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Changing Brains



The answer is more complicated than counting the number of candles you blew out on your last birthday cake. Your daily habits can either add or subtract years from your life—like how much you exercise, or how stressed you allow yourself to be. Read on for 14 things you can start doing today to live a longer, healthier life.

Drop some pounds

Being obese increases the risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease, possibly shaving up to 12 years off your life, per an analysis in the journal Obesity. But being too thin can hike your risk of osteoporosis and poor immune function. So aim to stay at a weight that’s healthy for you.

Cap your drinks

Regularly exceeding one drink a day or three in one sitting can damage organs, weaken the immune system and increase the risk of some cancers.

Ease your stress

Chronic stress makes us feel…

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The Problem for Therapy?

Why does fear like to lurk in the shadows?

One of the toughest challenges that psychologists, therapists and counsellors face in any therapy situation is resistance. Protection and safety is the implicit motive for the strategy of resistance in the therapist & subject/patient/client relationship. It’s the implicit and instinctive need to keep the hurt and frightened part of the self, hidden and safe. The very hidden and hurt part that the psychologist, therapist and counsellor seek to connect with (and to guide their client/patient to reconnect with), and know that connecting with will facilitate the healing of the self by bringing the dissociated aspect of the self together for a more complete, homogenous and integrated  self.

I believe that to understand this tactic we need to do some deep phylogenetic detective work. We need to go far back to our earliest mammalian beginnings. When we travel back to the beginning of the evolution of our ancestors, we existed as small rodent like animal and lived alongside giant and terrifying creatures. We existed at the same time as the dinosaurs and the dinosaurs undoubtedly saw us as a tasty snack. We survived by running away and hiding. Running away and hiding was our entire survival strategy.

The primitive structures of that small creature’s brain that piloted this behaviour still exist within the core structures of the modern human brain and still pilot our fear response. Our further evolution has provided us with structures for regulating this primitive response to hide for safety. Emotional and behavioural mental health problems occur when this complex regulation system is not working as it should. This allows the primitive structures too much influence and interference with more complex cognitive processing. Primitive processing ends up in competition with other cognitive processing and as these primitive structures occupy a very central part of the brain and are far simpler than the more evolved areas of the brain, their processing is much faster and, with its central position, is perfectly located to intercept and usurp executive control.

Our modern problem with fear having a predisposition to avoid discovery in the psychological realm, is a direct result of our primitive and implicit instinct to hide for physical safety in our distant past.

Deep inside our brain, we have inherited the structures of our distant ancestors and they still have a powerful influence that, if the development of regulatory structures, systems and connections are not at their best, interfere, compete with and dominate the other more complex cognitive processes of more recent phylogenetic origin.

It’s important to understand the nature of these resistant dissociative complexes. They are cut off parts of the whole because they are being protected. They are being protected because they have been harmed and they are fearful of being harmed again.

Imagine seeing a cat in the street. It’s frightened. When you move towards it, it will likely run away and hide. You may want to comfort it, but that is not the way the cat sees it. Its instincts are in charge and its instincts say “run from the danger!”. It cannot reason that you mean to be kind and that you mean no harm. It isn’t operating on reason, it’s an implicit and instinctual response.

Dissociative complexes arise from our primitive and instinctual phylogeny, they are, to all intents and purposes, a wild and frightened animal that still lives inside us. The more the dissociated part feels threatened by you, the more it will retreat inside and resist being exposed

For these dissociative complexes to reveal themselves, they have to feel safe. They have to feel that they aren’t threatened by you. That’s the challenge (and it isn’t an easy one to meet).

It’s all about feeling safe. Safe enough to come out of hiding. Safe enough to be approached. Any ramping up of fear will only make it run away and hide again.

In response to a question;

“Why is that? When by myself, I can love anyone. But after spending two hours with that same anyone, I want to escape and hide.”

To answer this question we have to have a good understanding of our phylogeny, our biology and our brain structure and processing.

As a species we are born preprogramed to bond for our survival. As we mature, this becomes the love part of the equation in relational dynamics.

Our brains have a fear/alarm system called “the amygdala”. These are 2 small “almond shaped” structures centrally located in the brain in an area referred to as the limbic system. This is a primitive area of the brain that we share with all mammals. This fear/alarm system is autonomous and instinctual. It operates automatic defences. How much control we have over its instinctual impulses depends a great deal on how our brains grew as a response to our early emotional environments. And how much independent influence they impose relies on the strength of connections to regulatory systems in the brain (like the prefrontal cortex).

For instance, if our early experiences involved repeated or prolonged and intense periods of fear, then the areas of the brain associated with responding to danger will receive a boost in energy towards development of these particular areas, other areas, especially ones that moderate and calm the danger response, might not receive the same developmental energy and therefore growth that they might otherwise receive in a nurturing environment is impeded. We develop a heightened arousal for danger signals because our developmental experiences have educated neurons within the areas associated with fear response that the world we are growing up in is a dangerous world.

The fear/alarm system is memory based. When I say memory, it is not the kind of memory that you can recall in sounds or images. The fear/alarm system has its own memory system, often referred to as state level memory, or intrinsic memory. We are born with very few fears. Fears are primarily learnt. It works by recording something that caused distress, or fear for survival, and responding with a simple question of 2 responses, should I fight the threat or should I run away. This fight or flight response is very primitive, instinctual and basic to all mammals. Once the amygdala has experienced something that caused fear, it remembers that experience and the fear/alarm response switch is automatically triggered should a reminder of that experience occur.

People that have experienced threat or fear at the hands of their earliest emotional bonds, at a very primitive level of their brain, react to emotional bonding with this fight or flight response. And the truth be told, we have all experienced some form or level of threat or fear at the hands of our earliest emotional bonds. We’ve all been punished to some extent or another by our parents and we’ve all experienced this with some level of fear response program. So we all suffer, to some extent or another, a fear response to emotional bonding.

But when you throw in to this equation prolonged and intense fear during early stages of development, like you might, say, in cases of abuse, neglect, parental abandonment or parental death. The programmed autonomous response of “emotional bonding means danger” is much stronger, dominant and irresistible.

It’s easily able take over our behaviours and perceptions because survival is a priority of the organism.

It’s a survival response. The primitive part of the brain literally thinks that “love” is a threat to survival and then the brain goes through a “connect the dots” calculation and concludes that the object of love is actually the threat to survival and must either be fought to drive it away or evaded and distanced from, so that it is no longer a danger. This whole behavioural process is dictated by the amygdala. When we haven’t developed a good system of regulation of the amygdala from the connections our neurons grew as we developed through insufficient parental nurture, the amygdala is able to literally hijack us and take over our behaviours, actions and perceptions in the interest of survival.

Pattricia M Crittenden

She’s got it so right ..

Do certain bacteria tell us what to think, feel and how to act? It seems so …

With our growing understanding of toxoplasmosis, how early environment and experience shapes the brain, and such things as the so called “warrior gene” and our phylogeny … It turns out that we are no where near as responsible as our current, yet archaic, legal systems suppose.
But responsibility can be taught, ethics can be taught, empathy can be taught and teaching these things wires the brains in such a way that they become our second nature. It’s not that we should give up on the concept of responsibility, but that we should make more effort to teach it if we want people to behave responsibly.