Left Brain Struggles To Put Right Brain Emotion Into Words

Not open for further replies.


Left brain struggles to put right brain emotion into words

Hi Everyone,

I chose the above title to post this information as the one below sounds rather technical. I've highlighted some parts in italics which are my emphasis as I try to put together some of the pieces of this puzzle. Please feel free to comment and compare notes. Our collective experiences, knowledge, and most importantly curiosity to understand why, are keys to gaining insight into PTSD.

For example, this statement:

"Sometimes, when he's driving down the street, Jullian Philip Goodrum smells diesel fuel and, just for a moment, his mind flashes back.

He's again in Iraq, driving in an Army convoy in underequipped and ill-maintained vehicles, with no radios, maps or heavy-duty ammunition.

When Goodrum feels his mind going in that direction these days, he has a quick trick: He grabs a little bottle of lemon juice from the glove box and squirts a shot on his tongue.

"My mind reacts; it brings me back," Goodrum said. "Something that simple . It's amazing."

from this news story caught my eye this morning - http://www.knoxnews.com/kns/health_and_fitness/article/0,1406,KNS_310_5328518,00.html


The Right Brain As a Substrate for Reforging Psychoanalytic & Trauma Therapies

by Paul Valent

STSS/NCPTSD Annual Conference
March 2001, Canberra, Australia

We all have some idea about the right and left brains having different functions. The left brain deals with verbal logical matters, the right with emotional ones. But if we look in more detail at the different hemispheric functions, we realise as the eminent neurologist Rhawn Joseph said, we live simultaneously in two separate complex mental worlds. The right and left brains exist, literally side by side using unique strategies for perceiving, processing, and expressing information. Further, these separate mental worlds may know little about each other. This corresponds to the fact that even in young adults 40% of the corpus callosum is still unmyelinated.

We may be more willing to accept our mental split if we note a corresponding physical split. Our voluntary nervous system consciously directs our external muscles in the environment and is analogous to the left brain. The involuntary nervous system directs internal muscles and organs unconsciously, is associated with emotion and is analogous to the right brain. Just as we are unaware of our internal organs except when they are stressed or injured, we may not be aware of our right brains if all goes well.

The right brain is fully dominant until the age of three when the eviscerali child first starts to think. Communication between hemispheres is exceedingly poor before the age of 3, and limited till the age of 5. Verbal dominance of information and awareness is established only after 7.

At this age the left brain speech area can organise and categorise information into linguistic codes and narrative units within linear time.

Before that time including during the period of attachment as Schore has indicated, the right brain utilises the limbic system and the right orbitofrontal cortex. Both have close connections with the autonomic nervous system and visceral responses. The right brain reads faces, inflection, nuances, pitch, melody, empathises and intuits what persons feel about what they say, why and in what context. In time it provides gestalt, morals, motives, inferences and meanings. These develop silently throughout life. The right brain remains dominant in regard to most, if not all, aspects of social-emotional functioning. When it is disturbed a myriad of affective psychosomatic and behavioral disturbances may result. For instance, when an ambivalent mother says "I love you." a child's left brain hears the words while the right brain discerns hate. The two parts cannot be assimilated. Later on hearing "I love you." the adult may cringe without knowing why.

With increasing myelination we develop an ever more stereoscoping and coherent view of ourselves and our history. However, in traumatic dissociation a functional split recurs or intensifies between the hemispheres. The lack of self- awareness of the right brain is now used to protect the left brain and its linguistic consciousness from being overwhelmed. This is done by dissociation of traumatic information and storing it in nonverbal codes in the right brain. Joseph says, ".. our traumas [and] fears.. are mediated .. by the limbic system, [and] the non-linguistic, social-emotional right brain. And.. these experiences are stored in the memory banks of the right cerebrum."

I will now indicate how this translates clinically.

Beverley a 37 year old woman presented with symptoms of anxiety, depression, unexplained outbursts of anger and inability to enjoy life. She had a sense that these symptoms were connected with her father's abuse. She remembered clearly that at the age of 14 he had fondled her breasts. Her girlfriend remembered, but she did not, that when they were seven her father got them to hold his penis during urination. She was convinced that more happened with her father which was connected with her eternal terror of him. When speaking uninhibitedly she would say with respect to events at age 12 "When he raped me.." but when attention was drawn to what she had just said she would go blank and not remember what she had said a minute previously.

At other times she said, "I know that my father did more to me. Things intrude into my mind at nights or when I have sex. But when I try to think about it, a kind of voice (which she traced back to her father) says things like, "You can't prove it, you have no evidence." And "If you tell your mother she won't love you and she will leave you. The family will finish and you will be alone." Or, "You will kill me." My mind is in conflict every night. The knowing there is more [right side], the lack of evidence [left side]."

