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Interoception

The pain that sent you to the darkest regions of your mind may be the strongest light for others to find their way home.

Taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound are our 5 main senses but neuroscience says we also have a 6th sense called interoception. Interoception is our bodily sensations, feelings, emotions and perceptions that guide us to take action. (eat, drink, restore calm).

People who have more interoceptive ability have greater activity of the right brain hemisphere insula, which makes them more self-aware and more empathic.

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Right hemisphere connections to the body through interoception.

Interoception - Wikipedia

I have been given permission to share the experiences of a couple I know that are an excellent example of the effect that adverse childhood experiences and trauma have on the delicate balance of interoceptive awareness.


The wife had a reduced amount of interoceptive awareness (rigidity). She acquired a brain injury and hearing loss at three months of age and went on to have many relapses of severe sickness combined with being a target of childhood molestation. A dismissing, emotionally avoidant mother maintained a continuous state of panic within her and the only way her body could adapt to the continuous trauma was to disconnect (disassociate) from her inner world and constantly look to the outer world to protect herself. She never constructed a healthy inner world of body sensations, feelings or emotions which lead to a personality construct called Alexithymia. Alexithymia meaning “no words for feelings or emotions”


Her husband had an excessive amount of interoceptive awareness (chaos). His early adverse childhood experiences damaged the foundations of his brain. The caregiver he needed the most for his safety, love and belonging was also the source of his terror. It was an unresolvable situation, a biological paradox and too much for a child to deal with so his body protected itself by repeatably freezing him (disassociating) and shutting him down. These repeatable experiences over those childhood years lit up the darkest parts of his mind in a search for answers he would never find. He continually shifted between anxiety and depression and his sensitivity to people and feeling all the textures of injustice in the world would further isolate him throughout his life.


Once they could both form a story of their life experiences and how their nervous systems protected them from trauma they linked back with felt compassion for each other. She could feel his empathy inside her and he could hold her compassionately in his mind. Kindness and compassion arose naturally from within without having to add any extra ingredient.

 

“Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves.” - Bessel Van Der Kolk M.D.

 

Have you been through great suffering and pain? Your experiences could be the gift to help others. Remember what we said at the beginning - 'People who have more interoceptive ability have greater activity of the right brain hemisphere insula, which makes them more self-aware and more empathic'.

Without realising a person with highly developed interoceptive awareness may easily be dismissed or considered to be too sensitive. It takes another highly interoceptive individual to see this strength in another. A human empathetic responder that can maintain deep connections with other individuals. It's time to grow.