|Daniel Bates & Audrey June Lee, my Mom, Dad & my Children|
In the language of "affect," facial expressions, speak volumes.
After 33 years and a decade of desire, to write about my experience of mental illness from the inside-out. I really should begin at the beginning, my birth experience and the three day labor, both I and my poor old mom endured. A traumatic experience of birth, not a mysterious brain disease, lies at the very heart of my, diagnosed as a bipolar type 1 mental illness, experience. An experience which began in 1980 with a spontaneous attempt to overcome the subconscious motivations of my, negatively "affective" experience of being born. Harshly treated by a less than empathic nursing sister, my mother struggled to give me life, an experience which deeply affected both of us. Physical pain and the psychic injury of continuous distress, were further compounded by a rather brutal forceps delivery, and no touch or sight between mother and child for a week. An experience of pain and stress which created a void between us, which persists to this very day. A void fueled by the subconsciously stimulated nature of "affect," and what all the latest neuroscience research understands as our “affective” experience of life.
“Affect,” as a subconscious experience of our heart-brain-nervous systems, sensory stimulation, (See Affect theory: The word affect, as used in Tomkins theory, specifically refers to the "biological portion of emotion," that is, to "hard-wired, preprogrammed, genetically transmitted mechanisms that exist in each of us" which, when triggered, precipitates a "known pattern of biological events," although it is also acknowledged that, in adults, the affective experience is a result of both the innate mechanism and a "complex matrix of nested and interacting ideo-affective formations.) conditioned my seemingly bipolar motivations, later in life. My diagnosed, bipolar type 1 disorder also known as an "affective disorder", or a disorder of "affect."
Traumatic experience during my birth and isolation and separation form the very source of mother nature's natural healing powers, resulted in an “affective,“ negative, conditioning of my nervous systems. An subconscious injury of overwhelming negative affect, laid the neural foundations for my classic, early adult onset of mental illness. A three day experience of distress/anguish charging a high tolerance, and "subconscious" expectation of negative experience, within my heart-brain-nervous systems. Hence, people like myself experience a self-defeating pattern of negative life-expectation/experience, motivated by the subconscious power of affect, the real "economy" of human motivation. Yet what exactly is an affect, and can it be understood by an average person like me, using the unfamiliar language of neuroscience? And what does this unfamiliar word “affect,” have to do with my diagnosed mental illness and our human sense-of-self? Well, please consider;
Secure Attachment, Affect Regulation & Origins of The Self?
“The deﬁned mission of the Infant Mental Health Journal is to focus upon infant socialemotional development, caregiver–infant interactions, contextual and cultural inﬂuences on infant and family development, and all conditions that place infants and/or their families at risk for less than optimal development. In this work I want to suggest that although the unique importance of “optimal development” has long been addressed by the psychological sciences, due to the advances of “the decade of the brain,” developmental neuroscience is now in a position to offer more detailed and integrated psychoneurobiological models of normal and abnormal development. The incorporation of this information into developmental psychological models could forge closer links between optimal brain development and adaptive infant mental health, as well as altered brain development and maladaptive mental health.
A theoretical concept that is shared by an array of basic and clinical sciences is the concept of regulation (Schore, 1994, 1996, 1998d, 1999c, 2000b), and because it integrates both the biological and psychological realms, it can also be used to further models of normal and abnormal structure – function development, and therefore, adaptive and maladaptive infant mental health. Interdisciplinary research and clinical data are afﬁrming the concept that in infancy and beyond, the regulation of affect is a central organizing principle of human development and motivation. In the neuroscience literature Damasio asserts that emotions are the base of text highest order direct expression of bioregulation in complex organisms (1998), and that primordial representations of body states are the building blocks and scaffolding of development (1994).
Brothers argues that emotion occurs “in the context of evolved systems for the mutual regulation of behavior, often involving bodily changes that act as signals” (1997, p. 123). Emotions and their regulation are thus essential to the adaptive function of the brain, which is described by Damasio:
“The overall function of the brain is to be well informed about what goes on in the rest of the body, the body proper; about what goes on in itself; and about the environment surrounding the organism, so that suitable survivable accommodations can be achieved between the organism and the environment.” (1994, p. 90)”
Excerpt from: EFFECTS OF A SECURE ATTACHMENT RELATIONSHIP ON RIGHT BRAIN DEVELOPMENT, AFFECT REGULATION, AND INFANT MENTAL HEALTH
The Family & Generational Transmission of Affect-Motivation
Let me tell you a story. The story of a family and its generational patterns of poor attachment relationships, negative affect regulation, and our general denial that such unconscious motivations, even exist.
