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 recognized as 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, In an unspoken Voice, 2012, p. 136 (German Kindle Edition)
Here, the doctrine of the three brains (triune brain theory) already mentioned is revisited. Humans have a whole range of options for action at their disposal but properly evolved humans interact predominantly through social communication and only in emergencies through fight, flight, or freeze (playing possum). The use of the myelinised vagus system normally blocks excessive impulsive reactions such as fight, flight, or freeze.
The nervous system is also responsible for the basic ability of humans to sense themselves and the environment in general. One of the functions of the nervous system is to map the body from within and to map the world outside and to give meaning to what it finds. 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 without proper mapping of our lives because the body literally doesn’t know what is what.
The Development of the Senses
Our senses collect information for mapping. Therefore, their development is crucial. See more details 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)
- balance (vestibular system)
- 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 neonatal reflexes. Reflexes are first of all automated actions that are supposed to relieve our brains of thinking in certain situations. But reflexes can do even more.
Ideally, in very early childhood, neonatal 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”. In other words: to maximize our human potential wasting as little energy as possible. 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.
Some consequences of persisting neonatal reflexes:
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 signaling 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 subconsciously realizes that he or she has no control over his or her body
- Problems with the basal senses, and subsequently with all skills that depend on them (see list above)
This means that persistent neonatal reflexes have an indirect but substantial effect on our energy balance by unnecessarily wasting considerable amounts of valuable resources.
It should also now become clear that it is not possible to achieve healthy emotional development without a base of sufficiently mature reflexes. Our psychological development away from mother (separation) depends on the physical development of the nervous system. The transition from neonatal reflexes to adult reflexes should be completed at about 12 months of age, enabling the child’s shift from baby to walking.
A healthy psychological development starts with emotional merging with mother in infancy (symbiosis), evolves into emotional autonomy at 21 years of age (ability to have mutual emotional connections and to self-regulate), and proceeds with higher mental stages of development that truly allow individuality (individuation) afterward.
The child synchronizes with 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”3Ruppert, Symbiose und Autonomie, 2017, p.39 Today it is more and more accepted that the first years of life and also the time in the womb could be critical for everything that follows. Children’s brains operate at a highly receptive frequency up to an age of two years that adults normally only dwell on in the deepest hypnotic states. 4Lipton, Biology of Belief, German ed., 2006, p. 162 Children literally download and anchor emotions, thought patterns, moods, and mannerisms from their surroundings into their 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.5Lipton, 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.6Ruppert, Symbiose und Autonomy, 2017, p.73-74 This kind of symbiotic trauma is fatal for personality development, as a symbiotic trauma does not allow the child to successfully detach from its parents. Unsatisfactory symbiotic needs lead to the persistence of the negative symbiotic relationship. 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.
The core feeling in a symbiotically traumatized person is to have a desperate need that can never be satisfied. In this state, love, attention, commitment, etc. will be expected from others, but can’t be given in return.
The ability to have fulfilling human connections is called attachment.
Contrary to the belief that babies are loving creatures, the following quote explains that babies are instinctual creatures first. They ideally arouse loving feelings in their caregivers who then, in turn, teach children how to love, not just to want or need:
“Newborn babies are not very social; they sleep most of the time and wake up when they’re hungry or wet. After having been fed they may spend a little time looking around, fussing, or staring, but they will soon be asleep again, following their own internal rhythms. Early in life, they are pretty much at the mercy of the alternating tides of their sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and their reptilian brain runs most of the show. But day by day, as we coo and smile and cluck at them, we stimulate the growth of synchronicity in the developing ventral vagal complex (=the neomammalian brain). These interactions help to bring our babies’ emotional arousal systems into sync with their surroundings. The ventral vagal complex 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 safety, which helps create the foundation for all future social behavior.”7Kolk, Bessel van der. The Body Keeps the Score (Kindle-Positionens1445-1450)
The ugly and perhaps unexpected truth about being human is that the experience of love depends on the ability to connect to other humans. Opposed to instinct, attachment is an acquired skill and nothing we are born with.
