Choice and Biology – Where Emotions and Behaviors Come From

Three Legged Race

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I left the light on outside, waiting for my husband to come home.  He was gone, though, to a meeting and wouldn’t be back until Friday.  Some bit of automatic thought current made me flip the light switch and before I realized what I’d done, I flushed.

My husband’s eyes aren’t good and he doesn’t see well without a light.  I can.  I don’t “see” so to speak, but somehow I know where things are and can find my way in the dark.  I’m not a bobcat.  I just remember the way things look by the emotions I felt around them.  This is what was happening that night.

I flipped the switch and there he was.  Walking toward the door.  Distracted.  Fitting his key; almost home.  This was all in the moment that it took me to feel happy and then disappointed remembering he was away.

I turned the light off then because I’m not daft.  But it made me think about what sets our behaviors and emotions in motion.  In that moment, finger to the switch, up, anticipation and disappointment – in that moment, I didn’t choose what happened by the cultural definition of choice.  I responded to patterns that many choices I’d made before had laid down.  Tracks in my brain, hedged and maintained by recurring choices, along with design; my emotions and behaviors also an expression of my temperament.  These moved with each other.  But were they moving along the way we generally think of them, like a three-legged race?

Who was leading who?  Trip.  Get up!

One, two, one, two.  Step.  Step.  Step.  Step.  

And in that moment, my layers of choices were counting out with my biology, “One, two!”  There I was, participant and audience.

When we think about where emotions and behaviors come from, culturally we view them as if they are awkwardly related.  As if biology and choice are tied together at the ankles, about to trip each other up.  We call out to them, hoping somehow they might not show the public how little they know of each other’s rhythms.

But you can see the ridiculousness of this.  Choice and biology are in no way separate.  Design forbids it.  The question of where emotions and behaviors come from in itself reveals our confusion.  They come from the same place.

I can hear the concern that this eliminates free-will.  Answer …”But why?”

After these thoughts that night, I turned the light back on.  I preferred how I felt when I thought my husband might arrive soon.  I chose I guess.  What else could I do?

Questions:  What does it mean to you to fuse choice and biology in the discussion of emotions and behaviors?  How does your culture view this?  Does this affect the way you care for yourself?

Self-Care Tip #282 – Don’t deny the choice available to you to feel and behave as you wish, where that wish surfaced from and the tools you use to make them.

Me! Where Emotions and Behaviors Come From

steps 15

Image by Erik - parked in Cairo these days via Flickr

We are doing a narrative series on understanding where emotions and behaviors come from:

  1. Emotions Are Contagious – Emotions shared
  2. Our own Emotional Junk – Emotions hidden
  3. Positive Emotions and Behaviors are Contagious Too 
  4. Our Conscious Self is Our Board and Paddle at Sea – Small conscious self and BIG unconscious self
  5. Biopsychosocial Model – Biological, Psychological, Social selves
  6. Me!  (Today’s Post)

What we have covered so far in our series is that we know emotions are contagious.  We know that if we take care of our own first, we might not be as “susceptible” to negative “contagion” in turn and perhaps, be more available to giving and receiving positive “emotion-contagion.”  Further, we hope that if we do this, we might be able to choose to be with people we love even if they don’t do their own self-care.  We can have that connection without personalizing what isn’t about us.  Sigh.  That is nice, isn’t it?  Then …out at sea (away from our narrative for a day,) we talked about the pleasure in engaging with what bits of biology are directly available to us and the relationship we maintain with the big expanse of our unconscious biology.  Yesterday we reviewed our biopsychosocial model as a tool for further understanding where our emotions and behaviors come from.

Self-Care Tip #272 – If you are ever unsure about where your emotions and behaviors are coming from, it is always safe and true enough to say, “Me.”

Where do emotions and behaviors come from?

Me.

For example:  Me <–> Emotions Shared <–> Me <–> Emotions Hidden <–> Me <–> small conscious self and BIG unconscious self <–> Me <–> Biological, Psychological, Social selves <–> Me… round and round, starting and ending and starting with Me.

Rob and Yesenia were both breathing hard.  Rob was pale and Yesenia flushed.  Where to start?  With Me.  This is what I shared with them both.

Put your spouse down and take three steps back!  Own your own self.  Take care of your own self.  In the process, you will be able to pick each other up again and share love.

Questions:  What are you holding, carrying, using to explain where your emotions and behaviors come from?  How have you been able to put those down and hold yourself?  Please tell me your story.

Where Do You Think Behavior and Emotion Come From?

Animation of an MRI brain scan, starting at th...

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Self-Care Tip #229 – See yourself as a friend by including biology in your self-perception.

In clinic, out of the clinic, here, there, if I were to pick one barrier to treatment anywhere, I’d pick the misunderstanding that behaviors and emotions come from somewhere other than the brain, and then from there, the outcropping of understanding why.

I don’t think most of us say it in so many words, but it’s intuitive. Maybe when pressed we’d say, “Where else do they (behaviors and emotions) come from?!” And then agree, the brain. But the connection that allows for self-care is missed. The connection that allows us to choose the freedom to feel good and behave well for our own sakes is lost in the shame of failing to do those very things.   The stance of courage it takes to be our own friend when we don’t even want to be in our own company, takes a lot to maintain.

