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I am having a lot of cognitive dissonance around learning that the triune model of the brain is a myth/has been debunked extensively but is something we are still referencing a lot in ACEs/Resilience/Hope work (Triune model: 3 parts - brain stem, emotional (mid-brain), prefrontal cortex.

I was introduced Dr. Lisa Feldmann Barrett's work (and initially dismissed until I saw that Community Resilience Initiative is shifting from the triune model to align with her work) and find it very interesting. Some related links: and

I am in the process of reading her new book, 7 and 1/2 Lessons About the Brain. It is shifting how I want to approach sharing brain science within the context of ACEs. Would love to hear what others think.

Some other related links I've explored:

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Melissa, I’m with you; having a lot of cognitive dissonance (maybe that isn’t even a thing).  My question is how do we explain the effects of trauma on the brain and brain development?  And does this new theory then effect the brain science behind ACEs?

Hi Elaine, thank you for your reply! I think it's just a shift to talking about the brain science from a perspective of what specific regions of the brain are responsible for and how their development is impacted by ACEs. I saw this recommended as one way to navigate/explore specific regions and their roles:

I also think I'm going to use things like the window of tolerance (NICABM has a good infographic) and talking about sensations we experience and the relationship to emotions. It just feels inappropriate to keep using the triune model now that I know, so I want to be purposeful about what I share instead!

I think there is a both /and here. Not all emotions are constructed. If you inhaled 35% carbon dioxide you would get a panic response. You have chemo receptors that are prewired for that - and most of what we think/feel is related to what we've learned - much of it before we had language (hence the difference between explicit and implicit memory). The human brain does develop from the bottom up. The brainstem and limbic areas are more developed at younger ages - and the neural system is very plastic. I think the usefulness of both models is that they convey that when our sympathetic nervous system is over active, we respond differently than when we are in a more balanced state. A simpler way of talking about that is the "window of tolerance"....  And a simple way of visualizing it, for kids especially is Dan Siegel's model of the brain in the hand.  

There are other therapeutic implications as well. Dr. Perry's model and his experience with humans exposed to deep adversity shows that you can actually map which "pieces of neural circuitry" are missing and that to be effectively therapeutic you are best starting from the "bottom up" in the order that the brain developed: neurosensory, self - regulational, relational and finally cognitive.  Non of that negates the model of the "predictive brain" - and it aligns with a model that follows brain growth and development - which is important in understanding and supporting brains that have been exposed to adversity.

I've done extensive work on the Neuroscience of ACE's and Neuroscience of Belief. I've been fortunate enough to be part of a few neuroscience courses with Dr. Lisa Feldmann and been able to discuss the matter. The neuroscience of ACE's follows her understandings. At the same time we can not discount the simple evolution of the brain. The way it was formerly explained through the use of terms like Triune brain. The neuroscience understanding is evolving beyond that stage of awareness.

I am looking forward to having a paper, video and powerpoint presentation on the Neuroscience of ACE's soon to share with our group. The base foundations of ACE's have both a Genome predisposition (DNA) and pregnancy stressors that impact the building blocks of our brain prior to even being born.

ACE's are then built onto this foundation. Our experiences and beliefs that take place during the brain forming years are solidified into the wiring. This is able to change and heal yet most people don't want to go that deep in "it".

I have research papers that show ACE's & beliefs anchor in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex. The way we perceive threats early on creates a pathway and unused neuronetworks actually die away. This threat pathway creates the body's response through the frontal cortex, thalamus relay, ACC, Amygdala, Hippocampus and the Insula.

It has taken me over 15 years to research this through thousands of medical journals, neuroscience articles, numerous books and courses.

I am also working on a new ACE protocol that works in conjunction Neuroscience, PTSD, Shadow work (Jungian) and Inner Child Therapy. Not just working on ways to "FEEL BETTER" but "BE BETTER".

When it comes to mediation, when the Default Mode Network (fear based) is active the Task Orientated Network (logic based) is inactive. So this is very difficult when dealing with clients who have higher ACE scores.

Their "neuroception" / unconscious perception / prediction is hyperactive for threats and the majority of the time their logical processing is impaired.

Calming the polyvagal nerve might be necessary prior to mediation.

Great discussion and I love this question. I'm personally not a fan of the Triune brain and stopped using it in my trainings over a decade ago. However, as a trauma trainer, I am forced to use models to simplify VERY complex neuroscience. Models allow us to present this complexity in practical ways. I would argue anyone trying to explain the relationship between trauma and the brain/nervous system in less than a semester-long course must simplify complexity and in doing so sacrifices accuracy. I think as long as we acknowledge this challenge, models help us teach the biological injuries left by ACEs.

I appreciate this question! As I developed my model for resilience-building in 2016-2017, I did a deep dive into MacLean's original work and was pretty shocked about how much was oversimplified and just inaccurate based on our current neuroscience understanding. Stumbling upon Lisa Feldman Barrett's work at the same time was incredibly helpful. Her interview on Ginger Campbell's Brain Science Podcast connected a lot of dots for me. Understanding degeneracy further helped me move away from anatomical-bound explanations for complex human behavior.

The result of all the study bore fruit in how I created the Resilience Toolkit. I realized the importance of a model is how it helps people understand their experience, the relevance to their lives and ecology, and to guide them in learning, healing, and moving forward. As I facilitate the Toolkit, part of my work is to select from the various stress/trauma/resilience models based on what a particular audience needs. There is no perfect model. There are gaps and biases. Yet, there is often enough in a particular model or two that can be really helpful in a practical sense for people to grasp and make their own.

As we train Toolkit facilitators, we pick up these various stress/trauma/resilience models (polyvagal, allostasis, ethology, triune, social ecology, GAS, etc) and examine their origins, biases, strengths, gaps. Sometimes students struggle as they want to know which one is the "right" one. It is in learning about and alongside the people we work with, that we are able to select the model that will be the most resonant.

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