The neurological foundation of a sense of self is based around our 7 primary emotional systems. Emotions that aren't learnt but the emotional systems we are born with. These primary emotional systems are seeking, rage, fear, lust, care, panic/grief and play and they have been identified neurologically in animals, and humans.
Humans have a secondary level of these systems which are developed through experience, learning and memory. These systems each play a role in the development of our 'self' as well as issues associated with emotional regulation. For instance, a depressive state manifested from the panic/grief system (such as the death of a loved one) stimulates the cortex, a part of the brain that is responsible for memories. Depressive memories are triggered, producing a loop in our brain. We go from a sad event, to sad feelings, to sad memories, then back again to sad feelings - the neurological loop of depression. The depressive state is set on replay now and proves difficult to break.
What neuroscience shows us is that this neurological loop, this never ending cycle and replay, can be disrupted and changed. We have learned that our body can change our brain. This is done by training ourselves to label our feelings; finding a distinction between anger and sadness for instance (yes I'm speaking of mindfulness again). If we allow ourselves to 'fully experience' something, we allow ourselves to experience the beginning, middle and end of it. If we avoid it, which will decrease the intensity of our feelings, we won't have the conclusion we need and will be stuck in a loop.
If we allow ourselves to grieve the loss of a loved one, we allow ourselves to experience the full intensity of this grief, and we give ourselves the power to have a beginning, middle and end to something awful. If we avoid, we don't grieve, and we may find ourselves stuck in this depression loop. A loop can me modified from experience, and repetition. We are literally changing the way our brain is wired by breaking loops. We are modifying it by changing the physical structures our brain has created, simply by being in control.
If we think about our cohesive sense of self - as we have many roles, many 'self's. We can have our caring self, the self that parents our children or empathizes with others, we can have our grieving self, or our angry self - all roles that can be originated from the 7 primary emotional systems. We don't have to define ourselves or each other as a 'caring' person, or an 'angry' person, but accept that at one time throughout any day we can play any one of these roles.
It's important to remember this, label it, not define ourselves by it, experience it and don't let it find it's way into a loop. Our neurological sense of self, is that of many 'selfs' and it's up to us to identify ourselves as this whole, made up of many parts. Then we can accept and experience, rather than develop never ending cycles, or loops in our brains that may be detrimental. A happy moment amongst a bad day is still a happy moment, and a happy moment can fester into more happy moments. A happy day leads to happier days. Its neurological.
For more information about Emily Scott and her work helping children and adolescents to reach their full potential visit www.exploringminds.net
True North Expeditions, Inc. provides adventure therapy programs and services for children and teenagers in Australia. Based in Adelaide, the TNE team writes about child and adolescent psychology, family dynamics and how adventure therapy programs can connect with struggling adolescents.