Neuroscience aids the understanding of how the quality and nature of our early experiences become encoded within the neural infrastructure of the brain and how its architecture determines the shape of all of our emotional experiences and relationship patterns thereafter. In her book “The Creative Brain” "The Creative Brain" Nancy C. Andreasen puts it like this:
"Neuroscience adds a new dimension: it makes us aware that experiences throughout life change the brain throughout life. We are literally remaking our brains - who we are and how we think, with all our actions, reactions, perceptions, postures, and positions - every minute of the day and every day of the week and every month and year of our entire lives.
During infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and late life we all accumulate a trove of experiences and memories. These shape our minds and brains, and mightily so. We literally become what we have seen, heard, smelled, touched, done, read, and remembered”
The importance of the first three years of life particularly is given primacy by neuroscience. This is when neural networks shape and organise behaviours, emotions, thoughts and sensations which set the blueprint for relating for the remainder of an individual’s life. It is clear that neural pathways are laid down so early in the developing brain that they are difficult to modify. However, owing to neuroscience we now know that modification is in fact not just possible but probable given optimum conditions.
The early interpersonal environment is imprinted in the human brain by shaping the infant’s neural networks and establishing the biochemical structures dedicated to memory, emotion, safety and survival. Later these structures and processes are imprinted for social and intellectual skills, affect regulation and the sense of self. The brain is then sculpted in ways that assist the child in surviving childhood but often become maladaptive later in life. At the heart of affective neuroscience is an appreciation of the interwoven forces of nature and nurture, what goes right and wrong in the developmental unfolding and how to re-establish healthy neural functioning. For the formation of new networks, certain parts of the brain need to be working together. Experiences create and develop these neural networks. It is important for us to understand how the brain is affected by all experiences, but, in particular, experiences of “trauma” which exist on the continuum of ongoing misattunement to severe abuse.
Neuroscientists over the last few decades have discovered how trauma and fear affect the brain, especially the impact of experiences on child neurodevelopment. The brain continually changes in response to environmental challenges and because of this the neural architecture of the brain comes to embody the environment that shapes it. The brain adjusts to patterned-repetitive experiences that are understood through our senses. Nurturing environments result in healthy growth, while traumatic experiences result in unhealthy neurodevelopment
The developing brain is experience-driven such that we learn through our experiences, especially in children. These experiences are programmed as memories in the brain, so repeated experiences become “hard-wired.
Children exposed repeatedly to traumatic events do not have the capacity to process experiences in a sophisticated way. Beliefs such as “the world is not safe” are developed in the child’s brain and they may act unconsciously in ways that confirm those core beliefs
Enriched environments which encourage growth and change include the kinds of challenging educational and experiential opportunities that encourage us to learn new skills and expand our knowledge. It is in such an enriched environment that there is neuroplasticity. Neural plasticity refers to the ability of neurons to change the way they are shaped and relate to one another as the brain adapts to the environment through time.