Nervous System, Hormonal System, Immune System
In addition to mitochondrial energy and epigenetic influences, in Integral Evolution the nervous system, hormonal system and immune system are crucial for self-regulation.
The nervous system can be divided into organic and psychological parts. The organic part is like the electrical wiring of a house. What then flows through the wires is the psyche. In order for the psyche to develop well as a control system, a good organic foundation must first be created.
The nervous system can be represented organically as follows:
1Table partly based on Porges’ teachings, in: Levine, Language without Words, 2012, p. 136 (Kindle Edition)
Here once again the doctrine of the three brains already mentioned is revisited. Humans have a whole range of options for action at their disposal, but they interact predominantly through social communication and only in emergencies through fight, flight or stagnation (playing dead). The use of the myelinised vagus system normally blocks excessive impulsive reactions such as fight, flight or stagnation.
The nervous system is also responsible for the basic ability of humans to sense themselves and the environment in general. Without a well functioning nervous system, there is no possibility of a real physical and emotional control over our bodily functions. Self-regulation cannot be achieved like this.
The development of the senses
Accordingly, the development of our senses is very important, and is described in more detail below:2The systematics and effects of persistent early childhood reflexes can be found in the course materials of the annual INPP Germany course.
Basal senses provide:
- muscle tone (posture, directed movement)
- self-perception of the body (proprioception)
From this then develop:
- gross motor skills
- fine motor skills
- bilateral integration (integration of the right and left sides of the brain)
- sensory integration (linking of all senses with each other)
- remote senses: (smelling, hearing, seeing, tasting, touching)
To enable our nervous systems to cope with the development from infant to adult, it makes use of so-called early childhood reflexes. Reflexes are first of all automated actions that are supposed to relieve our brain of thinking in certain situations. But reflexes can do even more.
Ideally, in early childhood early childhood reflexes are active, whereas in adults, adult reflexes are active. The aim of adult reflexes is for us to be able to perform “differentiated, purposeful, programmed energy expenditure, modulated by exercise and learned movement”. The development of adult reflexes goes hand in hand with the development of the neo-Mammalian brain. Mature adult reflexes ensure that the brain is able to permeate the body through the nerve pathways, making the whole body an efficient instrument of our will. But this is only possible when early childhood reflexes have developed into fully mature adult reflexes, which is the exception rather than the rule today.
The consequences of persisting reflexes from early childhood.
If early childhood reflexes persist, the following symptoms may occur:
- Waste of energy resources (up to 30% more energy than planned)
- Inability to perceive the body and emotions
- Inability to physically express the will
- Inadequate non-verbal signalling system in relationships
- Lack of impulse control
- Lack of confidence in the body
- The feeling of being in a state of deficit because the individual realises that he or she has no control over his or her body.
This means that persistent early childhood reflexes have an indirect effect on our energy balance by unnecessarily squandering considerable amounts of valuable resources.
It should also hnow become clear that it is not possible to achieve healthy emotional development without a base of sufficiently mature reflexes.
Nor is healthy emotional development possible without having proper contact with childhood caregivers. The following quote explains why:
“Newborn babies are not very social; they sleep most of the time and wake up when they are hungry or have wet themselves. After they have been fed, they can look around for a while, create trouble or stare around them, but they will fall asleep again very soon by following their own internal rhythms. Early in life, they are more or less at the mercy of the changing tides of their sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, while their reptiles’ brains are mostly running the show. But day after day, by cooing, mothering and smiling at them, we stimulate synchronicity in the developing myelinized part of the vagal nervous system. These interactions help the baby synchronize its emotional excitement with the environment. The myelinized part of the vagal nervous system controls sucking, swallowing, facial expression and the sounds produced by the larynx. When these functions are stimulated in an infant, they are accompanied by a sense of pleasure and security, which help to form the basis for all social interaction in the future”3Kolk, Bessel van der. The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma (Kindle-Positionens1445-1450) In terms of self-regulation, synchronisation with caregivers and the environment is especially important so that the child can later build a relationship with itself. In the best-case scenario, the relationship with oneself grows in proportion to the detachment from the dependence on the parents. The emotional relationship to close caregivers is called attachment.
There is a biological and a psychological aspect to this bonding: the biological aspect describes the physical contact with the parents. The child feels close to the parents through physical contact, smell and their voices.4Sullivan et al.., Infant bonding and attachment to the caregiver: insights from basic and clinical science, 2011 And psychological bonding takes place, when the caregivers create a spatial and emotional connection to to the child and are accessible and attentive to him.
