A patient named Karen was being interviewed after an operation that split off the right from the left hemisphere of her brain. It was done, as it has been for decades, to cure severe epilepsy. The corpus callosum, the thick bundle of fibers connecting the two halves of the brain, is severed.
“What are you doing?” asked the doctor, shocked to see Karen’s left hand unbuttoning her blouse. “Oh my goodness,” said Karen, and she fastened the buttons again with her right hand. But the left hand followed along and just unbuttoned them once more. The doctor called his colleagues and said, “Hey, we’ve got a problem here.”
Split Brain = Split Awareness
I heard this reported on NPR, but it goes back to Nobel Prize winning work done by Roger Sperry in the fifties. In most people, the left brain controls the right side of the body, and the right brain, the left side.
By studying people who had undergone this “split brain” operation, Sperry proved that the two hemispheres had distinct jobs and even quasi-distinct consciousnesses. Sever their connection, and you often get a “secret self” that can and does do things, but cannot speak about them.
So what’s that got to do with family constellations, with recovery from personal and/or ancestrally inherited trauma? Well, actually, quite a lot.
Right-Brain Left-Brain Differences
Your right brain is the primary storehouse of implicit and procedural memories. You ride a bicycle, but could in no way explain how. Explaining how, counting, learning through conscious generalizations, and also time-dating experiences in your internal life story? That all happens only in the left brain.
Normally, left brain is your “controlling consciousness.” But wait, don’t you also very often experience seriously competing inner perspectives? Some of which, if you thought about it, align with certain patterns of more and less hopeful, positive outlooks on the world? And doesn’t this happen most often around certain kinds of circumstances?
For example, don’t you somehow know you deserve good health, spirituality, livelihood, and love life? But what do you see happening all too often? Some part of you, some darker perspective, arises with anxieties and negative projections in one or two of these areas, and says “oh, but it never happens that way for me.”
And then the boyfriend or life partner you attract doesn’t work out. Your boss or own business is a trial instead of a triumph. Here you are doing your best to “button up your blouse,” and are some of what you just think of as competing outlooks in you--are they coming along right after and “unbuttoning it”?
Left Brain Goes Offline in Stress or Trauma
To see that this is in fact the case, take a look at modern neurobiology. Simplified only just a little, what happened to you in situations of repeating stress or threatening overwhelm creates a kind of partial (or not so partial) split brain experience. As Dan Siegel explains in MINDSIGHT (a great book), your left brain is taken off-line in these experiences. It’s not working.
That means the raw, implicit, right brain memories accumulating during them are not processed to become explicit, autobiographical, time-dated recollections in your conscious life. They are never marked as “over.”
So when things happen even vaguely similar to what stressed or traumatized you, your dominant consciousness is fed past tense pain which it interprets as happening in the present.
Your left brain sees what is actually OLD darkness and failure starting to engulf you in the NOW. In a weird way, it’s history to the right brain, but brand new to the left. Experiencing that, you suffer.
And you behave in unproductive or helpless or hostile ways not appropriate to what’s really happening. This, as most of you know, tends to create again the very trouble you experienced in the past.
Stress & Trauma Leave Disconnections
Between Your Left and Right Hemispheres
Is that too much to grasp? I hope not. But let’s cut to the chase here. Bottom line, what this not surgically split, but still trauma-disassociated brain generates are “secret” personality parts. They are stuck in your right brain.
And they try to unbutton whatever it is you’re trying to button up.
They are like lost, separate selves with wounded, self-defeating agendas. So, therapeutically, one obvious move is to personify them in constellations of your “inner family.” In fact, they behave exactly like a dysfunctional family and were created very often by dysfunctional birth or ancestral families.
Inner Family Constellations Reconnect Them
Treating these fragments of self with the respect due to persons, putting them in different chairs or positions in constellations, giving them names, lending them your ability to speak--this puts your left brain into safe, conscious dialogue with covert, damaged, right brain expectations that otherwise blindside you.
In fact, over the years, this is what Karen had to do. Name that right brain self, understand it’s motives, and make deals with it. But you never had the epilepsy operation. You can do more. Internal family constellation work can help you heal and integrate the fragments into one wholly functional self.
So this is why I include "inner family" constellations in my toolkit. And you can experience this get a sense of your own personality parts a special price till Sept 9th.
(see http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-12225163 for more about Karen)
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Karen and the Alien Hand--Why I Do Inner Family Constellations
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Five Facts About Personal and Ancestral Trauma