Saturday, September 17, 2011

You Just Might Get What You Need

"You Just Might Get What You Need"

….“It is interest… which is primary.[Interest] supports both what is necessary for life and what is possible…”

Nothing has become so clear to me recently than that we are so often left alone not because we are not loved or worse yet because we are hated. No it is because so many of those that love us have been so deeply hurt before they even got to us.

It is only with a development of a sense of empathy and the ability to understand that people can leave us for a number of reasons that we can advance to think in terms of other than my own needs and hurt if we are left.

New thoughts? Hardly. Hamlet certainly doubted and contemplated and got in peoples heads. Much of the modern novel, if it is about anything, is  about such angst as what motivated this or that person to do this or that. And so it is ever the more mysterious to me that we still play out our dramas with such flare as if we have learned barely anything about the human psyche.  And so it is with each of us; we haven’t until we have. Each generation learns at its parent’s knees and that is where all the drama starts.

What general progress there is saved up in tiny bits of cultural memory that are passed on like diamonds from generation to generation that  sometimes seemingly skip a few generations. Thus we progress so slowly in our quest for self knowledge and quest for interpersonal connection. And yes in general the ability to empathize and talk of empathy is rather new on the world stage.

So yes for some time now many of us might understand that the beloved might withdraw from the beloved while still in a state of loving the very person they are withdrawing from but how best to understand this? How best to understand that idea of hurting the one you love?

It seems the best most clarifying concept to come along is to express it in terms of interest. Interest was never been appreciated as a fully appreciated emotion until Silvan Tomkins indentified it as such and still has not been accepted as such. 

Tomkins says interest makes things possible….“It is interest… which is primary.[Interest] supports both what is necessary for life and what is possible…”  

Interest makes attachments possible.  Once you come to appreciate the whole emotional system that Tomkins discovered you come to see that interest is its crowing jewel. Without interest we are a world wind of punishing feeling without a control module or a lever with which to rise ourselves to joy once in a while. It is the emotional governor of the system.

Interest is that which is necessary for bonding with our primary caregivers. “Affection”: affective resonance, interest-interest leads to joy-joy. Some folk call it attunement.  The breakage of this bond causes a shame response. This is inevitable and it takes skill to repair; the cycle of interest-interest- interest- joy and shame or interest –shame –interest or any combination thereof. If done appropriately we teach the child that it is possible to be in a good time and anticipate that a bad time will happen indeed a bad time is inevitable but that the good time will return.

The problem is, and this is all too common, all too common is when children are abandoned and have no idea when the good scene will return. I am four years old and have a grand old time with daddy and then am then left in the car for hours on end. This happens over and over. Cycles of emotions take over. Briefly shame, then fear, terror, distress, all are felt together and I cry and I cry myself to sleep not knowing when he will return. My older sister “babysits” me while mom is at work by locking me in a room all day. I cry and scratch at the door all day. My mother never knows what goes on.

My parents get picked up on drug charges and social services don’t find me in the apartment for a month.

The emotional abandonment of constant doses of prescription drugs and alcohol that blunt any meaningful interaction.

Of course the phenomena of abandonment are not new to psychology either. Its ravages are well known and have permeated well into the popular media. It is, again, its relation to interest that we are after.

What interest gives us is something we never had before and that is a quasi physical way to connect people. What is that? Yes.  The genius of Tomkins is that he fully seated emotion in the physical body by tying emotion to facial expression and that was only the beginning. He said the each innate facial expression really was only an expression of a “feeling” that was taking place all over the body. That is there is a separate emotional nervous system.

Follow me. Interest simply gives a name to what we already know. And we don’t really have to have to say “quasi” physical phenomena as it has direct physical effects. We do have touch and that is a physical connection. To touch someone lovingly is to touch them in an interested way. Now we also know that talk therapy changes the anatomy of the brain in similar ways as medication. This is not magic. The therapist did not touch the patient or was not suppose to yet the patient changes physically. Interest?  Interest gives a name to this force does it not? Of course verbal torture too changes the brain. Physical?

Yet, again when such a strong force (interest) has been establish and I say it does not take much to establish it because as infants that is what we need. Not what we want that is a cognitive statement which we will not be able to make for a very long time. What we need is interest retuned for the natural interest that we will continually pour out.

If interest is broken the consequence will be shame and confusion but we will not know what to make of it on a cognitive or “thinking” level for a very long time. We will however start to “do our own thing” about it the best we can. We will begin to figure out how to oddly soothe or compensate for the lack of reciprocated interest we are emanating out and not getting and it will be compensated for to the electron volt.

