Prince William and Kate have delightfully announced that they are going to use an ‘emotion coaching’ style of upbringing for their children. They are picking up on John Gottman’s description of mutual responsiveness, which he contrasts with three other relational attitudes towards emotional expression – disapproving, dismissing, or laissez-faire. Brilliant.
I hope the royals will be able to keep themselves free, however, from a modern myth that has built up around the associated work of Dan Siegel, who developed the ‘hand sign’ to suggest ‘emotion regulation’ of the limbic brain by the higher brain (the cerebral hemispheres). The modern myth is that the human limbic emotional brain is a reptilian remnant that needs to be regulated by some ‘shining white knight’ of a rational cerebral cortex. This is a demeaning, misinformation meme. It needs parking in a museum, and observing like a curiosity.
- Reptilian development is a completely different branch of the evolutionary tree to the mammalian development. Reptiles lack a higher brain and make targeted reflex movements from a primitive brain. The human limbic brain is not primitive, and without a higher brain it causes rigidity, not agility. It has developed with its own history, into an integrating network were decisions are made, by weighing emotionally the various personal values affecting social situations. These are totally different processes.
I explain this in my free-to-download ‘Raindrop Essay’ The Doll with Ginger Bunches. That essay’s main points are that [a] our emotions have social communication purposes, [b] the limbic brain primes social feedback loops into the wider world, and [c] secondary feedback loops between the cortex and every part of the limbic system add detail and diversity, but are not the unity of ‘a person’. Here I want to update instead an understanding of the human heart, and raise its priority in human social and spiritual development.
Although many people traditionally put a hand to their chest when indicating this core level of humanity (although some cultures indicate the abdomen), modern neuroscience locates the inner heart of a human being in the limbic system of the brain extending via hormone release into the bloodstream. This coordinates the dynamic chemistry of every one of the millions of cells that constitute the socially messaging and transforming life of the human body.
Before brain scanning, people reasonably believed that the signs of life were:
[a] ‘quickening during pregnancy’, suggesting the foetal body had found its life,
[b] breathing movements, suggesting physical exchange with the environment, and
[c] the heartbeat, suggesting life was moving the body.
Since brain scanning, the legal definition of death has changed from absence of heartbeat and breathing to the absence of brain-state responsiveness to the environment. The person is now thought to be ‘located’ in the brain, not the body. However, the limbic brain’s main role is not to generate emotional feelings and reflexes for the individual’s brain. It is to coordinate the body chemistry and its balanced activity in the social environment by social messaging during times of change. This is how the human heart is manifest in life.
The excessive control-minded materialism of post-scientific societies around the world has distorted human understanding of the purpose of cerebral hemisphere development. The cerebral higher brain diversifies our analyses of what’s going on in life. It presents options via secondary feedback loops into the limbic brain where they are ‘weighed’ against personal values emotionally. Decisive action is thus primed by the human, pre-verbal, inner heart.
The cerebral hemispheres diversify the individual; the limbic brain integrates the human person socially. Diversity-in-unity is thus a feature of sustainable life both internally, and in the external social mixture of a healthy society.
- If you ignore emotional messages, or just try to regulate their behavioural expression without seeing the personal values they evidence, then humanity disintegrates into mentally isolated and socially maladjusted individuals.
- Activating your Emotional Logic instead does not regulate your emotions; it integrates them.
So that is why an emotion coaching attitude is so important for society. It nurtures the inner human heart into the flourishing of humanity. Put the reptilian meme in a glass display cabinet. It is a specimen of human folly.
[Image by FrankWinkler, pixabay.com]