You know you’re intelligent and competent. Most weeks you manage to get through a list of complex and overwhelming tasks from work to kids and maintaining a home. But then it happens. That thing you dread where you behave like a three year old and want to throw down your dummy and stamp your foot and rip the arm off teddy. The competent, self assured, intelligent you has gone out to lunch. You feel out of control and hardly know what you are doing and saying until it’s over. Then a moment later red-faced with a mutilated teddy (that turns out to be a favourite personal item) you return to “normal.” Questions rush through your mind: what just happened? But worse, “when will it happen again?”
Most of us live with these brain glitches where we react to some small event as if it is life and death or as if we are a three year old. When it happens we feel cut off from our intelligence and our resources and become lost in the experience as if there is nothing else. What most of us don’t understand is that this is a glitch in the brain and usually the result of some overwhelming or traumatic event that may have occurred several decades ago. We live with these reactions in silence or find ways to control them, cover them up or avoid them as much as possible. But then out of the blue there they go again and we are back at the beginning.
Because we are such a big brain (cortical) culture most of us respond by trying to analyse what is happening to us so we can fix the problem. The problem with this is that the problem is in the lower brain and doesn’t “do” verbal and rational. We have come to consider that the big brain can work out anything and mostly this is true with problems in the world, like why is my car pulling to the left and making a strange grating noise. I pull over and see I have a flat tyre and change it. Easy. But when the lower brain the part that is misbehaving it’s like a two year old and doesn’t hear the words or solutions of the big brain. This is like trying to reason with a two year old who is having a tantrum.
When there is lower brain activation what we need to learn to do is soothe the lower brain. And the way we can soothe the lower brain is through mindfulness techniques or sensory awareness of the present. There are neurobiological reasons for this but essentially it is what we need to do to soothe the lower brain.
Recognising what is happening and what to do about it is at the heart of changing these reactions. Every brain-body-mind (you) can do this for yourself. The Integrated Brain Map is simply a way to encourage the process of integration and brain change.
The greatest challenge when we experience lower brain activation is to wake up when we are in it. Firstly to wake up, like waking out of a nightmare and then soothing the lower brain. The way we soothe the lower brain is through sensory awareness – mindfulness. While we can all do this it can be very difficult when we feel lost in our distress. There are a range of neurobiological reasons why this is the case but essentially what we need to do is orient ourselves to the present. Create an AND pathway. Something like “I feel scared, worried, shut down, want to run” AND I’m here now and (looking around) I am ok, safe, I can feel my feet on the floor and see the picture of my family on the bookshelf, and hear the radio… etc. It sounds so simple – but it aint easy as they say. Getting our own attention when we have lower brain activation is very difficult to begin. But the more we practice it the easier it becomes.
Rita McInnes, psychologist & writer