Anger has a relationship to history and to a situation…. But it is also a biological experience, a primitive biochemical response in our brains.
The brain has 3 components:
The Reptilian Brain – 700 million years old, oldest part, governs survival territorial instincts and reflexes, maintains involuntary bodily functions (body/temperature/heart rate/respiration/reflexes. This part of the brain is linked to the autonomic nervous system, which governs our muscular and organ responses to stress & relaxation…including sexual arousal and the hyper arousal of fight, flight, freeze mechanism.
This is the ‘original brain’ and it is concerned with survival of the individual and the species. It houses the limbic system, where our primal instincts arise and involuntary body functions are regulated. It can be instantly triggered without any conscious reason, logic or thought. It is this part of the brain that initially responds when we perceive that a physical, emotional or psychological boundary has been crossed. The effects are a cascade of bio-chemical reactions…increased heart rate, rise in body temperature, sending adrenaline coursing through the body. The reaction happens in a split second and it can lead to meltdown.
The Reptilian Brain can also be stimulated by triggers related to deep-seated unresolved traumatic events in life. An important aspect of controlling this part of the brain is making a serious commitment to deal with unresolved trauma. To bring the Reptilian Brain reactions under control is not easy because we are up against 700 million years of pure primal energy! However, the individual needs to recognise that the perceived threat is not necessarily life threatening.
The second part of the brain is enlisted to help with this. The Mammalian Brain – 70 million years old, second part to evolve, involved with emotion, curiosity, nurturing, altruism and social structures. It is attached to the limbic system and consists of the Hippocampus and the Amygdala, the 2 lobes on either side of the brain. Associated with the thalamus, which flanks the limbic system and acts as a relay centre for sensory information coming from the body on its way to the cortex.
The Mammalian brain evolved as amphibians evolved into mammals, and it relates to much mammalian behaviour and brain function, such as the ability to function within a group and to nurture the young (neither of which are reptilian behaviours). Emotion and curiosity help mammals to bond and flourish. The mammalian brain works in conjunction with the reptilian brain.
Attached to the limbic system are 2 lobes -the Amygdala and the Hippocampus. The Amygdala processes and stores emotions, including our reactions to emotionally charged events. The Hippocampus processes the data surrounding an event and puts it into its period or sequence. The Thalamus is also part of this system, its two parts flanking the limbic system. It acts as the relay centre for sensory information coming from the body on its way to the cortex.
Being the store house for emotional memories and feelings, the mammalian brain acts like a sentinel to our inner landscape. It specialises in emotional matters. It accesses and assimilates significant interactions in our everyday lives…in a matter of seconds. It then translates these incidents into a range of emotional responses, again in seconds. With the aid of the reptilian brain, it constantly looks out for danger and if it registers any then Fight/Flight/Freeze is activated by the reptilian brain…putting us on high alert mode.
The mammilian brain adds highly charged emotions to the strong physiological responses of the reptilian brain. A memory of a traumatic event is full of emotion and perhaps a physical sensation, but it lacks the context of time and place. This is because in a highly stressful situation the mammilian brain can react as if it were in the past still… The reason for this is because when stress levels are high prolonged secretion of cortisol suppresses the activity of the hippocampus (which gives data about the context of time and place around an event). The amygdala (which processes current experiences) stays unaffected by cortisol and therefore distressing memories stay intense.
These strong emotional memories often stay stored within us and can easily become a trigger for over-reaction in our present lives. For example, a simple failure in work may trigger a deep sense of shame related to when we were 9 years old and our father punished us for not passing a maths test as a result we become over – sensitive to our boss at work and we respond disproportionately with emotion. Daniel Goleman calls this emotional hijacking in his book: Emotional Intelligence. The emotional response happens almost instantly… moments before The New Brain can grasp what is happening rational.
The New Brain – 100 thousand years old, newest part of the brain, solves problems and predicts consequences of present behaviour, deals with language and self-awareness.
The New Brain or Cerebral cortex has evolved most recently and makes it possible for higher brain functions such as learning, thinking, reasoning, imagining, communicating, problem-solving using language and understanding. It is the strategic command centre that steps in after the reptilian & mammalian brains to control our reactions and responses to potentially highly volatile situations. Thus, it enables us to become emotionally intelligent to manage our emotions, anger, aggression, hostility, fear. In an ideal situation the various parts of the brain are perfect partners working in cooperation with one another.
Ann Hamilton. MA, BSc Hons, DAHP, GHR, CNHC, Dip EMDR, EFT, MIACHT.
Analytical Hypnotherapy or Hypnoanalysis is a therapeutic technique which tries to find the root causes of a problem and enable unconscious change in the client in the form of new responses, thoughts, attitudes, behaviour and feelings. This releases you to be free of your emotional and psychological issues and able to live more fully.