There is a biological and a psychological aspect to attachment.
The biological aspect describes the physical contact with the parents. The child feels close to the parents through physical contact, smell, and their voices.8Sullivan et al.., Infant bonding and attachment to the caregiver: insights from basic and clinical science, 2011
Psychological bonding takes place when the caregivers create a spatial and emotional connection to the child and are accessible and attentive to him or her.
Bonding is optimally achieved when the child feels loved and secure which is when self-confidence grows. It will then explore its environment, play with others, and behave socially.9Fraley, 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 results from the actual dependence on the parents who must feed and protect the child so that it does not die.
Contact in the sense of a physical and conscious interaction of the child with close caregivers is only one pillar of secure attachment. The quality of the interaction is equally important.
Should parents seemingly “go through the motions” properly, but be absent, secretly annoyed, not enjoying the interaction for whatever reason, the child will end up with a so-called “empty attachment”.
This form of attachment-disruption is just as damaging as open neglect or violence, if not worse. In empty attachment, the child subconsciously links behavior that looks loving to something that doesn’t feel good.
Empty attachment is the rule in our society. It is often hard to detect by the people concerned because they simply lack a two-fold point of reference. First, they often can’t find obvious abuse like open violence in their childhood and therefore assume that their childhood was happy. Second, perverted love and care are all they know.
Empty attachment is so normal that children are entrained to accept whatever care they are receiving from their parents as love. After all, the parents themselves would not know the difference between actual love and empty attachment.
But humans do neither thrive nor develop properly on empty attachment or any other form of attachment-disruption. There will always be a voice calling for symbiosis to be fulfilled with love until it is actually fulfilled with love.
The big question now is by whom. Who will finally silence the nagging voice of unfulfilled symbiosis?
The parents who don’t know how to truly love to begin with?
And is it really a parent’s place (or any substitute on which the parent is projected) to satisfy a grown-up person’s needs?
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, Symbiose und Autonomie, 2017, p.52 It requires the emotional separation from the parents, which on the one hand is a process of detachment and becoming one’s own, and on the other hand a way to reach one’s own inner core and depth. 11Kast, On my way to becoming myself: Becoming who I really can be, 2015, Kindle Position 80
Accordingly, real grown-ups do not need their parents or any substitute (teachers, friends, the society, romantic partners) to pacify their unfulfilled symbiotic needs.
Sadly, on the other hand, people will never even get to really grow up as long as symbiotic needs have not been fulfilled properly.
It is important to know that symbiotic needs literally can’t be satisfied by others when the age in which symbiosis is normal has passed (after the 3rd year of age at the latest). Therefore, one’s parents will not be able to heal the damage if their love comes too late, even if they had miraculously transformed into loving creatures of light. That doesn’t mean that persons with attachment disruption won’t consciously or subconsciously want their parents (or their friends, partners, or society as substitutes) to make it good. Which causes much pain and the above-mentioned delusion that there is something essentially broken in oneself, something that won’t ever be satisfied.
A real catch 22, seemingly.
While it might sound contradictory, the answer to the symbiotic conundrum is still true autonomy. Once physical autonomy is properly integrated, emotional autonomy will automatically become an issue. The concerned individual will feel the drive to separate and individuate. It will start questioning its beliefs and relationships, no matter at which age emotional autonomy starts. Next, the grown-up part that usually exists among the other wounded ego child parts needs to consciously take up responsibility for its wounded “inner children” and parent them to maturity.
This process will likely require some sort of psychological intervention since reconnecting to one’s inner children will reopen the core wound – basically intense panic, anxiety, grief, and survival terror. The person’s facilitator should not substitute for the parent. The client himself will need to reconnect to his fragmented inner children. Otherwise, true autonomy will never be reached. The pain might be assuaged through late outside parenting, but never healed.
