Question:

So what is it that causes me to fight or run away and hide?

Answer:

It’s something called the fight or flight response and this is controlled by a part of the brain called the Amygdala.

Question:

How does it do this?

Answer:

The Amygdala is right at the centre of the brain and all information, from our eyes, our ears, our sense of touch, etc. Has to pass through the Amygdala in order to get to the higher functioning cortex. This puts the amygdala in the ideal position to intercept and react to information that it believes is threatening before the cortex has the opportunity to correctly evaluate the danger. This leaves the “conscious mind” confused because it likes to think it has executive control. In other words; the “conscious mind” wants to believe that it makes all the decisions and is faced with clear evidence that it didn’t make the decision in the face of danger.

Question:

How does the “ego mind” respond?

Answer:

Quite simply, using its influence over memory and imagination, it selects or creates a reality in which it falsely claims ownership over the response and creates a reality that justifies its false belief that it intentionally initiated the subsequent behaviour.

Question:

Why can’t I see this happening?

Answer:

Well, you can’t see it happening for 2 reasons. Firstly, as mentioned above, the amygdala intercepts the message first, long before the much slower cortex can make sense of the information, and, secondly, if the message says “DANGER” it turns the frontal cortex (the seat of consciousness) off. So consciousness and rational thought is cut out of the loop because it will only slow down the response and delay us responding to the danger.

Question:

So why can’t I stop myself?

Answer:

The ability to consciously overrule the Amygdala depends upon a complex combination of brain structures, neural connections and hormones called “Neurotransmitters”. These structures and connections grow and learn according to their environment. Most of this development occurs during the early years but the brain never loses the ability to restructure itself. Adversity, stress, trauma are some of the negative influences that can negatively restructure the brain. A loving, caring, secure (safe) and nurturing environment positively influences the structure of the brain. So in a negative early environment, the structures, connections, and neurotransmitters learn that the world is not safe, so it is better to have the amygdala easily take over in response to danger. In a positive early environment, the brain adapts so that the frontal cortex can easily overrule the amygdala when it senses danger and keep control of executive function of the body. In effect, overriding the instinctual fight or flight response. So your early environment, to a great extent, determines how well you can control your fight or flight response later on in life.

Question:

What is early environment?

Answer:

From the moment of conception, you are developing and the direction that development takes depends upon what stimulus you receive. Even before you are born, you are responding, adapting and developing according to your environment. Before birth, that environment is also your mother’s environment, what she feels, what she experiences, if she is under stress or in an adverse environment, this will determine your mother’s hormone levels which in turn determines how the foetus’s brain connections will grow (for instance, there is a correlation between high prenatal maternal testosterone and autism). This path of development is vulnerable to adversity and environment, from conception, right through to teenage years and beyond. One of its most vulnerable periods is from birth to around the age of 3 or 4, but it continues as the connections between the limbic system and the frontal cortex continue to organise themselves and this doesn’t near completion until, on average, our mid 20s or later.

Question:

Why would my Amygdala perceive a loving relationship as not safe?

Answer:

The brain learns from its environment. The brain also learns fastest from birth to around 3 to 4 years old. So if that early environment involved the experience of an important emotional attachment (parental bond) causing a threat to survival, the brain, or rather the amygdala, will learn that forming any kind of emotional attachment is a threat to survival, and therefore the Amygdala will always attempt to sabotage any important emotional attachment because it perceives it as a threat to survival and because, even if you do not remember it explicitly, the implicit memory became an intrinsic part of the unconscious, that the first experience of an emotional attachment caused a survival response. The Amygdala will respond first, instantly telling you it is in an unsafe situation, then the brain will try and make sense of this information. It will do this by looking for clues and signals in the present environment and the current relationship that help explain the current state of arousal. Not acknowledging that the reason for the arousal is not in the present, but in the past. The unfortunate part of this internal discussion is that imagination and memory can combine with the fear response to create a false perception of the present environment as one that, in many ways, mimics the threatening experience that first created the memory.

Question:

Can I do anything to change this?

Answer:

The short answer is, YES. The brain is always capable of reprogramming. The term for this is Neuro-plasticity and it means the brain is always able to change itself.

Question:

How do I make this Neuro-plasticity work? How do I “turn it on”?

Answer:

The first step is always “acknowledgement”. This means acknowledging and accepting that something is wrong and then learning more about what and why it is wrong. Conscious awareness begins the process of “changing the brain” and rewiring the flawed connections.

Advertisements