The marvelous @MarjieKnudsen, tweeted a reference to a wonderful post by Sarah Boesveld, How ‘self-compassion’ trumps ‘self-esteem’. I enjoyed reading it very much as I felt it spoke to me and my generation with great perception… except! that it was without mention of biology, the brain; i.e. where behaviors and emotions come from.

In clinic, Naomi told me about her “failure” when ever she felt anxiety come on.

Why do I feel depressed when I feel the anxiety come?

I’m wondering what you think, reader, about this simply related story and the question.

I mirrored Naomi’s question,

Why do you think you feel depressed when that happens?

Today (similar to Naomi,) girl-crush, alias Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent, wrote about feeling like a failure as well.  She asked at the end of her post the pithy questions,

What about you? How have you failed? What kind of wisdom has helped you deal with it (i.e. sense of failure)?

And I thought, how to answer? Here I am again “in the presence” of someone wonderful who in her post didn’t make it apparent that she was considering that this emotion might be a symptom of something biological.   We are willing to look under every rock, be in the space of our emotion and ponder reasons why.  We have the courage not to “run” even when we don’t like ourselves, but haven’t said it out loud to ourselves yet,

I might feel this way because my brain is dishing it out.   I might otherwise have not done anything to set this emotion or these behaviors in motion, other than being alive.

Girl-crush remains despite response.  So readers, don’t be scared to answer what you think.   If you even care, I’ll still admire the socks off you! – even if you think you are hyper every day since conception because you ate too much sugar.

Questions (In case you want me to write them again, which I’m really happy to do – anything you want so I can hear your responses): Where do you think your behaviors and emotions come from? …such as a sense of failure and/or a depressed mood? What has helped you deal with it? Please tell me your story.

Starting With Your Own Answers to The Big Questions Leads to Reducing Stigma In Others

Alexander Ostuzhev as Quasimodo, 1925.

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Question:  How do you see the paradigm of spirituality intersecting with the paradigm of biology?

As a psychiatrist who blogs that behaviors come from the brain and not a theater script we voluntarily revise to perform, this is a good question.  As readers, and perhaps subscribers to this same belief, this is a good question.

In church, Bible study, or circle of any kind, there are fewer things that goad me more than listening to descriptions of the moral value in emotions and behaviors.  I have found myself visiting the lady’s room more often, carousing the fellowship hall-kitchen and fridge, or thrusting myself on a poor unsuspecting soul loitering by the door with my fervent uncomplimentary words.  I do this before I stand up and pull rank on the speaker.

(I know.  The words “pull rank” sound just as arrogant, and probably are, but they were said in the heat of the moment.  Please understand that the emotion behind them and including the words came from my brain.)

It wasn’t so long ago that suicides were thought to be the ultimate separation from God.  Oh wait.  That’s still happening isn’t it?  It wasn’t so long ago that anger and sadness were thought to be from separation from God.  Oh wait, they still are.  Ok.  I’ll stop.  This is childish.

The hunched figure of Notre Dame comes to me now, ringing his bell, gazing at Esmerelda – pure heaven in flesh.  He offers up his humble life force, begging to be near her despite his biology.  He is ugly.  He is different.  He is separated by his own beliefs that he is forgotten by God.  His answer to our question is his own isolation.

This pithy topic has no boundaries across the world but yet I reduce it down to Me, one apparently arrogant psychiatrist, kicking up dirt where I stand.  I realize that the best way to protect us from stigma, to help you (again arrogant me swaggers in), is to start with my answer to this marvelous question.  I have to answer it for myself.  I have to start with self-care, spiritual care, relationship care, physical care – I have to start right here with Me.

These kinds of imposed opinions have never been reduced quickly.  We can’t take care of everyone before we take care of ourselves.  We must be patient.  We have the privilege to answer thoughtfully.  It is our freedom.  It is our right.

Self-Care Tip #193 – Answer the big questions in life for yourself, deliberately, and see that a secondary benefit is that it will protect you from the prejudice of others as well as reduce their prejudice.

Connection: It’s Medical But Still Magical

XO with Internet connection, Khairat (India)

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Self-Care Tip #157 – Don’t depend on yourself to find connection.

We are people of a greater ability to bond than our senses, emotions, intuition, reason or technology can account for.  Our connection to each other and to God supersedes our belief in connection.  In this discussion, I am looking at “connection” beyond the paradigm of our perceptions.  Although connection between me and you is all about me and you, our bond also transcends either of us.

Meet gorgeous Candy.  She refuses any medications that might change her appearance in any way, ie. increase her appetite.  She would rather freeze in a catatonic state and die thin than gain weight.  She has come to me after years of struggling with irritability, anger, depression and anxiety.  She has never seen a psychiatrist although these emotions have misshapen her relationships, crippled her parenting skills, and removed her from her community of friends and one marriage.  Her medical condition continues to threaten Candy’s connection with her own self.  It continues to threaten her connections with her now teenage children and her second marriage.  Candy tells me that she doesn’t feel anything for her husband.  When she says this, she looks at me expectantly, as if she just released a big revelation.

