First Chapter Section 7
Here we focus again on the analysis of the left side of the illustration
Notice in the illustration above we discuss pain and numbness as the result of negativity and self deceptions. Daniel Goleman in his excellent book called “Vital Lies, Simple Truths discusses an interesting observation. He says:
“Take, for example, the simple act of looking. Do
we really see what we look at? The best evidence is that we don’t;
instead, we see what we look for.”
Professor Goleman continues:
“Our journey begins, though, at an even more basic level: in the brain’s system for sensing pain. At the neural level lies the cardinal model for the tradeoff between pain and awareness. The brain, as we shall see, has the ability to bear pain by masking its sting, but at the cost of a diminished awareness.”
My thesis, in sum, revolves around these premises:
• The mind can protect itself against anxiety by dimming awareness.
• This mechanism creates a blind spot: a zone of blocked attention and self-deception.
• Such blind spots occur at each major level of behavior from the psychological to the social.
Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has a similar view. He believes the consciousness experiences unpleasant disorders and random drift when not engaged in goal directed actions. He defines anxiety and boredom as a painful sensation experienced by a drifting consciousness that lack motivation and concentration. His simple solution is to train the body through jogging, yoga, martial arts; developing hobbies like woodworking, painting, or playing a musical instrument.
Newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to call on Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and asked the older man why he was learning Greek (at his age). “To improve my mind, young man,” said Justice Holmes.
The way all these activities work is through a rigorous demand for focus attention, heightened concentration, and preventing disorder in the consciousness. Majority of the thoughts that come to our minds when not concentrating on an activity or working are depressing. There are more bad things in our lives than good ones. Negative possibilities always outnumber the positive ones. Professor Csikszentmihalyi believes, as part of evolution and adaptation, by dwelling on unpleasant possibilities, we might be better prepared for the unexpected. When the mind dwells on something negative, it creates conflict in consciousness. Depression, anger, fear, and jealousy are simple manifestations of such conflict. While negative feelings last, they take over our minds and sap the motivation.
We are all born motivated, is what we perceive to be true but isn’t and what we believe falsely that kills the motivation.
According to Dr. Goleman, the process of self-deception is a protective mechanism for survival of mind or brain. According to Jean-Paul Sartre most people live with “false consciousness,” pretending even to themselves that they are living in the best of all possible worlds. Professor Goleman actually shows that brain produces a neurochemical that has a numbing effect on brain (to reduce the pain) that effects dimming of awareness and reduction in attention. This seems like a vicious circle; skewed attention or skewed perception brings pain which induces a chemical that has numbing effect which dimes the awareness or reduces the attention.
Jack Kornfield adds:
Contemporary society fosters our mental tendency to deny or suppress our awareness of reality. Ours is a society of denial that conditions us to protect ourselves from any direct difficulty and discomfort. We expend enormous energy denying our insecurity, fighting pain, death, and loss, and hiding from the basic truths of the natural world and of our own nature.
Dr. Bhante H. Gunaratana in his excellent book called Mindfulness in Plain English explains : One popular human strategy for dealing with difficulty is autosuggestion: when something nasty pops up, you convince yourself it is not there, or you convince yourself it is pleasant rather than unpleasant.
Dr. Bhante continues:
When you are having a bad time, examine that experience, observe it mindfully, study the phenomenon and learn its mechanics. The way out of a trap is to study the trap itself, learn how it is built. You do this by taking the thing apart piece by piece. The trap can’t trap you if it has been taken to pieces. The result is freedom.
The purpose of this book is to teach new observation and listening skills, spiritual meditation, praying, and other techniques to stop this vicious circle and to transform your mind from the left side of the illustration above (numbness and depression) to the right side of the illustration above. Of course the right side creates a friendly or virtuous circle. The better the observation or perception, the more heightened attention and need for removing uncertainty, challenge seeking and vice versa.
The reader should also know that the right side of illustration also function based on similar conditions. Intrinsically motivated behaviors are also aimed at establishing certain internal conditions that are rewarding. These conditions are related with the needs of the brain and may be sought in order to avoid or reduce threats to the functioning of the brain. These threats to functioning may be of creative needs. Indeed, when people are free from the intrusion of drives and emotions, they seek situations that interest them and require the use of their creativity and resourcefulness. They seek challenges that are suited to their competencies, that are neither too easy nor too difficult. When they find optimal challenges, people work to conquer them, and they do so persistently. In short, the needs for competence and self-determination keep people involved in ongoing cycles of seeking and conquering optimal challenges.
Chronic pain harms the brain
CHICAGO — People with unrelenting pain don’t only suffer from the non-stop sensation of throbbing pain. They also have trouble sleeping, are often depressed, anxious and even have difficulty making simple decisions.
In a new study, investigators at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine have identified a clue that may explain how suffering long-term pain could trigger these other pain-related symptoms.
Researchers found that in a healthy brain all the regions exist in a state of equilibrium. When one region is active, the others quiet down. But in people with chronic pain, a front region of the cortex mostly associated with emotion “never shuts up,” said Dante Chialvo, lead author and associate research professor of physiology at the Feinberg School. “The areas that are affected fail to deactivate when they should.”
They are stuck on full throttle, wearing out neurons and altering their connections to each other.
This is the first demonstration of brain disturbances in chronic pain patients not directly related to the sensation of pain. The study will be published Feb. 6 in The Journal of Neuroscience.
Chialvo and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of people with chronic low back pain and a group of pain-free volunteers while both groups were tracking a moving bar on a computer screen. The study showed the pain sufferers performed the task well but “at the expense of using their brain differently than the pain-free group,” Chialvo said.
