Change your Brain; Clear your Triggers…Here’s How”
You know those emotional reactions that seem to spiral out of control - those stuck patterns you'd love to get over but just don'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. Two therapy methods that work subcortically, (below the conscious mind), are Brainspotting and EMDR. They can be very effective for clearing our reactive patterns.
I also love that they are quite gentle. The processing can be done in a titrated way, so you feel very supported and calm. Both methods are able to help you settle into the calming “parasympathetic nervous system”, the “rest and digest” nervous system. When you are in this relaxed, supported space, your anxiety and stress response is calmed down. Then, it is much easier to work on whatever changes you’re longing for.
And, at the same time you’re alleviating the ‘old brain’ reactions, you are also organically creating a new pattern of relaxing into a place of self-compassion and peace.