Bonding is optimally achieved when the child feels loved and secure and self-confidence grows. It will then explore its environment, play with others and behave socially.5Fraley, A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research, 2010 If there is insufficient bonding , the child will react anxiously, will feel unloved and threatened in extreme cases. The feeling of threat to results from the actual dependence on the parents who must feed and protect the child so that it does die. But contact in the sense of a physical and conscious interaction of the child with close caregivers is only one pillar of secure attachment.
The child also synchronizes with the close caregivers through emotional symbiosis. I agree with the psychotherapist Franz Rupert, who assumes that the symbiotic process already begins in the womb: “Not just what the mother eats, whether she drinks alcohol or smokes, all her emotional moods are also reflected as stimulation patterns in the child’s organism and these shape its basic psychological structure”6Ruppert, Symbiosis and Autonomy, 2017, p.39 Today, however, it is more and more accepted that the first years of life and also the time in the womb could be important for everything that follows. The special influence of the brain in this time period can be explained by the frequency at which it functions up to an age of two years and in adults normally only in the deepest hypnotic periods. 7Lipton, Intelligent Cells, 2006, p. 162 Everything a child experiences until then is anchored in its subconscious. Even the mental condition of the parents at the time of conception has an influence on the development and self-image of the child.8Lipton, µm>Intelligent Cells, 2006, p. 172 As a rule, parents try to positively influence their offspring and raise them in a carefree manner, but their worries, fears and excessive demands still have an effect on the child. This unfortunately leads to at least a certain form of early childhood symbiosis disorder in most people.
The problem is that children want to be held, kept warm, nourished, seen, loved, comforted and supported in many ways by their parents. But this only happens when children feel that the mother is really available, which she cannot be when she is busy with her own worries and traumas. Children who are so insecurely attached to the environment can find it difficult to relate to the environment, because their attention is constantly focused on the mother. In principle, the child must constantly reassure him- or herself whether the mother is still there.9Ruppert, Symbiosis and autonomy, 2017, p.73-74 This kind of symbiotic trauma is fatal for personality development, as a symbiotic trauma does not successfully detach the child from the parents. Unsatisfactory symbiotic needs lead to the negative symbiotic relationship persisting. This means that on the one hand it is not possible for a person to shake off the beliefs and values of his or her parents, and on the other hand, that the mood of the parents and the parental home continues to be felt as if it were the child’s own. Symbiotic traumas prevent individuals from becoming psychologically autonomous, which is of course an important aspect of self-regulation.
As already described elsewhere, it is generally assumed that people will not only grow older, but ideally into adulthood. The age at which adulthood is reached is traditionally between 18 and 21 years. This tacitly assumes that the process of discovering emotional and mental autonomy is complete. However, this is only very rarely the case. “True autonomy means not having to subordinate yourself to anyone and being able to follow your own inner benchmarks.”10Ruppert, Symbiosis and Autonomy, 2017, p.52 Only when this ability is applied in the human system can individuation begin, which on the one hand is a process of detachment and becoming one’s own, and on the other hand a way to reach your own inner core and depth. 11Kast, On my way to becoming myself: Becoming who I really can be, 2015, Kindle Position 80
This shows how closely organic function, emotional and mental maturity are connected. Personality development requires emotional and mental maturity, which in turn is based on the perfect organic functioning of the nervous system.
The hormone system should be seen as being on an equal footing with the executive branch in a political system. Hormones act as messenger substances, independently of their individual tasks in the superordinate sense, ensuring that the body effectively mobilises and uses resources in the event of a threat or energy shortage.
In order to achieve its purpose, nature has also established hierarchies within the hormone system. The most important is the triumvirate of thyroid gland, adrenal glands and gonads. The sex glands in turn subordinate themselves to thyroid gland and adrenal glands, after all, reproduction is the first thing that is inopportune when there is a shortage of energy. If the body itself is not sufficiently equipped with the resources needed for life, the emergency in pregnancy doubles and, if it is a collective energy emergency of the species, also the burden of the community as a whole. In addition to the sex hormones, all other hormones also subordinate themselves to the respective dominance of the thyroid gland or adrenal glands.
There is a short, succinct term for this dominance of the adrenal glands: stress! A term often used, but rarely viewed in the right context. Stress is an objective indicator of the relationship between environmental stress (and one’s own body) and the available energy potential. Stress is “produced” by stress hormones, as these prepare the body for energy conservation in the form of cortisol and adrenaline, resulting in shifts in the entire metabolism.
