One Brain - Two Minds

“I got carried away”. “I lost control”. “I couldn’t help myself.” We have many expressions that imply there is something apart from ourselves or outside of our conscious volition that takes control of our habits or behaviours. Someone with a flying phobia, for example, will likely know, logically, that flying is generally a safe way to travel. However, there is a part of them, the anxious and fearful part, that makes them feel they have little control over the situation. Hijacked by your brain? Well, yes, in a way you are.

The most relatively recent part of our brain to develop physiologically is the cortex. This is home to all our higher functions – learning, awareness, logic, communication, creativity, problem solving and so on. As long as we are working from this part of the brain, we can generally find solutions and work things out rationally. There is another part of our brain, however, that has been a dominant factor in our behaviour from the beginning of human evolution. This part of the brain is known as the Primitive Mind and its main centre is the amygdala. The amygdala is like our personal bodyguard that alerts the rest of our systems if it flags anything that it perceives as a danger. This is what triggers our fight or flight response, a phrase coined by Harvard University physiologist, Walter Cannon, in 1915. This was extremely useful when our ancestors lived in dangerous times and needed every advantage to ensure their survival, and survival always took precedence. This is why the Primitive Mind is so very much stronger than the Intellectual Mind. When faced with a perceived danger, the Primitive Mind will take over and it might feel like you are not in control anymore.

The Primitive Mind always works within the parameters of anger, sadness/depression, fear and anxiety. When you find yourself in the grip of any of these, you can be assured that the Primitive Mind is in control. According to Professor Steve Peters, author of the bestselling book, The Chimp Paradox, it is your inner chimp making decisions for you or acting out. The Primitive Mind, or your chimp, has no intellect so it cannot determine if its actions are doing you more harm than good.

Even though our survival mode is naturally stronger than our intellectual cortex, we still absolutely and without a doubt have the means to gain control. Although our instinct is to stay away from fire, firefighters run into burning buildings. Training for these professionals will override their natural instinct. We can do the same for our brain in order to regain control over situations that seem to get the better of us. Dr. John Ratey in his book, User’s Guide to the Brain (1994) writes, “The brain is not a computer that simply executes genetically predetermined programs. Nor is it a passive grey cabbage, victim to the environmental influences that bear upon it…..By viewing the brain as a muscle that can be weakened or strengthened, we can exercise our ability to determine who we become.”

Our survival instincts and the Primitive Mind may be strong, but the Intellectual Mind always has ways and means to overcome. Read as much as you can about the issues that you are dealing with. Knowledge is power. Ask for help. There are several types of therapy or counselling available. Go with the one that you feel most comfortable with. Spend some time learning about and practising mindful meditation. As you become aware of the influential nature of the Primitive Mind, you can also become more aware of your intellectual ability to take control.

By: Elaina Curran, HPD, DSFH, DPLR, CNHCreg, AfSFHreg, MPLTA, Clinical Hypnotherapist

Published by BS35 Local Magazine, November 2017 issue


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