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Thomas Lewis quotes (showing 1-30 of 47)

“Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love. (144)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“The first part of emotional healing is being limbically known - having someone with a keen ear catch your melodic essence. (170)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“Even after a peak parenting experience, children never transition to a fully self-tuning physiology. Adults remain social animals: they continue to require a source of stabilization outside themselves. That open-loop design means that in some important ways, people cannot be stable on their own - not should or shouldn't be, but can't be. This prospect is disconcerting to many, especially in a society that prizes individuality as ours does. Total self-sufficiency turns out to be a daydream whose bubble is burst by the sharp edge of the limbic brain. Stability means finding people who regulate you well and staying near them. (86)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“Long-standing togetherness writes permanent changes into a brain's open book. In a relationship, one mind revises another; one heart changes its partner. (144)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“When anxiety becomes problematic, most people try vainly to think their way out of trouble. But worry has its roots in the reptilian brain, minimally responsive to will. As a wise psychoanalyst once remarked of the autonomic nervous system (which carries the outgoing fear messages from the reptilian brain), "It's so far from the head it doesn't even know there is a head." (49)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“Love is simultaneous mutual regulation, wherein each person meets the needs of the other, because neither can provide for his own. (208)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“People who need regulation often leave therapy sessions feeling calmer, stronger, safer, more able to handle the world. Often they don't know why. Nothing obviously helpful happened - telling a stranger about your pain sounds nothing like a certain recipe for relief. And the feeling inevitably dwindles, sometimes within minutes, taking the warmth and security with it. But the longer a patient depends, the more his stability swells, expanding infinitesimally with ever session as length is added to a woven cloth with each pass of the shuttle, each contraction of the loom. And after he weaves enough of it, the day comes when the patient will unfurl his independence like a pair of spread wings. Free at last, he catches a wind and rides into other lands. (172)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“Describing good relatedness to someone, no matter how precisely or how often, does not inscribe it into the neural networks that inspire love. Self-help books are like car repair manuals: you can read them all day, but doing so doesn't fix a thing. Working on a car means rolling up your sleeves and getting under the hood, and you have to be willing to get dirt on your hands and grease beneath your fingernails. Overhauling emotional knowledge is no spectator sport; it demands the messy experience of yanking and tinkering that comes from a limbic bond. If someone's relationship today bear a troubled imprint, they do so because an influential relationship left its mark on a child's mind. When a limbic connection has established a neural pattern, it takes a limbic connection to revise it. (177)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“A therapist who fears dependence will tell his patient, sometimes openly, that the urge to rely is pathologic. In doing so he denigrates a cardinal tool. A parent who rejects a child's desire to depend raises a fragile person. Those children, grown to adulthood, are frequently among those who come for help. Shall we tell them again that no one can find an art to lean on, that each alone must work to ease a private sorrow? Then we shall repeat and experiment already conducted; many know its result only too well. If patient and therapist are to proceed together down a curative path, they must allow limbic regulation and its companion moon, dependence, to make the revolutionary magic. Many therapists believe that reliance fosters a detrimental dependency. Instead, they say, patients should be directed to "do it for themselves" - as if they possess everything but the wit to throw that switch and get on with their lives. But people do not learn emotional modulation as they do geometry or the names of state capitals. They absorb the skill from living in the presence of an adept external modulator, and they learn it implicitly. Knowledge leaps the gap from one mind to the other, but the learner does not experience the transferred information as an explicit strategy. Instead, a spontaneous capacity germinates and becomes a natural part of the self, like knowing how to ride a bike or tie one's shoes. The effortful beginnings fade and disappear from memory. (171)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“The limbic connectedness of a working psychotherapy requires uncommon courage. A patient asks to surrender the life he knows and to enter and emotional world he has never seen; he offers himself up to be changed in ways he can't possibly envision. As his assurance of successful transmutation he has only the gossamer of faith. At the journey's end, he will no longer be who he was, and his guide is someone he has every reason to mistrust...only human love keeps this from being the act of two madmen. (190)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“The brevity of mini (psycho)therapies is another efficient forestaller of healing. The neocortex rapidly master didactic information, but the limbic brain takes mountains of repetition. No one expects to play the flute in six lessons or to become fluent in Italian in ten. (189)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“The skill of becoming and remaining attuned to another's emotional rhythms requires a solid investment of years. (205)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“The benefits of deep attachment are powerful - regulated people feel whole, centered, alive. (208)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“What Richard Selzer, M.D. once wrote of surgery is true of therapy: only human love keeps this from being the act of two madmen.”