Cut yourself some slack, it’s just how brains work

Sights, sounds, smells, and all those senses enter the brain through something called the thalamus.

The thalamus passes this mix of sensations in two directions: The amygdala and the frontal cortex.

The amygdala keeps you alive by freaking out about stuff. It quickly checks with the hippocampus to see if the new information might remind us of any yucky stuff that’s happened to us in the past. And if it feels any threat, it goes “Okay, it’s time to stay alive!” And it bombards you with stress chemicals and makes you do things like fight or fly or freeze.

The frontal cortex, on the other hand, thinks a bit more critically. Like “Um that’s just a shadow” or “Not all bosses are as evil as your old boss” or “No stress, zombies aren’t real” or “Actually not everybody who calls your name from another room is about to beat you.” And so it helps you not try to hit everybody or run screaming from the room.

And here’s the fun thing.

The information travels from the thalamus to the amygdala more quickly than to the frontal cortex.

In other words: “Not responding emotionally” is literally impossible.

Your brain is wired to save you from lions and to feel suddenly hurt by your partner when they didn’t mean anything. You literally can’t help freaking out sometimes about things you don’t need to freak out about, especially when it looks or feels or sounds a little bit like something that has hurt you before.

This doesn’t mean you can’t practice and get sort of good at slowing your reactivity so that your frontal cortex has a chance to be like “Um you don’t need to punch them in the face.”

But it does mean that you’re not a bad or defective person just because you get emotional or scared or react sometimes in ways you wish you wouldn’t.

Especially when it’s stuff that brings up your deepest scars.

Your amygdala is just trying to save your life.

Deep breaths, count to 3, trust the process, your frontal cortex can help you sort it out.

That being said, for some of us these pathways have been screwed up by especially rough experiences. If you feel like you’re always, always being hijacked by overreacty feelings, don’t blame yourself–maybe you’ve just had to work too hard to keep yourself safe in life. It’s not fair, but don’t give up hope. There are some PTSD therapies that can really help to rewire this.

But in general, I think it can really help to understand about ourselves: None of us are “calm, cool, and collected” the instant something happens. Your amygdala will always show up before your frontal cortex. Which means working on nurturing a baseline of safety and taking deep breaths and counting to 3 are all a much better and fairer use of your energy than calling yourself stupid or sensitive or irrational.

You’re just good at staying alive, and sometimes it makes life weird.

That’s just human.

~

For a so-much-deeper-life-changingly-eye-opening exploration of this and other humany topics, read The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Good luck with your amygdala. <3

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Be the curly chip

Tortilla chips are made in a factory.

Factories make things Just-Right.

On a conveyor belt, the sheet of dough is cut by triangle-shaped molds, each mold identically sized and shaped, so that each chip will come out identical: Just-Right.

Somewhere along the way, the chips fall in a fryer. A few of the chips get “weird”–some folding over on themselves. some attaching inseparably to another chip, and some inexplicably curling into a perfect little curly chip.

Technically, these are defects. The factory and its machines were designed to spit out the Perfect-Product, millions upon millions of identical chips, day after day, each one Just-Right. The way they’re “supposed to be.”

But when the bag of chips finds its way into your kitchen and is torn open, the curly chips don’t get picked out and tossed. In fact, I bet if we took a survey, we’d find that the curly chips become the prized chips. The ones that look so beautifully unique. The ones that for some silly reason just warm your heart by the sheer different-ness of them.

Life . . . we sort of grow up in tortilla chip factories. Quality control tells us we need to match the other chips. To follow the same life path, make the “right” choices, and value the “right” things. Even that there’s a “right” or “wrong” color or shape. That to be, say, and do DIFFERENTLY is to be DEFECTIVE. Expectations.

So . . . you could fit the cookie-cutter mold. You could aim for IDENTICAL.

Or . . . you could do your own unique dance in the fryer and find your own perfectly UNIQUE shape.

“I don’t fit in.” “I’m not normal.”

That’s okay. If anything, that’s good. Fitting the mold isn’t a real value.

Be the curly chip!

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Just. Be. You.