YOUR TWO BRAINS
This article is intended to prompt you to make acquaintance with your two brains. It is important because they are often at cross-purposes with each other. The first, or emotional brain (called the amygdala) is your oldest genetic endowment. It is tucked deep within the mass circuitry of your reptile brain. It served your prehistoric ancestors well when were stalked by a saber-tooth tiger, It processed sights, smells and sounds in a quick a functional way. Your ancestor’s response was immediate- fight, flee or freeze. The cognitive response was instinctual and often life-saving.
The second, or logical brain (called the pre-frontal cortex) developed millions of years after the emotional brain had established dominance. It is found directly behind your forehead. The logical brain served the functional purpose of tempering the influence of the dictatorial and impulsive Emotional Brain. As your ancestors moved from families, to tribes, to communities, the development of reason, planning and organizing became imperative. This skill escaped the emotional brain. As humanity progressed the iron grip of necessity provided the logical brain.
How then to make certain that the logical brain guides behavior when the emotional brain is accustomed to dominance? It is often difficult because it draws on the instinctual memory of millions of years of responding to a threat by coming out swinging, running for cover or going silent and still. Keep in mind that you have the choice in choosing which brain is appropriate when the alarm sounds. In order to place the emotional brain back in charge, use the symptoms (heart racing, breath quickens and blood rushes to muscles) as a signal to pay attention to your cognitive processes. Internally this is accomplished by slowing down, deep breathing and inhibiting the flow of adrenaline. Externally you can say to the source of your conflict (assuming it is not a saber-tooth tiger) something like, “ This is getting out of control…” or “I need a time-out.” or “Let’s revisit this matter when we are not so agitated.” It is important that you develop a tolerance for uncertainty as well as an ability to delay gratification. With practice the immediacy of the settling the conflict fades in the interest of examining it with calmer heads. Finally use the request for a time-out as simply a delay until the logical brain regains control.. Avoid asking for a time-out as a ploy to skip out and end the conflict without resolution.
Edward L. Oriole L.C.P.C. N.C.C.
Staff at The Lighthouse Emotional Wellness Center
Arlington Heights Il 60005