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Rational Brain

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LifeDestroyer posted 11/19/2019 19:30 PM

In tonight's active parenting class, they discussed how the rational brain doesn't fully developed until the age of 25. However, when trauma occurs, the development is slowed down. The rational brain is the part where we acquire these skills:

Sound decision making
Consideration of consequences
Regulating emotions

When I saw that slide, I was thinking those are all of the things that most WS suck at. I wanted to hear what you all thought.

Itsallmyfault posted 11/20/2019 02:15 AM

I was 25 when I started my A. Had experienced about 5-6 counts of serious ďtraumaĒ by 25. I have and still do struggle massively with regulating emotions and self awareness. The others I have struggled with previously but think Iím starting to develop those skills more and more.

I wonder if I would have handled everything in a safer correct way if I was say 30 or 35 when the A started with all the events that lead up to it. I remember feeling like a child - no bullshit I actually felt like a kid who had no idea what to do after I was sexually assaulted by my AP and I needed soothing/comfort and ran straight back to him to fulfil that need. That in itself shows a huge lack of many of the skills you listed

But at the same time, Iím not a child. I made those decisions and live to face the consequences of losing him. We can all wish that we had better self awareness or decision making, but it doesnít change our cheating. But this is an interesting thing to consider and I will definitely find a positive note from this, that maybe as I grow and learn (and age!) I will grasp these skills more and more as time goes on.

RocketRaccoon posted 11/20/2019 03:38 AM

Maybe that is why a lot of WS act like teenagers....

The Rational Brain never developed.

Justsomelady posted 11/20/2019 03:57 AM

That is so interesting, Iíve heard that. I was in my mid thirties w EA so I had my rational brain structure. however, Iíve been through several traumas Pre-25 and again at 30. I had a lot of mental health struggles. I had recently (to the A) been really set back mental health-wise from death and illness in my close circle/family...and (no it isnít an excuse but a factor/explanation) i experienced post weaning depression and had a lot of trouble regulating my emotions in the flood of hormones during the time. However flawed, my rational brain did help me stop what i was doing before progressing to PA, come to SI, talk to my husband, amd impeove. But i also had a LOT of prior therapy work that, although not healed enoigh at the time to have better boundaries, i was able to fall back on some and it helped me access the rationality even in the midst of the turmoil.

So..:Taking this with what I also recently learned about how long term stress will thin out the prefrontal cortex, so I have no doubt that added to my vulnerability. It doesnít take my decision making away or my choices but it does help me understand where I was coming from and what led to it. I did learn (from a podcast) that the said thinning can begin to heal within three months of treatment. Check out Stress Proof book or even just an interview with the author .

These sorts of facts are a powerful thing to keep in mind to understand and to cultivate self compassion - and acknowledging it is not avoiding accountability. I
Donít think I were suddenly cured by 25 - there is so much else going on in the brain that we donít understand -but our structure is of course in place by then.

[This message edited by Justsomelady at 6:00 AM, November 20th (Wednesday)]

foreverlabeled posted 11/20/2019 05:34 AM

I was 26 when my As began but, the thing about it is that all these things listed were present in my life, except for when it came to my cheating.

My justifications are what ultimately gave me the go ahead to dismiss any rational thought. I talked myself into thinking it was a good idea. I went against my "rational brain" overwriting it with what I wanted to do, not what I should do.

LifeDestroyer posted 11/20/2019 06:43 AM

I thought I had all of those skills too pre-a, but now I'm wondering if I actually did.

Sound decision making: This one I think I did have. I can't think of any instance where I didn't really think out what I was about to do. However, once I started Welbutrin, few months before the a, I was more "meh whatever happens happens it's all good" with my actions.

Empathy: I always thought I was very caring and considerate of people's feelings. I wanted to make them feel better. If I experienced something similar to what they were going through, I would say it....but I think there was always a level of "who's is worse." I was that shitty person who would cut in and say "the same thing happened to me and blah blah blah."

