Tag Archives: safety

Anger #04 The Triune Brain

 

MacQuarrie Email Program #04 — How We Function: The Triune Brain

angry04-thetriunebrainCommentary: A huge advance in knowledge of the brain has occurred in the past century; it is astounding what we have learned. However, at the same time, we have learned relatively little about the mind. An assumption of the modern neurosciences is that mind and brain are synonymous (a reflection of scientific materialism) — it is not an assumption with which I agree (nor do I agree with scientific materialism). But I don’t often know where to draw the distinctions, so I often use the term mind-brain when I am unclear.

The Triune Brain

One area that seems fairly clear is the concept of what is called the triune brain, referring to the layered structure of the brain, and the apparent layering of the mind. Simplistically, the mind-brain acts as a set of filters of incoming data. Think of sunglasses — they are a filter to reduce the glare of sunlight. They serve a purpose, but they also change what you see. Similarly the filtering aspect of the mind-brain serves a purpose, and distorts how you behave. (What follows is relatively simplistic, but accurate enough to be useful.)

The Filter of Safety

Neurologically, 99% of the data that you have been observing in the Now I Am Aware Of exercise of the last email enters the base areas of the mind-brain, the brain stem or Lizard Brain, where it is selectively scanned for your safety. If you not safe, you will immediately go into survival mode to protect yourself; this takes about 200 msec or 2/10th of a second. When in survival mode, the words that would be used to describe you might include serious, anxious, cold — it is from this level that you would violate others. In survival mode, others don’t matter! You are in action to defend your very existence.

The Filter of Life Energy (Emotion)

Most of the time this mode of survival is not necessary, so the incoming data advances through the Lizard Brain up to the Mammalian Brain (or Limbic System); the other 1% data (smell) goes here directly. Here the data is assessed (in about 300 msec) for whether the result will be pain or pleasure, pain or gain. It is at this level that most of our emotional experience develops:

  • pain may lead to some kind of moving against or away from, manifest as anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and other so-called negative emotions, or
  • pleasure/gain, with a movement towards, manifest as excitement, interest, enthusiasm, et cetera.

If the emotion is really intense, the information is processed at this level, and it appears in your awareness together with as the inability to think clearly. This is especially so with the emotions of powerlessness such as rage. Then, in an attempt to get back to a place of power, you may move into survival mode, and violate from a stance of righteous indignation.

In any event, information is sent back down to the lizard brain (the seat of all movement) for movement into action.

The Filter of Choice (Awareness)

Finally, if the experience is energetically less intense, the data rises still further to the cerebral cortices, the Human Brain, the seat of memory and language, the ability to “think,” and make choices. This requires about 400 msec of processing time. Almost all of this brain processing takes place at the other-than-conscious mind level, and seems to be under conscious choice, but like a pot of stew, what surfaces is only a small part of that actually present in the pot.

Again, information is sent back down for the initiation of movement into action.

Safety precedes Life Energy precedes Choice (S > E > C)

It is essential to recognize that this entire process is a bottom-up processor: safety is more important than life energy, which in turn is more important than choice. Consider, for example, what happens with New Year’s Eve resolutions — the vast majority fail. Why? Suppose you are a smoker, and you decide to stop New Year’s Eve. Almost certainly some part of you wants to smoke (derives pleasure from smoking), and you then attempt to impose the “choice” of not smoking onto that part of you than does want to continue. It doesn’t work! The emotional mind-brain is far more powerful than the human mind-brain.

If you really want to stop smoking, you need certain requirements:

  • Can you find an alternate way of satisfying the emotional system?
  • Can you have a goal of health (in a felt pleasurable sense) rather than a get-away from mode of not smoking?
  • Can you find ways to reward yourself, both intermittently (small pleasures to replace the momentary cigarette) and long-term (something desired to purchase with the money saved)?

All this and more will allow safety and pleasure to support choice, rather than conflict with choice.

Task for this email: Write down two or three instances when you have wanted to change something about your life, and have been unsuccessful. What happened? How did you attempt change? How did you deviate from the goal you set for yourself? Consider to what extent the ideas of safety, pleasure-pain and choice entered into your lack of success? Knowing all this, what could you have done differently.

Coming next: The Role of the Unconscious

Anger #03 Awareness and Discipline

PersonalGrowth1

The tasks in this post: the development of awareness (task #1) and discipline (task #2).

The work of change may seem massive, but really it’s just one step after another, and once you know the steps, you simply keep stepping (and find ways to keep yourself stable in the meantime).

