13. Understand Your Heart Chapter 13 13. Understand Your Heart Understanding the Emotional Brain / Heart / Unconscious
- Who can understand the heart? - What kind of Processing does the Emotional Brain do? - Is the Heart beyond Cure?
The human mind is our rational, logical source of thinking. The mind processes words - verbal information. Our mind thinks and reasons using language. The unconscious mind orHeart is more visual spacial and stores information in the form of dramas - little videos of important events. These dramas contain significant information that shapes who we are and what we do. The conscious mind needs to coordinate with the unconscious mind and this processing is done when we dream. It also happens during bilateral stimulation - activities that stimulate alternate brain hemispheres. (Note on Bilateral Stimulation and EMDR). We do not learn or function well if dreaming or bilateral stimulation does not happen.
The heart has reason that the mind knows not of, and the Human spirit has reason that the mind knows not of. The mind is not usually directly aware of what is happening at the heart or spirit level of consciousness. The mind cannot control or easily change the core beliefs of the heart or the state of being of the spirit.
In this chapter I will introduce the three processors of the human being - mind, heart, and spirit. The mind and conscious self operates withrational-verbal processing of primarily information in words. The heart - our unconscious self - makes use of analog processing and deals only with experiential information. Our spirit - our core self- does intuitive processing of whatever we perceive in the spirit realm.
2,500 years ago the prophet Jeremiah wrote this, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9. Jeremiah boldly declares that we cannot really understand the heart nor can we fix it. All our efforts at self-change and professional therapy have only demonstrated how profound the prophet’s statement was.
The Bible sees the heart as key to our behaviour, attitudes and motivations. In fact we can have idols in our heart - something whose value in our life is more important than what is loving for all. Psychoanalysis - the Freudian way of thinking about this - speaks of the unconscious mind. Agnes Sanford knew that we needed to work with out unconscious mind to accomplish prayer. She called that part of us with a ‘mind of it’s own,’ ‘Junior.’ She treated the unconscious mind as a child stubborn child that cannot be directly ordered around but that could be cajoled to cooperate with a wise motherly approach. Consider Freud and the Unconscious Freud confirmed Jeremiah’s insight when he introduced us to the ‘unconscious mind.’ This is another way of saying that there are parts of our mind that we cannot know. As Jeremiah said, ‘Who can know it?’
Freud observed that we were not aware of why we did what we did. We sometimes act as if we were under a post-hypnotic suggestion. We follow the suggestion but are unaware of why.
Freud observed what hypnotized people easily rationalize their behaviour when they follow the post-hypnotic suggestion. This behaviour delights audiences while demonstrating that our conscious mind can be unaware of what is really the reason for our behaviour. Freud used the term Unconscious Mind for this lack of knowing of ourselves.
Consider Psychology and the Emotional Brain Psychologists use the term ‘Emotional Brain’ for the unconscious mind (biblical Heart) However, the Emotional Brain is not just about out emotions, it is the unconscious and source of decisions, motivation and the core beliefs that shape our personality.
It has been surmised that the Emotional Brain is, in fact, essential for our decision making capacity. The frontal cortex can be filled with great information but without access to the Emotional Brain it is unable to make simple and safe decisions.
The Emotional Brain is another second processor operating for you. It runs parallel with your rational mind but is far important in shaping your attitudes, motivation and personality.
The third processor is the human spirit. (See Note: 4 - Human spirit.) What kind of Processing does the Emotional Brain do?
The Emotional Brain does analog processing of memories that have been simplified into stories. It handles only information that is personally important to you - events that stir your emotions.All the meaningful events in your life are converted into stories and stored deep in your Emotional Brain (Heart, Unconscious Mind). (Note: Analog processing is deciding what is similar to or like another thing.)
It is the story we made up about past events that we remember not the event itself. The brain is always compressing and storing personal date as a story. Therefore, our story is the best and only summary of the events of our life that we will remember. Our whole life is based on our stories. So that is where our love of stories comes from. Life, as far as the Emotional Brain is concerned is in story form. Our story is what we remember. We are shaped into who we are by these stories - the stores we made up about our life. Our own life is the story we wrote for ourself based on the story material that life gave us. In one sense we are directors of the movie that is our life.
This means that story is the language of the heart and we are tuned to story. We love stories. The heart also enjoys listening to and learning from other stories. When Jesus told parables he was telling stories to our hearts.