"To this day when I am in his presence, something happens to my mind, like I enter a trance, it is a different world, like a daytime and night time world, a logical and an illogical world." Saying this she alternately cupped the left and right sides of her head.

We traced derivative symptoms back to her father. They included her father exploiting her in his business and her protecting his secret bankruptcy, and excessive anger with males who imposed their opinions. Beverley felt that parts she always knew about somehow were revealed to her in a new way as she could put them into words. This allowed her to feel more whole and in control. Eventually her father's sexual abuse was similarly revealed and put into words. The safety of therapy neutralized her father's intimidatory voices to not reveal, to not know, to split her knowledge. Her symptoms disappeared.

Right and left brain functions and splits help with some clinical dilemmas.

1. Memories. The peculiarities of early childhood and traumatic memories relate to their right brain storage. They are unconscious, emotional, somatic and timeless because of their nonverbal code storage in the right brain.

2. Conscious and unconscious. Nature seems to have evolved a dual brain in order to provide two simultaneous types of information. Perhaps the right hemisphere is phylogenetically related to reading and surviving the environment and unselfconsciously singing back into it. It resonates with naturally occurring ratios and biorhythms and expresses itself in pleasing music and architecture. The left brain consciously peruses and objectifies what is of interest to the right brain.

In trauma the unconscious right brain is used to store the kernels of threat, and unacceptable judgements and meanings. It may inevitably connect with unconscious elements from early childhood when the right brain was dominant. This may be one reason why exploration of traumas leads eventually back to early childhood.

The benefit of splitting the two brains is to protect the phylogenetically new verbal civilized humans to go about their everyday business. The cost is feeling and doing things without knowing why, suffering psychic conflict, and being subject to blanks and manufactured explanations.

3. The fear of madness. When functioning well, the right brain is a source of inspirations, intuition, and creativity. When it strains to make meaning of the fearful and meaningless, it becomes the source of apparently illogical emotions, illusions, and delusions.

The fear of madness and loss of control stem from a sense of being overwhelmed by right brain traumatic images. Logical left brain function and the self which identifies with it are threatened.

4. Reading the right brain. The right brain has its own language, and like nature and music it can be read through the right codes. Psychoanalysis has taught that means to read the unconscious include tracing emotions, dreams, slips of the tongue, nonverbal behavior, patterns of activity, psychosomatic symptoms, and use of transference and countertransference empathy.

The deciphering of the structure and function of the right brain and bringing it into the mainstream of scientific consciousness is the next major task in psychotraumatology.

Elsewhere (Valent, 1998) I suggest that eight survival strategies (such as fight and flight and attachment) are the templates of surviving and singing back into the environment. Survival strategies are like an octave of physiological, emotional and behavioral notes producing a symphony of human aspirations and their disruptions.

5. Healing the right brain and its split from the left brain. Both psychoanalysis and traumatology attempt to make the dissociated contents of the right hemisphere congruent and acceptable to a meaningful view of oneself which becomes conscious to the left hemisphere. Words and labels are the tools which unify traumatic fragments in the right hemisphere with a conscious acceptable, linear narrative in the left.

Where traumas were multiple and/or occurred early in life a long-term therapeutic relationship may be necessary to recreate or even create an acceptable and meaningful view of oneself and the world.

6. Right brain - left brain splits in traumatology. Our science like our brains is also split.

The so called scientific paradigm favours left brain rational linear categorization and measurement of tangible events such as chemicals. Left brain scientists are denigratory of what cannot be seen, measured and categorized. They may equate right brain phenomena with prescientific thinking and its healers as practising suggestion or a modern form of witchcraft.

The right brain paradigm in the past exemplified by psychoanalysis discerns unconscious patterns and is impatient of narrow categorizations such as in DSM. It wonders at the wisdom of trying to measure nonlinear phenomena with linear means. It sees left brain science lacking clinical relevance, a biopsychosocial gestalt, and soul.

Initially Freud described both childhood development and trauma, and hoped to eventually find a rational neuropsychology for both. It seems that the right brain may be a key to fulfilling his hopes.

One of the tasks of traumatology in this century is for it to be able to read the right brain and integrate its own scientific narrative.


Joseph, R. (1996). Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, and Clinical Neuroscience. New York: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.

Schore, A. (1994). Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Valent, P. (1998). From Survival to Fulfillment: a framework for the life-trauma dialectic. Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel.
Bloody hell Doc ive read it three times it make some form of sense but i get confused half the way through it, i will reread it and try to keep my concentration on track. I have lost the ability to be able read some thing and take it in, buy the time im half way down the page i have forgotten what i have read. Cheers Nugget
I totally agree. My mind is in conflict, especially during a bad period.
Fluctuating thoughts and behaviour between my logical and illogical world.
The visual demonstration link below, after the Reference list, illustrates our mind's ability to shift from right brain (emotional) or left brain (logical) dominance:

Copy and paste any URL's or links below into your browser to view.