Consideration of consequences: Well, I was a spoiled child. I always got what I wanted. As a child, there were no consequences. If my mom yelled at me and punished me, within 5 minutes she would apologize and tell me that I'm not punished. I was never actually punished. Even when a boy snuck into our house, nothing happened. When they found the pot plant that my ex insisted I grow in my closet for us to use, nothing happened. When I came home black out drunk at 17, they thought I was raped, nothing happened in either direction. No charges for the one who assaulted me and no punishment for the 17 year old drinking.

Regulating emotions: I was very good at hiding my emotions because of the shit that happened in my family, but that's not really regulating. Although, I thought so. I was just good at regulating which mask I was going to wear that day. Did I want to wear the "sympathy mask" or the "everything is all good mask"?

Self-awareness: I can say I didn't have this skill. I was always lying to people, my masks, and basically lying to myself.

Morality: I thought I had morals. I thought I knew right from wrong. I thought I knew what a person should and shouldn't do.

I didn't write this post as an excuse for a WS. I thought our undeveloped rational brain could have played a factor in our decision making during our A. I had never heard about this before, maybe during my psych 101 class, but that was 16 years ago.

Last night, this was the most interesting thing that stood out to me, not only to reflect about myself, but now to wonder about our daughter. Will our separation be a trauma for her? Would a divorce be a trauma for her? I know that BH and I can and will do everything possible to lessen the trauma on her.

[This message edited by LifeDestroyer at 6:45 AM, November 20th (Wednesday)]

BraveSirRobin posted 11/20/2019 06:45 AM

This topic comes up from time to time. I am a fan of science, so I hesitate to dismiss the findings of peer reviewed studies. I think everyone here can agree that taken as a general population, 18 year olds are less mature than they are ten years later. I was 19 when my A began, so even within a spectrum, this would argue that I was still years away from fully developing my rational brain.

However, I have some emails I wrote the year after the A ended, and I don't think they are any less mature, articulate or insightful than anything I have written since arriving here. I can post one if anyone is interested. My BF and I made a serious mistake in cutting our processing short and rugsweeping, but my analysis of what happened (sent to a friend whose GF had recently cheated and dumped her) was spot on as far as it went. And obviously, since it was 28 years ago, it was formulated without the benefit of SI. The internet itself didn't exist, so I came up with all of it on my own.

I felt, and still feel, that it would be a cop-out to attribute my A to an incompletely developed brain. And fairly or not, I'm pretty skeptical about that explanation as a mitigating factor for anyone. We have waywards here of all ages and stages. All of us have some psychological issues, or we wouldn't be here. I'm just really unconvinced that any of us were incapable of reasoned thought or absorbing consequences. We chose not to.

Justsomelady posted 11/20/2019 06:56 AM

BSR - I think I was also an eloquent young woman but I was also emotionally strung out. Both can exist. It isnít a cop out to acknowledge my weaknesses - moral and structural. As long as the wayward isnít pointing to the structure in a ďthe devil made me do it, not my faultĒ sort of way I think it does mitigate things and if not that it does explain things. Structurally, one could have looked at Joni Mitchell and determined she shouldnít even try to be a musician due to her disabilities and crumpled hands, but the structure didnít determine her fate - but it did inform it. Without it, we wouldnít have her perseverance and growth to thank for her unique and beautiful music.

I donít think teenaged murderers are excused because they possibly went through trauma and didnít have their brains well nurtured or developed, but it does help explain things and point to areas of need and prevention in society. Itís part of why Iím against kids being charged as adults for the most part, as I think they have a chance - but still must be incarcerated. Unfortunately our system is purely punitive and very little healing and rehabilitation happens as that is ďsoft on crimeĒ and the cycle of pain perpetuates. A bit of a tangent but that analogy springs to mind. A trauma brain is not someone in their ďright mindĒ but they still must be held accountable. I can even look at my own rapist a little more holistically and with a hint of forgiveness (not there yet) as I believe he was also a traumatized young man. Definitely also loathe him and dont excuse his actions.

