Part 9: The Neurological Group Home

This lesson explores what happens in the brain and central nervous system when we get triggered into emotional wounds, what should happen, and Don's Group Home Analogy

In this video, let’s look at what happens in the brain and central nervous system when we get triggered and then offer a sort of a road map on what to do about it. To do that, we need to refer back to several videos and models that were presented earlier in this collection. You can find all of these models and videos in the archives link above, inside the Oasis @ Serenity Cafe, inside the Serenity Cafe Academy... Or if you're a current client you'll find them in your client portal as well.

Remember to go over these lessons and videos in the order they are presented. Review them with intensity and repetition on a regular basis. This practice will create the database for integration in your brain.

Video Transcript

As an integrative psychotherapist I combine, connect, sometimes adapt, and sometimes create complimentary models of our “Human Condition”. This model of the neurological group home analogy is another effort on my part to do that. In this case, I will be using a diagram provided to me by one of my teachers, Janina Fisher, to explain and my analogy.

So, let's begin with a look at the two models that form the foundation of my psychotherapeutic approach. The first one is the iceberg model. It's a model that I created over the course of my career.

It's a high-level view of the wounding process. The second is a model that I adapted from the somewhat recently developed structural dissociation model known by many, if not most trauma therapists. We live in a broken world. As such, people get wounded by things that shouldn't happen to them and things that didn't happen for them. The former are trauma wounds and the latter are attachment wounds.

You'll find in depth descriptions of those in my previous videos. As we've referred to many times - wounded people, wound people. This is not about blaming parents or anyone else for that matter. Even if it was someone's fault or intention that I got hurt, assigning blame doesn't really help. It just takes precious time away that could be spent healing.

Now this is about healing the effects of those wounds on our present-day life and relationships. My iceberg model provides that high level view of the wounding process. Abandonment, shame, and contempt in a child's inner world forms a free-floating mass of pain that they come to know as their self. Here it's depicted as a false self because that's what it is. False is not true.

It's not what God created. This is what life created. In my opinion, this is what's at the core of many of life's struggles. As a child accumulates these emotional wounds, they learn to develop an external focus, abandoning their inner world because it's just too painful to focus inward. And then they put on a mask or a cover up that I refer to as an invented self and try to bury that free-floating mass of pain.

This leaves only the external world as a source for comfort and relief. The tip of the iceberg shows just a few of the many ways that we find to comfort or distract ourselves. As you can see here. The problem is that what starts out as a source of comfort or distraction ends up as another source of more pain, more abandonment, shame, and contempt.

You can find more details about this emotional wounding process and the survival skills we developed for surviving the wounds in my Iceberg video. For now, let's shift our focus to the life scripts and parts matrix model that I adapted from the structural dissociation model in my adaptation.

Here, you can see where I inserted a new layer into this model. This layer of abandonment, shame, and contempt creates a lens through which normal processing of perceived threats become distorted and magnified. We describe this experience of this distorted perception as being triggered.

As you can see, the model has two boxes on top growth mode and survival mode, also known as self-actualization and self-preservation. You can also notice here that growth mode or self-actualization is not connected to the flow chart beneath it. When we get triggered into survival mode, that whole flowchart lights up.

Now, we are all aware that survival instinct is an important part of the human experience. If we did not have a way to respond to a threat, we might not survive. Our responses to threat in this third tier of the diagram are also normal and important parts of the human personality.

A healthy flight response, for instance, would be an example of walking down a dark alley holding a baseball bat. And when someone tries to mug you, a normal fight part would be to start swinging that bat in self-defense. And with that same example of the dark alley if the assailant has a gun, a healthy flight response would be to start running.

Another healthy flight response in another situation might be to just push everything aside when you're working too hard and go to the beach for the weekend, escaping all the pressures that one might be under and take time out for relaxation. This provides us with a healthy reset of our nervous system and renewed energy to increase productivity.