Our right hemisphere sees the world more as it really is. The left hemisphere suppresses sensory information that conflicts with what it believes "ought" to be. Paul Valent discusses this issue, and its implications for trauma therapy, in a presentation on the right brain as a substrate for reforging psychoanalytic and trauma therapies.


Bonneh, Y. S. et al. (2001). Motion-induced blindness in normal observers. Nature, 411, 798-801. (Letters).

Funk & Pettigrew (2003). Does interhemispheric competition mediate motion-induced blindness? A transcranial magnetic stimulation study. Perception, 32, 1328-1338.

Valent, P. (2001). The right brain as a substrate for reforging psychoanalytic and trauma therapies. Presented at the ASTSS/NCPTSD Annual Conference, Canberra, Australia. March 2001.

The Motion Induced Blindness illusion was discovered by Yoram Bonneh. Work by Jack Pettigrew at University of Queensland suggests that this illusion results from a rivalry for dominance between the left and right hemispheres at the parietal lobe. When the right hemisphere is dominant, you see the yellow dots; when left hemisphere gains dominance, the yellow dots disappear.

Copy and paste the following into your browser:


What to see

"On the right you see a rotating array of blue crosses and 3 yellow dots. Now fixate on the centre (watch the flashing green spot). Note that the yellow spots disappear once in a while: singly, in pairs or all three simultaneously. In reality, the 3 yellow spots are continuously present, honest!"
Roerich said:
When functioning well, the right brain is a source of inspirations, intuition, and creativity.

So, since my right brain has some issues, does this partially explain why, as an artist, I can't draw pleasant images like I used to before the trauma occurred? What happens if your right brain is damaged? The brain scan I had recently shows that my right hippocampus is reduced in volume by 18%, compared to the left.
The Invisible Epidemic: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Memory and the Brain

J. Douglas Bremner, M.D.

Dr. Bremner is a faculty member of the Departments of Diagnostic Radiology and Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, Yale Psychiatric Institute, and National Center for PTSD-VA Connecticut Healthcare System.

The research reviewed in this article was supported by an NIH-sponsored General Clinical Research Center (GCRC) Clinical Associate Physician (CAP) Award and a VA Research Career Development Award to Dr. Bremner, and the National Center for PTSD Grant.

"Childhood abuse and other sources of extreme stress can have lasting effects on the parts of the brain that are involved in memory and emotion. The hippocampus, in particular, seems to be very sensitive to stress.8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16 Damage to the hippocampus from stress can not only cause problems in dealing with memories and other effects of past stressful experiences, it can also impair new learning.17,18

We recently conducted a study to try to see if PTSD symptoms matched up with a measurable loss of neurons in the hippocampus. We first tested Vietnam combat veterans with declaratory memory problems caused by PTSD.21 Using brain imaging, these combat veterans were found to have an 8% reduction in right hippocampal volume (i.e., the size of the hippocampus), measured with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), while no differences were found in other areas of the brain (Figure 1)."

Link Removed

Exciting recent research has shown that the hippocampus has the capacity to regenerate nerve cells ("neurons") as part of its normal functioning, and that stress impairs that functioning by stopping or slowing down neuron regeneration.19,20

Saturday, 10 March, 2001, 08:31 GMT

Unlocking the brain's potential

Dr Bruce Miller, a dementia specialist at the University of California in San Francisco, found some of his patients were developing artistic talents.

After scanning them, he found they had all had problems in the same part of the brain - the left arterial temporal lobe.

He found the same part of the brain was damaged in an American savant, Dane Bottino, an 11-year-old with artistic talents.

His theory is that because a specific part of the brain does not work properly, abilities in another area may be unlocked.
I'm an ignorant person here, although I think I still have some common sense left. I scanned through these posts here... too in-depth and long to follow. I did however take notice to the MRI pics. This group has a smaller part of the brain then that group; Normal vs PTSD. I want to see before and after of the same person. Maybe having a smaller than average hippocampus predisposes someone to breaking down after experiencing trauma in their life- that can be concluded... maybe it does shrink due to excessive stress, but that it shrinks due to PTSD specifically- that cannot be proven IMHO.

"Exciting recent research has shown that the hippocampus has the capacity to regenerate nerve cells ("neurons") as part of its normal functioning, and that stress impairs that functioning by stopping or slowing down neuron regeneration.19,20"

Like I said earlier, how can the finger be pointed to PTSD specifically? And, to tell me that stress impairs something neurologically or macroscopically is old news... no Nobel Prize yet.
Scientist Poisons Himself to Prove Theory, Wins Nobel Prize . . .

Nobel for scientist who poisoned himself to prove his ulcer theory

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Published: 04 October 2005

The discovery that bacteria rather than stress cause stomach ulcers and that antibiotics can cure the condition has won this year's Nobel prize in physiology or medicine.

