The mind–body connection

Body involvement in one or another sensorimotor form is an accompaniment to the emergence of an emotional experience. Anger involves muscle tension, frowning, and clenched fists; fear involves movement away, eyes dilated, and face tense; shame/humiliation involves eyes turned down, body and head slumping; affection involves facial smile, body upright.

eyes wide, lips curved up; pride involves postural straightening, head up, smile; excitement involves muscles tense, eyes alert. These affective experiences are triggered by an event or happening, actual, remembered, or fantasized. Perception, cognition, affect, and sensorimotor activity emerge as a unit - the body activity is a component of the whole.

The mind-body connections that originate from body sensations turn on a body signal of varied intensity. When the intensity reaches a particular threshold, the signal receives cognitive attention and a call for action. Toilet training involves getting the child to recognize intensifying body sensations in the abdomen and bladder and take socialized measures for relief. Hunger, thirst, and elimination all have gradients of intensity so that the timing of recognition of the signal for the rising sensation will differ for the individual - sometimes to the detriment of having a needed response. In anorexia and obesity, the mind hijacks the pattern, rendering meaningless the clues from the sensations.

Pain also varies in intensity but leads to the activation of attention at low intensities, and, at high intensity, dominates psychic functioning. Alternatively, the psychic goal of experiencing power, thrill, and success in rivalry can motivate the individual to participate in rough physical sports or risk-taking exploits regardless of the likelihood of bruising, falls, broken limbs, or concussion.

When confronted with protracted pain, bodily trauma, and painful interactions, infants tend to form a category of aversiveness and antagonism, rage and hatred and/or avoidance, fear, and disdain. The response pattern leading to intimacy often becomes rigidly and painfully aversive, leading to a psychic wall of avoidance, or, worse, self-inflicted pain and indifference to the pain of others.

Pain makes a person dislike a body part, or his whole body. He would want to get away from it if he could. Sensual pleasure makes a person like his body. It feels so good he wants more of it, seeks the feeling state sometimes at the risk of censure. Sensual pleasure may be heightened during a massage, back rub, or gentle stroking of the genitals. Less intense sensual pleasure may be built into many ordinary activities, like a breeze on one’s face when walking or riding a bicycle, applying cream to a body part, eating leisurely and savoring the food, hearing music, looking at an attractive person. We believe that a person who emerges from infancy with underlying positive affect tone based on sensuality will seek and respond to both the subtle and overt opportunities for sensual pleasures in daily life - both interpersonal and body centered. Similarly, a person who emerges from infancy with an underlying positive core sense of self is able to use his sensorimotor capacities to carry out intentions in play, and will seek and respond to opportunities to exert his will in a variety of challenges.

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