Tuesday, March 12, 2013

blame it on the limbic system

John’s business trip abroad has been extended.  This news really devastated me – I am not sure why.  I am really angry, disappointed, and frustrated with it all.  I have no choice though and I guess that is why I am so angry.  Yesterday, I cried all the way home from work – sobbed along the highway, came into the house and continued the sobbing, along with some screams and some “I can’t do this” and “I won’t do this, again”.  Why am I having such a hard time with the knowledge that he'll be gone for another month?  Why am I acting like such a baby?  Is this normal?

Though you may feel like there is something terribly wrong with you, this kind of reaction is really quite normal.  Why do we regress like children upon pain of separation from our loved ones?   

Blame it on the limbic system, our primitive reptilian brain. 

This limbic system is responsible for emotional regulation and depends on how securely we are attached to our loved ones and how attuned they are to us.  Since the limbic system stores templates of the emotional attachments we formed in early childhood, adult love relationships can trip primitive neurobiological wiring and trigger early childhood responses that cause us to “act like babies”.

Even in healthy adult relationships, separation from our partners can trigger the same distress that we experienced as children upon pain of separation from our mothers.  Those of us with insecure attachments inscribed in our primitive templates experience even higher levels of distress.  Those of us who are repeatedly exposed to unforeseen or extended periods of separations that are not of our choosing (as you seem to be), even higher still.

The cure lies in relationship, i.e. in developing a secure attachment that effectively contains  dysregulated states like the ones you are describing so that early childhood wounds are healed, and trust and comfort are restored.  John Gottman recently wrote a book called The Science of Trust on this subject which you may be interested in exploring. 

I also encourage you and
John to use Harville Hendrix’s famous mirror listening technique. Thanks to Oprah, here is a link that will explain to you how to do that.

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