Healing from childhood abuse entails rewiring our brain from fear reactivity to one of feeling safe. This can happen through limbic revision. The rewiring of our limbic system, the part of the brain that controls our thoughts, memories, sensory inputs, and regulation of our hormones.
The Limbic System
The limbic system is a set of brain structures located on top of the brainstem and buried under the cortex. It consists of the hypothalamus, the control center which processes and maintains homeostasis over the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system. The hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory and spatial navigation. And the amygdala, our fear center that processes our emotions and decides our responses to any threat.
Additionally, the limbic system also includes the cingulate gyrus, which deals with emotion and memory. The ventral tegmental area made up of dopamine pathways that affect pleasure a person may or may not feel. The prefrontal cortex, which also deals with pleasure, as well as one’s plans for the future. And the basal ganglia, which controls repetitive behaviors.
Trauma and The Limbic System
Chronic childhood trauma causes developmental damage to our limbic system which severely affects how we feel and behave even as adults. We are caught in a limbic loop. Our brain has been programmed to reactivity and our flight-fight-freeze response kicks in even when there is no danger. We perceive danger at any sight, smell or sound that reminds us of our past trauma.
Subconsciously, the amygdala processes information from the senses and our past experiences color our reaction. It concludes, danger without the inputs from the more logical cortex. This amps up our autonomic nervous system, for action by increasing heart rate, respiration, blood oxygen levels, and blood flow to muscles and deactivates all non-crucial bodily systems. This could lead to a host of chronic illnesses.
Childhood trauma keeps us in a state of a high level of arousal and reactivity. We are easily triggered and are unable to calm down. In fact, life for us is one constant battle – hyper-alert and hyper-sensitive. We are unable to think clearly and rationally. We over-react or sometimes under-react, being numbed to the point of apathy.
Limbic Resonance & The Baby’s Brain
Limbic resonance is the attunement of a mother via deep eye contact to her baby. When the mother attunes to her infant with deep love, the infant learns that love is safe, forms a secure attachment, feels a sense of belonging and a sense of peace. Deep attuned attachment penetrates to the neural core of what it means to be a human being. In short, ‘Our caregivers create our infant brain via “limbic resonance.,’
Limbic resonance is of crucial importance for the emotional well-being of a human being. However, if your mother was consistently, poorly attuned to you at this early stage of your life, failing to attend to your basic needs, your brain’s chemical composition and its limbic system’s ability to interact with the reptilian brain and neocortex in a manner conducive to emotional health and well-being may be seriously disrupted. This leads to limbic dysregulation, and impaired development of the personality as well as emotional difficulties in later life.
How Limbic System Therapy Can Help Resolve Trauma
Limbic revision is simply another name for revising and rewiring the faulty development of our brain, namely our limbic system. In simple terms in order to truly heal we need to experience deep and attuned loving care.
We have to undo the encoding of abusive and poor quality of our relationships we suffered as kids. What our parents and primary caregivers failed to give us, we have to find others sources to become attuned. This can happen in therapy or any other warm and deeply caring relationship. The authors of A General Theory Of Love, suggest that the resultant psychological problems due to abuse may be effectively treated with the use of a therapy known as Limbic Revision. Put simply, love is the only real cure for mental illness.
Why Healing Is Not Easy
Most of us who have been abused by our families desperately crave love. However, unfortunately, due to our childhood priming, we end up getting into relationships with people who ‘resonate’ with us. And if we experienced abuse, well, we usually end up falling for the guiles of abusive narcissists. Why? Sadly, this happens because of our impaired limbic resonance. We are drawn to abusers because they seem familiar. When our experiences of love in our childhoods were chaotic, unpredictable and violent, abuse feels comfortable, they feel like home.
Furthermore, that’s one of the key reasons not to get into any romantic relationships when one is struggling with childhood trauma. Unconsciously we are attracted to abusive partners and end up being further abused.
That’s what happened to me. I got into a relationship with a man with whom I felt I had known a long time. Yes, he turned out to be the exact replica, if not worse of my abusive father.
Limbic Regulation & Revision
In order to really heal we need to have a safe and stress-free place. An environment where limbic regulation can happen. Where there is no fear inducing spikes in our daily life, no unnecessary triggers and emotional consistency. Something akin, to those fancy rehab centers where one can go long-term.
Since most of us cannot afford those expensive places we have to find ways to replicate that kind of positive environment. For me it meant taking time off work, not interacting with many people. And having a loving son to support my recovery.
Healing takes time and it gets harder to overcome early experiences the older one gets and the more added layers of pain and adversity are added over the years.
But, one has to believe and be optimistic about the possibilities of what life could be without the pain of trauma memories. I know the quality of my life has improved. No longer is my limbic system hijacked by common everyday stress. It has been rewired to being calm and in control.
Learning the Dance of Limbic Resonance
General Theory of Love – Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini & Richard Lannon