The Emotional Brain uses the ‘stories we make up about our life’ as the data to process. From this processing the Emotional Brain shapes our attitudes, motivations, behaviours, world view, and personality. (Note: Our identity is shaped within our human spirit separate from our personality).
Each of our stories has a scene, actors, action, feelings and a meaning already embedded into the story.The meaning or interpretation of each story is conveyed by the plot of the story. Our Emotional Brain knits all these meanings and interpretations together to create our map of life to guide us in our future decisions. These interpretations will shape how we perceive new events and how we will react to them. The older we grow the more fixed will be our interpretations because of the large amount of date we have to support out perspectives.
If something gets our attention, the Emotional Brain quickly scans and processes incoming data and compares it with our existing stories. Which one is this like? When the analog processor finds a match it reacts quickly and forcefully using our stories which imbed perspective and emotion. That is how the Emotional Brain makes decisions. It uses its capacity for analog processing and the network of stories to find a match and reacts with passion based on the result. What does the Bible say about the Heart?
The Bible talks a lot about the heart as the center of motivation and choice. For example, Jesus, Matthew 15:19. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”
The Bible speaks of faith of the heart. In Mark 11:25 Jesus speaks of the ‘faith to move mountains.’ ‘Mountain moving faith’ that works if one does not doubt in their heart.
Faith of the heart for salvation is in Romans 10:9. Paul there says that belief in the heart as a condition for salvation.
Jesus teaches us that forgiveness of our brother from our heart is a precondition to the flow of Heavenly grace and forgiveness.See Matthew 18:21-35. Have you noticed that deciding to forgive is easy, but ridding the heart of bitterness (forgiveness of the heart) is much harder to achieve. (See Footnote 4)
In conclusion, the Bible considers:
Faith of the heart is essential to salvation.
The sin we deal with flows from our unhealed heart.
Heaven hears the language of the heart prayer.
To flow in God’s grace and forgiveness we need to discover the key to forgiveness of the heart.
How Does the Heart (Unconscious/ Emotional Brain) Work? Our stories lock in interpretations and are pre-energized with feeling. Passion and feeling are always part of our Emotional Brain. The decisions made by the Emotional Brain are pre-loaded with passion and energy. Cut off from your heart and you will lack passion. Lack passion and people will not be interested in listening to you.
No one needs to implant an ‘Emotion Chip’ in us. Our ‘emotion chip’ in the stories we remember about emotional life events. As emotional artists we created our world view and then we live out the drama that we wrote. We wrote the play then we act in the play we wrote.
Each story is tagged with an emotional tag filed with emotional experiences with the same emotional tag. So fear has its own file. So does frustration, anger, joy, peace and love. The larger the collection the more it shapes our mood and state of mind. For example, many sad experiences tagged with depression increase our identification of ourselves as depressed and may help generate a depressed mood.
The Emotional Brain scans and processes our stories for common themes and sorts them into different emotional and motivational categories. Dramas that support the same conclusion are compiled together. Like votes, each one supports or strengthens that conclusion.The more votes, the stronger becomes this interpretation of life. That is how our Emotional Brain creates the interpretations, attitudes and perspectives that motivate and guide our behaviour.
The Triple-Processor Brain
Jeremiah’s lamented that the human heart is beyond cure. Is he overly pessimistic? Let me put this in other words.
Jeremiah is reporting on the nature of our three part personality. Our ‘mind’ actually has three processors. Let me list them here: 1. The outer layer is the thoughts, feelings and decisions that we are aware of. This is where our feeling of consciousness comes from. We are conscious of thoughts - usually in word form - and of feelings and conscious decisions. We identify with this conscious ‘adult’ self. When we make an “I” statement, this conscious self is the ‘I.” 2. A second processor (heart) works nonverbally, without words. Information is stored in little stories about events. Information here is experiential - based on experience. Our life is compacted into stories with messages/perspective to live by. Our ‘event processor’ analyses events and turns them into compact parables. The analysis of the event is the heart’s thinking or perspective on what happened and that ‘truth’ is stored in our parables and heart emotions and decisions are solidly rooted in these story summaries of our life. 3. The third processor (born-again spirit) works intuitively with flashes of insight, wisdom, creativity, guidance, grace, love, peace and joy from above. These resources are available to everyone as God pours out his rain upon the host and the unjust. Those who align themselves with God through love, forgiveness, generosity, worship, connection and listening make it easy and natural to receive these resources.
