Our feeling state always trumps our cognitive state. That’s partly because developmentally the feeling state arises before the cognitive state comes into play.
When we excite the feeling state, the feeling state tracks are a more prominent response to automaticity of expression. In other words, the feeling state will be reinforced, and if that state is too intense it is difficult for the cognitive state to have sway and to determine how appropriate the feeling state is.
There is not time to think about saving yourself from danger when we need to take immediate action. Thus fight, flight, or freeze – our primary responses from the automaticity centre of our organic brain – and stopping to think at that point in time, might not be sensible approaches, especially if the lion is two feet away.
We can see then, how the feeling state becomes rather fixed. Response to threat is anxiety.
Depending on how much threat a child perceives in the world from their organic brain will determine their behaviour – rather than the actual experience that is occurring in the now.
For clarity of purpose, at times we have told parents, “So you made a mistake and you yelled at your kid. So what? They know you got mad, but they also know you can be kind.”
When we parent we will not always be kind, and we don’t want to nurture the expectation that the world will always be kind. Our kids deserve to know they will have to cope sometimes with difficulties, and there are times they will have to cope with not knowing.
In some of us, the track in our brain that says, “This is a dangerous world,” gets balanced with the track that says, “You can cope with it.” We are aware of the danger, but the danger guides our actions rather than determines them.
This balance is evidenced in the plasticity of both the brain and thought.
As an organ, the brain learns to get control of its tracks. It does that in relationship with the people in closest proximity. During the first eight or nine years, the child and the child’s brain are totally dependent on care from others. The child can’t feed itself except in the sense that the child can pick up food and put it in their mouth, but they are unable to source their own food.
Similarly the child can’t house him or herself. It can’t keep itself warm, or provide any basic needs. Everything is dependent on external care and parenting.
Building an internal world in the organic brain occurs during this period. These tracks are laid down in a way that promotes automaticity of thought and of action. That is, they are below the level of consciousness or consideration, for the most part. If we had to think about every action we are about to perform we would be paralyzed and unable to live in the world as we need to.
Parenting then becomes a reactive and proactive process that continues until the child’s brain reaches a stage of maturity where it develops a capacity to examine its own automaticity. The interaction between the thinking brain and the organic brain is an interface that allows for plasticity but is rate-limited. In other words, we can’t change our automaticity just by thought alone – it requires consideration and insight, which underlies critical thinking. Others may call this mindfulness. Thus most of our therapeutic endeavours are based on examination of this interface and rebalancing it towards a more fruitful expression of our needs.
In this way a child learns to balance as they go forward by relationships in their external world, and consideration of his or her past experience.
Children learn from their experiences, which are mediated to them through their senses of hearing, feeling, touching, seeing, smelling; and especially through information that seems important to them at the time. All experiences have potential for being recorded, thus children’s brains record all the good things that have happened and all of the bad things. We refer to balance as the measure of importance the child gives to each experience. This capacity underlies the child’s world view for good and bad. Whether the lessons of life are good or bad is immaterial. The child learns from both possibilities.
As an experience has happened, the brain has recorded that experience. We can add to an experience, but we can’t subtract from it.
If a child is traumatized we may then help them rebalance their experience through introducing new experiences, even though we can’t undo the past. An experience happened, the brain had the experience, and by its very nature, the brain recorded the event as occurring.
As we know, the brain prunes some experiences as they are not repeated, and other experiences are laid down, in what appear to be, permanent tracks. As the brain refines itself developmentally, it values some tracks over others, while some tracks may eventually be lost.
The science of this is expressed in a phenomenon. If you cover a cat’s eyes for the first nine days of its life, the cat is blind even though the seeing mechanism in the cat’s brain is intact. Since the cat has not had an opportunity to use its visual neural tracks, the tracks are unavailable and are not laid down.