Two Australian scientists who isolated the microbe responsible for peptic ulcers and were the first to show the condition is infectious were yesterday jointly awarded the £1m prize.

In 1982, Robin Warren, a pathologist at the Royal Perth Hospital, was the first to show that patients with chronic ulcers also tended to harbour colonies of bacteria in their stomachs.

Barry Marshall, a researcher at the University of Western Australia, became interested in Professor Warren's findings and initiated the studies that led to the identification of the bacterium responsible, which they named Helicobacter pylori.

Dr Marshall went on to test the theory personally by deliberating exposing himself to the bug and so triggering a bout of acute gastric illness in his own stomach.

Until the two scientists carried out their pioneering research, it was widely believed that nothing could live in the extremely acid environment of the stomach, and that ulcers and gastritis were the result of lifestyle and stress.

Professor Warren said it took a decade for others to accept their findings. "Everybody believed there were no bacteria in the stomach. When I said they were there, no one believed it," he said.

The Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said the two scientists showed that it was possible to cure rather than simply treat the symptoms of stomach ulcers.

"Thanks to the pioneering discovery of Marshall and Warren, peptic ulcer disease is no longer a chronic, frequently disabling condition, but a disease that can be cured by a short regimen of antibiotics and acid secretion inhibitors," the assembly said.

The two scientists managed to challenge prevailing dogmas with tenacity and a prepared mind, the assembly said. They presented an irrefutable case that the bacterium H. pylori is the cause of the disease, it added.

Dr Marshall's first attempt at culturing the bacterium failed and it was only after he had left the bug in the laboratory over an Easter holiday that he achieved success.

Lord May of Oxford, president of the Royal Society in London, said the work of the two scientists produced one of the most radical and important changes in the past 50 years in the perception of a medical condition.

"Their results led to the recognition that gastric disorders are infectious diseases, and overturned the previous view that they were physiological illnesses," Lord May said.

"In 1985, Marshall showed by deliberately infecting himself with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori that it caused acute gastric illness. This extraordinary act demonstrated outstanding dedication and commitment to his research," he said.

Professor Brian Spratt, a molecular microbiologist at Imperial College in London, said: "Drug companies had to radically change their approach from containing ulcers with antacids to treating with antibiotics. Ulcers predispose people to gastric cancer - so antibiotics also prevent cancer."
very interesting. though, like nugget, i have trouble focusing on it all at once. i have gained a new appreciation for my add students, lol. so, if i read it right, this overwhelming fear of being crazy is part of the picture?
More on the research work of Alain Brunet, PhD of Centre de Recherche, Douglas Hospital Research Center:

"Pitman examined identical twin brothers, one of whom served in Vietnam and the other who didn't. Among the veterans he studied, some suffer from chronic PTSD. Pitman found that Vietnam veterans with PTSD had a smaller hippocampus than did those without PTSD. Interestingly, so did their identical twin that had NOT been to Vietnam. In other words, given that we would expect identical twins to share similar physiology, it appears that the co-twin went to Vietnam with a smaller hippocampus in the first place."

I look forward to the study below being published, though I wonder if Dr. Brunet is looking at the effects of stress on the brain, or PTSD in particular?

"Through the use of MRI, they are following a group of trauma-exposed individuals over a period of one year and looking to see whether the size of the hippocampus changes over time. If the work of colleague Roger K. Pitman, MD, of the Harvard Medical School is of any indication, Brunet’s elegant studies will surely help disentangle a rather complex field."

High levels of stress often has a person asking themselves the following questions.

"Am I going crazy? Why do I get so angry over the slightest thing. I didn't used to be like that?"
Nobel for scientist who poisoned himself to prove his ulcer theory

If this is a response to my previous post, then I consider it 'comparing apples to oranges.' For one thing, I don't know how you would innoculate yourself with PTSD in the first place:dontknow: . Let's, for the sake of argument, say your now a sufferer of PTSD; a level that is theorized to shrink a hippocampus. Well, I would say that its not likely you would have any further interest/inclination to continue such demanding scientific research. I guess a colleague could continue the research and study 'you' at this point though. However, unlike Dr Marshall and his study, there is no antibiotic or magic pills for PTSD:crybaby: . And your colleague would probably piss you off, and vise-versa, so much that further research would be futile. IMO, PTSD is too subjective to garner a Noble Prize.
Everyone's different in their own way though, and I'm just a lay-person (not an expert) here.
Mac, just curious, do you have any alternate theories as to why the hippocampus might be reduced in volume? I've sort of wondered that myself, with my brain damage... but I can't really think of anything. I had quite a normal life before the trauma, no problems that might suggest brain damage. I can't imagine what else would have caused my hippocampus to shrink in size.
Not open for further replies.