If you’ve had children, you likely recall the phrase, “use your words.” During that stage when they’ve begun talking, but are not yet English fluent, a child will revert to the behaviors that got them what they want. They’ll use the primal techniques that they instinctively knew as infants to communicate their needs, crying being at the top of the list. They’ll point, cry…anything but speak…in an effort to get what they want. In the moment, they cannot find the words to communicate what they want or what they’re feeling.
I can relate. There are times when I find it difficult to express what I’m feeling, what I’m thinking. I’ve researched the brain/body connection enough to know that in stress, our bodies are flooded with Cortisol and our Amygdala, the reptilian brain, takes over. Our Prefrontal Cortex, the rational part of our brain, doesn’t stand a chance. Our Amygdala causes the fight or flight response. It’s what saved us from the tigers. When I’m in a stress situation, I can observe losing my words, I can’t articulate what I’m thinking and if pressed, it only becomes worse.
I’ve started thinking about transformational periods of my life, certain ages where the events shifted how I saw the world, how I saw myself. The one that comes to mind easily is when I was in the hospital for my foot amputation. Overall, I recall that as a benign experience. My adult self recalls wheelchair races and playing with the babies in the ward next to mine. But part of my mind also thinks about the solitude. Being in the hospital with no family around. I don’t remember talking to anyone except the nurses, an occasional doctor and, of course, my parents when they visited. Feelings that arose within me during that time had nowhere to go. You have to be a good girl, behave, follow the rules. Yet, four is an age where your mind is still developing who you are, laying down the track of your foundational memories, thoughts about the world and behaviors.
As an adult, I want to ask that little girl what she would tell me today. The insights she would share, given the time to articulate in words what she was feeling. Through research and wisdom from a teacher, I’m learning that we can go back and ask. The memories are stored within our mind. Neuroscience studies have show that when presented with a narrative of a stressful time, our minds react as if the event were happening in the moment. It stands to reason that our minds can also recall formational memories. The value of understanding what shapes us is using it to create a new narrative. If there were times that told us we had to behave, believe, respond certain ways, there was a reason, but that reason doesn’t necessarily exist today.
Our experiences shape who we are and prepare us for the life we’re living. But we’re not passive participants. We can look back, listen to our inner wisdom, the voice of ourselves at those critical moments in life, and understand that what was true then may not be true now. We’re not required to stay on a fixed road, we can shift.
With the understanding of what our younger self learned, what it has to tell us, we can make different choices. We can calm our reptilian brain and remind it that we’re not escaping from a tiger. We’re no longer in that moment, trapped by flooding emotions. It’s a matter of understanding that experience is in the past and not the truth today. We can articulate what we have to say about the trajectory of our life. And we must. It’s our journey to live, and we’re in it together. Live it boldly, aware of who you are and how you got here. I’m on the path with you.