When certain parts of the cortex were activated in the pain-free group, some others were deactivated, maintaining a cooperative equilibrium between the regions. This equilibrium also is known as the resting state network of the brain. In the chronic pain group, however, one of the nodes of this network did not quiet down as it did in the pain-free subjects.
This constant firing of neurons in these regions of the brain could cause permanent damage, Chialvo said. “We know when neurons fire too much they may change their connections with other neurons and or even die because they can’t sustain high activity for so long,” he explained.
‘If you are a chronic pain patient, you have pain 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every minute of your life,” Chialvo said. “That permanent perception of pain in your brain makes these areas in your brain continuously active. This continuous dysfunction in the equilibrium of the brain can change the wiring forever and could hurt the brain.”
Chialvo hypothesized the subsequent changes in wiring “may make it harder for you to make a decision or be in a good mood to get up in the morning. It could be that pain produces depression and the other reported abnormalities because it disturbs the balance of the brain as a whole.”
He said his findings show it is essential to study new approaches to treat patients not just to control their pain but also to evaluate and prevent the dysfunction that may be generated in the brain by the chronic pain.
Chialvo’s collaborators in this project are Marwan Baliki, a graduate student; Paul Geha, a post-doctoral fellow, and Vania Apkarian, professor of physiology and of anesthesiology, all at the Feinberg School.
For more information on Dante Chialvo visit: www.chialvo.net/index.html
This is a brain image showing in orange/red one area of the brain where the natural painkiller (opioid) system was highly active in research volunteers who are experiencing social rejection. This region, called the amygdala, was one of several where the U-M team recorded the first images of this system responding to social pain, not just physical pain. Studying this response, and the variation between people, could aid understanding of depression and anxiety. Credit: University of Michigan
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," goes the playground rhyme that’s supposed to help children endure taunts from classmates. But a new study suggests that there’s more going on inside our brains when someone snubs us – and that the brain may have its own way of easing social pain.
The findings, recently published in Molecular Psychiatry by a University of Michigan Medical School team, show that the brain‘s natural painkiller system responds to social rejection – not just physical injury.
The team, based at U-M’s Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, used an innovative approach to make its findings. They combined advanced brain scanning that can track chemical release in the brain with a model of social rejection based on online dating. The work was funded by the U-M Depression Center, the Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research, the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, the Phil F Jenkins Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.
They focused on the mu-opioid receptor system in the brain – the same system that the team has studied for years in relation to response to physical pain. Over more than a decade, U-M work has shown that when a person feels physical pain, their brains release chemicals called opioids into the space between neurons, dampening pain signals.
David T. Hsu, Ph.D., the lead author of the new paper, says the new research on social rejection grew out of recent studies by others, which suggests that the brain pathways that are activated during physical pain and social pain are similar.
"This is the first study to peer into the human brain to show that the opioid system is activated during social rejection," says Hsu, a research assistant professor of psychiatry. "In general, opioids have been known to be released during social distress and isolation in animals, but where this occurs in the human brain has not been shown until now."
The study involved 18 adults who were asked to view photos and fictitious personal profiles of hundreds of other adults. Each selected some who they might be most interested in romantically – a setup similar to online dating.
But then, when the participants were lying in a brain imaging machine called a PET scanner, they were informed that the individuals they found attractive and interesting were not interested in them.
Brain scans made during these moments showed opioid release, measured by looking at the availability of mu-opioid receptors on brain cells. The effect was largest in the brain regions called the ventral striatum, amygdala, midline thalamus, and periaqueductal gray – areas that are also known to be involved in physical pain.
The researchers had actually made sure the participants understood ahead of time that the "dating" profiles were not real, and neither was the "rejection." But nonetheless, the simulated social rejection was enough to cause both an emotional and opioid response.
Suffering slings and arrows differently
Hsu notes that the underlying personality of the participants appeared to play a role in how much of a response their opioid systems made.
"Individuals who scored high for the resiliency trait on a personality questionnaire tended to be capable of more opioid release during social rejection, especially in the amygdala," a region of the brain involved in emotional processing, Hsu says. "This suggests that opioid release in this structure during social rejection may be protective or adaptive."
The more opioid release during social rejection in another brain area called the pregenual cingulate cortex, the less the participants reported being put in a bad mood by the news that they’d been snubbed.
The researchers also examined what happens when the participants were told that someone they’d expressed interest in had expressed interest in them – social acceptance. In this case, some brain regions also had more opioid release. "The opioid system is known to play a role in both reducing pain and promoting pleasure, and our study shows that it also does this in the social environment," says Hsu.
The new research holds more importance than just pure discovery, note the authors, who also include senior author Jon-Kar Zubieta, M.D., Ph.D., a longtime opioid researcher. Specifically, they are pursuing further research on how those who are vulnerable to, or currently suffering from depression or social anxiety have an abnormal opioid response to social rejection and/or acceptance. "It is possible that those with depression or social anxiety are less capable of releasing opioids during times of social distress, and therefore do not recover as quickly or fully from a negative social experience. Similarly, these individuals may also have less opioid release during positive social interactions, and therefore may not gain as much from social support," Hsu theorizes.
If nothing else, perhaps knowing that our response to a social snub isn’t "all in our heads" can help some people understand their responses and cope better, Hsu says. "The knowledge that there are chemicals in our brains working to help us feel better after being rejected is comforting."
More information: Molecular Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1038/mp.2013.96