Firstly, there will be a “reaction” of indignation amongst members of my family, at my perceived betrayal of family secrets. Innate “anger-rage” will be subconsciously stimulated in a normal need to avoid the internal sensations of "shame-humiliation." The innate affect of “anger-rage” unconsciously stimulated, as mother nature’s perfect antidote to innate “shame-humiliation.” Similar innate reactions, as a protection from feeling shame sensations, are the subconscious root of our endless blaming and shaming games, in the social politics of our human societies. “The slings (anger) and arrows (shame) of outrageous fortune,” as William Shakespeare so eloquently put it, perhaps acknowledging the familial origins of our subconscious reactions to life’s experience. In my particular family, an subconscious shame “reaction,” will likely take precedence over my efforts here, at a reasoned explanation. My family will need to not, understand the reasons for my experience. “Your on your own,” the overwhelming need now of denial and distance in the regulation of affective experience. Will the family even want to understand, let alone try to? The answer, unfortunately, an emphatic, No! Far too much negative affect/emotion has flowed under the bridge of time by now, and such pain fueled sleeping dogs, as innate “anger-rage,” are best left to lie. Or at least, denied the opportunity of a discharged release. At this point in the family’s generational journey, negative affect, is best handled by emotional distance.
Like all families, we seem to be aware of being “affected,” by the other, in our rational accusations of “you did this and you did that,” while remaining unaware of the subconscious stimulation, of our own and other people’s behavior. Aware of what happens yet unaware of just how it happens, beneath our rather shallow impressions of life, within the subjective state we call our mind. Yet as the Einstein of neurobiology, Allan N Schore points out “the regulation of “affect” is a central organizing principle of human development and motivation,” even though most people have never heard of “affect” let alone its regulation? We remain unaware because, as Silvan Tomkins points out, “affect” refers to the "biological portion of emotion," that is, to "hard-wired, preprogrammed, genetically transmitted mechanisms that exist in each of us" which, when triggered, precipitates a "known pattern of biological events." Patterned events, like a subconsciously stimulated, angry reaction to our normal perceptions of being shamed? Genetically and therefore generationally transmitted mechanisms that exist in each of us, as Slivan Tomkins had observed and was subsequently ignored by the vast majority of other, “intellectual“ members of the larger family we call society.
Hmm! “Genetically transmitted mechanisms that exist in each of us?” Sounds very similar Murray Bowen’s notion of the generational transmission of emotionality, and perhaps a principal reason for my current estrangement from my family, and a broader need to ignore Tomkins painstaking observations. The emotional cut-off within my own family stems in part from my 2006, “differentiation of self” assignment for a counseling degree and a public airing on this blog, of shameful family secrets. Please consider;
Early 1930's Clayton, Manchester, England, my three generational story, is moving towards me, via two families from the same working class area of this industrial northern city. On my mother’s side, a deep sense of shame and resentment is brewing in the emotional life of the Lee family. It is being shaped by a forbidden love, a union between a half brother and sister that produced my mother, and the divided affections of my great grandfather James. On my father’s side of the family tree, my paternal grandparents have married and my grandfather is allowing himself to be the weaker partner in the marriage, which in turn allowed my grandmother to be a strong mother, who was very close to her children. Consequently my father, who is the oldest son in a family of five children, is becoming a parentified child.
Turning to my mother as an individual, her life seems to have been dominated by a deep sense of loss and shame, two bitter emotional pills that were unwittingly prescribed by her grandfather James Lee (1870 - 1952). James Lee married Mary Riley in Clayton, Manchester, England, some time in the late 1800's, and they produced ten children, one of which was my maternal grandfather Alfred Lee. Then when Alfred’s mother died, James got together with Mary's sister Margaret, and they had a little girl named Monica Lee, my maternal grandmother. Alfred and Monica Lee, shared a great love of music and performing in music halls together, and they extended that love into the shape of my mother Audrey June Lee on the fifth of June 1931. (My maternal Grandparents were half brother and sister, born to different Mothers who were sisters and sharing the same Father) After my mother was born they escaped the scorn of their siblings by moving to Bournemouth in the South of England.
Abandoned, unwanted, unloved and feelings of shame:
At the time of my mother’s birth, her father Alfred was a sick man with kidney problems, and there was a resentful emotional distance between Alfred, Monica and the rest of the siblings, because of the shame that had been brought on the family, by Monica’s pregnancy. During the first five years of my mother’s life, Monica left her daughter and Alfred three times to be with another man. And in those five years Alfred became sicker and sicker, which required his father James and step mother Margaret, to spend most of that period in the south of England, looking after Alfred and little Audrey. When my mother was five years old, she was given into the care of her grandmother Margaret. She remembers how Monica took her into a bedroom and said "I have three lovely handkerchiefs here, choose one." Then Monica left the house and my mother never saw her mother again. So in 1936 at the tender age of five my mother is given over to the care of her grandparents, and returns to Manchester with them.
The next seven years were marked by a strong injunction placed on her by Margaret her grandmother, who forcefully suggests that Audrey would be better of staying separate from other children, and my mother remembers this as a period of gazing out the window, looking at other children who are with their parents. Then in 1939 at the age eight, her father Alfred dies and is buried in Bournemouth, he was only thirty five years old and my mother did not travel down for the funeral, or see his grave for decades to come. Then only three years later in 1942 Monica died giving birth to her fourth child, one of three half sisters and a brother that my mother has never met. An interesting aspect of this period is that while Alfred was buried in an unmarked grave in 1939, by pure chance, Monica ended up being buried directly opposite him in the next row of the cemetery in 1942. Then only two years after Monica died, her grandmother Margaret died in February 1944, leaving my mother all alone in the world save for James, my great grandfather.
