Saturday, February 27, 2010

Our Brains

I'm listening to an audio book called, "Change Your Brain; Change Your Life" in the car. I'm not finished with it yet but it fits in with much of what I've read in the past 10 years about brain research as it relates to emotions and behavior. The information is based on various kinds of brain scans that have been developed in the past ten years.

The author says that our brain's limbic system (commonly referred to as our "reptile" brain) is where emotions are processed and where threats are handled. The interesting thing I've learned is that the limbic system, unlike other parts of our brains, does not interact with our frontal lobes (where our rational mind is) at all. It just sends signals to our bodies without our having an opportunity to think about it at all. It's a survival mechanism, of course. Under threat of a tiger getting ready to eat us, there's no time to think over what the best thing to do is. But since most of our perceived threats don't involve tigers, but rather threats of hurt feelings, etc. from other people, it's no wonder that we act without thinking and then have to clean up the messes we make. Hmmm.

Also, he says that women have much larger limbic systems than men. The limbic system also is where bonding with other people takes place (without going through our rational minds either). The author believes that this larger limbic system in women is why women bond so easily with others and why men seem to be more detached. He also believes this is the explanation for why women stay with abusive men - they are bonded to them emotionally in a way that has nothing to do with their rational minds.

The part I'm listening to now regards the automatic (and irrational) thinking that our limbic systems come up with. Unfortunately our automatic thoughts come from a part of our brain that has no way of interacting with the truth. Therefore, most of our automatic thoughts are negative, untrue and based on automatic reactions to threats. Examples of automatic thoughts - I'm so stupid. My boss didn't say hello so she must be mad at me. My spouse is acting strangely so he/she doesn't love me anymore.

The author says that by becoming aware of and challenging these thoughts - which, by the way, is a tremendous amount of work - we can eveuntually change the way our brains actually work! More on all this later.

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