I’m fascinated by John Ratey’s book, A User’s Guide to the Brain. Ratey tells us that it’s up to us to make the most of the brains we’re born with. Our genes and our brain do not predetermine our fate unless we allow this. We may be predisposed to anger, overeating or abuse of alcohol, but each time we overcome our particular weakness, we help change the brain. The brain has amazing plasticity, not only when we’re children but throughout our lives!
By viewing the brain as a muscle that can be weakened or strengthened, we can exercise our ability to determine who we become. Indeed, once we understand how the brain develops, we can train our brains for health, vibrancy, and longevity. Barring a physical illness, there’s no reason why we can’t stay actively engaged into our nineties (p. 17.)
In other words, use it or lose it.
All our brains have the same general features that make us human. But each of us develops an “exclusive brain suited to our particular needs” (p. 31.) This exclusive brain has been developed in response to our environment and our experiences.
In the case of early trauma, the brain develops to survive a hostile environment. This ability to adapt allowed the human species to survive warzones and extreme hunger. “The brain is a dynamic, highly sensitive system that may adapt, for better or worse, to almost any element of its environment” (p.6.)
So, what do you and I do if our brains have been shaped by early abuse? First of all, we need to be grateful for our brain’s ability to adapt and allow us to survive. Then it’s up to us to train our brains, as Ratey says, for health, vibrancy and longevity.
When I come to think of it, my own efforts at re-training my brain to feel safe and loved have centered on being physically fit, surrounding myself with caring, decent people and increasing my self esteem by being successful in my work.
Do you have some ways you realize you have changed your brain? What has worked for you to lessen the effects of early childhood trauma?
I’d like to hear from you. Please leave a comment.