Neuroscience Positive Psychology

Is conflict simply a survival memory?

Written by Julia Menard

Marcia Lucas, PhD., is an evidence-based psychotherapist and neuroscientist who has written a book to help people unbind relationship knots using mindfulness.  I first heard of Marcia from Judy Zehr, the co-author of my book, “Hold On To Yourself.”  Lucas’ book “Rewire Your Brain for Love” – has some staggering research that can help all of us create more enriched and compelling relationships.

Here are a few key concepts:

  1. Our brains are heavily lower right hemisphere dominant when we are born and in our early years of life. This hemisphere is about emotions/body sensations.  It is also deeply non-verbal and linked to survival.  To compound things, this area of the brain’s experiences are stored in implicit memory – implicit memories are those memories that are under our conscious awareness when they are evoked.  We don’t have any conscious awareness of what the emotion is linked to.
  2. Our brain patterns or “wiring” is mostly in place by the time we are two years old.
  3. As we get older, our left hemisphere kicks in when these implicit memories are stimulated. To make sense of things, our verbal and logical upper left hemisphere tells us a story about what these emotions that are being stimulated mean.  We attribute these emotions (often intense, as they are linked to survival) to the present moment and person, instead of attributing the emotion to the implicit/hidden memory the original emotion is attached to.

What I learned from Judy Zehr is that these habits of feeling and thinking are called “schemas.”  These schemas or belief patterns narrow what we notice in the world and how we interpret what we notice.  Now that I know this, I have seen it manifest in conflict over and over again.  One person has a set of beliefs that gets evoked in contact with another person and then the evidence-building starts until the belief pattern is solid.  I am feeling the way I am feeling, we say when we are in the throes of intense conflict, because you made me feel that way.  It is difficult to get back from that place of certainty.  This is when someone like me, a mediator, gets called in to see if we can do some unraveling.

If I have understood Lucas correctly, this right/left brain explanation is also the scientific explanation for both the movie the Matrix (we are living in a hologram of emotional memories we attribute to the present moment) as well as the ancient Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono – that all emotions are memories (so we must therefore “clean, clean, clean”).

What do you see as the implications of these ideas for conflict, mindfulness, memories?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

About the author

Julia Menard

Have you ever wondered why you can be so calm and rational for your clients, but when it comes to your own life, stress can creep in so easily? That’s the quest I set out on when, after 20 years as a mediator, my own marriage disintegrated. I teamed up with a therapist from Portland, and we wrote a book that captures much of what I’ve learned over the last five years about finding a the calm in the chaos. Hold On To Yourself: How to Stay Cool in Hot Conversations is the result. If you are interested in mindfulness, finding the leader within and engaging the gifts in conflict, then check out my website and sign up for my free monthly newsletter at: http://www.juliamenard.com/.

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