For the next seven years my mother is cared for, and in turn cares for her aging grandfather, as she grows into a young woman. During this time James and Audrey only have each other, as they have been cut -off from James's other nine children and grandchildren. Perhaps nobody in the family wanted to really talk about such an emotionally difficult subject, and it was better to try to ignore it by not acknowledging my mother. In August 1950 my mother met my father. What she brought to that relationship was a deep sense of loss, feelings of being unwanted and a family pattern of emotional distance and silence. They had a brief courtship, a brief period of real sunshine for my mother and then on the 16th July 1951, Audrey June Lee married Daniel Bates, they were pregnant at the time, a boy named David (me) was on the way. Before I was twelve months old, Audrey lost her only connection with her family of origin, when her grandfather James died. Distance and avoidance seem to become the major themes of my mother’s life, due to her experiences with her family.
I am reminded very much of Mary McGoldrick's comment, “loss is the pivotal human experience”, (McGoldrick, M, 1995, p126), and how this has impacted my mother and influenced my own feeling for life. From Gerald Corey, "actions, and interactions that are characterised by retreat, fear and protection, tend to constrain growth and development".
The words retreat, fear and protection, leading to constraint resonate with me, and I feel it has been a constant struggle for me to UN-constrain my own innate nature, away from my programmed fearful emotional response. The sense of loss and feelings of being abandoned, unloved and unwanted, seem to have evoked a primitive defensive response in my mother’s approach to life. She is quite insular, very happy to be at home where she feels safe, not very adventurous, she seems fearful of the consequences of any activity that is outside her normal routine, or is not well planned in advance. She finds it hard to initiate contact with others but is happy to be met. My brother’s defensive reaction to my mother’s way of being, are summed up in his description of her as, conservative, selfish, self-centred, insular, a taker, calculating with a hidden agenda. Words that seem to express the pain he feels about his relationship with her, words that he also uses to describe me.”
An excerpt from my “differentiation of self” essay written in 2006. (read the full essay here)
Don't break the golden rule? Is it just the golden rule of the family that I'm breaking here, in writing about private matters that "should be kept behind closed doors and secret? Am I also breaking unspoken social rules that apply to all social groups, never shame the "in-group?" Or the in-crowd? Or you'll be sent to Coventry, to use an old English saying, meaning shunned or even excommunicated if your a member of certain church groups. Yet when we react to others in this way, when we shun them and use a host of rationalized reasons in explanation for our actions, are we really aware of our internal motion?
Subconscious, reactions to the transmission of affect?
"I have three lovely handkerchiefs here, choose one." Then Monica left the house and my mother never saw her mother again. My mother was just five years old when this rather brutal act of abandonment took place. Already the focal point of a family projection process, which sought to dump feelings of guilt and shame onto an unwanted “other.” My mother, who no doubt had already begun to form her hard-core defense against the transmission of “affect.” A tendency to distance and isolation which has had its ripple effects through the continuing generations of our family tree. As family therapists and neuroscientists like Allan N Schore increasingly understand, the emotional style of family members is learnt subconsciously, in an affect/emotion development phase of experience, within the first few years of life.
In late 2006, my essay was written with the concepts of Murray Bowen’s emotional systems theories firmly in mind. Theories of emotional development which had further eroded my faith in the brain disease concept of bipolar disorder. I guess this post could be viewed as part two of that essay, updated with the latest insights, which all the more recent neuroscience discoveries have provided. Knowledge that was not available in the 1940-50’s when Bowen and others were laying the foundations of our current Family Therapies, from an “emotional systems” perspective. A perspective which has a remarkable 86% success rate in treating first episode psychosis, by using the “Open Dialogue“ emotional systems method in Finland.
When the “double-bind” concept of schizophrenia, as the result of a dominant mother, weak father and a child enmeshed in an emotional system, was floated during this period it led to a predictably, angry “shame” reaction. “How dare you blame mothers - how dare you blame the families.” A predictable (from an emotional systems view-point) reaction which stimulates our eager embrace of the “brain disease” concept of schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. From this older emotional systems view, a brain disease concept of mental illness soothes subconscious shame reactions, in the other members of an emotional system (a family), reducing a sense of guilt and the blame sensations of innate “shame-humiliation,” while enabling a degree of emotional equilibrium. Medication interventions reduce the need for distance and “emotional cut-off,” to regulate “negative affect,” in families where medication tolerance is good and the “identified patient” in a family emotional system, remains stable.
