From some emails that I have received, I realised that some of you have been having problems with acceptance and mindfulness – and how to use these to not engage with your thoughts. I think a big part of the struggle is understanding why you should not engage with your thoughts. Once you understand this, I believe that you can make a little bit more progress.
There are at least 2 or 3 (according to the picture) ways to divide the brain. Some of you have come across the idea in psychology of a reptilian brain and mammalian brain. Without getting too nerdy, I like to think of it as a part of the brain that you can control and the other one that you can’t.
You can’t control the processes that go on in the EMOTIONAL AND REPTILIAN BRAIN. But you can control the processes in the THINKING brain. The best you can do is using your THINKING brain to educate the responses from your EMOTIONAL AND REPTILIAN BRAIN. As with every form of education and training it will take time.
In ROCD, most of the stuff happens in the part of the brain that you cannot control. So trying to use your thinking brain to bring some order to this unruly part of the brain is not going to work. They – emotional and reptilian – do not respond to logic and reason very well. Most of the time you are not even aware that they are there and working. So trying to shut down something that you can’t see, does not hear you or understand what you are trying to explain is a complete waste of time. In fact, it is only to make matters worst. Because the only thing it understands is your emotional response – frustration.
And to make matters worst, your reptilian and mammalian brain will in MOST instances override your thinking brain. If this was not true, then you could switch off anxiety like you flick a button. But you can’t. The only thing you can do is to decrease your response to these stimuli and over time this will educate your other parts of the brain.
The dialogue is something like this:
Reptilian brain – “I better watch out. Something is wrong here. Why do I feel anxious? I need to run away. This feel uncomfortable. My stomach hurts.Better sound the alarm” Passes the message to the emotional brain.
Emotional brain – ” Why can’t I hear anything (feel any love)? Where is that annoying sound coming from?” Passes the message to the thinking brain.
Thinking brain – ” Hmm, there must be something wrong with the relationship because I am not feeling love or in love. I feel anxious now. Passes the message to the reptilian brain.
Can you see the cycle here? A better mindful response could be something like this:
Thinking brain – ” This is my experience in this particular moment. It just is.” Passes the message to the reptilian brain.
This last response defuses any need for overanalysing (feeding the reptilian and mammalian brain), for reassurance and for understanding. In practice, this teaches the part of the brain that we cannot control to feel less anxious and not to sound the alarm every time.
The good news is that this works. The bad news is that it will take time. You will have to go through this process of rewiring many times before you start seeing some improvement.
p.s. this is the link for the picture. Some good content there by the way. http://copingskills4kids.net/Emotional_Coping_Brain.html