The fantastic news is that every human being already has a perfect attachment system built in.12Schwarz et al., The Comprehensive Resource Model, 2017, Kindle position 2654 It only needs to be awakened! While the parents should have unlocked it in childhood, nothing is lost in adulthood. Adults carry the key to awaken their own attachment system within them. And they themselves are the only ones able to use it. Nothing else will work.
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 can be compared with the executive branch in a political system. Hormones act as messenger substances, ensuring that the body effectively mobilizes 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 itself. The most important is the triumvirate of thyroid gland, adrenal glands, and sex glands. The sex glands subordinate themselves to the winner in the match thyroid gland vs. adrenal glands. The thyroid wins if there is enough energy, the adrenals win should there not be enough energy. The sexual glands’ subordination is only a logical consequence. 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 decreases again in stage 2, whereas in stage 3 cortisol exhausts itself, since a permanent increase of cortisol leads to tissue destruction and glucose intolerance.13Braun, Pathophysiology, 2017, Kindle-Position 12270 From stage 2 at the latest, thyroid and sex hormones are also down-regulated. In the case of sex hormones, this happens for the reasons already mentioned. As for the thyroid gland, hypofunction can also be easily explained. 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, the adaptation syndrome also occurs when mental resources are scarce, because the body always associates external threats with the need to either flee, fight or freeze; this initially mobilizes energy and then conserves it. Feelings of fear, insecurity, and panic are closely linked to the release of cortisol 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 constantly triggered by the nervous system due to feelings of lack of security, fear and panic, which in turn can lead to risky behavior, 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.14Lipton, Intelligent Cells, 2006, p. 145 In this respect, psychological problems act as blockades of the energy system and cause the organism to “starve on an empty stomach”.
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 neonatal Reflexes and Stress from early Childhood
The connection of neonatal reflexes to our adrenal glands is also particularly treacherous. The two most rudimentary neonatal 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,15Goddard Blythe, Greifen und Be-Greifen, 2013 so that more adrenaline and cortisol are released when they are activated. Thus, the body may already be held in the adaptation syndrome by persisting neonatal reflexes alone, independently of symbiotic traumas or other external stressors.
A constant state of survival that consequently triggers the adaptation syndrome, on the other hand, does not exactly contribute to the security a person needs in order to gain autonomy. A vicious cycle begins.
In my experience, true adrenal healing in particular and true hormonal healing in general usually fails because of hidden attachment disruption and childhood trauma.
Parallel Development of nervous and hormonal Systems
The physical development of the hormone system is also closely linked to the development of the nervous system, in the view of the late Gérard Guéniot16in: 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 limbic system – this stage corresponds to the truly symbiotic stage.
- The first phase of the development of the thyroid gland (18 months to 4 years of age) corresponds to the right half of the limbic system – this stage corresponds to the time in which the child first starts to move away from mother.
- The second half of the thyroid phase ( age 4 to 7 years) develops the right side of the cerebral cortex – the thyroid gland is also connected to emotional autonomy and the right brain to creativity.
- 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 pituitary helps with the abstraction necessary to understand that it isn’t always about me, the left brain teaches us that we need to adjust to life’s conditions (linear time).
- The maturation of the genital glands (12 to 21 years of age) promotes the coordination and harmonization of all areas of the brain – the genital glands are the true creators; they require the wisdom and integration of all previously mentioned glands in order to truly do what they are meant to do.
I have written a very comprehensive book about the hormonal system called Wege aus der Hormonfalle. Unfortunately, it is only available in German for the moment.
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 a non-specific and a specific immune defense. The non-specific one consists of physical and chemical barriers (skin, mucus, fever, etc.), the specific one is based on the cellular defense of the white blood cells. The non-specific immune defense is present at birth, while the specific immune defense 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 recognize 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 the next section, where the critical difference between life and survival is discussed once again.
Source of image: IStock, Licence 02.12.18