The Brain and Ego Defenses

I’m reminded of one of Dr. Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic concepts, “ego defenses.” Ego defenses are inhibiting internal mechanisms that prevent us from “knowing” early emotional pain through rationalizing, analyzing, explaining away, minimizing, overgeneralization etc.

Often, this early emotional pain is numbed out by the ego defenses. It’s acted out because it has never been worked out. We act the feelings out, we act them in, or we project them unto others for excitement or mood alteration.

As I write this, the brain research work of Ronald Melzack comes into my attention. Melzack states that the brain has three separate systems: the “neocortex” (thinking part), the limbic system (feeling part), and the visceral brain. He discovered an adaptive biological response for inhibiting pain which he labels as “neuronal gate.”

When there is repression of inner pain, according to Melzack, a closing of the “neuronal gate” between the neocortex and limbic system parts of the brain takes place. That tells us that when the limbic system part of the brain reaches “overwhelm,” say from past emotional storms, an automatic system shuts the gate into the neocortex.

The problem is, even when the gate is shut, the signals from the limbic system don’t go away. Brain researchers theorize that they continue to move around closed circuits of nerve fibers in the limbic system. This explains why even when ego defenses attempt to bypass buried, unprocessed pain, the pain remains and intensifies.

Emotional storms continue when the original pain is unresolved, ignored, frozen. To heal then, the unfinished business needs appropriate expression.