I was a totally different person at 19, I donít think you need to excuse yourself or stop your self work but it should definitely inform you and help you offer compassion and understanding to your younger self.

[This message edited by Justsomelady at 7:08 AM, November 20th (Wednesday)]

sickofsurviving posted 11/20/2019 07:29 AM

Just curious, how does this excuse your cheating?

I had more trauma by 16. I was kicked out of my parents house at 14, raped at 15. Had a late term miscarriage at 17. I could go on. Yet my "rational brain" still knew cheating was wrong.

Justsomelady posted 11/20/2019 07:36 AM

SOS - at least for me, it doesnít. I donít think she was saying it is an excuse either. ETA - LD expressly says she isnít writing about this to be an excuse in her second post.

You sound like a strong person despite yours traumas. Not everyone else is. At least not at first. They screw up big time, they have poor skills at coping, character flaws, etc. - thatís why weíre here on wayward trying to figure it out and get stronger and better.

It does help understand whys, explain, and is arguably a mitigation factor. Developing our character and strength requires deep introspection and understanding - that is not excuse-making or a cop out of if it also includes this sort of information.

[This message edited by Justsomelady at 8:19 AM, November 20th (Wednesday)]

leavingorbit posted 11/20/2019 07:41 AM

I believe trauma provides a framework and understanding of developed coping mechanisms. I donít believe itís an excuse. Additionally, I believe that humans are individual. How one of us responds to stimuli is not how another may, in my opinion. Thus, the development of compassion for the viewpoints of others and their experiences.

ETA: basically, I agree with JSL, cross posted!

[This message edited by leavingorbit at 7:42 AM, November 20th (Wednesday)]

sickofsurviving posted 11/20/2019 07:48 AM

Well I have a shit ton of compassion for people's trauma or bad experiences. I dont have compassion for people who cause trauma to others.

Justsomelady posted 11/20/2019 07:49 AM

Well, that is certainly your prerogative. We are clearly not ďyour peopleĒ and you have made it clear where we waywards as a whole stand with you. I think remorse and contrition can merit compassion but it certainly isnít a demand or expectation made of you or any BS. If you feel we donít merit empathy under any circumstances, you have dehumanized us in your eyes , which saddens me but I understand.

[This message edited by Justsomelady at 8:09 AM, November 20th (Wednesday)]

LifeDestroyer posted 11/20/2019 08:03 AM

SOS, I never said it was an excuse.
I wanted to hear what people thought about this topic. If they experienced trauma, do they notice any of those skills lacking.

BraveSirRobin posted 11/20/2019 08:33 AM

BSR - I think I was also an eloquent young woman but I was also emotionally strung out. Both can exist. It isnít a cop out to acknowledge my weaknesses - moral and structural. As long as the wayward isnít pointing to the structure in a ďthe devil made me do it, not my faultĒ sort of way I think it does mitigate things and if not that it does explain things.
But does it? I lied from age 20 to age 49. At some point, my rational brain matured, but it didn't change my behavior at all. It's not just that I don't see causality; I don't even see correlation. We have few people here whose As took place when the WS was under 25. So now we're going to explore whether we can extend the brain immaturity deadline to cover older waywards? And say it's just an intellectual exercise, not an attempt to reduce responsibility for our own actions? I remain skeptical.

Justsomelady posted 11/20/2019 08:37 AM

BSR OK. I think however those things happened separately. Your choice to double down on what you initially decided as a young woman is a separate set of decisions and culpability from the later choices as you matured. It took way more energy to pull back and see those earlier mistakes so you pushed them down. You can process them as two sets of events with different factors going into them. I personally see it as a mitigating factor but not all do. I think that is why we have such different views out there in crime and punishment in the justice system. Not everyone is willing to extend grace for those factors. And I understand but disagree. I think they are relevant.

I think for older wayeards there are probably many other things going on. But I donít think trauma has a statute of limitations, even if the structural situation is different for the older WS, some peopleís weaknesses only shine out as they enter later pressures as they age. That quote about teabags and not knowing their strength until they get into hot water comes to mind - you also donít know their weakness until then either.

