In an earlier blog ‘ You become like the people you love’, I wrote about the part the limbic system plays in our ability to love. These ideas were based on a book by three professors of psychiatry called a General Theory of Love’
To me Thomas Lewis MD, Fari Amini MD, and Richard Lannon MD, present a unique way of understanding how we love.
In simple terms what the authors suggest is that we have three separate parts of our brains. The reptilian or survival brain, the neo cortex, which is the thinking, problem solving brain and the limbic brain, which is where our emotional and heart connection lies.
For more information on the three brains and the functions that they perform please refer to the earlier blog.
What I want to do in this article is to consider how our limbic development might impact on our ability to love and be sufficiently attached to others.
Limbic development is related to our emotions and the authors argue that there are three dimensions to limbic development. These are limbic resonance, limbic regulation and limbic revision.
In limbic resonance we quite literally resonate with our early care givers which are usually either one or both of our parents.
So if your primary carer was nervous, detached and disinterested that is what you are likely to become and physically resonate with.
If your primary care giver was relaxed, confident and engaged that is also what you are likely to become.
So if you want to change the way you resonate with people you need to find people to be around who resonate at a lighter level.
Who would you choose to be around in order to resonate with their relaxed, confident and engaged way of being?
Limbic regulation relates to how we regulate our moods. Again we learn our reactions and moods from our primary care givers. The authors give the example of a child learning to ride a bike. It is natural for a child to fall off the bike. However it is not the experience of falling of the bike which determines how the child feels about it. Instead the child looks to the care giver to help them decide how to react to the experience.
If the care giver is laughing the child will learn that taking some risks and feeling some discomfort is normal and part of learning new things. It will also be perceived as a fun experience. If the care giver is anxious and upset the child will become more cautious and fearful of taking on new challenges.
If you lack mood regulation you will ‘make mountains out of molehills’, you will over react to situations that others take in their stride. You will find it easier to be depressed and moody than to be appropriately happy and appropriately sad.
If you have appropriate mood regulation your mood will be fairly steady and only move to be more happy or sad when circumstances suggest that this is appropriate.
What kinds of things do you tend to over react to?
What kind of things do you tend to under react to?
It is also possible that you might have been trained to be happy and gregarious despite feeling sad inside or in the place of unpleasant situations. This also suggests poor limbic regulation.
Appropriate limbic regulation is an appropriately centred reaction to events. At rest your limbic system is neither nervous all the time or acting as if on a high.
Who did you tend to learn your moods from?
Who do you know that has a more fluid limbic system which reacts appropriately happy or sad to internal events ( ie sickness) or external influences?
How would you describe your ‘steady state’ when nothing significant is happening to you or impacting on you?
How does your ‘steady state’ feel?
How could you adopt a calmer or steadier ‘steady state’?
To improve your limbic regulation, when an event happens you need to ask yourself ‘is this an appropriate response – happy, sad, angry, fearful – to the internal or external situation?’
What was the last significant event that you can remember ?
How did you react?
Looking back do you think your reaction was appropriate in terms of the mood you selected or the strength or reaction?
How would you like to react differently to a similar event next time?
Limbic revision occurs when we are given feedback about our behaviour and the impact that it has on others and then decide to alter our behaviour out of a feeling of empathy for the other person or people.
One simple example of this would be children playing at a party. Johnnie’s mother sees Mary hit Johnnie during the party. Johnnie’s mother tells Mary’s mother what happened and Mary’s mother encourages Mary to apologise to Johnnie. Mary sees that Johnnie is upset, experiences empathy with him and says she is sorry. She realises that it was not ok to hit Johnnie and also is able to generalise this to decide not to hit other children because it hurts them.
Another outcome might be that Mary hits Johnnie at the party and Johnnie’s mother mentions it to Mary’s mother, but instead encouraging Mary to say sorry she says that Johnnie is just being a sissy and should learn to grow up and not to be such a baby. In this situation Mary would not learn to revise her behaviour and may continue to hit other children in similar situations.
What do you remember being told as a child about the impact of your behaviour on others?
What did you do differently as a result of receiving this feedback?
When was the last time you received feedback, as an adult, about how your behaviour effects other people?
What did you do about this?
What was the outcome?
Where can you find an appropriately attached person, or people, who have good mood regulation and give constructive feedback to spend more time with?
What implications does the idea of these three areas of limbic development have for your ability to love other people and find people to love?