Updated: Apr 20
The personal development world is loaded with terms and phrases that have a wide variety of interpretation and application.
In this post, I want to dig in a bit more on two of those terms that the Human Infusion Project uses frequently in classes, posts and videos. I believe these two words will help you fully understand what it takes to psycho-emotionally ‘heal’ from trauma, adverse experience or any of our past conditioning. And those two words are — Integration and Complement.
We’ve probably all experienced some form of integration before, whether it’s at work (like when new management comes in after an acquisition) or at home (like when two families come together in a new marriage).
In our brains and bodies, integration happens in two ways, ‘laterally’ and ‘vertically’. But before we go on….
Why is integration even needed?
It may not be needed by everyone. If you grew up in a household where your emotional nervous system learned how to differentiate the ‘when, how much, and for how long’ aspects of its activation, then you may already have a moderated (regulated) emotional response. If you grew up with secure attachment, and with both your problem-solving intellect and artistic sensing equally supported and encouraged, you may already be living life in a way that reflects whole-brain strength. But many of us didn’t get that growing up. Partly because back then, we didn’t have the knowledge about our brains and bodies that we have now. And also, if you experienced trauma, an adverse experience or anything that was emotionally stressful to your still-developing brain, an area called the hippocampus may have been blocked from doing part of its job.
Our memory ‘packing and shipping’ center
In a very over-simplified ‘nutshell’, the hippocampus is an area of the brain that consolidates or ‘packages’ memory before it eventually gets ‘shipped’ off to deep, unconscious storage. One function of the hippocampus is to connect an explicit (‘time-date’) piece of memory, to its more implicit (automatic body-felt response) piece of memory. This ‘time-date stamp’ is how we can tell whether an emotional experience is related to something happening now, or is a replay from something in our past. Check out this short video to get examples and a simplified, more visual understanding of explicit versus implicit memory, including what happens when they aren’t packaged as an integrated ‘whole’.
Research shows that this sort of ‘time-stamping’ function of our brain can be impacted or shut down by a number of things, including the excessive use of alcohol or sleep aids, as well as prolonged or intense stress. Whenever we experience a ‘blackout’ of memory, you know that this brain area was most likely impacted.
What this also means is that when we’re young, if we experience repeated or prolonged, intense emotional activation, and no one is there to witness it, soothe it and help us ‘make sense’ of it…the hippocampus in our still-developing brains can be blocked from fully doing its job. Said differently, the emotional, body-felt piece of memory doesn’t get its ‘time-date stamp’.
So later in our life as adults, when a similar experience occurs, our emotions activate at the same level, referencing the stored implicit memory that’s associated with the seemingly-similar scene. But since it doesn’t have its ‘time-date’ stamp’, we don’t recognize it as being about our past. Our intense emotional response feels like it’s directly related to what’s happening right now.
This automatic re-activation of emotional response is a helpful brain feature when its differentiated and accurate. But many times, our brains automatically activate an undifferentiated emotional memory in situations that are no longer relevant to our current adult lives. Why? In part, because the emotional response hasn’t been fully ‘refined’ yet, and in part because the stored memory doesn’t have an explicit ‘time-date stamp’ on it.
Lateral and vertical integration
So in psycho-emotional ‘healing’ of any kind, ‘lateral’ integration is the work of helping our brains reorganize and connect an emotional activation memory, to its ’time-date’ counterpart. In other words, we’re helping our brain “make sense” of, and create a timeline for, what was previously confusing or disorganized.
That way our brains have a more organized ‘storyline’ of our life experiences. This is why journaling is such a popular and effective recovery tool. If you sense that complex trauma may be involved, a skilled, experienced and trauma-informed practitioner can guide you through this delicate reorganization process in a way that doesn’t kick off your protective coping mechanisms.
‘‘Vertical’ integration describes your healing brain coming together with your body’s emotional nervous system, by working with it to differentiate, or recognize when it’s appropriate to turn its activation ‘up or down’, as well as how much and how long when it does.
In part, this is what’s meant when science-based practitioners use the phrase “to embody the work”.
So in order to ‘vertically’ heal from our conditioned or traumatized past, our work must go beyond the obtainment of knowledge, and beyond strategies like ‘positive mindset’. Our work needs to transfer or translate to, the emotional response in our bodies, and that begins with training our brain to work as… a complementary ‘whole’.
COMPLEMENTARY — the opposite of being competitive.
Where complement recognizes the advantage of difference and seeks to retain and leverage it in mutually beneficial ways… competition sees the collaboration of different parts as something that dilutes their individual strengths.
So with relational competition, a lot of time can be wasted trying to strengthen or weaken one person’s side or the other, which rarely produces outcomes that are comprehensive.
Although light-hearted competition in small doses can spur playful, creative motivation, its polarizing nature doesn’t support larger scale, unifying or sustainable change. No doubt, we’ve all witnessed this at our workplace in some way, and in relationships of many types. Well, guess what? It’s not much different in our brains.
Complement in the brain and body
In our brains, 'complementary' strengthening means developing strong pathways in BOTH hemispheres and in all hub areas, in ways that comprehensively support the goals, life, and relationships we want. That way different strengths can be accessed simultaneously, in moderate doses, producing higher-quality outcomes that are both strategic and humane, both sensitive and intelligent, both creative and practical.
In our body’s emotional nervous system, complementary regulation involves sustainably moderating our emotional activation, so it reflects our strengthening brain, reflects our values, and directs more unifying behaviors.
Many people misinterpret the work of developing Emotional Intelligence (EQ) — believing it involves managing or ‘strong-arming’ our emotions, using our intellect to competitively ‘rein them in’ or ‘dilute their strength’. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Emotional Intelligence does require using our intellect, but in a way that helps differentiate our emotional response, fine-tunes it, brings out its strength, and uses emotion as a complementary asset that produces outcomes as described above.
1. We started stage 1 with the on-demand WHOLE-BRAIN RELATIONSHIPS class — learning the fundamentals of how these flesh and blood ‘machines’ work.
2. We continued in the free class HOW TO GET YOUR NEEDS MET , learning how our psycho-emotional ‘needs’ are represented in the body, and how to get them met in healthy ways.
3. And then venture into Stage 2 with our newest class “WHAT’S STOPPING YOU?” In this one, we cover:
the science behind how ‘limiting beliefs’ are created,
how they influence our behavior over a lifetime,
a process for identifying specific thought patterns or beliefs that may be tripping you up..
and then using what you discover to create new, customized pathways that you can train your brain to adopt and automate as new, empowering beliefs.
So stay tuned.
I’m in your corner.
Psst, I’d love to have you join us on Facebook.
The Human Infusion Project is a philanthropic, personal development platform that draws from the combined fields of modern brain science, applied psychology and spiritual philosophy. Our mission aims to augment and supplement the work of professional practitioners in simplified, practical and affordable ways. 100% of all course profit funds the Wellness Assistance Grant.