Today, I wanted to look at the left and right brain’s role in the healing process for ourselves, why both are needed, and how to know which is which and discuss when it may be appropriate to use one or the other, or both! I would ask if at the bottom of this article you could share your experiences and learning in regards to this topic and how it relates to you, as I’m sure we can all learn and benefit from each other’s life experiences and perhaps enhance our own journey with this.
In sharing what I have experienced I will say that this encompasses my own life, and also the lives of others I have come in contact with through my work and life. I have come to learn what has worked or not for me so far, and also the many clients that I have come in contact with. Whilst the terminology used here is of course not mine the model I will present on the parts of the brain and how they function in our healing are the connections and associations that I have found to be accurate and applicable in healing work.
First things first… how is the left and right brain represented in thoughts, feelings and behaviours?
The Left Brain – “I know exactly who I am”, I am order, I am logic
The left brain is represented by our conscious mind ‘everyday’ level of awareness… It is related to thoughts, logic and thinking intellectually. It thinks in ‘parts’ and follows things linearly and sequentially. It is unemotional, and is somewhat more objective and detached in it’s perspective on things. It has a sense of boundaries – where do I start and stop, where do things begin and end, where do I stand in relation to this etc, it is like a container which holds a space for experiences without getting caught up in them. I will call this the ADULT SELF.
The Right Brain – “I am everything I wanted to be”, I sense, I feel
The right brain is represented by our sub-conscious mind. It is related to emotions, feelings and body level awareness. It is related to a ‘feeling’ level of awareness. It sees, and is connected to the ‘whole picture’. There is a sense of ‘no time and space’ or very much less so, where all things are interconnected without a feeling of separation between anyone or anything. There are no boundaries here, it has a sense of unlimitedness, there is no beginning or end, you stand in relation with ALL of creation equally together at any given time. It is emotional, creative, inspirational and more subjective. I will call this the CHILD SELF.
For us to be healthy, happy and with a feeling of ‘wholeness’ and completeness we need both these parts of our self, functioning together harmoniously. Also, there is a third aspect to this which completes this and that is the pineal gland. It is more connected with our superconscious level of self.
Over the years I have seen many styles of therapies and healing methods that really encourage you to emotionally get ‘into your stuff’ and get it out. For example, one course I went to years ago was a 10 day retreat out in nature. Whilst there they had us going energetically into our inner child traumas in a group situation day after day. Often times the room was a screaming heaving emotional soup of people going into their stuff. On the surface whilst this may have looked powerful and perhaps healing, the facilitators never really encouraged us to ground ourselves after these experiences, at least not consciously.
So, they got us into our right brain emotional self, connecting with the inner child parts but we were never able to balance out with the left brain adult self – the container, which is the part of us that needs to work together to heal the inner child. Then there is the other side of the coin where most therapists and counsellors focus on the left brain alone, these are the ‘talk therapies’ which really achieve nothing session after session just going around in intellectual circles not doing the deeper emotional energetic work required. I am sure that most of you will be aware of people perhaps even yourself where you have talked and talked year after year and still feel the same as you did when you started counselling or therapy!
So, let’s look at this… the mainstream focuses on the left brain, and the more alternative healers tend to focus on the right brain. Both have part of the answer but tend to not integrate both!, and nor in the correct sequence most of the time.
Trauma is stored in the right brain… the CHILD SELF.
Firstly, what is the definition of trauma? The best that I have been able to find is that it ‘is more emotion then we can handle that is age appropriate, where we experienced a feeling of powerlessness.’ As we grow if we cannot safely release our emotions around our traumatic experiences we will lock them up very often along with the memories in our right brain self – the sub-conscious mind, the child self.
But, here is the thing, as we grow up our traumas affect us developmentally where we don’t develop healthy, harmonious neural pathways in our brains, this leads to a distorted feeling of self and very often our left brain, conscious mind – the ADULT SELF does not develop in the most healthy way. So for us to be objective, more logical and understanding and hold a ‘container’ for ourselves, this can prove to be very difficult for some of us. We find it very hard to be ADULT. This leads to a feeling in adulthood of not being in touch with who we are, we feel we don’t know ourselves, staying lost in our re-active emotions. If we also did not have strong adult role models who modelled healthy adult behaviour then we will also struggle to be a healthy adult more often than not.
For healing to happen we must access the right brain – the CHILD SELF, where our traumatic emotions are stored, and to do this we need to use right brain techniques to go there, using music, imagery, visualisation, colours etc. We need to engage with our sub-conscious mind, the deeper feeling and emotional self where our ‘Inner child’ is. This is where the energy of the experience resides.
But from there once we have done this we need to engage the left brain – ADULT SELF to re-parent and heal the inner child, and grow them up or integrate them into ourselves now. Only an ADULT can regulate this. How does this happen? It is crucially important that the adult self must be present in the background throughout doing our inner child exercises, otherwise we will go into the child self or selves and potentially stay there on some level! It is also means that we must have a strong sense of our adult self prior to our inner child work so we can provide a solid container of safety for our inner child to heal and process their emotions out and complete the emotions that weren’t safe to feel at the time of trauma.
If we don’t have a strong sense of our adult self prior to and during our healing work we will not go far in being able to process and release our traumatic emotions, or as I said we may go into them and stay there. How do we learn to strengthen our adult left brain self. Learning techniques to develop a sense of safety helps, which can come about with breathwork, visualisation skills to ground and balance. Learning to develop awareness of the ‘here and now’ through focused body awareness exercises and techniques, this can also help. These can assist us to come back to being grounded in our minds and bodies.
This is why I do recommend Stewart Swerdlow’s ‘Child Within’ exercise. It is simple, effective and crucially includes both right and left brain in the process. The adult (left brain) starts the exercise. Then using visualisation with colours and accessing inner child (right brain) with the adult (left brain) going into the exercise and supporting the inner child (right brain) to express whatever emotions (right brain) are there. Then we ground and balance (left brain & right brain) and come out of the exercise.
So, just to wrap up if your traumas have you being emotional most of the time then I would suggest you will most likely need to develop and strengthen the left brain . You will need to develop and strengthen your ADULT self more for balance and to help regulate and process your emotions effectively. That way you can learn to re-parent your inner child.
If your traumas have you being intellectual, unemotional and rational most of the time then I would suggest you need to find ways to gently open up to the experiences of your inner child (right brain) and strengthen this aspect of your self so that your inner child begins to open and trust the adult you that they can then share their deeper emotions and feelings with you, helping you to process those traumatic emotions up and out.
As always, personal growth requires a healthy balance of both like everything in life. But, be aware that in life we are a child first (feelings, emotions, creativity, playfulness, inspiration, connection, wholeness) then we are an adult second (the logical decision maker, boundaries, choices, direction and framework).
Let me know your thoughts, and how this relates to what you need to do for your healing now?