Yet where medication tolerance is low, as it was in my case, the concepts of emotional cut-off and “identified patients” (scapegoats) are generally present within the family emotional system. The way a family has generationally learned to cope with life’s challenges, with subconscious affect/emotion reactions, revolves around an emotive axis of strength/weakness, psychologically understood as the pride/shame axis of our ego function. A pride/shame axis of ego function generated by the subconscious stimulation of our needs for both active and passive responses to survival. A pride/shame axis which I believe is an expression of the constant dominance-sub-dominance activity of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. A constant subconscious activity we often call anxiety, which is both contained and managed by projecting (dumping, shedding) sensations of its negative affects, onto other members of the family group. Dumping unwanted sensation/feelings onto others, is the subconscious transmission of affect, which generally helps to spread the “affective” load of these subconscious stress reactions to life. Partially explaining why the loss of the “extended family“ has led to a galloping increase in anxiety disorders in the Western world. An affective load sharing perhaps most easily understood by viewing the humor we call sarcasm, from this emotional systems point of view. Indeed, as individuals, we generally cope with difficult occupations, by developing what we call a “dark” sense of humor, to manage our “affective” experience.
Bowen’s concepts included the notion of fusion between an individuals emotional-intellectual functioning and an emotional fusion between members of any emotional system. His idea of fusion is most easily understood as the fusion experienced by the enchanted couple, whom we may observe as quiet definitely “in-love.” A certain chemistry of emotional fusion, which can be mildly embarrassing to some observing others, “get a room will ya!” I remember mine and another’s children exclaiming. In Bowen’s view, a well balanced individual has a high level of “differentiation” between their emotional and intellectual functioning. It was Bowen’s concept of a “differentiation of self” which informed my essay in 2006, and my exploration of the generational transmission of emotionality via the spouse couples of my family tree. Please consider Bowen Theory’s understanding of the nuclear family, also known as the family-of-origin, keeping in mind my previous comments about subconscious ego functioning.
“People pick spouses who have the same level of differentiation. Most spouses can have the closest and most open relationships in their adult lives during courtship. The fusion of the two pseudo-self’s into a common self occurs at the time they commit to each other. It is common for living together relationships to be harmonious, and for fusion symptoms to develop when they finally get married. It is as if the fusion does not develop as long as they have an option to terminate.
The lower the level of differentiation, the more intense the emotional fusion of marriage. One spouse becomes more the dominant decision maker for the common self, while the other adapts to the situation. This is one of the best examples of the borrowing and trading of self in a close relationship. One may assume the dominant role and force the other to be adaptive, or one may assume the adaptive role and force the other to be dominant. Both may try for the dominant role, which results in conflict; or both may try for the adaptive role, which results in decision paralysis. The dominant one gains self at the expense of the more adaptive one, who loses self.
More differentiated spouses have lesser degrees of fusion, and fewer of the complications. The dominant and adaptive positions are “not” directly related to the sex of the spouse. They are determined by the position that each had in their families of origin. These characteristics played a major role in their original choice of each other as partners. The fusion results in anxiety for one or both of the spouses. There is a spectrum of ways spouses deal with fusion symptoms.
The most universal mechanism is emotional distance from each other. It is present in all marriages to some degree, and in a high percentage of marriages to a major degree. Other than emotional distance, there are three major areas in which the amount of un-differentiation in the marriage comes to be manifested in symptoms. The three areas are marital conflict; sickness or dysfunction in one spouse; and projection of the problems onto children.
It is as if there is a quantitative amount of un-differentiation to be absorbed in the nuclear family, which may be focused largely in one area, or distributed in varying amounts to all three areas. The various patterns for handling the un-differentiation comes from patterns in their families of origin, and the variable involved in the mix of the common self.
The basic pattern in conflictual marriages is one in which neither gives in to the other, or in which neither is capable of an adaptive role. Theses marriages are intense in the amount of emotional energy each invests in the other. The energy may be thinking or action energy, either positive or negative, but the self of each is focused mostly on the other. The relationship cycles through periods of intense closeness, conflict that provides a period of emotional distance, and making up, which starts another cycle of intense closeness.
The intensity of the anger and negative feeling in the conflict is as intense as the positive feeling. They are thinking of each other even when they are distant. Marital conflict does not in itself harm children. There are marriages in which most of the un-differentiation goes into marital conflict. The spouses are so invested in each other that the children are largely outside the emotional process. When marital conflict and projection of the problem onto children are both present; it is the projection process that is hurtful to children. The quantitative amount of marital conflict that is present reduces the amount of undifferentiating which is focused elsewhere.
Dysfunction in one spouse.
This is the result when a significant amount of un-differentiation is absorbed in the adaptive posture of one spouse. The pseudo-self of the adaptive one merges into the pseudo-self of the dominant one, who assumes more and more responsibility for the twosome. The degree of adaptiveness in one spouse is determined from the long-term functioning posture of each to the other, rather from verbal reports. Each does some adapting to the other, and it is usual for each to believe that he or she gives in more than the other. The one who functions for long periods in the adaptive position gradually loses the ability to function and make decisions for self.
At that point, it requires no more than a moderate increase in stress to trigger the adaptive one into dysfunction, which can be physical illness, emotional illness, or social illness, such as drinking, acting out, and irresponsible behavior. These illnesses tend to become chronic and they are hard to reverse.
