Detail about the dynamics of affect initiators
Let’s just say that I’m an “early infant” baby – let’s say for the purpose of this example – just 2 or 3 days old.
Now, (xxxxx), do you think that at that time in my development, I have an ability to feel?
Watch for a yes, a “nod” or + response
And do you think I have the ability to feel uncomfortable?
Watch for a yes, a “nod” or + response
But do you think that I have the ability to form any sophisticated understanding about what might be causing that discomfort?
That’s right.. But the scientists tell us that we “can” indeed have some sort of understanding and they call that “direct registration;” that is somatic, or physical. I know if I’m hungry, or need a nappy change, or I’ve hit my head on the cot or something like that; that’s what they call direct registration. But they also maintain that there are many occasions, many episodes that can occur, when I can NOT have a full understanding of what’s going on, but I still feel uncomfortable about it. It may be something that you or I as adults would look at and say, “that’s no big deal – that’s irrelevant.”
Now, the neuroscientists say that at that early developmental stage of life, my “comfort-to-discomfort” spectrum is very broad. It narrows as I get older and get to understand more about what’s going on around me. But at that early age, it’s very broad; and at one end of that spectrum, I experience what they like to call “stable attributional comfort style” – all that means is that my experience is comfortable and stable. At the opposite end of that spectrum, I can experience all the opposite senses – in other words, abject discomfort, fear, terror, pain, etcetera.
Provided that everything’s going OK in my life, at that age, I can just be experiencing that “stable comfort style” – you know, everything’s placid and “cool.” Now if anything occurs in my environment that perhaps “startles” me out of that stable style of experience – even very marginally – we don’t have to be talking about a huge swing right over here (use hand movements) to the realm of trauma and extreme abusive experience – I’m saying just subtly jolted – startled – out of our comfort, then fundamentally, we don’t really determine that as being a small and subtle shift. At that age we don’t have the ability to make any sort of judgment as to HOW far along the comfort-discomfort spectrum we’ve travelled. To us, at that age, we simply know that we’re uncomfortable. That’s all it takes.
And for example those events may be something as simple as a dog barking outside the window – something I’ve not experienced before – or a plane flying low overhead, or someone in the house drops something heavy and it crashes – makes a bang, a loud noise – maybe a door slams – or even my parents having a party or anything that causes an increase in noise level; anything like that.
And because that event has shifted us outside our attributional comfortable “style” we misinterpret that as being traumatic. We don’t really know, but that’s how it feels. However, at that time, that misinterpretation is not a misinterpretation for us at all. It's an actual, real experience. For us at that time, it’s really real.
And as human beings, , our natural tendency is to want to restore comfort. At that sort of age, we don’t have the ability to form any sort of strategy to restore comfort, all we can really do, the only way in which we can respond to that discomfort is at a feeling level.
So we react in the only way we can, and that is with a feeling response – an affect response.
So, our first response is a basic affect one. (Hand description.)
I don't think it's our business to decide or define just exactly how we do that, but we do have a feeling reaction to that discomfort. It’s inevitable. (using hand representations)
And that affect response develops into an emotion, and that’s something that’s more definable, more observable, something we can “qualify” and label.
(using hand representations)
And that emotion manifests itself in some way that ultimately “gets attention” – maybe I’ll cry, scream, or get highly anxious, or even seem to close down. The interesting thing is that that does attract attention. And it doesn’t matter what that manifested result is. What matters is that ninety-nine times out of a hundred, if we have parents or care-givers, we will get what we are after; which is that we are cuddled, nurtured, basically we attract attention and get what we want.
It is at this point in our learning experience that we instinctually “get” that when we feel this level of discomfort or anything like it, this is how we respond in order to get our comfort levels restored. (accompanied by hand balancing example) And the response doesn’t include the secondary or tertiary pattern – you know, the emotion or the crying or whatever, the “learning” extends only to the primary affect response.
That reaction then becomes an unconscious or non‑conscious learning. The scientists call that “neuro-encoding.” You’re getting enough of a lecture here to not want the two-hour lecture on just how the brain does that; the flooding of norepinephrene and the subsequent myelin sheathing of neural pathways, and all that (said in an off-hand way, like “of course you don’t want that lecture!) It’s enough to say that that is the “point of remembering;” the “point of origin” of our very first feeling learning. Technically we call that the affect initiator.