However, it is easy to get into despair and/or overwhelm. What follows are primary skills, both for personal growth and for getting out of feeling overwhelmed.

Awareness

Awareness is “attention to my spontaneously emerging experience.” Awareness is NOT thinking — it is experiencing, noting what is actually happening, especially in my body. Fundamentally, I can be aware of three areas:

  • what is happening outside me (my so-called five senses),
  • what is happening within my body, and
  • third, the story I am creating as a result of these two ongoing experiences (generally what I call my thinking).

Awareness allows me to be present NOW, HERE! My story is usually about the past or the future — potentially useful, but not awareness, and not with any of the power of awareness.

Discipline

Discipline is “doing what I want to do, even when I don’t want to do it.” I want an outcome, and yah, it takes work to get it. Discipline is doing the work because I want the outcome, recognizing that often I don’t want to do the effort, but I do it anyway.

The skill is to make it easier. For example, I practice yoga. I enjoy it, I want the benefits, but often I don’t really feel like doing it. So my discipline is to do “two minutes of yoga.” Not much, eh! Well, every day, I do my two minutes of yoga, even when I don’t want to do it. And, by the end of two minutes, I often feel better; I like how I feel, so I do 45 minutes, because I like it. But, if at the end of two minutes I don’t like how I feel, I stop, and congratulate myself — I have kept my commitment. No self-criticism, ever.

Task(s)

For 20 consecutive minute each day for the next week, sit quietly and repeat the following: “Now I am aware of …” and name a body sensation. Don’t describe it, just name it (one or two words), and move on to the next sensation. “Now I am aware of … my fingers tingling … the coolness of my toes … the tension under my eyes …).

You will lose track. You will drift off into thoughts, day-dreams, etc. That is what the mind does. When you notice you have done so, gently come back to NIAA (now I am aware of …).

Commentary

As you get used to the process, lightly give attention to various components (mainly to sharpen your skill): external body sensations (what you feel at skin level), internal body sensations (those truly within), external sounds, internal sounds (including talking to yourself), external visual (with eyes open), internal visual (with eyes closed, including mental images). I say lightly, and I mean lightly — no one does this practice perfectly. The nature of the mind is that it wanders, and the discipline is to gently bring it back, without criticism of self.

If you will do this for 6 months, I guarantee you will change your life. This skill of awareness is subtle, and powerful. Essentially as you become aware of what you are actually doing, there will be occasions where you don’t like what you are doing. You will choose to stop, and you will change your life for the better, a little bit. The results accumulate over time, and eventually you are in a much better place.

In a later email when I describe the skill of knowing your own truths, I will say more about this. For now though, how do you know when you are speaking your truth, and how do you know when you are telling a lie.

Ideally, you will continue this practice of awareness for the rest of your life — because you want to! You may eventually change it to what is today called mindfulness practice or vipassana meditation, all just variations on a theme.

My personal choice is a vipassana retreat (I suggest 10 days) — largely because I can recommend such a retreat to anyone. Vipassana is a Buddhist practice, but as compared to other “religions,” Buddhism does not emphasize belief systems, only practice.

Vipassana also operates from a principle called dana — the teachings are free. If there are any changes for a retreat, they are minimal, and only to cover costs; sometimes the entire retreat (days to months) are free, and costs are covered by donation. If able, sign up for a retreat.

Coming next: How We Function — The Triune Brain

Anger #02 What Is Anger?

This is the second of my email anger program so that the program is not lost. It is a duplicate of a previous sampler post of 20160809.

angerface3
Anger is a masque of deeper issues.

This one is fairly long. Apologies.

To begin: Are you still reading your outcome title (Email #01), at least once a day? If yes, great. Congratulations. If not, that is the difficulty of discipline — you are not wrong, your behaviour is not wrong, but to the extent that you made a commitment, you did not keep your commitment. And people who do not keep commitments are much less likely to get outcomes that they want. Simple, yes; painful, yes! I did not say this program would be easy; I did suggest that it is effective. Please continue to read your outcome statement each day.

Task for this email: After reading this email, monitor your emotions for a few days (don’t attempt to change them, just monitor them). When you notice an obvious anger-based emotion, answer the following questions:

  • Do you have a sense of power? Can you move forward with it? If so, likely it is anger.
  • Do you feel overwhelmed? Is there an underlying powerlessness? If so, likely it is rage.
  • Do you feel indignant, determined “it” should not be. If so, likely it is self-righteousness.
  • Where in your body are you feeling this emotion.