The pattern of the over-functioning spouse in relation to the under-functioning spouse exists in all degrees of intensity. It can exist as an episodic phenomenon in families who use a mixture of all three mechanisms. When used as the principle means of controlling un-differentiation, the illness can be chronic and most difficult to reverse. The sick or invalided one is to impaired to begin to regain function with an over-functioning spouse on whom he or she is dependant.
This mechanism is amazingly effective in absorbing the un-differentiation. The only disadvantage is the dysfunction in one, which is compensated for by the other spouse. The children can be almost unaffected bt having one dysfunctional parent as long as there is someone else to function instead. The main problem in the children is inheriting a life pattern as caretaker of the sick parent, which will project into the future.
These marriages are enduring. Chronic illness and invalidism, whether physical or emotional, can be the only manifestation of the intensity of the un-differentiation. The under-functioning one is grateful for the care and attention, and the over-functioning one does not complain. Divorce is almost impossible in these marriages unless the dysfunction is also mixed with marital conflict.
There have been families in which the over-functioning one has died unexpectedly and the disabled one has miraculously regained functioning. If there is a subsequent marriage, it follows the pattern of the previous one.
Impairment of one or more children.
This is the pattern in which parents operate as a we-ness to project the un-differentiation to one or more children. This mechanism is so important in the total human problem it has been described as a separate concept, the family projection process. There are two main variables that govern the intensity of this process in the nuclear family. The first is the degree of the emotional isolation, or cut-off, from the extended family, or from others important in the relationship system.
The second important variable has to do with the level of anxiety. Any of the symptoms in the nuclear family, whether they be marital conflict, dysfunction in a spouse, or symptoms in a child, are less intense when anxiety is low, and more intense when anxiety is high. Some of the most important family therapy efforts are directed at decreasing anxiety (flight/fight) and opening the relationship cut-off.” _Murray Bowen.
The Butterfly Effect & Generational Nature of Affect-Regulation?
So how does this notion of generational emotionality lead to a child who comes to suffer a major mental illnesses like bipolar disorder? In my opinion, the hidden factor in the generational process is internal “sensitivity,” a sensitivity of the organism’s complex feedback systems which cannot be observed. A constitutional sensitivity conditioned, in my case, by my genetic inheritance and my birth experience and circumstantial neglect. A sensitivity maintained by my subsequent experience of coping with the “transmission of affect,” in my family’s generational style of affect-regulation. Please consider the forward to Allan N Schore’s complex, yet brilliant book “Affect Regulation & The Origins of The Self.”
“In his work on “shame” Dr. Schore brought to our attention the unusual importance of a particular stage of infancy, 10-12 to 16-18 months, the practicing sub-phases of separation and individuation, a period of heightened activation of the sympathetic aspects of the autonomic nervous system, and the need for the mother to attune properly to the infant’s excitement at that time. Failure to do so results in the premature activation of excessive shame to counterbalance the now-found-to-be-dangerous excitement of the early practicing period.
Thus he postulated that in the early practicing sub-phase normal excitement evolves and has to be properly attuned. Then, in the later aspects of practicing, the parasympathetic system comes into play becoming a normal neurobehavioral “antagonist” to its predecessor so as to mediate and regulate its expression.
The infant brings inherent, constitutional givens (genotype) to the birth situation, which continue to unfold for a considerable length of time past birth. These genetic endowments are partially open to environmental modification (phenotype) and are also partially closed. To the extent that they are open they are acted upon, modified, completed, and developed in a continuous dialectical interaction with primary caregivers.
What psychoanalytic theory had speculated upon from its very beginnings now turns out to be truer than had been anticipated. As in chaos theory, which states that there occurs an unusual sensitivity to initial conditions, the role of the mothering person with her offspring, which had been all but neglected in the dawn of psychoanalysis. Nobody then anticipated how dependant the infant’s brain was on the mothers care giving.
In developmental disorder one thinks of psychopathology, insecure attachments and their neuropsychological consequences, affect dysregulation, the onset of personality disorders, and vulnerability to somatization disorders. Developmental psychopathology, which is rapidly becoming a field unto itself, can certainly be understood in no small measure by the concept of the “failed appointment,” that is, failure, whether by chance, trauma, neglect, or inherent genetic programming, for the key neuronal connections to have been evoked at the proper time by the mother-as-appropriate-self object at the appropriate time.
One certainly must now view such disorders on the anxiety spectrum, such as the disorders of anxiety, panic, phobia, hypochondria, and such trait-state disorders as borderline personality, the obsessive compulsive disorders, affect dysregulation (the manic-depressive-dysthymic spectrum disorders), schizophrenia, and many others as being deeply rooted in one or another form of a neuro-biologically induced disorder of regulation.
Joseph Palombo, who works with the neuro-perceptual-cognitive aspects of developmental disorders of childhood, including borderline syndrome, calls attention to the presence in these impaired children of a discrepancy between their private, personal selves and their shared selves in terms of a lack of ease in communication. Put another way, these damaged children seem to sense that there is something neurodevelopmentally wrong with them, and they feel a deep sense of shame about themselves as a result.”