How do we do that? Sucking our thumb more?  Eating more? Throwing tantrums? Beating on baby brother? It does not get better as we grow up unless it gets better with all involved. (Please go to or better come back to  “Still face experiment )

We are indeed “hard wired” with that need for interest. And although never having experienced a “drug high” and thus never having “chased” one I believe we   all are chasing the high of a primal “interest” rush when we “attached” to our primary care giver (s) if we where  so lucky to have been given interest and gotten it back for some sustained time and almost everyone was given it at least enough to get that high but unfortunately for a huge percentage of people it indeed was not sustained.

And this brings us back to our theme of being in the present or I guess the point is being in the present but not being in the presence of the beloved because they have withdrawn and maybe nowhere to be found but indications are that they are “faithful.” What sense is to be made of this? 

The variations are endless and of course they can be under your own roof married to you for years and still not be “there-for-you.”

So it is that it seems that while we can indeed have many interests we really cannot focus very well but on one at a time very clearly.

It seems somewhat a perversity of nature to do this and anti survivalist but there you go not all is aimed nicely at preserving the species.

That is we are saying that when this interest- interest joy- joy bond is broken and shame ensues and trauma is created.  And then traumatic memories are stored we are in real trouble.

We might think evolution might in general provide for us to push on and say “bullocks” and “to hell with them,” “good reddens” to those that once loved me but abandoned me. This does not seem to be the case what we do is then is have a need to maintain INTEREST in the trauma as if to go back and replay it and an repair it which of course is  impossible. 

And it does seem that nothing will dissuade us from this jihad and I use this word in an appropriate analogous way because it has a very much a "holy" flavor to it and a war like flavor to it. Nothing is important except the achieving of the goal of recapturing that "high" we once had no matter the accumulated contravening evidence to the contrary that it will never happen. "We" see it as an internal, individual, spiritual struggle toward self-improvement, moral cleansing and even an intellectual effort..
This interest in fixing the past, of course causes, a great deal o problems as time passes on and we live in the present. We grow up, we supposedly leave the nuclear family, Of course many times we don't . We live in the same town we live next door, we stop by every day. We use our parents for child care, we borrow money form them. Some of this is necessary some of it, on inspection, is very questionable
For sure what happens is that the problem is never solved or almost never solved and what does this cause? It causes more pain and confusion.

This “beating of one’s head against proverbial walls” has traditionally lead to much confusion for everyone. That is how to codify and classify people’s behavior; often much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of many people, professionals included. Much behavior not rising to the level of “official diagnoses” simply bad behavior ,  the old term “neurosis” , “personality problems” and worse and “odd behavior.”  Or millions of people that float through life being tolerated as that is “just the way they are.”   A woman that has a loving husband but for years you have known her to have spent less than half her time with him always running off to one of three or four cities to vacation or spend time with relatives. Speaking with her you find as a child she feels a deep sense of “nothingness.” Others drink, dedicate themselves to relatives but complain, start and stop school. Mary but there is always tension about the “the relatives.”

Now comes a rather simple way to see all this behavior form a “bird’s eye view” and that is to codify it  first in terms of “interest” and conflict of interests and then in terms of what happens as a consequence of various conflicts of interest. It turns out that it seems that unless we are focused and consciously working on a problem the world will throw us down one of four paths based on, in part going back to those very early cues we picked up on when we first started not getting feedback from our significant caregiver in those interest- interest exchanges (still face experiment). We will start to withdraw: remember at first we cannot think and remember things so our first responses are not cognitive. So as older beings we now have other options and we not only can withdraw we now can start to do things such as blame ourselves   for what is going on. Such as saying it is “my fault.” “I am bad”, “I am being punished.” Or I can “decide”’ to do something to ameliorate the pain with stimuli, entertainment, music and or drugs, or sex. I can that is “avoid” the problem. And finally I can distract myself and others by accusing someone else or attack others. Of course before we could think we could also show our displeasure by hitting back.
We can codify all this with the “Compass of Shame.” 

These activities are what we all get involved in. They are what those that love us but are not there for us indeed lead us to start participating in and start questioning at times, our own sanity.  To “withdraw” form the world, to have a tendency to “blame oneself” or to “blame others” or to seek solace in some excess one does not necessarily have to have been through major trauma. The present will do just fine.  The human organism can get overwhelmed and it is not as if we can find that perfect community despite what we may think. Someone, bless them, recently on a “social media” site claimed that we should renew our efforts to just sever all our unhealthy relationships and turn only to those healthy ones in our lives. I simply said and where would they be? And he said all around you? Hmm.