Upon our return. Getting sick with the flu, we collapse into the bed and eat chicken soup. This is a healthy freeze response following orders from our boss at work is an example of a healthy submit response. True intimacy and the ability to share who we really are with another person is an example of a healthy attachment style and the ability to connect with others. It is this attachment drive that gets wounded and carries the pain of abandonment.

Because childhood is when it's most predominant. This leads to development of survival skills to compensate for unhealthy attachment styles. You can learn more about that in the video on the Life Scripts and Parts Matrix Inventory and the Life Scripts and Parts Matrix Model.

Suffice it to say here that the problem outlined in this diagram is the lens of abandonment, shame, and contempt that comes from growing up in that less than nurturing family situation. Again, wounded people wound people, and we find creative, albeit ineffective, ways to survive.

All these healthy stress responses become modified away from their original intended purposes and become survival skills. Now, at this point, it's important to have viewed the video called the fragment itself. This video contains my ceramic baseball analogy, which explains just a little bit of the neuroscience behind the emotional wounds that comes from trauma and unmet dependency needs. If you haven't seen that video yet, you can find it in the lesson on neuroplasticity. Okay, we're ready to take a look at Janina Fisher's brain diagram.

This is from the perspective of looking down on top of the head. Here you can see that in the back of the head is the amygdala, or the feeling brain. And in the front are the three elements of the thinking brain. The dorsal lateral left prefrontal cortex is what Janina calls the going on with normal life part. Eric Berne, MD calls it the adult ego state in his Transactional Analysis Ego State Model.

Other people refer to it as the logical left brain. It's like a computer, unencumbered by emotion. It gets the job done. It solves problems in the present moment. It makes decisions.

It's the part of us that's responsible for our executive functioning. That's why I like to refer to it as the CEO of the self. An example of how the getting on with normal life part works would be to imagine that a husband and wife are having a knockdown, drag out fight. They're screaming and yelling at each other. Then the doorbell rings.

What happens to that fight? That's right. The fight immediately stops and getting on with normal life part takes over. The couple act as if nothing ever happened, at least until the company leaves. That's because the getting on with normal life part is not able to connect with the emotional brain.

This is how it maintains its status as a computer unencumbered by emotion. Now, right behind the forehead is the medial prefrontal cortex. This is that curious observing part of us. It watches everything inside and outside as other parts of the brain record all significant emotional events, positive and negative.

That would be the short term and long-term memory functions of the hippocampus, which runs right down the center of the brain. There's really a hippocampus on both the right side and the left side of the brain, separated only by the corpus callosum, which is a collection of axon terminals helping the left brain to communicate with the right brain.

It's interesting to realize that the medial prefrontal cortex has a soothing effect on the amygdala simply by noticing its reactivity when triggered. Of course, this must be the explanation of why mindful meditation is so popular. Think of the medial prefrontal cortex as a monitor. It monitors everything going on in the external world, as well as everything going on in the internal world.

Other parts of the brain can see what's on the monitor and take action accordingly. But the monitor itself just monitors and notices activity, thereby stabilizing the amygdala. To some degree, this would be known as emotional regulation.

We can we nurture others, but not ourselves?

Now, remember, when we went over the Iceberg presentation, we saw that people who grow up in a less than nurturing family typically carry that free floating, mass of pain we call the False Self. They abandon their inner world by developing an external focus in order to avoid that pain. What they're really doing, though, is shutting down that internal focus of the monitor, at least on a conscious left-brain level. We'll come back to this later in the presentation.

The right orbital prefrontal cortex is known as the self-soothing center. In the ideal situation, this is where the representations of a healthy mother and father are to be internalized or recorded in the mind of the child. Also known as the self-soothing center, this is where our abilities to nurture, love, and protect those who are important to us reside.