“The concept of the “failed appointment,” that is, failure, whether by chance.” A concept of chance, otherwise known to chaos theory as “the butterfly effect.” Or as this forward to Schore’s book points out. “As in chaos theory, which states that there occurs an unusual sensitivity to initial conditions,” the post-natal maturing of our brain-nervous systems, is subject to the Universal law of chaos, as our complex biological systems develop orders of stability, dependant on enviromental conditions. Who would have thought that chaos theory could explain human personality and mental illness? Framed in these terms, would an understanding of this reality of affect/emotional development, soothe the subconscious reactions of shame avoidance in my own family-of-origin, just as much as the concept of a brain disease does? Or am I just blaming and shaming my Mom & Dad? And what is that curious term in my sub-heading Subconscious, reactions to “the transmission of affect?” Please consider;
“In a time when the popularity of genetic explanations for social behavior is increasing, the transmission of affect is a conceptual oddity. If transmission takes place and has effects on behavior, it is not genes that determine social life; it is the socially induced affect that changes our biology. The transmission of affect is not understood or studied because of the distance between the concept of transmission and the reigning modes of biological explanation. No one really knows how it happens, which may explain the reluctance to acknowledge its existence. But this reluctance, historically is only recent. The transmission of affect was once common knowledge; the concept faded from the history of scientific explanation as the individual, especially the biologically determined individual, came to the fore.
We think that the ideas or thoughts of a given subject has, are socially constructed, dependant on cultures, times, and social groups within them. Indeed, after Karl Marx, Karl Mannheim, Michel Foucault, and any social thinker worthy of the epithet “social,” it is difficult to think anything else. But if we accept that our thoughts are not entirely independent, we are peculiarly resistant to the idea that our emotions are not altogether our own. The taken-for-grantedness of the emotionally self-contained subject is a bastion of Eurocentrism in critical thinking, the belief in the superiority of one’s own worldview over that of other cultures. The idea that progress is a modernist and Western myth are nonetheless blind to the way that non-Western as well as premodern, preindustrial cultures assume that the person is not “affectively” contained.
Notions of the transmission of affect are suspect as non-white and colonial cultures are suspect.
But the denial is not reasonable. The denial of transmission leads to inconsistencies in theories and therapies of the subjective state. All reputable schools of psychological theory assume that the subject is energetically and affectively self-contained. At the same time, psychologists working in clinics experience affective transmission. There are many psychological clinicians ( especially the followers of Melanie Klein) who believe they experience the affects of their clients directly.
Present definitions of the affects or emotions stem mainly from Darwin’s physiological account of the emotions. Descartes, inclines us towards the isolating motions that can be verified by another observer, and this is reinforced by modern psychology. Knowledge of bodily motion, even internal bodily motion, is no longer gleaned by the path of bodily sensation, but by visual and auditory observation. Taxonomies of the emotions and affects have descended from three branches. One is ancient; another is identified with Darwin; and a third stems from James and Lange.
Because of their observational bias, the lists descended from Darwin do not reckon with more complex affective states, such as envy, guilt, jealousy and love. Such cognitive affects are termed desires by some. In the 20th century’s cognitive psychology, a distinction between affect as a present thing--and desire--as an imagined affect, holds significance to deal with the cognitive component in desires, which involve goals and thinking. Critical to the transmission of affect though, is the moment of “judgment,” when the “projection” or “introjection” of affect/emotion takes place. By “affect,” I mean the physiological shift accompanying a judgment. By judgment I mean “any evaluative (positive or negative) orientation towards an object.”
The evaluative or judgmental aspects of affects, is critical in distinguishing between these physiological phenomena we call affects, and the phenomena we call feeling or discernment. In other words feelings are not the same thing as affects. At present, feelings are a subset of affects, along with moods, sentiments and emotions. This distinction between affects and feelings comes into its own once the focus is on “the transmission of affect.”
There is no need to challenge an existing view that emotions are synonymous with affect, yet what needs to be borne in mind is that affects are material, physiological things. Affects have an “energetic” dimension, which is why they can enhance or deplete. They enhance when they are projected outward, when we are relieved of them; in popular parlance this is called “dumping.” Frequently, affects deplete when they are “introjected,” when we carry the “affective” burden of another, either by a straightforward transfer, or because the other’s anger becomes your depression. But other’s feeling can also enhance as affect, as when you become energized just being with loved ones or friends. Yet with some other’s you are bored or drained, tired or even depressed. All this means that we are not completely self-contained in terms of our affective energies. There is no secure distinction between the “individual” and the “environment.”
The transmission of affect questions the individuality of persons, and how our individuality is achieved and maintained. We cannot grasp what is truly distinctive about individuality, without first coming to appreciate, that it is not to be taken for granted. What is not to be taken for granted, is the distinction between the individual and the environment at the level of physical and biological exchange. At this level, the “energetic” affects of others enter the individual, as are the individuals energetic affects transmitted into the environment. Here lies the key to why people in groups, crowds and gatherings can often be “of one mind.”
