Thursday, June 6, 2013

The power in a name

I feel like a river. For years silt has been settling into place on the riverbed, archiving the history of the river, leaving the water more and more clear. But now the silt has been trampled, stirred up, the water clouded again. It will settle again, probably quicker than before. There's enough clarity in the water flowing downstream to ensure that.  But the silt will never settle in quite the same way again.

I'm stirred up by many things. One is that I've just completed 4 days of training in Circle of Security, an attachment-based parenting program. I can't yet capture or articulate everything that it has woken and shifted in me.

One of the pieces of information that stood out was a study on brain imaging. Some researchers put people in an MRI machine and administered a mild electrical shock. The MRI scan showed activity in the amygdala, the 'primitive' part of the brain that deals with fear.

Another group of people were put through the same procedure. But first they were told that when they felt the shock, they should say the word 'afraid' or otherwise express what they felt.

The scans of the second group showed that naming their fear lowered activity in the amygdala. The pre-frontal cortex, the 'thinking' part of the brain was also activated.

So naming your feelings reduces their effect on you, literally. It reminds me of the long-standing notion in mythology that knowing the true name of a thing or of your enemy gives you power over it, or at least removes its power over you. Just look at the tale of Rumpelstiltskin.

This is probably why the 'talking therapies' have such traction in Western cultures. It's one of the beliefs that led me to doing work with people. Helping them name their histories, their hauntings.

I wonder if we've always known the things that science is discovering about humans. We're just finding new ways to talk about them. Does it help to give new names to the things we already know, or are we still searching for their true names?

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