From “Scattered” to One-Hundred Percent

Michelle & MarkThe Sarah Peyton/Dan Miller NVC workshop earlier this month, presented by RMCCN through the initiative of Susan Jennings, was a huge success, and incredibly, powerfully transformative. Many of us were impressed with the exercise in giving 100%, no more, no less. This reminded me of the NVC Tree of Life, how we learn to stand tall and straight, grounded in our own authenticity, not leaning forward to rescue others, nor leaning back in avoidance. It was a new way to think about it, and it did get me thinking.

What is my 100%? What does it look like?

Showing up in the world with my 100% means being a responsible adult. Ironically, that also brought to my awareness that I have a core belief, which is that being a responsible adult is all about carrying a burden. It’s all about “shoulds” and “have to’s”. So there is a clear obstacle for me if I want to show up 100% as a responsible adult, but I have a core belief that being a responsible adult means I can’t be authentically who I am. How do I reconcile these polarities?

Sarah mentioned another book by Gabor Mate, titled Scattered. It’s about ADD. His books have been recommended by people I’ve met in NVC, and I read his other book In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts about 6 months ago. It’s about addiction. It’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in a long time. He’s really brilliant, not only the things he writes, but the way he writes.

It helps me a lot to understand that any dysfunctional behavior I have isn’t a moral failure, it’s simple neural wiring. I think it makes a big difference to take the moral judgment out of it, understanding that the way people behave often isn’t based on choice.

This new book I’m reading, Scattered, is also very good. It’s fundamentally the same premise — that ADD, like addiction, is a combination of genetic predisposition and environment in early childhood development. He says that often people with ADD have a “sluggish motivational system.”

I was saying to David Steele recently (before I read this book) that I often have an experience where I’ll think about something I want to do, but have to slog through a long quagmire of fear and resistance before I can even take the first step. I’ve tried to understand why this is so and have mostly focused on the stories I tell myself which reinforce the fear and resistance, but now I’m understanding that it may also be my brain chemistry.

I would say that about 80% of the time I am filled with dread. I haven’t talked about it with other people because I thought it was normal. I thought everyone felt that way and just pushed through it, and that I was somehow morally weak because I struggle to push through it.

It was so obvious to me when I read this book what’s actually going on inside my brain. Instead of bathing my brain in dopamine, seratonin, norepinephrine, endorphins, and other feel-good chemicals, my brain is more often short of those chemicals and instead bathing in cortisol, which is the fear chemical. I think the brain chemistry is what triggers the stories and then they just feed each other.

I don’t think it’s hopeless, but it definitely helps to understand what’s fundamentally going on so I can address the actual source of what blocks me. NVC has helped me to navigate my inner world and helped me develop my “empathy brain,” which is the pre-frontal cortex, an important part of this process. But I need to address the brain chemistry as well.

Here’s a sample excerpt from the book:

“The growth of dopamine-rich nerve terminals and the development of dopamine receptors is stimulated by chemicals released in the brain during the experience of joy. Happy interactions generate motivation and arousal by activating cells in the midbrain that release endorphins, thereby inducing a joyful, exhilarated state. They also trigger the release of dopamine. Both endophins and dopamine promote the development of new connections in the prefrontal cortex. Dopamine released from the midbrain also triggers the growth of nerve cells and blood vessels in the right prefrontal cortex and promotes the growth of dopamine receptors. A relative scarcity of such receptors and blood supply is thought to be one of the major physiological dimensions of ADD.”

“Emotional interactions stimulate or inhibit the growth of nerve cells and circuits by complicated processes that involve the release of natural chemicals. To give a somewhat simplified example, when “happy” events are experienced, endorphins — “reward chemicals,” the brain’s natural opioids — are released. Endorphins encourage the growth of nerve cells and of connections between them. Conversely, chronically high levels of stress hormones such as cortisol have been shown to cause important brain centers to shrink.”

It’s unfortunate that the diminished capacities only end up re-enforcing themselves, leading to frozen states like hopelessness, depression, and despair, instead of the ability to find optimistic creative solutions to problems, and the motivation to take action and implement them.

What I’m coming to realize is that for me, 100% means that I develop my conscious awareness about what is happening inside me and how that affects my thoughts, feelings, actions, beliefs, relationships, and interactions with the world. It’s challenging, but what I’m learning more than anything else is that what I feel is just what I feel. It triggers a story that tries to explain the feelings, but due to early childhood development, abuse, and developmental trauma, my brain hard-wired itself for fear and limited dopamine receptors. Being aware of that creates a gap between my emotions and what I feel in my body (a depressive, heavy weight on my chest) and the story I tell myself (that I am helpless), recognizing that the emotions and bodily sensations do not actually tell me the truth about reality.

In that way the gap allows me to choose a new story, one in which I am an authentic responsible adult and not a helpless frightened child. In every moment, my 100% means choosing the new story and building the new neural pathways instead of the old.

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