I’ve been reading a great book on the neurophysiology of the emotions, called The Archaeology of Mind, by Jaak Panksepp and Lucy Biven.  It’s a fascinating and enlightening book that illuminates how our psychology is dependent on an underlying substrate of “hard-wired” neurological emotive systems, which are actually common to all mammals.  But one chapter of the book in particular I found to be particularly interesting from a personal point of view.  That’s the chapter on what Panksepp calls the PANIC/GRIEF brain system, which is the neurophysiological basis for what is commonly thought of as “separation anxiety.”  In the process of describing the functioning of the PANIC/GRIEF system, Panksepp goes on to talk about the crucial importance of children receiving loving care, including affectionate touching, from their parents as they develop, as this is crucial to healthy brain development.  And this is not only important for human children but for all mammals, as has been demonstrated in many psychological experiments.  For example, rats who are isolated from other rats from birth will inevitably develop severe anxiety and other affective disorders.  Reading this made me think about my own childhood and upbringing, and the subsequent difficulties I’ve had for most of my life.  I was raised by parents who were never affectionate toward me. This is probably because both of them came from dysfunctional families that were lacking in affection.  I grew up experiencing an utter lack of connection to other people, as if I lived alone in a world of my own.  I also suffered chronic anxiety, at times almost debilitating, for most of my life.  As Panskepp points out in the book, this is typical of children who were raised in a family in which affection was lacking. Most such children suffer serious emotional disorders, possibly for their entire lives, as a result of being starved for affection in early childhood.  So when I look back on my own long struggles to come to grips with my emotional issues, I see my own pathological emotional development, as problematic as it has been for me, as the totally natural response of my developing nervous system to the environment in which I was raised.  It has taken me a very, very long time to overcome that and to get a grip on my own emotional life.

All my life I felt I was searching desperately for something but didn’t know what it was.  After decades of struggle I understand now that what I was searching for all along was connection.  To feel connected to other people, to meaningful activities, and to the world at large.  Connections are intangible but they are crucially important, in fact they are the very substance of one’s life.  It’s vital to pay attention to them and to nurture them.  I count myself very fortunate now to have a life with lots of great connections, to my wife, to my friends, to my relatives, to my creative work, to the town in which I live.  A life filled with connections is a full life.

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