Here's the third excerpt from my new book, The Reinvention Equation. The second draft is almost done!
Emotional Sensory Amnesia is a term I have coined so we can examine what we have forgotten about our emotions and feelings. How do they work? What do we do with them? What feelings have you put away a long time ago? The awareness of emotions and feelings are key to the reinvention equation.
The initial adaptation for baby is at the physical level. Baby must adapt to the conditions in which they find themselves in order to be fed, cared for and loved. Baby has no control over their environment and so must learn how to get what they need to survive. The physical adaptation is one which baby will know for the rest of their life. It will show up in adapting as best they can to whatever circumstances show up. They cry to be fed, they smile and giggle to get loving attention and they learn very quickly what it takes to make the adults happy.
Baby also has feelings. The child sees what is happening in the family and reacts accordingly. In some families certain feelings are not allowed to be shown. Baby is very observant of what is happening in the family. If baby feels sad and expresses it, mother or father will give baby a message that sad is ok or not ok in this family. Baby quickly learns what they can express and what they need to keep hidden.
For example, in my family, anger was never shown or talked about. If I was angry I learned to keep it to myself. This is confusing to a child who initially believes that they way they feel is what is ok to express. The idea of keeping certain feelings hidden is something the child will not only learn but will use to evaluate all situations whether at home, play or work as to what is ok to express and what must be kept within one’s own heart. This leads to stress within the child’s body which, when young, they do not have the skill of releasing.
We used to say at the company I worked for, “Leave your personal life at home.” We interpreted that to mean don’t talk about your personal pain, or family issues at the office. Feelings were not welcomed when there was work to do. So the adaptation continued wherein feelings and emotions were locked away. The stories of what happened at work and how one felt about them were told at outside parties or with friends with whom we felt safe. In some way we were trying to relieve the stress created by bottling up all the feelings that were felt. They were real but unwanted in the world in which we lived. Our adaptation to what was required at work took a lot of energy to maintain but we learned to do it at what we now know is a huge cost to our emotional and physical health.
Childhood adaptation occurs at the physical, feeling and the thinking levels. We are pretty smart as kids and we soon learn what feelings are ok and not ok to express in the family. As in my case I decided it was not ok to express anger so that emotion went underground. There was no way I would express anger as an adult. First, I didn't think it was acceptable. Second, I had no practice in expressing it in a healthy way.This is Emotional Sensory Amnesia (ESA).
We forget that to express a wide range of feelings is normal. However, our adaptive habitual training leads us to only express those feelings we have learned are on the approved list. The feedback loop between the brain and the feelings is stuck in a particular neural pattern. That means the default is always what we think we know in the moment, not what we have forgotten.
In order to make a change in the neural pattern and therefore a change in our life we need to recognize what is taking place and consciously choose to have a different experience.