How do these three processors work together:
1. Our conscious self sets direction in the small scale. 2. The unconscious or heart establishes the life script, personality, attitudes, passions and takes control in emergencies. 3. Our spirit is always active because we are spiritual beings. My spirit exerted a long term influence on my life by keeping me thirsty for God, desiring love, hungry of the real miracles in people’s lives. My spirit tried to draw my attention to the spiritual, the godly, and the supernatural. Is the Heart beyond Cure?
How do we interpret Jeremiah’s statement the Heart is beyond cure? Jeremiah may be saying that the conscious self - the verbal adult us - has little communication with the heart.Is it true that our conscious self has little ability to change the heart? Is that true? Yes it is. 1. Adult thinking is never able to chang the heart. Those stories are based on experience. 2. The only way to change the heart is to change the compact parables that were created to remember our life experiences. You have to convince the experience analyser that there is significant contradictory information to consider. 3. Until recently research always supported the conclusion that long term change of ‘emotional learning’ was impossible to accomplish. This is exactly what Jeremiah said. 4. Now we have discovered ways to get the experience analyser to open up and consider some alternatives. Without this information it is impossible to change emotional learning.But now there is hope.
In summary: Rational thinking is nearly always ineffective in revising the stories that constitutes the heart - our emotional brain. It is a principle that when our conscious mind tries fix our heart, it resists. Emotional learning persists. Here are some examples of this.
Educational approaches to behaviour change seem to be effective for the short-term then ineffective for the long-term. A client reported life with a very rough, abusive, tyrannical husband/father. After the police were called he took a Anger Management Course that was effective as long as he was attending the course. He was very considerate during that period. The shock was how completely he reverted back to being a mean husband when he was no longer attending the course.
My personal experience with self-change is that it is short-lived. Wayne and I had set up accountability after attending a conference on Transactional Analysis. We had a systematic program in place and reported to one another every week. I do not remember the target. I do remember that our efforts lasted about six months.
Some practices are learned from the family and educating the mind change the heart? Can self-change projects succeed? What is your experience? For example, have you ever tried a self-change project on yourself?
Heal the Heart and Free the Inner Child
Our heart was programmed in childhood. This was before we could make conscious choices about our life stories. Our interpretation of events was that of a child. Our Inner Child is going to be the personification of the beliefs and perceptions of our heart but also include the resources of our spirit.
Our Inner Child is going to think based on conclusions made at different times inour childhood. Our Inner Child will not be a logical thinker - more intuitive. Our Inner child will not be a ‘talking head’ but a voice of passion. Our Inner child will not think objectively or with adult abstract thinking because that is not developed in childhood. To our Inner Child all subjective, all is story.
People who spend years of psychoanalysis report increased insight that has very little impact on behaviour patterns. Analysis and insight has little or no impact on the way our Inner child thinks and feels. The initial analysis of the Emotional Brain of our experiences which produced the stories we live by is totally unaffected by adult insight of the conscious self.
The Discovery of Heart-Change
Until recently a total life reset looked hopeless. Miracles of life transformation seemed to be out of reach. The best we could do is suppress a pattern, a behaviour, an emotional connection for a time and reinforce competing responses. But then some light began to shine.
New evidence suggested that change in emotional learning is possible, that our memories (our personal dramas) could change. In the last few decades a reorientation to change occurred in three fields:
1. In Psychotherapy it was discovered that if one did not focus on changing symptoms but rather on understanding the heart belief that was generating the symptoms one was on the path to real change of the heart. 2. In Christian Prayer Therapy it was discovered that unexpected and rapid change could be derived from listening for God’s truth once one knew the heart belief. 3. In Psychology research on emotional learning discovered there were conditions when emotional learning could be erased once one learned how to unlock the memory with the emotional learning.
Within a period of 20 years the initial statement of these breakthroughs had been made and the findings began to enhance the effectiveness of psychotherapies including Christian Prayer Therapy. Christians can reflect on God’s generosity that the riches of these insights were poured out at the same time in three different fields of study.
If we can change the stories recorded in the Emotional Brain then:
Our perspective on life, love and work will change,
Our attitudes can change,
Our painful feelings subside, and
Behaviour patterns disturbing our life can be transformed.
We will talk more about the Healing of Memories and breaking free from old patterns of emotional learning in the next Chapter - Heal My Memories.