Is That You or Your Lizard Brain Talking?
Recently, I got together with my friend Seth. Seth lives in Indianapolis and, unfortunately, as a result of living an hour and a half apart, we don’t see each other as often as we would like. Still, when we get together, we find ourselves deep in conversation about whatever is on our minds or in our hearts. Seth and I both relish in our rich conversations. To the outside observer, these conversations may appear a bit unique. After all, I am the only person speaking. Seth is communicating via facilitated communication (FC). FC is a form of augmentative communication where physical, communicative, and emotional support are provided to an individual who doesn’t have the neuromotor ability to speak. The person receiving support can point to symbols, letters, or pictures all in the effort to express his or her thoughts. So, I speak, and Seth types with support from me. This is how we converse today and have for twenty-plus years.
When I went to visit Seth, in October, we went out for ice cream to catch up. I sensed there was something odd about the conversation initially but couldn’t put my finger on it. Toward the end of our time together, Seth started expressing himself angrily and typing some choice words directed at me. I remained calm. I wasn’t sure where this was all coming from. So, I asked what was going on. He stated something to the effect that he was upset with me and that our relationship would be a lot better if I was not married to Kim. Again, I questioned what this was about. Basically, in a nutshell, Seth thought I was not coming to see him sooner because I would rather spend time with Kim than spend time with him. The coach in me observed that Seth’s lizard brain was very active. Therefore, I decided to introduce him to his lizard brain.
Seth has a lizard brain just like the rest of the people walking the planet do. The lizard brain is the oldest part of the human brain. When I say old, I mean, this is the same primitive brain that exists in reptiles, lizards, and so on. The technical term for this part of the brain is the amygdala. This part of the brain is responsible for memories and emotional reactions. It’s called the lizard brain because reactions such as fight, flight, and feed are the only brain functions reptiles have. In her book Steering by Starlight, Martha Beck (2008) states, “The entire purpose of your reptile brain is to continuously broadcast survival fears—alarm reactions that keep animals alive in the wild. These fears fall into two categories: lack and attack” (p. 27). In other words, the fears the lizard brain generates are meant to help us survive. Am I lacking water, food, or shelter? Do I need to protect myself from a predator? This was the case thousands of years ago. Seth listened intently as I explained this new concept to him. This is the same explanation that I share with my clients. Seth appeared to be taking it all in.
I went on to explain that due to the fact that we are now living in the 21st century, our lizard brains have become overactive because the majority of us are not in danger for our lives on a daily basis. Seth agreed that he never was worried about dying of thirst or hunger. I went on to explain that the overactive lizard brain emits thoughts constantly that convince us that “we lack everything we need: We don’t have enough love, time, money, everything” (Beck, 2008, p. 27). The other predicament that our lizard brain creates is that something awful is about to happen. This is when we find ourselves catastrophizing. Catastrophizing is looking to the future and imagining the worst-case scenario everywhere in your life.
So, I explained to Seth that the stories that his lizard brain was telling him about why I didn’t come up to see him sooner were not based in truth and reality. I explained what the truth was: I simply did not want to give up a full work day to drive up to see him. Therefore, I looked for a weekend that would work for both of us. I explained that his lizard brain was creating a story that was completely untrue. After this very honest discussion, Seth’s anger seemed to dissipate. I told him that knowledge is power. So, even becoming aware of our lizard brain is a starting place to begin to work with and hence quiet our lizard brain.
- Is your lizard brain making up stories about a certain interaction that you had recently?
- Does your lizard brain beat you up on a regular basis?
- Would you like support to tame the lizard brain in you? I’m happy to support you as you learn to work with your lizard!
I’d like to share with all of you an article from the great Martha Beck. I learned all about the lizard brain when I went through life coach training. So, it seems apropos to include one of Martha’s videos and articles that is entitled Stress: How Can I Manage This?
Until next time,
Safe Space Life Coaching