As amazing as it was to discover that the brain’s ability to heal and change (plasticity) is a basic principle of all healthy brains, there are several more astounding findings that are key in getting to know yourself.
- Your brain is a relationship organ.
Humans are relationship beings. Neurologically, we are wired for relationships. Life is all about relationships.
We are wired with circuitry for caring, empathy and connection, which may surprise some, considering that we’ve been conditioned to believe that our nature is to be overall selfish, aggressive creatures that “naturally” fight and compete over resources.
Not so, says an array of recent findings in neuroscience.
Love and connection are our deepest concerns. Logic does not rule the brain; emotions fire and wire neural activity. Emotions are also what give meaning and purpose to life, and connect us to one another. Similarly, it has been established that learning, and associated neural changes in the brain, take place in experiences within relationship contexts.
- Your brain has the ability to wire and rewire itself and other brains.
Plasticity is an amazing asset when it comes to healing. It is possible for us to consciously rewire our brain for more flexibility by learning skills that help us to remain calm, confident and centered in a situation that would otherwise activate reactivity.
Relating patterns that are healing, for example, rewire the brain for more flexibility, allowing it to forge new associations of neural networks that act to promote the growth of new neurons, the expansion of existing ones, and changes in existing connections (Siegel, 1999).
It appears that when we are consciously engaged, accessible and responsive to one another, it is well worth the time and effort! It activates dynamic processes inside that promote our own healing
Just being around brains of persons who can regulate their emotions opens up the possibilitiy that our brain may pick up some of this wiring.
- Your beliefs become reality.
Our thoughts are a powerful energy that can, and do, completely shape our responses, even as they change the state of our mind and body to what we believe and hold in our conscious awareness (or subconscious).
We are always in the process of becoming what we are most thinking. Thoughts shape our actions. We become what we do.
The part of our brain that runs the autonomic systems of the body, the subconscious, completely bases its reality on our beliefs. It does not know the difference between reality and myth, nor does it recognize the past or future. Its reality is always in the present.
As children, we likely experienced feelings of powerlessness and helplessness, inadequacy and doubt. These are natural feelings throughout life. As adults, however, we don’t have to let them trigger our defenses. We can “see” fears as essential feedback or action signals instead.
If we still believe subconsciously that we cannot handle certain emotions, persons, situations and so on, guess what? It becomes our reality.
Beliefs form perceptions; perceptions are the “reality” filters of our mind. We need a way of thinking and responding to challenging situations that empowers us to “make sense” of our life experiences and, at the same time, promotes healthful conditions for our brain and body.
- Your happiness is an inside job.
It is not surprising that our deepest fears have to do with intimacy, for example, whether we will be accepted or rejected, loved or abandoned, effective or inadequate, and so on.
Now that we know it’s not fears per se that cause suffering or harm, we can shift in our beliefs to allow us to feel our fears, understand what they are telling us, and thus learn how to relate to our emotions, our brain and body in ways that honor our abilities, our worth, and our intrinsic value in life.
Though experiences may alter the structure of our brain, new learning and connections largely depend upon how we respond to events around you, rather than the actual events themselves. If we are going to successfully change our responses, we need to shift our beliefs. To do so, we need to develop our awareness of what is going on inside of us.
By developing our ability to identify and to feel painful emotions and fears as they occur, we also learn how to maximize your personal happiness.
Knowing this, how your brain works, how thoughts and emotions work together, allows us to become architects of our own changes and, most importantly, improvements in our ability to calm our mind and body, live consciously connected to our self and life.
- Old comfort zones stunt your growth.
Once we understand that pain is there to teach and to grow us, and not to threaten our worth and sense of adequacy, we can begin to celebrate the realization that, as adults, we are free to engage in essential processes that help us stretch out of old comfort zones, which can block our growth and personal transformation.
Letting go of the training wheels of childhood is not easy.
It’s a question of being present to our own emotional experience of life by developing our capacity to remain calm, confident, centered regardless what is going on around us. You cannot fully love and accept yourself if you skip this step, and without this step, regardless how much someone loves you, your perceptions will block the experience.
We are designed to learn everything we can about our world, and the primary way to do this is by going inside to get to intimately know and fully accept our self, and essential aspects of our brain, as a way of better understanding our world.
Cozolino, Louis (2002). The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social Brain. NY: W. W. Norton.
Ramachandran, Vilayanur S. (2011). The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human. NY: W.W. Norton and company.
Siegel, Daniel J. (1999). The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. NY: Guilford Press.