Posts Tagged ‘Amygdala’

The mind switches gears

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How do you change a child’s mind that scoured every situation searching for danger, a chance of failure, possibly being humiliated or the annihilation of the “Ego”.

The original abuse caused this reaction: it’s called adrenal stress response, fight or flight mechanism or pure fear.

The mind switches gears, secretes opioids, coagulants, cortisol, and adrenaline. The executive functioning left prefrontal cortex fades, we experience tunnel vision, lose fine motor skills, along with the fear of death or serious injury, making this an anxious, confusing experience.

This is Survival mode.

This is how we react to the original abuse. Then PTSD brings emotional danger via our triggers to mirror the original traumatic experience. It’s abstract and irrational but we avoid and run like hell at first.

All this happens before thought, it is a right brain mechanism, that springs from the amygdala, our defense organ of the brain.

If someone placed an empty box over our head, then suddenly removed it, a funny thing happens.

Our right amygdala engages immediately, our defense mechanism overrides the normal function of the mind. It takes five seconds for the left hemisphere, our cognitive side to engage.

That’s five seconds of my mind searching for danger before I am even aware of it. That’s if I react immediately.

I am much better at this now, but it remains a problem area for me.

This is a balancing act for us when PTSD is active. I have a small social life but avoid crowds and situations that are sensitive to my triggers.

I went through the early phase of healing where I went to every scary place. It started out as Exposure Therapy, then developed into integration.

As a kid I was an expert at sensing danger, then added 50 more years of practice, the result is a habit that seems natural and useful.

Man, look what just came out of my mouth. Natural and useful.

I have my doubts if therapy can rewire serious childhood abuse.

Improvement is possible, a wide range, rewarding, total healing, I would love to read and witness that feat.

This is our journey, knowing what we face has helped me improve.

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Part Three: right side amygdala is larger

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As we’ve seen, enhancing a compassionate attitude goes beyond a mere outlook; people actually grow more likely to help someone in need even when there’s a cost to themselves.

 

Such intense resonance with others’ suffering has been found in another notable group: extraordinary altruists, people who donated one of their kidneys to a stranger in dire need of a transplant.

 

Brain scans discovered that these compassionate souls have a larger right-side amygdala compared to other people of their age and gender.

 

Since this region activates when we empathize with someone who is suffering, a larger amygdala may confer an unusual ability to feel the pain of others, so motivating people’s altruism—even as extraordinarily as donating a kidney to save someone’s life.

 

The neural changes from loving-kindness practice (the emerging signs of which are found even among beginners) align with those found in the brains of the super-Samaritan kidney donors.

 

The cultivation of a loving concern for other people’s well-being has a surprising and unique benefit: the brain’s circuitry for happiness energizes, along with compassion.

 

Loving-kindness also boosts the connections between the brain’s circuits for joy and happiness and the prefrontal cortex, a zone critical for guiding behavior.
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Part two: “Altered Traits”: Different methods of meditating

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Seven years after his three-month retreat experiment ended, Cliff Saron tracked down the participants.

 

He found a surprise among those who, during and just after the retreat, were able to sustain attention to disturbing images of suffering—a psychophysiological measure of acceptance, as opposed to the averted gaze and expression of disgust he found in others (and which typifies people in general).

 

Those who did not avert their eyes but took in that suffering were, seven years later, better able to remember those specific pictures.

 

In cognitive science, such memory betokens a brain that was able to resist an emotional hijack, and so, take in that tragic image more fully, remember it more effectively—and, presumably, act.

 

 

 

Unlike other benefits of meditation that emerge gradually—like a quicker recovery from stress—enhancing compassion comes more readily.

 

 

 

We suspect that cultivating compassion may take advantage of “biological preparedness,” a programmed readiness to learn a given skill, as seen, for instance, in the rapidity with which toddlers learn language.

 

Just as with speaking, the brain seems primed to learn to love.

 

“This seems largely due to the brain’s caretaking circuitry, which we share with all other mammals.

 

These are the networks that light up when we love our children, our friends—anyone who falls within our natural circle of caring.

 

These circuits, among others, grow stronger even with short periods of compassion training.
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