By Grace Cooper
Recommended listening: Say Hey.
I HAD a very different type of column planned than what I’m about to share. I broke up with my beau a few weeks ago. It was a shock for both of us, I think, that I broke it off so quickly, so viciously, seemingly without reason. But I had my reasons, and they have everything to do with what has happened in my past, running full on into what has happened in his present. Like a runaway train, this week I lost my sense of direction, decorum and behaved like a deranged stalker. I must have been in love.
Those damn traumatic memories from the past always seems to mess with the present, and if we allow it, can destroy one’s future.
“A trauma ‘memory’ is caused by extreme stress. This is also stored in the Hippocampus like a normal memory but the difference between the two is that the Hippocampus part of our brain cannot process the traumatic memory properly and store it away. This memory is not date stamped and a different part of our sensory brain called the “Amygdala” takes over the function of processing these traumatic memories. The Amygdala part of our brain is only supposed to sort out our responses to senses like sound, sight, touch, taste and smell. It is not able to deal with the full memory and as such, it becomes overactive under the conditions of extreme stress from our traumatic experiences. The trauma memory becomes vividly detailed and easily triggered.”
Known for her TED talk, My Stroke of Insight , Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, recorded another delightful interview in which she explains the anatomical locations of brain tissue in four distinct locations, each with its own “personality.” Each serves a different purpose, and operates one at a time, creating conscious thought, depending upon your focus.
Interesting to me that a very popular therapeutic technique called Internal Family Systems Model (IFS) overlays perfectly with the anatomical regions of the brain—and their distinct evolutionary human functions. Based on observations by Dr. Richard Schwartz, IFS helps one recognize and honor the role of each of our multiple personalities named Exiles, Firefighters, Managers and Self. Each part of the brain helps play a role in keeping us humans functional and safe.
“Get out and don’t ever come back! I hate you!”
Internally, what has really happened is that I hate everything about you that reminds me of past personal rejection, narcissistic abuse, gaslighting, lies and humiliation . . .
You just happened to be the trigger for a flood of emotions dating back to childhood—and if the latest neuroscience research in epigenetics is correct—even perhaps trauma we inherited from past generations, now encoded in our DNA.
Thus, in that moment of anger, my EXILES escaped from the vault. My MANAGERS, recognizing the danger of letting these trauma-based memories escape unchecked, jumped in to contain the damage, but it was already too late. All I can say is thank goodness my beau blocked most of my tirade of dozens of angry emails, text messages and voice mails, which continued for several more days. My FIREFIGHTERS worked hard to douse the flaming, incendiary communications. Once the MANAGERS regained control, I decided to apologize for the outburst, and he accepted this, conditional upon better communications on both our parts going forward.
Thus, my healthy, healing, confident SELF (the fourth part) was restored, and I made space for future discussions of how my parts can meet his parts without triggering another storm like the one we’ve just experienced.
According to the IFS theory, multiple human brain personalities, with important protective roles, help restore the self to a well-functioning individual if all parts do their intended functions. However, be aware that the FIREFIGHTERS —a rather impulsive, stimulation craving part—can sometimes override or disassociate from the EXILES part by binging on alcohol, sex, food, work or exercise. (For more information about the Internal Family Systems model, check out these resources and a fascinating story written by Dr. Richard Schwartz himself.)
For me, happiness is an inside job and becoming well acquainted with what’s happening internally is one way to take charge of my emotional health.
1. An apparent error or disaster with happy consequence
—Grace Cooper (a nom de plume) left her long marriage more than a decade ago, and with it went all sense of her identity—but not for long. Now 68, she has begun chronicling her tales of looking for love in all the wrong places, and unexpectedly finding herself.