Your Amygdala: Putting the brain’s “overactive security guard” to work for you
By Nicky VanValkenburgh
Did you know that there is a part of the brain that acts like Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith Show? I’m sure you remember Deputy Barney (played by Don Knotts.) He always went overboard, trying to protect the sheriff and the town of Mayberry. Your brain is like that!
It sounds crazy, but it’s true. There is a part of your brain called the amygdala (pronounced amig-u-la.) It acts like an overactive security guard, and is always trying to protect you from getting hurt. The amygdala has been called the “limbic brain” or emotional brain. It processes all the emotions that you have ever experienced, good and bad. It remembers the euphoria of a romantic kiss, but your amygdala also remembers the agony of breaking up with your beloved.
What’s wild about the amygdala is that it has no language processing skills. Your emotions are stored as raw feelings in this part of the brain. That is why we don’t always make connections between the past and present. Why do we feel the way we do? It doesn’t make sense! We can’t figure it out immediately because that part of the brain has no language processing capacity.
For example, you might be afraid of dogs. As a child, you were bitten by a dog, but don’t consciously remember it. Of course, your amygdala remembers this event, and has recorded the raw emotions in your brain. That’s why you’re afraid of dogs. But you might not put two and two together. You may not realize that you’re afraid of dogs because you were bitten as a child. The only thing that you’re aware of is the intense emotional feeling and fear of dogs.
Of course, we do figure things out sometimes, with a flash of insight, but that takes place in a different part of the brain. It takes a “light bulb” moment for us to figure things out. The crazy thing is that something that happened to us in the past may not fit who we are today. We may have outgrown certain experiences… but the amygdala is still trying to protect us.
If we were bitten by a dog as a baby, we store that experience in our amygdala, and are still afraid of dogs to this day. We may be an adult, fully capable of protecting ourselves. However, we still have those raw emotions (fear of dogs) and don’t know why. Sometimes, we do have a flash of insight and we realize the connection. This gives us a new perspective, so that we can move on, and put these feelings behind us.
Why am I telling this long story? To increase your awareness. Sometimes we experience a rush of emotions, and have no idea why. It can be a good rush (happiness, euphoria) or a bad rush (fear, withdrawal, anxiety, etc). Whenever you experience a rush of emotion, remember your amygdala. Your brain is trying to protect you from feeling a certain way. The rush of emotions always takes place in your amygdala, or limbic brain. Actually, you have two amygdalae’s: on the left and right side of the brain. It stores every raw emotion that you have ever experienced.
The amygdala brings these past emotions back into your present existence, in an attempt to protect you from getting hurt again. However, there is also a positive emotional response of the amygdala.
Have you ever fallen in love? Most of us have. Remember those romantic, passionate, I-wannabe-with-you feelings? These feelings are stored in the amygdala. Amazingly, your amygdale can bring these old feelings into your present experience.
Have you ever liked someone instantly? That is your amygdala at work! You may be meeting someone for the first time, and there is an instant connection. You feel comfortable with them. You feel like you can trust them and let down your guard. Why? They remind you of a loved one. All those wonderful euphoric feelings come back, and you’re instantly hooked.
Funny thing is that all of this is on an unconscious level. As was mentioned before, the amygdale has no language processing capacity. That’s why you can’t reason and figure out why you feel the way you do. It takes a flash of insight to put the pieces together.
You see, the brain is a pattern maker. It is constantly looking for patterns, associations, common ground in order to make sense of your world. We are always looking for friendly, kind and trustworthy people. Your amygdala is at work trying to make this happen for you.
Writer Nicky VanValkenburgh welcomes your feedback at email@example.com Check out her free e-books: “7
Things That Turn On Your Brainpower” & “6 Myths about Stress” at http://www.20minutestolessstress.com/
Article copyright Nicky VanValkenburgh.