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“Emotions are humanity's motivator and its omnipresent guide. (36)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“Knowing someone is the first goal of therapy. Modulating emotionality - whether by relatedness or psychopharmacology or both - is second. Therapy's last and most ambitious aim is revising the neural code that directs an emotional life. (176)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“The person of the therapist is the converting catalyst, not his order or credo, not his spatial location in the room, not his exquisitely chosen words or denominational silences. So long as the rules of a therapeutic system do not hinder limbic transmission - a critical caveat - they remain inconsequential, neocortical distractions. The dispensable trappings of dogma may determine what a therapist thinks he is doing, what he talks about when he talks about therapy, but the agent of change is who he is. (187)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“Science is an inherent contradiction — systematic wonder — applied to the natural world. In its mundane form, the methodical instinct prevails and the result, an orderly procession of papers, advances the perimeter of knowledge, step by laborious step. Great scientific minds partake of that daily discipline and can also suspend it, yielding to the sheer love of allowing the mental engine to spin free. And then Einstein imagines himself riding a light beam, Kekule formulates the structure of benzene in a dream, and Fleming’s eye travels past the annoying mold on his glassware to the clear ring surrounding it — a lucid halo in a dish otherwise opaque with bacteria — and penicillin is born. Who knows how many scientific revolutions have been missed because their potential inaugurators disregarded the whimsical, the incidental, the inconvenient inside the laboratory?”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“While genes are pivotal in establishing some aspects of emotionality, experience plays a central role in turning genes on and off. DNA is not the heart’s destiny; the genetic lottery may determine the cards in your deck, but experience deals the hand you can play. Scientists have proven, for example, that good mothering can override a disadvantageous temperament.(152)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“When people have trouble with their emotions – a bout of anxiety or depression, say, or seasonal gloominess - they often want science to pinpoint an offending neurotransmitter in the way that a witness picks the perp out of a lineup. Is it excessive norepinephrine, too little dopamine, errant estrogen? The answer is apt to dissatisfy: no single suspect can be fingered with confidence because the question itself attributes a fallacious simplicity to the brain.(91)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“The vocation of psychotherapy confers a few unexpected fringe benefits on its practitioners, and the following is one of them. It impels participation in a process that our modern world has all but forgotten: sitting in a room with another person for hours at a time with no purpose in mind but attending. As you do so, another world expands and comes alive to your senses--a world governed by forces that were old before humanity began.”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“A person cannot direct his emotional life in the way he bids his motor system to reach for a cup. He cannot will himself to want the right thing or to love the right person or to be happy after a disappointment, or even to be happy in happy times. People lack this capacity not through a deficiency of discipline but because the jurisdiction of will is limited to the latest brain and to those functions within its purview. Emotional life can be influenced, but it cannot be commanded.”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“Emotional life can be influenced, but it cannot be commanded.”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“In a dazzling vote of confidence for form over substance, our culture fawns over the fleetingness of being “in love” while discounting the importance of loving. (206)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“People rely on intelligence to solve problems, and they are naturally baffled when comprehension proves impotent to effect emotional change. To the neocortical brain, rich in the power of abstractions, understanding makes all the difference, but it doesn’t count for much in the neural systems that evolved before understanding existed. Ideas bounce like so many peas off the sturdy incomprehension of the limbic and reptilian brains. The dogged implicitness of emotional knowledge, its relentless unreasoning force, prevents logic from granting salvation just as it precludes self-help books from helping. The sheer volume and variety of self-help paraphernalia testify at once to the vastness of the appetite they address and their inability to satisfy it. (118)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“All of us, when we engage in relatedness, fall under the gravitational influence of another’s emotional world, at the same time that we are bending his emotional mind with ours. Each relationship is a binary star, a burning flux of exchanged force fields, the deep and ancient influences emanating and felt, felt and emanating. (142)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“Our society’s love affair with mechanical devices that respond at a button-touch ill prepares us to deal with the unruly organic mind that dwells within. Anything that does not comply must be broken or poorly designed, people now suppose, including their hearts.”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“The dogged implicitness of emotional knowledge, its relentless unreasoning force, prevents logic from granting salvation just as it precludes self-help books from helping. The sheer volume and variety of helf-help paraphernalia testify at once to the vastness of the appetite they address and their inability to satisfy it.”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“One brain’s blueprint may promote joy more readily than most; in another, pessimism reigns. Whether happiness infuses or eludes a person depends, in part, on the DNA he has chanced to receive. (152)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love
“The mind-body clash has disguised the truth that psychotherapy is physiology. When a person starts therapy, he isn't beginning a pale conversation; he is stepping into a somatic state of relatedness. (168)”
Thomas Lewis, A General Theory of Love

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