Hard-wired Emotional Circuits in the Brain?  Yep.

Hard-wired Emotional Circuits in the Brain? Yep.

Did you know you have circuits hardwired in your brain associated with specific emotions?  Well, you do.  They are referred to as the affective circuits and there are about six or seven basic circuits depending on who you talk to; that is if you’re talking with neuroscientists and nueropsychologists and such.  While I don’t regularly have conversations with neuro brainiacs I have read and learned about this by attending some CEU courses on the subject.  Two specific courses that provided helpful information were offered by Sandra L. Paulsen, Ph. D.  In this blog I will be referencing some of my learning and some of her work from her book titled:  “When There Are No Words: Repairing Early Trauma and Neglect from the Attachment Period with EMDR Therapy.” 

As stated above neuroscience has discovered seven hard-wired affective circuits that are present at birth and do not require any learning.  You might say they are instinctual or primal.  They intend to help with survival and provide help with information regarding safety, relationships and other basic life functions.  The seven circuits are:

  • Shame (disconnection)

  • Seeking (connected to curiosity)

  • Rage (connected to defensive fight)

  • Fear (connected to defense flight)

  • Play (activates more of the brain than any other circuit)

  • Lust (connected to yearnings and urges)

  • Care (connected to nurturing)

  • Panic (connected to attachment loss)

The ability to regulate and navigate these affects is directly related to the mother-child relationship during early development and become the foundation for emotional and mental resilience.  When a child is in a confused attachment with their primary care giver it makes it very difficult for the child to regulate their emotions.  Instead of learning in a safe and socially engaged way they learn to regulate in an opioid based-way. The brain creates this temporary fix for pain. In the short-term, the opiod based-way is beneficial for distancing from emotional pain, but in the long-term it has devastating affects on the brain-body connection later in life.

In addition to lack of secure attachment, shame can cause similar effects in the shut-down to affects.  Shame based responses such as “I am bad” or “I am unworthy” are ripe for the picking when a child is not provided adequate help in times of distress.  When this is persistent in early childhood and later childhood it sets the individual up for reinforcement of this belief that leads to an overall feeling and sense of inadequacy.  You might say shame is the circuit breaker and keeps one cut off from their emotions.

The hardwiring of the affective circuits become mixed up and shutdown.  It would be similar to driving a car with a dashboard that reads gas-level on the speedometer and the speedometer for the gas-level.  One has difficulty knowing what’s what and often doesn’t even realize their affects are mixed up or shutdown.

In the EMDR protocol developed by Sandra client’s are invited to reset their affective circuits.  It is an opportunity to take and objective look at emotions from a non-emotional stance, thereby increasing one’s ability to stay outside of emotions when they so choose.  Individuals who typically have a hard time knowing their own emotions from someone else often finds this brief work exceptionally helpful at increasing their ability to “stay in their own lane” emotionally.  They don’t feel so pulled into other’s emotional experience.  It can be very freeing.

If you’re interested in learning more about this and would like more information about how to reset affective circuits and resolve early trauma, please reach out to me here.  I offer EMDR therapy in Wayzata, MN.  

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