Brain Wiring and Primal Therapy
“Where is evolution taking our brain? While it is true that whatever will be will be, we have the opportunity to take a peek at what evolution is up to. It's not that evolution is forward thinking. It only has hindsight. 86 However, we are evolution in progress and we can see what sorts of changes might be happening in our brain by looking at trends in brain evolution across related species.
As things now stand, the amygdala has a greater influence on the cortex than the cortex has on the amygdala, allowing emotional arousal to dominate and control thinking. Throughout the mammals, pathways from the amygdala to the cortex overshadow the pathways from the cortex to the amygdala. Although thoughts can easily trigger emotions (by activating the amygdala), we are not very effective at willfully turning off emotions (by deactivating the amygdala). Telling yourself that you should not be anxious or depressed does not help much.
At the same time, it is apparent that the cortical connections with the amygdala are far greater in primates than in other mammals. This suggests the possibility that as these connections continue to expand, the cortex might gain more and more control over the amygdala, possibly allowing future humans to be better able to control their emotions.
Yet, there is another possibility. The increased connectivity between the amygdala and cortex involves fibers going from the cortex to the amygdala as well as from the amygdala to the cortex. If these nerve pathways strike a balance, it is possible that the struggle between thought and emotion may ultimately be resolved not by the dominance of emotional centers by cortical cognitions, but by a more harmonious integration of reason and passion. With increased connectivity between the cortex and amygdala, cognition and emotion might begin to work together rather than separately.
Oscar Wilde once said, "It is because Humanity has never known where it was going that it has been able to find its way.” '87 But wouldn't it be wonderful if we did understand our emotions were taking us from moment to moment, day to day, and year to year, and why? If the trends toward cognitive-emotional connectivity in the brain are any indication, our brains may, in fact, be moving in this direction.” (1)
In the above, final page of his book, LeDoux speculates about the future of emotional control. It dovetails nicely with the reality of brain plasticity…the ability of the human brain to rewire itself throughout its lifetime.
Jeffrey Schwartz, MD, works with people who suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. And he has discovered that, when his patients are able to concentrate on making new responses to their destructive compulsive reactions, over time they are able to grow new nerve pathways that make the new responses easier to accomplish. This observation is consistent with new discoveries being made with people who have suffered strokes. That is….strongly intentioned effort, over time, is able to make physical changes in brain structure and function. It looks like brain fibers are like muscle fibers. They can increase their mass and firing rate with consistent, intentioned exercise! However, as Schwartz notes, trying to make these constructive changes is a painful struggle, since the sufferer is fighting an alarm system, which is being driven by the “false brain signals” that create the OCD symptoms. (2)
We may draw some conclusions from the information being given by LeDoux and Schwartz:
· The imprint is a collection of trauma artifacts (information) that represents “false brain signals”. They are false because they are memories of past events that are erroneously projected upon present events. These false signals cannot be controlled because the cortex, specifically the medial prefrontal area, doesn’t have access to that information. Trauma has trapped this information in the subcortical structures of the brain. A primal, or connection of this “lost” information to the cortex makes it possible for the medial-prefrontal cortex (MPC) to activate the nerve fibers leading from the MPC to the amygdala. This signal shuts the amygdalic activity down. Each time the bits and pieces of trauma information are processed, the brain fibers are activated and strengthened. Primalling exercises the MPC-to-Amygdala nerve fibers, over and over again. So, PT not only results in fear signal shutdowns, it is also strengthening the nerve fibers on which the shutdown order is sent. In this way, cognition and emotion might achieve a more harmonious relationship. This supports Janov’s claim that PT creates a more balanced brain. (3)
· As noted, behavior modification is made very difficult by the existence and activation of the false brain signals coming from the fight-or-flight substructures of the brain. Primalling can bleed the energy from these false brain signals. So, engaging in PT before attempting behavior modification, would make BM that much easier to accomplish. In this way, PT might become seen as a valuable compliment to behavior modification.
(1) Joseph LeDoux, The Emotional Brain, Page 303
(2) Jeffrey Schwartz, The Mind and the Brain
(3) Arthur Janov, Why You Get Sick, How You Get Well,