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On Resiliency

the following is the presentation Glennon gave at the recent Resiliency in the Family & the Brain learning forum....

Families are emotional units…big, moving and shifting emotional units. It is these people who we are deeply connected to, who love us and whom we love, that are the key to our survival in this big, unpredictable and scary world.

Human beings are relationship-oriented beings and being without relationships would be the equivalent to having no gravity…we would float aimlessly never landing but always moving. Our systems are programmed to survive, and any threat to our survival sends SOS signals from one part of the brain to another and from our brains to our bodies. In relationships, if there is fear of abandonment by a spouse, worry for a child, physical or emotional threat to our own being, fear, deep survival level fear, is triggered.

Once this fear is triggered, whether it is on the conscious level or the unconscious level, we are operating as if we are in survival mode. An argument with a spouse becomes thoughts of divorce, a child acting out in class becomes the great uncle who spent years in jail and struggled with drug addiction, a criticism from a parent becomes thoughts of ones own worthlessness and all of the sudden ones life goals become distant memories. There is confusion within us that survival of self means focusing on another.

Without the knowledge of how fear operated in the generations before us, the fear torch is simply passed down from one generation to the next, not only on the surface level of learning by example, but on a brain stem level as well. Sometimes our fear is so deeply ingrained in us that operating without it would be like living without an arm, or a leg, or all our limbs depending on how much fear we have. This is why, in my opinion, people circle the idea of giving up the fear but often can’t take the leap of change because its too scary to travel where no ancestor has been. Most of this, of course, is on a subconscious level and contributes to what I think of as the family set point.

It is fascinating to watch people scramble for survival by panicking about what others are doing or not doing. Fear makes us critical, makes us needy, makes us controlling, makes us blame, makes us run the other direction and most importantly, keeps us stuck. Stuck in the cycle of trying to survive by changing others. Stuck in thinking that distancing or cutting off is a better solution than staying connected and managing self differently.

Those that are most stuck have the most fear. What I have noticed is that neurofeedback gets to this deep fear in a way that talking about things on a conscious level cannot. For example, while a women’s fear that her husband is going to leave her might still be present (conscious fear), her ability to see her self as able to survive without him shifts (subconscious fear). As she becomes less dependent on him for her survival, he has more space to live and not see escape as the only mechanism for avoiding suffocation. Something deeper happens with neurofeedback that allows people to understand their place in the world in a different way. Getting to this deep subconscious fear seems to help us break through to that that space that our ancestors were not able to go, but somehow, it becomes OK that we go there. The family set point is challenged. For example, generations of men who are bullied by the tough women in the family changes when a man learns that his survival is not tied to being a victim. The deep, engrained fear of taking a stand has been interrupted with the help of neurofeedback as he becomes more of a self in his relationship with his mother and wife. The family set point has been shifted effecting generations to come.

I observe that neurofeedback calms the emotional regulatory system down enough to see beyond immediate threat. Choices become clearer as ones thinking becomes less restricted by fear. Navigating through the swamps of emotion seems to become easier and happen faster with neurofeedback. Like watching a movie in fast-forward versus real time.

The most stubborn of all outside focus is child focus. The intense focus on a child distracts us from looking at all other relationships. The fear we experience about our children is like no other fear. They are, after all the continuation of our species when you look at it from a biological perspective. From a more human perspective, the love we have for our children is so great that we become blinded to seeing them functioning outside of us. We become so important to their success that when they fail, we fail. One mother I am thinking of, described being hooked up as taking time off from the habitual patterns of worry. Over time she saw how her fear of her sons failure was actually contributing to his lackadaisical and aimless attitude toward life. One might argue that talking about this process enough might be enough to shift, and I have no doubt it would be, but the speed at which she was able to decrease the fear and find space to focus on her life was notable. Her survival became less dependent on the success of her son, and the survival of her son became less important to ensuring her own survival. In Bowen theory this is differentiation of self.

My observations are clear to me; neurofeedback seems to assist in an individuals attempt at becoming a more clearly defined person to oneself and to those around them by decreasing the deep fear that pumps through us like blood pumping through veins. Using Bowen theory as a guiding principal has been a gift to me and undoubtedly to those I coach. It has been fascinating to observe how neurofeedback assists in the decrease of fear and subsequent increase in thoughtfulness. I believe neurofeedback and Bowen theory helps us see relationships for what they really are, an important addition to our lives, not as a means for our literal survival.

1 comment for "On Resiliency"

Vincent says:

As a 'user' of neurofeedback, what I have seen in me and others in my immediate family who have benefited from this technology is that one gets less overwhelmed with the usual events of daily life. The threshold of anxiety seems to have been lowered. There are less 'parasite voices' in one's head and therefore one is more able to look at a situation from a more objective standpoint. It is too early to recognize the longer term effect of this new way of being but I see how the statement about the new family set point makes sense. Certain multi-generational behavioral traits such as anger issues, 'faithfully' handed over by one generation to the next, to the next... seems to be suddenly stopped as in mid-air. As chaos theory is defined (, one such (actually not so much) small change can lead, over time (across many years and even generations) to a significant difference, this case in functioning (all things being equal, which they seldom are).

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