Yesterday we tackled shopping. We went to both malls and downtown on a quest for various items. The crowds were unbelievable. Steve and I are both fast, goal-oriented walkers and to our exasperation, we constantly had slow moving, befuddled shoppers in front of us. We made good progress on our shopping list though. This weekend we also attended two Christmas parties, and had a good time at both. After my company party last night we went downtown and ran into friends at RiRa’s. Needless to say, the holiday spirits were so abundant that the wise thing to do was to leave our car downtown and take a cab home.
Our goal today was to recover Steve’s car downtown and get a tree. Another Nor’easter has hit tonight. The snowflakes started drifting down while Steve and I strapped a tree to the roof of the car. We took it home, set it up and decorated it with the help of two curious individuals. Casper, in particular, took a liking to the tree,but thankfully as of yet has not tried to climb it.
I finally hit on a great topic for my physiology paper- the anatomy of the unconscious. In researching I found there is a scientific explanation for something I find so intriguing in psychoanalytic literature but vague in terms of how it actually works. The amygdala is a structure in the brain that triggers emotions and is, evolutionary speaking, one of the oldest structures. The cerebral cortex at the front of the brain, developed later in the course of evolution, and it is linked to the amygdala. The cerebral cortex processes and rationalizes about the emotions that originate the amygdala. Sometimes however, the amygdala reacts so quickly and strongly that it overtakes us and we react before we think. Interestingly, the amygdala is nearly fully formed at birth. The cerebral cortex, on the other, develops slowly over the first years of life. We do not remember the first three years of our lives because the cerebral cortex, which processes and holds the capabilities to formulate conscious memories and the words for those memories, was not fully developed. The amygdala, however, still holds those memories- of the first three years as well as later- in powerful, wordless and often unconscious forms. Also, in times of pain, trauma, and suffering, the link between the amygdala and the cerebral cortex can easily be blocked- rendering feelings and memories unconscious and in this way we protect ourselves- we do not have immediate, conscious access.
This gives me a concrete sense of understanding of the process of thoughts, feelings and memories between our conscious and unconscious. This also helps me to make sense of how early memories and feelings can continue to exist in us and affect us, even when we don’t consciously know it. Alice Miller writes that no where else is our feelings more searing than they are in childhod. Events later in life that are parallel to situations of our childhood can trigger that painful depth of feeling. The amygdala in us still remembers, even if our cerebral cortex, the seat of rational thought, cannot. The purpose of therapy is to help unblock the link between these two structures in our brain and to make sense of it- especially of the encompassing, wordless and the unremembered that affect us so deeply.
Dec 14th 2003Uncategorized