You know those emotional reactions that seem to spiral out of control – those stuck patterns you’d love to get over but just can't seem to be able to – whether it be anxious spinning, second-guessing, anger, etc.
The reason we feel stuck during those times is because our primitive brain is running us. We’re actually not able to make voluntary decisions!
Those automatic, reactive patterns are happening from the old, primitive brain – the subcortical areas. They’re out of reach of our rational, conscious mind, the prefrontal cortex, where we can make reasoned choices.
But there is hope. It is possible to change this reactivity. Our brain can be "rewired" (I’ll tell you how in a bit).
Here is some interesting information: You’re probably aware that when we sense a physical threat from our environment, we react by going into fight, flight, or freeze, just like animals do. What you may not know is that when we humans are feeling emotionally threatened or disturbed (for example, if we’re upset with ourselves or someone else), we go into an internal fight, flight, or freeze. Here’s what it looks like:
Fight – self-criticism, self-blame, shame
Flight – self-isolation, withdrawal, diversion behaviors
Freeze – getting stuck in our heads, racing mind, numbing out, substance over-use, stuck in screen time, etc.
Do any of those reactions feel familiar?
All this happens through no fault of our own. It’s largely programmed by what is called our “conditioning” – things we had no choice over, like: our genetics, our upbringing, the out-of-our-control events in our life, even what’s happening in our environment in the present moment.
Here’s the thing — even though these reactions are happening due to circumstances we didn’t cause, we still tend to blame ourselves, dump on ourselves, and feel shame.
So, what can we do about it?
Well one thing we can do is shift from self-blame to self-compassion. Mindful Self-Compassion therapy suggests what is called a "Self Compassion Break."
1. First, step back and name what’s going on – even say to yourself that you are in a struggle and that many things are out of your control.
2. Then appreciate that you are not alone in this. This is something that all other humans struggle with. Knowing this helps with our feelings of isolation and "badness."
3. Take a moment to be kind to yourself. What would you say to a friend having a similar struggle?
Reading this, I imagine you might be thinking, “Well that sounds good, but it’s easier said than done!”
And I agree – it’s not always so easy! In order to shift into a more relaxed, self-compassionate mode, we may need some support. And we may need to clear those automatic, old brain triggers that pull us back into negative places.
So how can make this easier on ourselves? How can we rewire our brain and change this reactivity?
Here are some suggestions:
You actually can clear triggers and create new neural networks by working on a subcortical level, a body and nervous system level. Having been trained in several methods that work subcortically (below the conscious mind) — including EMDR, hypnotherapy, and brainspotting — I’ve found the most effective approach to be brainspotting. In my experience, it is the deepest and most rapid therapy for clearing our reactive patterns.
I also love that it’s quite gentle. The processing can be done in a titrated way so you feel very supported and calm. Brainspotting settles you into a relaxed state through soothing bilateral music and special resourcing techniques. Here are some links for more information:
In addition to alleviating the "old brain" reactions, I also help people with specific meditative, spiritually oriented tools that support our body/minds and calm our anxiety and stress response.
We can naturally create a new pattern of relaxing into a place of self-compassion and peace.