How our emotions are affected by the brain

December 10, 2018
Select Psychology

We all know that the brain is a powerful thing. But how exactly does it effect our emotions? Read on to find out….

Threat system

Let us go back to the time when our ancestors lived in caves: it was important for survival and to avoid danger therefore our brains developed a threat system to quickly respond to threat – engaging quickly in fight or flight behaviour.

Drive system

The primitive part of our brain also developed a drive system to motivate us to gain food, shelter and a partner – which enabled us to compete with others to get these.

Contentment system

Lastly the brain developed a contentment system which is found in all mammals. This led us to seek out the comfort of others. The contentment system grows through the bond developed between the adults and the young mammals. When the contentment system is in place i.e. when we are socially connected, cared for and safe, we are more able to regulate our threat and drive system.

A balance of the three systems

These three emotion systems are still active in us today.

In order for us to feel safe and stable, these three systems need to be in balance. If the threat system is in charge for long periods (for example when we are under stress or due to trauma in childhood) this can lead to difficulties in our ability to regulate our emotions. It can also lead to chronic pain, depression, anger and anxiety.

Individuals with an over-stimulated drive system, may be more likely to engage in addictions, or become workaholics.

If you are feeling that your systems are out of balance, you can book a free 15 minute consultation to find out if we can help.

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Regaining the balance through Compassion Focussed Therapy

The good news is that we can redress the balance by learning to build the contentment system.

Compassion Focussed Therapy teaches clients to harness compassion for themselves and others which is linked to contentment and well-being. This activates the soothing and contentment centre in the brain which helps to regulate the threat system.

CFT teaches a range of strategies including:

  • Compassionate attention: Learning to focus our attention mindfully on what helps us.
  • Compassionate behaviour: Understanding our survival based coping strategies and the unintended consequences of these behaviours. Practicing new coping strategies and trying to do things differently to reduce the unintended consequences. For example, understanding that avoidance evolved as a coping strategy but that the downside of this is loneliness.
  • Compassionate thinking: Learning to relate to ourselves in a more compassionate and less critical way.
  • Imagery: For example, creating a safe place where you can feel a safe and calm.

What are the benefits?

CFT can be helpful to people who find it difficult to manage distressing thoughts, behaviours or feelings. It can be particularly good for those dealing with feelings of low self worth and need to be able to discover the reasons for this and learn to have a more compassionate view of themselves, others and the world around them.

It can often be helpful to those who have undergone CBT and have not been able to resolve their difficulties.

What are the issues it can help with?

 

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