We Are All Brain Damaged
Written By: Steve Cooper
“Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune.”
The overwhelming majority of people, if not all of us, are brain damaged. While some of us have suffered brain damage in the usual sense of the term, through blunt force trauma or a stroke for example, the rest of the population is suffering from a type of brain damage that is so pervasive and socially systemic it is hardly recognized for what it is. The evidence of the damage is everywhere. If you listen carefully you will find it in the lyrics of songs on the radio, or see it in the drama played out in television shows or movies. If you are perceptive, you will also recognize this damage in the emotional dynamics of your relationships, or observe its patterns in the emotional struggles of family and friends. If you are wise you will recognize it in your own heart and mind. The type of damage I am referring to is not necessarily damage to the hardware of the brain, but to the programming. The popular term used for this damage is Codependence.
We tend to be very good at recognizing the effects of this damage in other people, especially those closest to us. When I am working with married couples it is usually very easy for my clients to give detailed descriptions of the imbalances of their spouses. One may desperately describe his or her partner’s stubborn selfishness, lack of affection, and inability to understand another point of view. Later, the other will describe a sense of being overwhelmed with the neediness and emotional volatility that their partner frequently displays. Each firmly believes that the other is the source of the problem.
While we tend to be more capable of recognizing the instabilities of others, we tend to be very poor at recognizing the effects of the damage within ourselves. Even when our own unhealthy behaviors are pointed out to us, our minds tend to work overtime justifying them as necessary responses to the unhealthiness of others. Our minds provide for us a wide assortment of reality distortions that serve to help us blind ourselves to our own involvement in the creation of our own suffering. The foundational structure of the distortions is a relationally powerless self-concept that was formed when we were actually in a powerless position as children with our caregivers. It is as if the experiences of ourselves in childhood leave a lasting imprint that develops into a filter through which future experiences are interpreted. One example would be a child that experiences the death of a parent at a young age, imprinting the experience of abandonment. It is likely that when the child reaches adulthood he or she will have a difficult time with distance in a relationship, as he or she will still be experiencing the self as a powerless child that is dependent on the stable presence of others for survival. In an adult relationship this individual will likely be experienced as needy, jealous, controlling, or emotionally unstable at any sign of distance or separateness in the relationship.
Another example would be a child that experienced an emotionally volatile parent that imprints a self-concept that is frightened. When this individual is engaging in adult relationships he or she will feel overwhelmed easily and will be hyper-vigilant to signs of emotional instability, quickly “putting up walls” to create the distance that he or she imagines will protect the powerless child within. There are many more emotional patterns that cause functional delays in the maturation of the sense of self, each causing a person to “get stuck” in childhood at least to some extent, and to fail to develop a mature, adult self-concept before reaching adulthood.
It is this damaged framework for self-experience that is at the root of codependent brain damage. It is the goal of therapy to journey deep within the programming of the brain to loosen up the framework of distortions that keeps the self stuck in time. The process of development that follows can be likened to a slave being set free from the shackles of time and then taught how to function in a free world. In future newsletters I will describe exactly how the codependent self-concept works to keep itself in shackles through a process known as recapitulation.
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