When people are initiating treatment, I try not to get into anything personal too much.  Although I gather their personal history, I don’t give much feedback.  I try not to discuss their desire to make sense of all their conflicting feelings.  Sometimes they ask me questions, advice, directives and that’s natural.  However, it would be misguided to answer those questions, because we can’t let our emotions guide us.  I tell them,

Let’s revisit these questions after the treatment has time to take effect and you feel more like yourself.

It’s medical but still magical.  In four to eight weeks, they often hardly remember the questions they had.  The negativity is just a haze in their past.  The resilience comes with emotional health and copes with the simple stressors that used to sever interpersonal emotional ties.

Candy was one of the lucky ones who found the magic.  She felt self-trust more than she had felt her entire life.  Feeling safe with your own self is wonderful.  Much of the population who has not been where Candy has been can’t say the kind of thank you that Candy can.  They don’t know what it means to be lost and then found in this way.  Candy has something very special.

Yet when we think of Candy’s sense of connection, we also look beyond the biology of it.  I did spend some time describing how biology can change our perception of connection, but I didn’t do it to explain how connections are formed.  I described it more to demonstrate that we cannot depend on ourselves to define connections.

Don’t stumble on the philosophies around adjustment issues and conditioning.  Connection with others exists regardless of our fortune in family, money, treatment or maltreatment, biology, and self.  We are connected because there is a force of connection created and present in all of nature, regardless.

Madeleine L’Engle, wrote in “A Stone for a Pillow,”

Perhaps what we are called to do may not seem like much, but the butterfly is a small creature to affect galaxies thousands of light years away.

Our connections are there regardless of where we are at in life.  I would even take it further to say that connections to us even survive the cutting blow from death.

Connection is an eternal truth.  It makes a difference to us just to know that, but even if we didn’t, it doesn’t change our connection.

Question:  How do you make sense of your changing perception of connections in your life?  Please tell me your story.

Have The Courage To Be Known

 

 

 

Driving my kids to their dental appointment today, we passed a corpse.  I could see the top of his head, bits of the gurney, but mostly the shape of his blanketed body.

In the first chapter of Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince,) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Prince describes how he is a misunderstood artist with hidden undeveloped talent.  He had drawn a postprandial (after dinner) boa constrictor, large with the elephant inside his stomach.  Unfortunately people who looked at his picture saw a hat instead.  Better with words than picture, Prince narrated rather his great loneliness amongst all creation and a yearning to connect.

This morning, seeing the blanketed corpse, I remembered the boa constrictor that Prince related to.  The futility the Little Prince felt about getting connected.  The inevitable misunderstandings that left him as a hat instead of boa constrictor that just swallowed an elephant whole.

http://www.angelfire.com/hi/littleprince/However, Prince refused the constraints other people’s perceptions offered him.  He refused the constraints by believing even still that he could connect with others.  In his simple way of living, he tried, going from planet to planet to be known as the Prince he was and not that other thing.

Driving today, I was very upset by what I had seen.  The facelessness of the man shaped in his blanket.  Covering him up and no one crying over him.

Someone was there with a clipboard and I could see an investigation was underway.  Of course necessary, but yet it upset me.  I kept seeing the boa constrictor that swallowed an elephant whole all day and thought about the man’s life, connections, and hopes.  Was he understood? Did he refuse perceptions and demand to be known and to know, giving others the same courtesy of life’s desire?

I cried over him today.  The same desire being inside of me, somehow the corpse who had been the man and I shared that relation.  So I cried for my brother and hoped someone had seen him.  As I hope to be seen.

Live as courageously as The Little Prince and believe.  You can connect.

Self-Care Tip # 126 – Demand with your life, to be known.  Connect.  Be a friend to yourself.

Question:  What obstacles to connecting have you been covered with?  How have you refused them?  Please tell me your story.


The Biopsychosocial-How-to Be a Friend to Yourself

Marine of the United States Marine Corps runs ...

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There is interplay between biological, psychological, and social issues that make us who we are.  You can work as a team not only  with your family, physicians, therapists, and whomever else is involved in your team approach to getting friendly with yourself – but you can also team up with yourself so to speak.

Think:

1.  Biology

Anything going on materially with my physical body?

Medical illnesses, temperament, sleep issues, diet, exercise, air, rash….

2.  Psychological

i.e., thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Things like lack of self-control, coping skills, catastrophizing, and negative thinking.

3.  Social

Such as socioeconomic status, culture, poverty, technology, and religion can influence health.

Think God, friends, marriage, parenting, work, unemployment….

We can do this not only with others who are here to help us, but also in our own thoughts.  We can start seeing ourselves as more than one part or another.  Separate and disconnected.  This might take some practice or it might be natural for you.  Just start wherever you are and run this through yourself.  When you’re stressed, break it down.  Take it apart to bring it back together.

Read more about this at “Forget About Divisions In Knowledge.”

Question:  How do you see the connections within yourself?  How has this played into your healing processes?  Please tell me your story.

Self-Care Tip #125 – See yourself as parts that make up your whole.  Be a friend to yourself.