Are Emotional Imprints on the Brain
Responsible for "Road Rage"
and Other Irrational Behaviors?
By Olive M. Pemberton, Ph.D.
Our culture has long believed that a baby does not remember - and is not affected by - its birth and treatment during babyhood. More recent knowledge says the exact opposite is true. Subtle feelings and emotions of the fetus and newborn are being actively studied in universities in many parts of the world by doctors, neurobiologists, child pshchologists and psychiatrists, and parents. Results are a greater understanding of emotional development in the womb, infant, and early overall growth patterns in a child's brain.
As stated in a previous article, we are born with approximately 100 billion brain cells. We will not get any more than this. However, by age ten, we need to have 1500 connections made to each of these cells. Connections are determined by our earliest experiences, some of which are made during pregnancy, that affect our emotions. Networks formed by connections of the cells are most crucial during pregnancy and to age four, creating a strong foundation for our emotions and learning capabilities.
Definition of Emotional Intelligence
In his book, "Emotional Intelligence", Daniel Goleman says that emotions, not IQ, may be the truest measure of human intelligence. A person in the business world who may have great technical skills, but lacks good relations with co-workers, may be too rigid and controlling, or be unable to take directions from upper management. This kind of person is out of touch with the true range of skills and abilities that matter for life over and beyond cognition.
The term "emotional intelligence" describes qualities such as "understanding one's own feelings, empathy for the feelings of others, and the regulation of emotions in a way that enhances living." It is a sense of self-awareness, of being smart about what we feel as situations occur.
How often have your opinions been ignored before you could sense how sad, angry, or humiliated this makes you feel? When you finally recognize your feelings your emotional reaction may be out-of control resulting in rage or deep depression due to their prolonged suppression.
As an example - a former client of mine had the problem of feeling "road rage" while driving. This especially occurred when another car cut in front of my client. The rage would be immediate and intense. A chase of the culprit would take place, putting self and family members in danger, as well as people in surrounding cars. The client finally realized that endangering lives of so many other people was not acceptable behavior, nor a God-given right. However, there was still the belief of a right to hang onto the rage.
Dr. Joseph LeDoux describes the difference between feelings and emotions that his research has proven. "Feelings" are a conscious experience, while "emotions" originate from deep within the brain at an unconscious level.
My client did not have a sense of self-awareness - of being smart about what was being felt in this kind of situation. Therefore, we had to go back to fetal and infant experiences where learning happened, which indicated that beginning emotions had to be suppressed in order to survive. This prolonged pattern could no longer be controlled, so new ways of being and new beliefs had to be learned for mature emotional responses to occur.
Two Major Emotions
The development of emotions begins during the third month of pregnancy. This is when primary emotions start to be formed in the nervous system. For me, the primary emotions are "love" and "fear". All others-such as joy, pleasure, empathy, compassion, trust, resentment, anger, anxiety, stress, depression, etc.-are branches off these two trunks of the same tree.
Building Blocks for Our Emotions
During pregnancy, living experiences for creating positive connections in the brain of the growing embryo and fetus may be -
way to heal themselves, vowing that "the buck stops here" that any negative family patterns will end with them and not be passed on to their children.
When I encourage parents to talk, sing, and play music to the embryo and fetus during pregnancy, I am not suggesting that an only benefit is that baby may be able to speak quicker and know more words after birth, which are left-brain activities. A very important purpose of this kind of attention is to let the expected infant know it is wanted and is loved -which starts the development of "self-esteem", a right-brain function. In other words, we need to be concerned about developing both sides of the brain simultaneously in order to have a fully-functioning individual.
The development of fear in the womb, which results in negative brain connections can be caused by-
Emotional Imprints on the Brain
It is important to remember that every thought of the mother is heard by the body regardless of what emotion is being expressed - the body hears it. The fetus, being part of the mother's body, experiences it through the mother's cells and her amniotic fluid which physically nurtures the fetus. This being the case, it behooves the father to be supportive and cooperative with his wife during these crucial months so as not to cause additional stress for her.
Even the mother's nutritional intake, viral infections, or state of mind caused by hormonal changes which may produce severe anxiety, can and will affect the emotional well-being of the fetus.
In his book, "How to Raise a Human Being", Dr. Lee Salk suggests that emotional imprints left on the child from its experiences in the womb -and during the first three years after birth - creates a foundation for behavioral patterns on which all future responses are determined, including feelings, thoughts, and actions.
After a presentation to a high school class about the developing brain and emotions, one of the students shared the following story with us:
During the seventh month of growth in her mother's womb, mother went to a "rock" concert. The extremely loud noise and off-beat rhythm of the music was so frightening and disturbing to the fetus (our now young student) that there was almost a premature birth right there at the concert. Instead, mother was rushed to the hospital. After several days of quiet nurturing mother was able to carry this child full-term. However, she was warned that she had to maintain a peaceful harmonious environment for the duration of the pregnancy. The student wanted her classmates to know the information I was sharing with them was valid, accurate, and important.
So, on that note, I repeat, "all emotions" - healthy or unhealthy - begin developing in the womb. "Healthy emotions" are the basis for all our learning of life skills and social skills. Are you in tune with your emotions? Are they the kind you would want to pass on to your child?
In my next article I will discuss the birth process and baby's first day to go home. This is an exciting and traumatic emotional experience for the entire family, but especially for the baby.
Your responses to and questions about any of the above information can be sent by e-mail to - firstname.lastname@example.org , or mail to Awareness Publishing Group, Inc., 5011 Argosy Ave. #3, Huntington Beach, CA 92649. My thanks to you who have expressed your interest, concerns, and questions.
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