Excerpts from “The Transmission of Affect” by Teresa Brennan, PhD.
The reality of "affect" is seen most clearly on the human face where its "involuntary" nature cannot tell a lie. The brain-nervous systems "pattern-match" all current experience with past experience, aiding our survival with previously "safe" reactions. This "involuntary" nature of affect-regulation lies at the heart of our human "attachment" needs. Real attachment need is an overwhelmingly subconscious phenomena, constantly monitored at a subconscious level of nervous-system reactivity. Our early life experience of the Familial face of affect, becomes our familiar expectation of the subconscious world of affective self-regulation and getting our vital attachment needs well met.
|61 years later, my birth and developmental experience is written on my face.|
Its the "intensity" in my eyes & hard set jaw-line, of residual trauma affect.
Its the human face that "attunes" communication between people, long before we utter a single word to each other. In the subconscious world of affect-regulation and securing attachment needs, communication occurs at the millisecond speeds of the nervous systems and for those of us suffering from the residual effects of traumatic experience, we normally operate on a level of tense "neuroception," constantly scanning for safety concerns, rather than with the relaxed easy flowing spontaneity, which reflects an inner security of well met attachment needs. Wanphen and I share a similar life history of insecure attachment as reflected in our faces.
The eyes are well known windows to the soul through their direct affect on the nervous regulation of the heart. Like a kind of neural wifi, the eyes transmit subconscious information directly between two nervous systems when we share a mutual gaze, and no other gesture communicates to others as fast as a sudden shift in eye movement during our face to face interactions, in which the eyes convey real intent, regardless of our spoken words. Please consider a neuroscience understanding of the importance of the human face and our eyes, during early life development.
"Mirroring Gaze Transactions and the Dyadic Amplification of Positive Affect:
Dyadic mirroring gaze transactions thus induce a symbiotic, physiobiologically attuned affect amplifying merger state, in which a match occurs between the expression of rewarding arousal. This process of interpersonal fusion generates dynamic ‘vitality affects.’ Sustained facial gazing mediates the most intense form of interpersonal communication. Eye to eye contact gives non-verbal advanced notice of the other. The temporal structure of gaze, the most immediate and purest form of inter-relation, provides clues to the readiness or capacity to receive and transmit social affect. Facial actions in emotional expression, regulates blood supply to the brain for oxidative metabolism.
The development of internal representations of external objects - such as faces - that consistently provide stimulating responses to the infant. The elements which mediate this function are found in a "neural network or connection matrix," and the creation of the architecture of this network depends on pulses of electro-chemical energy through the infants brain "at critical developmental junctures" As these pulses flow through the brain, synaptic connections are established and strengthened and the firing rates of groups of neurons are set. The result is that certain kinetic pathways are established, making it more likely that these patterns will guide future energy flows" Excerpts from "Affect Regulation & The Origins of the Self" by Allan N Schore. And from a more recent volume;
"Human beings rely extensively on nonverbal channels of communication in their day-to-day emotional as well as interpersonal exchanges. The verbal channel, language, is a relatively poor medium for expressing the quality, intensity and nuancing of emotion and affect in different social situations … the face is thought to have primacy in signaling affective information. (Mandal & Ambady, 2004, p. 23)
Excerpt from “The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy” by Allan N. Schore, (2012).
A Smiling Face Reflecting Inner Security & role of Healthy Attachment within in a Family.
When Sasiprapha is happy and expressing the pure joy of being alive, people cannot help responding in kind because such pure innate expression stimulates an “involuntary” response. Its this “involuntary” nature of innate affects which lies at the very heart of our subconscious motivations, including those of us trapped in the “involuntary” responses conditioned by traumatic experience. Our life-story is not really a narrative of the words we tell ourselves and others, the story is one of degrees of inner tension and our personal history is written on the face and expressed in our facial gestures.
Recall: “Affect,” as a subconscious experience of our heart-brain-nervous systems, sensory stimulation, (See Affect theory: The word affect, as used in Tomkins theory, specifically refers to the "biological portion of emotion," that is, to "hard-wired, preprogrammed, genetically transmitted mechanisms that exist in each of us" which, when triggered, precipitates a "known pattern of biological events," although it is also acknowledged that, in adults, the affective experience is a result of both the innate mechanism and a "complex matrix of nested and interacting ideo-affective formations.) conditioned my seemingly bipolar motivations, later in life. My diagnosed, bipolar type 1 disorder also known as an "affective disorder", or a disorder of "affect."
So why do I write heart-brain-nervous systems, sensory stimulation, in trying to explain the cause of my bipolar disorder experience? Please consider a new discovery of a third branch of our autonomic nervous system and innervation of the heart. A new discovery which explains the role of a third member of our famous fight flight survival responses, a response known as the freeze response, and the involuntary activity of the nervous systems most responsible for human socialization, through the powerful innate affect Silvan Tomkins called "shame-humilation." Professor Stephen Porges "polyvagal theory" explains human subconscious motivations in terms of our evolved stimulation of the heart, as the crucial organ of survival and its crucial role in autonomic responses which are not normally subject to our conscious control. Please consider an explanation of this paradigm shifting discovery;
The Heart & A Paradigm Shift in Mental Health?
|Prof, Stephen Porges - "The Polyvagal Theory"|
Understanding the Face-Heart connection, and hidden vitality affects, in human health?
