food, exercise, anything to "shut the mind down"
these are akin to donald winnicott's false self strategies, addressing traumatic abandonment by developing social behaviors that comply with felt expectations that others maintain.
each time we feel these feelings as adults, we recall the root core vulnerability of the childhood experience. we feel just as threatened.
so we're either filling the beast (acting out), or trying to avoid it by all means necessary (shutting down)
this cyclical polar swing between acting out—give me attention and connection and shutting down—i don't want to feel what's beneath these needs can orchestrate entire lives.
the goal is always to bury or satiate the beast, our core, “ugly” feelings.
both sides of the equation can turn into self-destructive addictions.
at times we can drain the barrel dry—reach the breaking point of an endeavor, filling ourselves up sex, numbing ourselves via careers—and then move onto different numbing or filling strategies.
as the texts explain in the ratthapala sutta, the world has nothing that can truly fill our cravings, it is ultimately empty.
so what does healing look like?
if we're lucky, at some point in life we reach a point of samvega, a profound state of dismay with the way we've been trying to deal with these feelings
At this point we have a unique opportunity to step outside the cycle and undertake a new approach to living with these feelings:
1) we find a safe place, the therapists couch or the meditative cushion, where we can sit with these feelings, without pushing away or feeding them
—in therapy we express the feelings, in meditation we give them a safe vessel to arise within (the body) that can contain everything
2) in meditation we can ask ourselves, "what does it feel like to be rejected, to feel unloved?" and simply attend to what arises. this is known as sati-sampujhanna.
3) we observe the core places in the body where emotions are held; where we've developed numbness or solidity, due to associating these somatic experiences with the feelings.
4) eventually we see that these feelings will not take us over, that we're not as vulnerable as when we first felt them
5) and we move on to ways to soothe the feelings that are unconditional, that can never be run dry. we learn how to relax the body, to send thoughts of "may i live with ease."
6) in safe environments we can share the feelings without fear that we alone have experienced them. this continues the process of uncovering and detriggering.