Brain Damaged: How Our Parents Screwed Us Up Without Meaning To (by a Neuroscientist)

In the fall of 2005, while listening to Peter Levine’s CDs on Healing Trauma during a solo road trip from Palo Alto, California to Boulder, Colorado, I hardly suspected that I would have a major epiphany. The epiphany was this: I was someone walking through the world with significant brain damage. Not the kind of damage someone might suffer from an automobile accident or a sports injury; but something much more subtle … and sinister.  And that damage profoundly impacted every day of my life – and this is key – mostly without me or anyone else even being aware of it. What I didn’t know about how my brain worked – or in this case, how it didn’t work – was clearly hurting me. And unbeknownst to most of the parents, teachers and clergy at the time, it also hurt many of the kids and families in the neighborhood where I grew up.

Disorganized and Don’t Know It

One way those early experiences hurt me is by significantly reducing my ability to control and constructively channel anxiety on any day. How I mostly managed it was simply by avoiding or leaving situations that made me anxious. And those situations were legion. When I occasionally went, I found most parties and music concerts to be completely overwhelming. I rationalized this incapacity by thinking of myself as “sensitive.” Out in my daily life, if someone raised their voice or got angry in any way, my anxiety levels immediately spiked in response. If I was approached by strangers on the street, they immediately triggered sweaty palms and intense hyper-vigilance. Flying in airplanes filled me with dread that I was forced to place under tight wraps on any flight. Having to apply for jobs was enough to trigger a major life crisis – I once started crying in front of a job foreman after he told me he’d decided to hire someone with more experience than me. In case it isn’t obvious, all these behaviors powerfully impaired my social intelligence, leaving little room for being at ease in the world.

Awakening to What I Don’t Know I Don’t Know

In the wake of that Colorado road-trip epiphany, the question naturally arose: “What might I do to help insure that other kids (and parents) with similar early damaging experiences learn first of all how to recognize them and the potential damage they can do, and then learn how to manage them with greater ease?” I have more or less lived into the answers to those questions: learned how my own brain works and how it might work better; and I’ve especially learned about those things … I don’t know I don’t know. Since then I’ve been conveying that learning to parents, teachers, kids and clergy as best I can here on this weekly blog.

So that’s the genesis of this weekly column, and this is my 200th weekly post without a miss. Over the last three years I would estimate I put in anywhere from eight to ten hours a week researching and writing this column. That totals roughly 1500 hours so far. After I log another 8500, ferreting out Pema Chodron’s  “places that scare me” and writing about them, according to Florida State professor K. Anders Ericsson, I might be able to consider myself a renowned expert.

Where the Rubber Meets the Synaptic Gap

Writing this column is truly a labor of love. I would do it for free if I had to. (Wait, I already DO do it for free! Mostly). Learning about how my brain works often feels exciting, inspires rubber-meets-the-road creativity and frequently makes my brain work better.  I get really amped when I read about scientists like V. S. Ramachandran using a simple hardware store mirror to remedy the suffering of veterans with phantom limb pain. I get equally jazzed when master illusionist Beau Lotto demonstrates how I truly should believe none of what my brain hears and very little of what it sees. I smile in recognition of the brain science involved at the root of innovative programs like City at Peace or Good GRuB or the Reading with Rover program for kids with learning differences. That’s a program that has kids practice reading to non-judgmental “teachers” – the neighborhood dogs!

Do the Math

Another reason I write this column is based on simple statistics: there are currently 38 million households with children under 18 in this country. If parents in all 38 million of those households were savvy about how the brain works and the conditions under which it really rocks, that would be wonderful. But research suggests that getting only 10 percent of those households brain savvy is sufficient to reach a Tipping Point! 3.8 million mothers or fathers is NOT all that many. It might not happen in my lifetime, but it WILL happen at some point down the road. And I’ll go to my final resting place  knowing I made my small contribution. It brings a joyous smile just thinking about it.

Finally, feel free to click here (or here on Amazon) to buy a digital edition of this parenting brain book. Pass it on freely to as many parents as you know and help continue to positively change the brains of 38 million parents in America. It’s an ambitious aim that truly is best for the children …

How Parents Screw us up COVER FINAL 020112

  1. Cristina Fernandez says

    Muchas gracias, me ha gustado mucho. Un beso!!

  2. cataratas says

    I always emailed this blog post page to all my associates, for the reason that if like to read it after that
    my contacts will too.

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