amygdala limbic sysprefrontal cortexA Tale of

Two Brains

How REMAP Can Help

By Steve B. Reed, LPC, LMSW, LMFT © 2007

Do you know that you have more than one brain?  It is true.  The simplest way to describe it is that you have a “thinking” brain and you have an “emotional” brain.   Great you say, after all, two brains are better than one.  Well, that is true most of the time.  However, some of the time your two brains do not get along.  They do not always work well together.  Occasionally, the emotional brain tries to take over the thinking brain.

Now when it comes to these two brains, you have a favorite, it is the thinking brain.  You typically like this brain best because you can relate to it.  You can see it working.  You can listen in on its thoughts and inner conversations.  It is what we relate to as the mind, our identity.  This thinking part of our brain—is called the cortex.

The cortex is the top layer of the brain.  It is the latest part to develop in our evolution.  However, there is more to the brain than just the cortex.  Underneath it is the midbrain (sometimes called the limbic system).  If the cortex is the thinking brain, then the limbic system is the emotional brain.  This brain is harder for people to relate to.  Its functions are autonomic.  You cannot see it working.  You can only feel its effects, which are both physical and emotional.  A good example is the physical and emotional effect that we experience when something triggers our “fight-or-flight” reflex.

The “fight-or-flight” reflex is fired up by the emotional brain’s alarm center, the amygdala.  Amygdala is a Greek word for almond.  It was given that name because it is a small almond-shaped structure.  We have a pair of them in the midbrain.  In some ways, the amygdala works like the alarm system in a house.  However, when this alarm goes off you do not hear a siren.  Instead, you feel the panic.  The muscles tighten, the mouth becomes dry and some of the blood vessels constrict.  Adrenalin pumps into the body, the pores open to release sweat and the bronchi expand so we can get more oxygen.  The heart begins to race and you feel either fear or anger as the body prepares to run for your life or fight for your life.

These reactions are the work of the midbrain and they are outside of our conscious control.  Many times when people feel out of control, they are being controlled by this part of their brain.  The scary thought of losing one’s mind relates to losing one’s ability to think rationally or functionally.  No one wants to suffer a loss of the ability to control their thoughts or to make reasonable choices.  Yet, it can happen to every one of us.  For most people, it is not permanent.  It is only temporary.  It can happen in response to a perceived threat (real or imagined).

When the “fight-or-flight” response is engaged, the emotional brain takes over.  If the emotional intensity of the experience is high enough, the thinking brain begins to shut down.  In essence, the emotional brain hijacks the thinking brain and we may run amuck.  This happens because when we are in a dire crisis, we do not need to sit around and think. We need to take quick action.  Life may depend upon it.

As you walk through the woods and see something out of the corner of your eye, you do not stop to ponder whether it is a stick or a snake.  You jump out of harm’s way and evaluate later.  If it is a snake, you do not pause wondering, “Red stripes and black stripes, hum, now is that poisonous or nonpoisonous”?  You do not need to do critical thinking when you are about to be bitten by a snake.  Such overindulgence by the thinking brain could prevent our species from surviving.  Instead, what happens is the midbrain overrides and takes action.  When the threat is gone, the thinking brain can come back online.

If someone says to you, “Oh, he panicked” you know exactly what they are referring to.  In the frantic moments of an emergency, someone has lost their ability to think.  Their cortex has gone offline.  Their emotional brain has commandeered control.  Some unfortunate soul has lost their mind or at least the ability to use it.  In cases like this, it feels like we have lost control because we have.  We have been taken–over by something more primitive—an emotional brain.

If the emotional intensity is high enough, it impairs thinking.  It is hard to think through a problem at times like this.  This is one reason cognitive psychotherapy, which focuses exclusively on the thinking brain, frequently fails.

Another reason talk therapy fails is that the problems people have often do not lie in the thinking brain.  Instead, the impact event is imprinted in the emotional midbrain.  The thinking brain is a world of words and language.  The emotional brain is only minimally accessible through language.  It is a world of sensations and emotions.  You cannot get to the emotional brain through the language of the thinking brain.

We must find a different way to reach and teach the emotional midbrain.  We need a means of connecting to and calming the fight-or-flight reflex.  It has to be powerful enough to disarm that inner alarm reflex even when it is in full force.  We need a means to heal intense emotional pain, soothe distressed emotional memories, and recondition an out-of-control alarm reflex.  In those moments when the mind is so lost, there must be a way to return to our senses.  Fortunately, there is.

Now there is a treatment designed especially for the emotional brain.  It does not need to rely on language alone.  It can produce a direct effect on the limbic system within seconds.  It calms the midbrain, turns off the fight-or-flight response, and restores access to our thinking brain.  It heals the crater left by an impact event on the landscape of the emotional brain.  The effects of acute stress, everyday traumas, and cumulative life stress are soothed and smoothed by a process that remaps your emotional landscape.  It is the REMAP process.

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