[This message edited by Justsomelady at 9:02 AM, November 20th (Wednesday)]

leavingorbit posted 11/20/2019 08:49 AM

My understanding of this theory is that traumaís impacts will continue to reverberate until processed and put down in a healthy way. If this has not occurred, the same thought patterns will keep occurring without healthy rerouting or replacement. FOO and formative experiences seem to have effects on individual coping mechanisms. Regardless of ďmaturity,Ē if the skills are not there, the brain will not utilize them. I believe those are learned behaviors, not innate ones. ☹️

Not an excuse. The pain caused to others is still real and valid. The first time I cheated on my eventual husband I was much younger than 25. We are healing and working through our crap in our early 30s. In my experience, itís much more to do with life experiences than a deadline.

hikingout posted 11/20/2019 10:40 AM

I just want to say, that you went to that class and already have learned a little bit to contemplate. And you are running with it, and that's a good thing to see. Having an appetite to understand the things that bring composition to who we are, having goals of who we want to become, and the work that bridges that gap can be satisfying all on it's own. It's a step forward. Now that you have the appetite for it, I think you will seek out more things to learn about and I feel like this is so much what we have all been trying to say to you.

My overall take on it is everyone has FOO (family of origin issues) in some way. It shapes who we are. The benefits of dissecting your FOO and past traumas, the things that make you the way you are can help you make positive changes.

I had a lot of trauma & drama growing up and as a young woman. This made me a great compartmentalizer, I was very good at putting away negative emotions and focusing on good emotions. That created a problem within myself because the capability to escape using whatever as a distraction kept me from ever having to recognize negative feelings. But, they were always there and I was unconsciously making decisions based on them while I was staring at the "prettier things" in life.

When I was young, the escape was lots of sex. I don't know if I was a sex addict, but I look back at some of those behaviors as obsessive. And, they came directly from sexual abuse and emotional abuse. Not understanding my worth and overvaluing my sexuality as a fundamental part of it. Then, I switched gears and threw myself into busy-ness. Over doing for my family, becoming ultra-successful at work, wanting everything to be perfect and sacrificing myself and my sanity in the meantime until I reached such a burn out, the kids were leaving and I didn't know who I was any more. There was also a two year period in the middle of that that my escape was alcohol. I don't think I ever reached alcholic status, but I was drinking a lot to avoid my feelings. I have always just changed one vice for another...and it's a complete chase to always feel the good feelings. To escape bad feelings that I didn't know how to resolve and were better off to me being ignored.

It was always my coping growing up, because to be present for some of the shit that I had to be present for would have taken me down as a person.

I was self protective, so it made me a good chameleon to blend into whatever situation. I was never completely authentic. I would settle and accept and do a lot of things that should have made me question my self worth. I people pleased my way through life, and never considered that I was accepting cheap versions of payback for it. Rather, had I just been more assertive and placed boundaries on my needs and wants, I would have been taking much more responsibility for my own happiness.

And through it all, I eventually told myself the story that if I weren't married I could put down all the heavy stuff, resenting my husband for creating expectations that really I had created myself. So, having an affair was an escape to that, because having an exit affair was my cowardly way of dealing with hard stuff instead of just flat out asking for the divorce that I can honestly look back and see I wanted. I wanted it for the wrong reasons though, that's how my exit ended up a plea to stay. It was just an ultimate escape - to blame it on him and move on. When in all reality, anything good in my life came from being with him. It was time for me to show up to the table finally after 20+ years of marriage.

To me, understanding past trauma and FOO issues -the benefit is not blaming the affair on them (in response to some of the other discussion here not necessarily your original post.) The benefit is recognizing how you interact with the world, in your relationships, and with yourself. If you can identify where those things come from, you can become cognizant of them. If you are cognizant of them then you can change them. You can work on who you are - your weaknesses because you know their origins, you know how they are detrimental, and it can guide your thoughts and behaviors to avoid them in the future. I take full responsibility for my part of our marriage. I take full responsibility that I royally fucked it up. I take full responsibility for where I am going and why, and for processing negative feelings rather than ignoring them. It's been a climb to become a person who truly has value and can see that my value is above what I can offer someone. My value is who I am as a human being and that stands on it's own now.