The paradigm shifting discovery of a “polyvagal” control of the heart, explains just how, those of us suffering from unresolved trauma experience, become locked out of the social system of group survival, in our inability to self-regulate subconscious survival reflexes,
The theory shows just how “subconscious, spontaneous, social reflexes,” are inhibited in those of us struggling to cope with unresolved traumatic experience, so often diagnosed as a mental illness. In a computer analogy, its like having two distinctly different operating systems, (1) survival, (2) social. If our unconscious spontaneous social reflex functioning is “turned off,” by unresolved trauma experience, we cannot form the kind of healthy human relationships, so vital for our physical/emotional/mental health. See; The Polyvagal Theory Stephen W. Porges, PhD. Brain-Body Center, Department of Psychiatry, University of Illinois at Chicago.
Polyvagal Theory: Why This Changes Everything
How to use heart rate variability as a portal to self-regulation
The key missing ingredient in the fight/flight theory
How polyvagal theory clarifies the role of fear in unresolved trauma
Why vagal regulation affects our interactions with others
How music cues vagal regulation and why this could help your trauma patients
Polyvagal theory and working with children
How to increase psychological safety in hospital settings
Stephen Porges, PhD Author of The Polyvagal Theory, Professor at University of Illinois at Chicago
From: National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine.
IMO. It comes down to understanding and accepting that physiological processes are primary, and our thoughts are a secondary process? This new discovery changes everything, because it explains the very roots of “spontaneous” human behaviors, like never before in our history. Healthy, spontaneous, physiological function lies at the “heart” of human vitality and health, and Porges shows the hidden plumbing, (so to speak) which stimulates what others have called “flow,” or being in the moment. No matter our individual thoughts and experience, we all have the same human heart and the same brain/nervous system control of its “unconscious, autonomic” functioning, beneath our individual differences?
Trauma involves a desire for “escape,” where there is no physical escape, and so we escape into the mind, into the brain, beyond the body’s pain receptors, in a totally unconscious reaction. Understanding this critical point about “escaping” into the brain and therefore the mind, is vital in accepting that primary processes of unconscious communication, must come first in the recovery of emotional equilibrium, for those us with a history of mental illness. Indeed, a new appreciation of the traumatic conditioning of the autonomic nervous system, is beginning to ask very serious question’s about the re-traumatizing effects of the West’s medical model view of mental illness? For further explanation of an unconscious process Stephen Porges calls “neuroception ,“ and its implications for mental health, see; Neuroception: A Subconscious System for Detecting Threats and Safety
It seems that we need to accept that its the body that comes first, and not the mind, in our Western cultural concept’s of being human, or we will continue to exacerbate the problems of emotional-mental distress, in our “mind oriented” Western culture. The eminent neurologist Jaak Panksepp, suggests that Descartes iconic statement of modernity, “I think therefore I am,” now needs re-framing to “I feel therefore I am.“
The point of this post is to highlight the subconscious nature of human motivation and the chaos, chance and circumstance involved in human development, and its effects on the generational nature of subconscious emotional responses handed down within families. Part 2 will address the current circumstances of my own family and the wider societal need to deny the very existence of our subconscious motivation. Readers may be interested in the current debate taking place in America about a perceived epidemic of mental illness, and a bloggers post Some Thoughts on the Origins of Mental Illnesses
"One of the things debated and discussed in blogs such as this, and in a lot of other places, is the nature of “mental illness”. Is it biochemistry? Is it genes? Is it the result of stress? Does it exist at all? Is it a construction arising from oppressive political influences? Take your pick and follow the trail that leads from it.
This is all very interesting and entertaining for those of us who enjoy debate and discussion, but it can leave the distressed, anxious or confused person who is seeking help somewhat lost. Do I need medication? Have I got faulty genes? Should I seek a less stressful situation? Am I making all this up? Is it someone else’s fault? Perhaps it is just as well the British Journal of Psychiatry has recently published a special supplement which offers clarification.
Before you go rushing off to find this Holy Grail, let me explain. The January 2013 edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry includes a short supplement of some nine papers edited by Swaran Singh and Max Birchwood which is entitled “Youth mental health: appropriate service response to emerging evidence”. What is notable about this is not so much what each of these papers says, directly, but how what they say, collectively, can be interpreted as a meta-message of much wider application and interest.
It is significant that the authors are all established mental health research professionals with a recognised track record of publications in mainstream medical journals, grants-winning success and senior academic posts. Their research is respected and influences practice and practitioners, and as a result it is of interest to look closely at what they are saying. It might be different from what is expected, or even from what they intend." _Hugh Middleton, M.D.
Read more here along with some interesting comments, including mine.