What is anger? Most people know that they are emotional, but often they do not know what emotions are. Most people know when they are angry —  you, for example, wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t angry, but you do you know what anger is. In this email, we clean up some language. (Suggestion: if you will pay meticulous attention to your language for six months, I guarantee you will change your life for the better. More in another email.)

What are Emotions? There are many definitions, but my best definition of emotion is “a biologically adaptive action tendency.” What does that mean? Well, you are designed to respond to your environment, and when things change, you as a biologic organism adapt — usually very effectively! When something happens, you (your mind) processes what is happening, usually at the other-than-conscious level and with amazing speed. Your mind then sends a signal to your body to react, to move into action. The very beginning of the experience of action is the felt sense called emotion.

Another definition of emotion I use is “energy to which I give meaning and direction.” In the so-called pleasurable emotions, I move towards something — I am excited or interested. In the so-called negative emotions, I move against or away from — I am angry, afraid, sad, et cetera. Check it out: notice what you are feeling right now, give it a name, and point to where that feeling is in your body. (Don’t be surprised if you cannot do this — when I first started my own therapy work, I could not do so.) How or to where does this emotion want you to move?(Suppose you are hungry. Where in your body? To where do you want to move?)

So, what are feelings? Aren’t they emotions also? Sort of. Again many definitions, but I want to make a clean distinction. Examples of emotional words are: angry, excited, afraid, et cetera. Emotions point at my body, and can be described in a single word. Yes, they can refer to something else, but the felt sense is in the body, and can be pointed at. Feeling words point to my relationships: hostile (towards), included (with), ignored (by), etc. Again, one word, but they point outwards. There is usually an underlying emotion, but the feeling points outwards. Then, to make matters more confusing, there are also the feeling judgments — my thoughts about my emotions and feelings: I feel that … (finish with the thought, e.g., “this is wrong.”). There is an underlying emotion or feeling (unnamed), but the description is a thought, and always more than one word is required.

What is Anger? Anger is an emotion, one that shows that my beliefs have been disrupted, without my intention or permission. Suppose someone in a crowd pushes me — my mind processes this, says this should not be happening (a thought), and sends a signal to my body that I push back: I’m angry. But perhaps I don’t — I also know, perhaps unconsciously, that the consequences might be less than pleasant, so my mind send a second message, very quickly: Stop! Be cautious instead. Angry and afraid at the same time. Did I say emotions, especially anger, were simple?

Now, suppose the same crowd, only this time we are friends, and we playing football. If someone pushes me, will I be angry? Not likely — because it is expected and allowed as part of the game. Same actions, but different emotions, depending on my beliefs! Complicated, again.

What about rage? Think about your own rage. Rage is also an emotion, this time more complex. When angry, I feel powerful — I can do something with my anger. But in rage, I feel powerless; I’m overwhelmed, and I puff myself up so as to get back to a state of power. And I don’t think clearly — a dangerous combination. At this point, I am likely to violate others — to violate someone is a behavior — to restrict them without their permission, to hit them, to block them, to scare them, etc. Not fun — for anyone!

Note carefully! Emotions and feelings are not wrong, or bad; they simply are. They are the way in which my body gives me information, sometimes information that I do not want to recognize. They always have a positive intention — the “negative” ones usually to protect me, in some fashion. What is potentially inappropriate is what I do with my emotions. This behavioral response can certainly be dangerous, unacceptable to yourself or to others, and much else.

Safety: So, anger and rage can be dangerous, especially if we are unaware of the complexity of what is happening (we will be exploring this in detail over the next weeks). My bottom line is safety, for myself and others — always, and to the best of my ability.

I sum up safety with two statements: No SAD and STOP. No SAD means:

  • I will not intentionally Scare another human being,
  • I will not Attack another biological creature, and
  • I will not Destroy in anger that which I would not destroy when peaceful.

My experience, after 25 years of being a therapist (including as I resolved my own issues of anger) is that, if I stay within the parameters of No SAD, I can be fully expressive of my emotions, and both I and those around me are totally safe.

However, that does not mean that those around me will feel safe (more accurately, they do not feel secure) — my actions may still scare them — what I am doing may remind them of painful times in their own past. I do not intend to scare them, but that does not mean they are not scared.

STOP responds to this. STOP means that if I am told to stop, I stop immediately (no questions, no argument). Someone is scared — always inappropriate. Then I find another, safer way to deal with my anger. Usually this means I will take a time out  to briefly separate myself from others, and thus allow them to recover from their scare (more about time-outs later).

Coming next: Awareness and Discipline