By Dr. William K. Larkin on November 14, 2011
Over the period of our life time, our task is one of integration of the negatives of the past and present into a greater whole of positivity, understanding and acceptance. That is what the brain is doing as we become more positive. If we are becoming more negative, we can’t do this kind of positive integration. In fact, more dis-integration occurs. In a DownSpiral, we become more distrustful, more negative, narrow and we make choices to close ourselves off from the attachments that are full and healthy. Our attachments become more narrow and integration of the negative into a more positive “whole” can’t happen. And since this integration or wholeness of our experience is a major task of the maturing adult, when it doesn’t happen depression, dis-ease, and a disconnection with one’s self, others, and life is the result.
The left side of the brain, called the left hemisphere, is that part of the brain that remembers negative memories, and it does this very well. It remembers them pretty much in order, like a list, and it remembers the details –but particularly the negative details in a very one-sided way –the way the person wants to remember them. The more negative the memory, the more it is cut off from the right side of the brain, called the right hemisphere. This right hemisphere remembers things differently. It remembers things more as a whole and more in the context in which they happened. It remembers with a wider view or a wider perspective; it gets and sees more of the whole picture. In fact, the right side of the brain can store the greater details of a situation and be shut off from the left side of the brain so that the two recollections and ways of seeing the negative thing or the negative memory are cut off from each other. Putting them back together again is called integration. But experiences can be so negative or painful that they can be “jammed” by the left hemisphere in such a way that they never make it to the other side, so to speak.
The whole process we see in getting older that we call “mellowing” or “softening” is probably this process at work in our lives. Over time, we open up and let the right side of the brain take the wider look and include more of the over-all picture. We understand things differently. We understand that our fathers or mothers or friends came from situations where their lives were difficult, and we understand that people, including ourselves, do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do if they weren't upset or pressured, or just humanly made mistakes once in awhile.
Here is where positivity being is very important. The more we can experience positivity and the UpSpiral and build stronger positive emotions, the more trusting and open we are likely to become. We will let this right side of the brain do its work just as a result of “feeling good.” When we feel better, we let more of the integration happen, even though it can seem negative at first.
Think of it this way. The negative side of the brain keeps track of the negatives in our life and uses them to keep us safe and to warn us from danger –or at least that’s what we think we’re doing as we get hurt in life and think we are “learning” to be more careful. And to some degree that is the case. The right side of the brain is always wanting to give us a wider, more visionary, and what seems like more spiritual or whole view of the world. When we have enough positivity being, we become more secure in looking at and accepting the negative side of things and bring these things into a wider understanding. It is as if the left side of the brain is writing a biography of your life from a very slanted perspective, as though someone other than the whole and integrated “you” were writing about you.
The right side of the brain is autobiographical in the sense that it remembers and tells your story from a wider, broader, more contextual and integrated perspective. Who would you want to write your biography? Someone who knew just the negative part of you as you angrily and selfishly wanted to remember it, or someone who could see the whole of your strengths and goodness, as an autobiography does?
As we grow more of our positivity being, we become more secure in looking at and examining our negative memories and hurts that are significant. These are the ones that re-emerge and tell us where we know we have work to do. They are not a list of insignificant gripes and ranting about how life hasn’t turned out for us like we wanted. It is not a list of senseless, needless, negative whining and griping about one’s self and the world. These are the really significant memories of hurt and disappointment where we have not forgiven ourselves or others, or life in general. We work on this integration but we do not get caught in it. We examine the negative feelings and accept them and ourselves, and accept and forgive others, not blankly, but with understanding and the context that the right brain can give us in the process.
Continuing Education for Coaches
1) Summarize your understanding of hemispheric integration presented in this blog. How have you experienced this paradigm in your own life? What tools have you used to increase this integration? Tell us your story.
2) You are working with a client who reports difficulty with integrating recurring past negative memories. Describe how you would use the research in this blog to coach this client. What coaching tools would you use? Where would you begin with this client? What would be your overall coaching "game plan" with such a client?
For Our Larger Blog Community
1) What have you learned from this blog about integrating negative memories which is new and significant for you? Give us several examples.
2) How will you use the information in this blog to experience negative or difficult memories in a new and more positive way? Tell us your story.