General Adaptation Syndrome
In 1953, Hans Selye named this phenomenon “General Adaptation Syndrome” as the forefather of stress theory (Introduction to the Teaching of Adaptation Syndrome, 1953). This is divided into three stages, the alarm stage (1), the resistance stage (2) and the exhaustion stage (3). In stage 1 the release of adrenaline and cortisol increases, which decrease again in stage 2, whereas in stage 3 cortisol exhausts itself, since a permanent increase of cortisol leads to tissue destruction and glucose intolerance.12Braun, Pathophysiology, 2017, Kindle-Position 12270 From stage 2 at the latest, thyroid and sex hormones are also regulated downwards. In the case of sex hormones, this happens for the reasons already mentioned, but in the case of the thyroid gland, hypofunction can also be easily diagnosed. Thyroid hormones increase the basal metabolic rate by stimulating the production of heat and energy from glucose, which again makes little sense in times of scarce resources.
Moreover, adaptation syndrome also occurs when mental resources are scarce, because the body always associates external threats with the need to either flee, fight or play dead; this initially mobilises energy and then conserves it. Feelings of fear, insecurity and panic are closely linked to the release of cortisone and adrenaline.
Symbiotic trauma and stress
As a result, negative feelings that originate from symbiotic trauma have devastating effects on the hormone system. The feelings and beliefs working in the subconscious basically lead to the opposite of self-regulation. The adrenal glands are triggered by the nervous system due to feelings of lack of security, fear and panic, which in turn can lead to risky behaviour, bad relationships and decisions, as well as self-sacrifice. After a phase of hyperfunction, the adrenal glands become exhausted. This is the vicious circle in which most people with hormonal disorders ultimately find themselves.
In addition, the cells close off to nutrients during stress.13Lipton, Intelligent Cells, 2006, p. 145 In this respect, psychological problems act as blockades of the energy system and cause the organism under certain circumstances to starve to death when the “troughs” are full.
Conversely, a secure attachment ensures the release of the bonding hormones prolactin and oxytocin in the child. They strengthen the child’s feeling of being in good hands, loved and protected. It should come as no surprise that the stress hormone cortisol, for example, is an antagonist of oxytocin.
Persistent reflexes and stress from early childhood
The connection of early childhood reflexes to our adrenal glands is also particularly treacherous. The two most rudimentary early childhood reflexes (fear-paralysis reaction and Moro reflex) cause paralysis or overactivation of the nervous system. At the same time, however, both reactions are also directly linked to the adrenal glands,14Goddard Blythe, Greifen und Be-Greifen, 2013 so that more adrenaline and cortisol are released when they are activated. Thus, the body is already held in the adaptation syndrome, independently of symbiotic traumas or other external stressors.
A chronic prolonged period spent in the adaptation syndrome (i.e. in stress), on the other hand, does not exactly contribute to the security a person needs in order to gain autonomy.
Parallel development of nervous and hormonal systems
The organic development of the hormone system is also closely linked to the development of the nervous system, in the view of the late Gérard Guéniot15in: Tondelier, From Natural Medicine to a Medicine of the Individual, 2010, S. 48 f. According to Guéniot, hormonal glands reach their peak of development in certain phases of life, and stimulate certain brain areas in a certain order:
- The adrenal glands (3 weeks to 12-18 months) correspond to the development of the left half of the linkic system.
- The first phase of the development of the thyroid gland (18 months to 4 years of age) corresponds to the right half of the linkic system
- The second half of the thyroid phase ( age 4 to 7 years) develops the right side of the cerebral cortex.
- The maturation of the pituitary gland (7 to 12 years of age) finally leads to the maturation of the left side of the cerebral cortex.
- The maturation of the genital glands (12 to 21 years of age) promotes the coordination and harmonisation of all areas of the brain.
In my opinion, like the hormonal system, the immune system has an executive function in the body, if more like a policing role, whereas the hormonal system is more like the regulatory agency. It is responsible for averting dangers that are intended to harm the body. These can be invading germs, but also malignant cells. It is made up of an non-specific and a specific immune defence. The non-specific one consists of physical and chemical barriers (skin, mucus, fever, etc.), the specific is based on the cellular defence of the white blood cells. The non-specific immune defence is present at birth, while the specific immune defence needs to be acquired first. According to Guéniot, this development also corresponds to the developmental peak of certain hormonal glands:
- The adrenal glands (3 weeks to 12-18 months) correspond to the phase in which the child is still protected to a certain extent by the mother’s antibodies.
- The thyroid gland development phase (18 months to 7 years of age) corresponds to the development of specific resistance by coping with childhood diseases.
- The specific immune system only becomes fully functional once the pituitary gland has matured (7 to 12 years of age).
The ability of the body to recognise pathogens also correlates with the ability of the individual to distinguish between themself and the environment, the “self” and the “not self”.
The importance of this distinction for both health and integral development can be seen in next section, where the critical difference between life and survival is discussed once again.
Source of image: IStock, Licence 02.12.18