[This message edited by hikingout at 10:44 AM, November 20th (Wednesday)]

gmc94 posted 11/20/2019 12:08 PM

I believe most (all?) humans experience trauma in childhood, to varying degrees and to varying impacts, depending on the person. E.g., siblings of divorced parents, 5 people in the same car crash, 100s who lived through a tornado - all were present for the same event, but each will likely react differently. Some may have PTSD from the event, while others will not.

My WH and I both had plenty of trauma in our childhoods. He cheated. I did not.

I think it does mitigate things and if not that it does explain things
Something about this sits wrong with me. It may be an explanation (eg I believe my own traumatic history has exacerbated my ability to cope with WH's LTA and suicide attempt in that both trigger long seated fears that I thought I had fully addressed and processed, yet here I am).

It's the idea of "mitigation" that REALLY does not sit well.

- to make something less severe or less unpleasant (Cambridge English Dictionary)
- to cause to become less harsh or hostile : MOLLIFY (Merriam Webster)
- to make less severe or painful : ALLEVIATE (Merriam Webster)
- EXTENUATE (to lessen or to try to lessen the seriousness or extent of (something, such as a fault or offense) by making partial excuses : MITIGATE) (Merriam Webster)

I don't see how childhood trauma "mitigates" the damage or harm done from an A, any more more than it makes a rape less severe, less harsh, less painful, or less serious. Now, there may be legal ramifications, but I see that different than the emotional or moral view.

No matter what, trauma is some serious shit. And it's often passed down generation to generation. Since dday I've spent quite a bit of time researching and learning about it, given the 2x Dx of PTSD (I'd be just as enthusiastic about researching if I'd received a cancer Dx - and IMO, PTSD is like having a cancer of the mind and soul). There is evidence that indicates our brains physically change with PTSD (hence the rise in treatments that help to rewire, such as EMDR or neurofeedback).

The Body Keeps the Score is a long book, but provides an excellent history into PTSD, research, inclusion in DSM, treatments, etc. There are others, but I look at this book as kind of the "bible of PTSD"

Trauma may create people with less than ideal decision making, empathy, morality, etc. but IMO it does not mitigate the resulting behaviors.

hikingout posted 11/20/2019 12:30 PM


I agree in the way that I don't see FOO and past trauma as the reason for the affair, but I do see it as a place to analyze and study for rebuilding yourself after the affair.

Where I am mixed is I think in understanding myself, it helped my H understand my decisions more. So, in that way the mitigation happened for him...EVENTUALLY. By doing the deep diving of where I had been up until the point I cheated, and seeing that I was rebuilding myself from the ground up. Some of the AFTERMATH damage of the affair was mitigated in he could fully see he had no responsibility to it. He could fully see the accountability I took onto my shoulders. So, no, it doesn't take away from it or make it less, but the exploration of it can lead to a mutual understanding that can mitigate the damage moving forward from those discoveries. I don't know if I am explaining myself well there.

Exploring FOO is part of the Wayward Work. It's not an explanation for why you cheated, it's a piece of the puzzle that needs put together for:

1. The WS to heal, grow, and change. Major change.

2. The fuller picture of the work (in which FOO exploration is a small part of) can help the BS in understanding the nature of the affair had nothing to do with what they were lacking. I think a lot of BS know that logically out of the gate, but it took really getting to the nitty gritty of all my issues for my H to be able to internalize that emotionally.

By way of 1 & 2 it puts a stop to the further traumatization of the BS and the relationship therefore mitigating further damage to the relationship. This is the exact opposite for a BS with a WS who doesn't do the work to try, instead of mitigating further damage it just creates more and more damage. A lot of what happens after dday can become more important than the affair itself over time.

[This message edited by hikingout at 12:33 PM, November 20th (Wednesday)]

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