One part of our brains – the limbic system – generates a challenging emotion for us to feel. Another part of our brain – called either primitive or reptilian – considers that emotion as life-threatening and blocks it at all cost. This battle between the two parts of our brain leaves us cross-wired and stuck.
Raphael Cushnir sometimes talks about a glitch in the brain, and that is of course a valid and helpful perspective. It’s how it looks from the perspective of biology and evolution, and it helps us see it’s not personal.
Another perspective, which I tend to gravitate towards, is seeing this in terms of beliefs.
The limbic system here becomes a metaphor for or a pointer to beliefs creating reactive emotions – sadness, anger, grief etc. And the reptilian part of the brain becomes a metaphor for or pointer to beliefs about these emotions and what they mean.
For instance, I believe that he is disrespectful towards me and this trigger anger. Using Cushnir’s metaphor, this is the limbic system in action.
I have another set of beliefs about anger – anger is bad, anger means something terrible has happened, anger means I will go out of control, anger means people won’t like me – so I push aside this anger, I stuff it, I tighten muscles and breathe more shallowly, I try to not feel it. In Cushnir’s metaphor, this is the primitve or reptilian brain. (Although some of these beliefs, some of the beliefs that causes me to stuff the anger, are certainly not reptilian. They are more mammalian and social.)
The benefit of looking at it through the lens of beliefs is that it gives me something to explore, both in terms of what triggers reactive emotions and how I relate to them. I can inquire into my beliefs, and find what’s more true for me.
And these two perspectives can easily co-exist and mutually enhance and support each other. One shows me it’s not personal, and makes it feel more scientific. The other helps me identify and inquire into my beliefs relating to emotions.