We are also supposed to be able to apply those same skills to ourselves. However, when we grow up in a less than nurturing situation, we may not have enough internalized models for self-soothing. We may never have had those models to record in the first place, except for seeing them in someone else's family, or in our favorite teacher or on TV or somewhere else later on. We can draw from those models when it comes to taking care of those we love and care about. That explains why it might be difficult to apply nurturing, protection, and love to ourselves.

While it seems easy to provide them to our loved ones. In the ideal situation, our self-soothing skills are enough to help manage and regulate our emotions, which helps us to regulate our behavior as well. All parts are working together in harmony. Notice that, like the medial prefrontal cortex, the self-soothing center has that direct connection to the feeling brain. That is, if we can apply those soothing skills to ourselves, as we have learned, that connection may not be very strong if we grew up in a lesson nurturing family.

The good news is that we can enhance the neural circuitry involved with connecting those nurturing, loving and protective skills to our emotional brain. This will help significantly in our healing process.

So now let's look at what happens in the brain of someone carrying a significant amount of trauma or attachment wounds when they get triggered. As we can see, the thinking brain shuts down, leaving the amygdala to fend for itself. Emotional regulation and self-soothing do not occur.

The left brain, the getting on with normal life part, is unable to plan, problem solve, or even understand what's happening because it too is shut down. This is because the observing monitor is also offline, leaving the amygdala to become increasingly aggravated and agitated until we get rid of or get away from the threat. Eventually, when things calm down, the thinking brain comes back online and wonders what the heck just happened. So, what do we do in these situations? Well, I'm glad you asked.

Here's where my neurological group home analogy comes in. So, think of the amygdala as a group home full of troubled children. Remember, this is where all those fragmented, wounded parts of self-reside, beginning on with normal life. CEO of the self can become the group home director. The medial prefrontal cortex.

The monitor monitors everything that's going on in the group home 24/7, as well as what's going on outside in the neighborhood. The Self Soothing Center becomes the counseling staff of the group home. When something triggering occurs in the group home. If the thinking brain is allowed to go offline and stay offline, those kids may just burn down that group home. So, the number one priority is being able to stay online even in the face of threat or trigger.

This requires the development of adequate grounding skills. We will find out what works for you and our coaching or counseling sessions and in other videos in this collection. Right now, what we need to remember is that when we are triggered, we get transported back into the past where the wounded parts are taking us. For the thinking brain to stay online, we must have the ability to stay grounded in the present moment. Anything that grounds us in the present moment keeps the thinking brain available to help the feeling brain.

So assuming you have met that prerequisite of establishing healthy grounding skills that work for you, we will employ this group home strategy to monitor being able to stay online 24/7 knows exactly what's going on with every troubled child in the group home at any given moment. When a trigger occurs, the observing part brings that up on the screen for the director to notice.

The director then problem solves and makes decisions, sending instructions to the counseling staff to attend to the troubled child in question. The counseling staff then carries out that instruction to nurture, protect, and heal that wounded inner child that is reacting. The counseling staff has many different tools available to call upon for grounding and healing these wounded parts of self.

We will go over them in session or other lessons here at the Serenity Cafe Academy. Another model we need to keep in mind and understand in order to realize when all of the above is happening is the victim versus creator mentalities. When the thinking brain is offline and we are fully triggered, the only language understood by the amygdala is the victim mentality. We can only become creators with the thinking brain online and fully engaged. You can find more out about the Creator versus victim mentality in the video of the same name.

Thank you for watching and remember, you can contact me at any time with questions. You can do that through your client portal. If you're a current client or you can email me if you're a serenity cafe member or just a visitor to our website again. Thanks for listening.

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The videos and lessons in this area have part numbers (Part 1, etc) so you can tell the order to watch them. These are the foundational courses and one lesson builds upon the previous lesson. They are meant to be studied, not just watched one time. Remember the need for intensity and repetition. When you have seen these videos enough times to almost be able to present the information yourself, the Internet of Your Mind will have been transformed for the better as you get to know your True Self
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Don Carter MSW, LCSW