Yesterday I left off at age 7 when the higher reasoning functions of the left hemisphere begin to exert more influence on the life of my Hypothetical Young Person. I also said, depending on HYP's early experiences, this entry into the world of the left hemisphere could be easy and adaptive, or uneasy and maladaptive. I choose the word uneasy for a reason.
Uneasy connotes both anxiety, in that situations can make us FEEL uneasy, and situations can be objectively uneasy, as in difficult to do. Maladaptive defense strategies will invoke both senses of uneasy because in a very real sense defense strategies are designed to protect the budding ego from anxious situations, and as life progresses their existence can make the situations in which they reflexively come into play much harder to objectively deal with on a conscious level.
Defense mechanisms, because they are generated at the behest of the Reptilian and limbic systems as means of dealing with overwhelming fear or anger, always function below awareness or unconsciously.
For example, say our HYP experienced the marital breakup of his parents at age three. At this stage, HYP's entire understanding of the world is all about him. Since his higher reasoning functions are not online, it falls to the R and limbic systems to generate some form of behavior which will ease the anxiety HYP feels. In order to restore some semblance of anxiety reduction, HYP's neural system may opt for isolation by removing HYP from the anxiety producing arguments of his parents.
This can come in two ways. The first is to physically remove himself by staying outdoors all the time or in some secret private place, or it may involve disassociation in which HYP is physically present, but not consciously present. He's is so deeply in his own internal world that sensory input isn't even processed.
In the meantime HPY FEELS the anxiety of his parent's situation as something he caused, because at this stage his mental world is all about him and his survival. He is the only active agent in his world, and everyone else reacts to his actions. It has been like this for him since he came into the world and first learned the power of crying to get his needs met. He acts, the world around him reacts and meets his needs. Only in this case, his actions are not being met with the appropriate response from his care givers. They keep fighting and he keeps FEELING a great deal of anxiety. His solution is to disassociate or withdraw from the situation. He experiences a reduction in anxiety and FEELS he is once again safe.
At age three HYP can't consciously analyze either his feelings of anxiety or his response to them and so they become habituated and repetitive. He will reflexively use disassociation in any anxiety producing situation in which there is anger or conflict.
By the time HYP meets up with his fourth grade teacher who does not like him for some reason, HYP is thoroughly habituated to the flight response to anxiety his body interprets to be fear or anger. He won't fight, he will withdraw. In fourth grade this may manifest as day dreaming, as withdrawal from academic engagement, in constant sickness, in any behavior which keeps him removed from interaction with his teacher, who he thinks is the source of his anxiety.
In reality the teacher represents the initial occasion which was HYP's inability to reconcile the breakup of his parents. The R and Limbic systems do not differentiate the source of the anxiety from it's first occurrence. They identify it as fear or anger, and then throw up the first successful defense, isolation or withdrawal.
At HYP's 9 year old age, the left hemisphere is used to CREATE logical believable justifications for the withdrawal. The left hemisphere may oblige by generating illnesses of various sorts. Nausea is common when anxiety is shunted into the sympathetic nervous system. So are headaches. HYP maybe rewarded by the outer world for being sick and he gets to stay home. As life progresses though, this use of illness to withdraw from anxiety provoking situations will become more pervasive and more maladaptive. He may find himself plagued with migraines or suffering from ulcers. By the time he's in his forties, he may well be on his way to an early grave.
There is one other thing that begins to happen at about the age of 7. HYP begins to incorporate the feeling of guilt and the self punishment strategies which alleviate guilt produced anxiety. Freud would say HYP's superego is now operative and that the superego picked up it's guilt generating and punishing characteristics from HYP's parents.
Parents or care givers almost always serve as the model for the superego. The reasoning aspects of the left hemisphere are necessary for the kind of consequential reasoning needed for generating guilt anxiety.
HYP now begins to feel guilty about missing school and his anxiety load is doubled resulting in the need for self punishment which exacerbates the situation even more. This leads to even higher level defense mechanisms such as projection and intellectualization.
If HYP is an intellectually gifted kid, he can create all kinds of defense mechanisms to serve the original method of anxiety reduction which was withdrawal, and all this will happen without any conscious input on his part. He will have created a false construct ego based on withdrawing from conflict situations. If he uses projection, all that anger and guilt anxiety will be projected on things outside himself. It's not his fault that SOB of a teacher won't leave him alone.
As an adult, HYP will have many parts about his self identified ego "I" which are not parts of his true self at all, but defense strategies. In order to really comprehend the teachings of Jesus, HYP will have to do some serious work in removing those reflexive defense strategies. In a very real sense HYP will have to become again as a little child in order to recapture his true sense of self and be open to the Kingdom of God within.
Achieving Stage IV spirituality is no easy task and really does involve going deeply into one's childhood and dieing to all the aspects of the false self created when there really was no other option. Strategies which were originally based in self survival and self love, become turned on their head as more and more neural capacity and social conditioning come on line. This is not about assigning blame to parents or authority figures, this is how things work and it's up to us as individuals to take on this challenge. It's why Jesus said "unless YOU become as little children, YOU shall not enter the kingdom."
It's our responsibility. Projecting that responsibility outside ourselves is just another way of defending ourselves from our truth. Jesus didn't come to save me, He came to show and teach me how to save myself, to find the Father's kingdom within. It's hard to find that Divine connection when it's surrounded by a plethora of defensive walls. Tomorrow I'll give some ideas on how to knock down the defensive walls and part of that is being consciously mindful of anxiety and how it manifests. In a sense it's training oneself to put the higher reasoning centers in charge, not the defense mechanisms generated by the R and limbic systems.