We probably establish pathways, mechanisms or tools for avoiding depression, psychosis, personality disorders, autism and enhancing intelligence inside our brains before we are born; these tools can be enhanced or depleted as we age. Biological susceptibility to depression, psychosis, personality disorders, schizophrenia and autism could be counteracted by strengthening these neurological tools.
A child probably creates emotional memory foundations or tools with the help of the hippocampus, and these foundations serve as protection from mental illness. For example, when frightened a small child might curl up into a fetal position. The fetal position (a tool used during times of stress) is stored in the brain by the hippocampus as a position that produces calming emotions. This position helps the brain to reconnect with pathways that were linked to the sensation of calm felt as a fetus.
It is well known that babies respond well to being wrapped snugly in a way that mimics how they might have felt in the womb. This calming of the child results in lowering cortisol responses which allow the brain to function at a higher level. Stress produces cortisol which may attach to steroid binding sites in the brain, particularly in the hippocampus, which plays a major role in memory.
If a child who is frightened is provided with a new calming experience, verbal or non verbal, a new emotional memory foundation will be learned and stored in the brain with the help of the hippocampus. The new emotional memory foundation is possibly cemented at night during REM sleep.
Towards adolescence the rate of emotional foundations learned from positive human experiences decreases as the comforting from family decreases, so adolescents become more reliant on drawing from their stored emotional memory reserves during times of stress. Stress and anxiety have been proven to affect memory and make concentration difficult. The emotional memory tools possibly decrease stress, decrease cortisol levels, increase serotonin levels and allows the brain to function with more perceived clarity. These emotional memory tools are possibly accessed during REM sleep.
For example, healthy adolescents become increasingly emotionally independent from their parents. During sleep, they have dreams that reflect the strong emotions felt during the day. Throughout the dreaming process, the brain accesses emotional tools, for example the soothing feeling from a memory of being physically comforted, laughing or being verbally reassured. This results in a decrease of ‘real’ stress, decreases cortisol, increases serotonin and the adolescent wakes up feeling refreshed and happier.
Individuals likely to experience recurring depression or mental illness have insufficient emotionally soothing memories due to negative experiences, structural neurological deficiencies, lack of sleep, or lack of REM. This limits the storage of positive emotional tools or leads to difficulty accessing stored tools at night.
It is important for parents to let their children experience a range of emotions with positive outcomes as a child. Children surrounded by negativity store destructive memories often resulting in chronic dysthymia and depression. Skewed and maladaptive emotionally soothing memories may encourage personality disorders. If emotionally stored tools are based only on physical/non verbal events, addictive type personalities may result.
Schizophrenics may not be able to access a store of emotionally soothing memories due to poorly functioning neurological systems. This interferes with the formation of emotional tools, resulting in psychosis.
People who suffer from post traumatic stress may experience recurrent nightmares because their brains are unable to find stored memories to match and combat their extreme stressor.
Adults who had anxious parents go to sleep with a calm feeling which gives way to a store of anxiety-laden emotional memory during sleep. As an adult, they wake up with increased anxiety. The same pattern is exhibited with people who had overly critical and negative parents, perhaps culminating in depression.
Infants utilize emotional storage. They register “happy faces”, “sad faces” etc. They also store calming memories during periods of closeness, cuddling and breast feeding. A child completely devoid of human contact will become autistic. They intellectualize all of their soothing.
Autism can also result from infection/physical damage to the hippocampus which possibly hinders adequate laying down of emotional memories. Autistic kids who self soothe with rocking may have this emotionally memory tool stored before birth but they cannot build on this. Head banging may relieve some of the physical discomfort caused by excesses in cortisol and stimulate the release of serotonin.
Allowing children to sort through emotionally stressful issues all by themselves may promote or enhance intellectual ability by stimulating new neural pathways. They can create their own emotional tools using logic and reason, although this should not be relied upon as a sole basis for emotional foundation. An over-reliance on intellectual soothing can posssibly lead to emotional disconnection, culminating in Aspergers-like symptoms.