It is like my view of the mantra in the drug movement “avoid person’s places and things;” meaning, of course, those triggers that would “trigger” you to use your drug of choice. The trouble is, it seems to me, there are “people, places and things” wherever you go. In the end it is an internal peace one has to achieve.

But this has all really taken us very far afield from our opening: “Nothing has become so clear to me recently than that we are so often left alone not because we are not loved or worse yet because we are hated. No it is because so many of those that love us have been so deeply hurt before they even got to us.”

I am really after what is in-between those two sentences: The shame- the distance- the longing.

But as I say the “Compass of Shame” takes us far afield we need to go back to competing interest. That is what it is all about. People are simply not there for us not because they are not interested in us but because they are more interested in something else.

And that is that. And that my friend is often very likely not going to change. We often have to make peace with that. They often have to make peace with that. The point of this piece is that that there  is that intense primary interest in repairing ruptured primary relationships and until that happens there is no room for anyone else as a primary interest.

Quickly it needs to be said that things are not hopeless, if they where the art and practice of therapy would long have been out of business. That said it is no secret that the process has never been short nor easy despite attempts at making it “brief.”

People do make progress, however, time and time again we see examples where this idea of “interest” illuminates.

Then time and time again  very intelligent people will understand clearly and profoundly these very mechanisms, the role of shame in their life as well as interest and have many other insights and yet make what seems to be no progress.

Tomkins realized this and even said in his rather drawl prose that often “insight” therapy was doomed to failure or might make little difference. He was talking about a bit of a different mechanism but not so much. We are both talking about how affective – feeling - mechanisms precede consciousness. Our affects, feelings, are trigger long before we are aware of them and in that I am talking about exactly what he was talking about.

My interest is triggered long before I am aware of it.

I know of some neuro imaging support for this.  A study was done on people who seemed to be grieving over lost relatives an excessive amount of time.

The images indicated the brain registers as if the person was still alive.

 Results from the study:

The authors looked for activity in the nucleus accumbens, a region of the brain most commonly associated with reward and one that has also been shown to play a role in social attachment, such as sibling and maternal affiliation. They also examined activity in the pain network of the brain, including the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the insula, which has been implicated in both physical and social pain. They found that while both groups had activation in the pain network of the brain after viewing a picture of their loved one, only individuals with complicated grief showed significant nucleus accumbens activations.

I think this is very apt for our purpose; these early intense experiences turn on the brain at a very import time. It is not a simple thing to just turn it off. In fact why would it ever be turned off? In fact the problem is the brain in fact is still turned on although the relation is no longer there. And so the person is thrown into a constant state of shame (what the first diagram is to suggest.)

Life does go on and people grow up and develop “interests” but as long as that beacon is glowing it actually shines brighter, brighter than anything else. It trumps or can trump all other interest. It in fact becomes what many have called not a beacon but a black hole as now shame obscures the light. It is the shame dynamic   that now prevails (again the first diagram).

As we said therapy can work as reason plus affect(feeling)  together come to permit interest to form a new attachment. It is not a new thought that therapy is, after all, a form of model parenting.

 Another way healing can take place, and does, is in raising the next generation. Interest is transferred to a new generation. It will all depend on many factors. In toto we are nowhere near knowing the factors but internally it is a weighted average of punishing to positive affect over time. Will the child, now parent, with their partner or without respond to the outpouring of interest of their offspring with their response of, on average, healthy interest? Unlike what they received?

One tragic variation on this is women who dramatically stabilize their emotional lives once they give birth and everyone thinks that they are now set for life only to find that when the child begins to separate from them at two to three years of age that the mother “relapses” into previous behaviors. She may repeat this cycle various times through several pregnancies.

Of several messages one is that such a suggestion of a deep neurological  explanation of our foibles must give us pause and above all maybe free us all from pointing the finger at each other and blaming and shaming each other  for our acts. It becomes clear that we are driven crazy and into irrational, sometime lifelong activities, due to the brain simply wanting what it is meant to want: connection. It is feeling -doing – thinking,  in that order. We are driving to reconnect to our primary interest and we do that through behaviors that we and others do not and have not understand. Maybe we are beginning to.

Brian Lynch, M.D. (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)
Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.

Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nat

On  Amazon by Brian Lynch Paper Back and Kindle:
"Knowing Your Emotions"
"Doing- Thinking- Feeling - In The World"

Facebook | Affect Psychology

No comments:

Post a Comment