Let me explain. When something happens in the present it triggers off related feelings or memories on lower levels of consciousness—in the unconscious. It is what I term “resonance.” ( It may be that the nerve or neuronal circuits have the same frequency so that when one feels neglected or ignored it sets off memories of the parents neglecting us and we “overreact” to the slight in the present). It seems like an overreaction but it is not; what we are reacting to is just hidden from sight. That same feeling can resonate with being ignored in infancy; (no one comes when the baby is crying in the crib). What seems to be happening is that the synaptic weight of the memory is commensurate with the valence of the very early painful imprint. Each level of consciousness contributes its share to the total feeling that will coalesce to produce a unified, cohesive neuronal circuit, finally offering meaning and power to the event. It is that meaning/power that can drive one to kill when a girlfriend leaves her lover—“I feel abandoned (by mother). I can’t live without her.” Murder is clearly an overreaction but when placed in context we can at least understand it. Think of present-day trigger as a dredge that digs deeper and deeper widening access to the most powerful and remote memories. That dredge goes where the feeling leads it. It seeks out related events associated by feeling.
Although the resonance/frequency connects all the top and lower level circuits the weights of the memory are not the same. The valence of some memories is greater than others and become more powerful as we descend down the chain of feeling to the level of birth memories or even to events in the womb.
The deeper circuits provide the impulsive, importuning force for some of our uncontrollable behavior, forcing us to “overreact”. We will scream and yell or even punch someone. The point is that when we approach the lower levels of imprinted pain we are also approaching the shark brain with all of its possibility for murderous rage. In my experience it is very rare that events in childhood can trigger off anything more than terrible anger and tantrums. In other words, when we start off life with heavy trauma at or before birth our later criminal/psychotic tendencies are given a boost and are better understood. Since those memories are so remote and sequestered we usually have no access to them; thus our current reactions remain a mystery. So something in the present sets off a gathering of these weights on each level which ultimately merge under the rubric of a feeling. The deepest levels of brain organization engender the most heavily weighted memory; it has to be because on that deep-lying level lives our survival mechanisms. On that level lives life-and-death events that require life-and-death reactions, including rage. It is the level we can only arrive at after one has integrated smaller less life-endangering events. The need to be picked up just after birth is primordial. That thwarted—unfulfilled need can turn into rage. Or at least it can be the trampoline that adds volatile fuel to the mix later in life. We can judge from someone’s behavior how deep the memory/imprint is. If there is uncontrolled, rageful, violent behavior we can be fairly certain that very early imprints, often during gestation and around birth, are behind it. In short, anger has levels. The most recent causes would not involve murderous behavior. But when coupled with traumas on even lower levels it can adumbrate into violent tendencies. It is when a current mild event sets off exaggerated reactions that we know how deep the imprinted painful memories go back. And when I discuss behavior it can also encompass symptoms—raging or violent headaches, for example. I had a patient who suffered from migraines. She took aspirins for it, and called these pills her little bullets. It is pretty clear symbolism.
In most current psychotherapies the focus of each session is the act-out of the feeling rather than on the feeling/need itself. This analysis of the by-ways of behavior is an interminable task, skimming the surface reactions. Focusing on the deep internal imprinted reality finally makes it all have sense. The problem is that we cannot approach that deep-lying force with words. We must speak the language encased in our most primitive nervous system. It is for this reason that psychotic rage cannot be treated with conventional psychotherapy. Thus a slight misunderstanding can provoke a massive outburst of behavior. In order to make a dent in our raging behavior we need to delve deep in the brain and its unconscious where the organization of rage gets its start. We can see why it is not a good idea to plunge people in remote and painful memories in psychotherapy because the system is not ready to integrate them. The patient will tumble into overload and the result is a scattered, dysfunctional human being. lost in symbolism. It is also not a good idea to keep all focus on the present when there are icebergs of feelings lying deep ready to disrupt our forward progress. In my patois,severe overreactions are when third line current events set off first-line, brainstem reactions. The feeling may be identical on all levels of brain function but their driving force is quite different. There is no way that a here-and-now behavioral approach is going to solve deep-lying historical tendencies.