Everyone has at one time or another (maybe many times or most of the time) had the experience of being controlled by his/her emotions. I frequently refer to Emotional Brain as EB or “the Energizer Bunny.” Sometimes this makes us angry or frustrated or out of control. We wish we could shut Emotional Brain off for a while. While we cannot and should not turn EB off, there are ways to soothe and calm overactive emotion s.
Some people actually view their emotional brain as bad or weak. We may remember times when we have made decisions that were not good for us and based on raw emotions rather than thinking a situation through prior to making a decision.
It is a common occurrence for an angry person to shout or yell hateful and ugly things to and about the person they are angry with. I treat many men whose wives have pushed their buttons to the extent that they lose control and threaten or actually do get physically aggressive. This sometimes causes damage that cannot be repaired in the relationships that we value and need in our life. I have frequently seen people use this against a partner to restrict or stop frequent and meaningful visits with their children.
I am always reminded of the story of the little boy and the nails. The child had developed a habit of using angry, hurtful words to his mother and his little sister. One Saturday his father took him to the wooden fence in his back yard. The wise father told his son that it is ok to be angry. Anger is a normal and sometimes helpful emotion. However, just for an experiment he wanted him to drive a nail in the fence every time he felt angry for one week. He told him that the pounding would help him to release his anger and he would feel better.
The little boy actually did feel better and could not wait until the next week to give his report to his father. This Saturday his father gave him a tool to remove all the nails so they could be used again. As the child was removing the nails, he became concerned. He said to his dad, “but dad, the fence is ugly now. How will we fix it so it is nice again? His father said, “We will stop up the nail holes, but the fence will never again be as nice as it was.”
Of course he related that to how angry words to another person can never be completely fixed, they cause wounds that hurt others even when we tell them we are sorry.
Actually, the majority of our brain is emotional. Everything that we see, hear, feel, taste, touch or remember comes in through emotional brain. Everything is filtered that way because the most important task of the emotional brain is to keep us safe. Emotions tell us when we need to do something. They are trying to get us to take an action in our own behalf.
Every experience we have had in our entire live is stored in this part of our brain. Each experience is stored with the emotion we felt at the time of the experience. When we are young there may be many things that scare us. This is especially true for those who have had adverse childhood experience. There is a lot of research on the subject right now. Studies show that the adverse experiences may have an effect on our weight, our health, our ability to develop effective coping skills to deal with the challenges of our life. The studies can be found when you google the ACE studies.
Without going more into that at this time, suffice it to say that emotional brain usually needs to be updated. How many things do you know at 30 that you did not know when you were 5 years old? It is possible to experience age, wisdom and positive experiences as we mature, but emotions may not update automatically.
Trauma is about memories that are not updated. This frequently causes emotional brain to continually respond to things that are not happening. We have emotions to tell us when we need to do something. It the emotion is based on a memory, there is nothing that needs to be done in that situation. Therefore that emotion needs to be updated. It is not that emotions are wrong it is just that they are based on past experience.
Emotional brain is updated in three primary ways. One is to create a new experience. In order to do this we have to get deeper into the inner or emotional mind than traditional talk therapy can actually reach. The second way is association and the third is repetition. All three of these are deep work for the therapist.
Once we recognize that the emotion is based on memories and is no longer useful we can begin to use skills to accomplish the work that needs to be done.
Emotional brain almost always tries to pull us back into past actions that may have worked for us then. At least they allowed us to survive. Emotional brain also tries to keep us part of the “tribe” and connected to the people that were significant but sometimes toxic in the past. New skills must be employed that allow one to honor the past and the fact that they survived adversity and harsh difficulties, while using functions of the prefrontal cortex or conscious brain to employ strategies that are more effective now.
Emotional brain sees everything as either danger or opportunity. It may contain some “hot spots” that are even more resilient. Just remember, the “Bunny” can be tamed. If this relates to you, it is important to find someone who can guide you through that process.
For more information on how mind works, see page on this website about the treatment of trauma.