The other day I was talking about the mind with a friend. We were sharing how harsh we can be with ourselves, much harsher than with other people. Sometimes we tell us horrible things, things we would never tell a friend, for instance. When we make mistakes, we are the first ones to judge and blame ourselves, and the last ones to nurture ourselves. When a friend is having a bad time, what is the first thing we do? We take care of her, we comfort her. Perhaps we make her favorite food, or we take her out for a girl's night, or we are just there, listening to her and giving herself the moment she needs. So why we do not do the same thing for us when WE are feeling down? Why do we do the exact opposite of it? For whatever reason it is, try to be aware of it.
Whenever you start crushing yourself down, remember you wouldn't speak like that to a friend. Be kind to yourself, be gentle and comforting. Us, like anybody else, also need to take a break, we also need comfort and we also deserve to have a treat when things are not going so well. But back to my friend's conversation, I was also sharing with her some knowledge about the amygdala, a specific region in the brain. The amygdala is a small area responsible for basically keeping us alive. It is the one that sends the signal "fight" or "flight", the one that notifies danger to us. The amygdala had a major function in the old times - really old times, like the cavern age, where humans had to either hunt or be hunted. It told us what to do when a big predator was getting closer, for instance.
As you can see, yes, it is a very primitive part of our brain, although important. People with damage in the amygdala do not experience fear, for instance. And this is not ideal, because a life completely absent of fear can be dangerous. This amygdala thing is the same one telling us things we don't actually like to think/hear, when we do something wrong, or when judgemental thoughts pop in, such as " Of course I messed up. It is me! I always do things wrong..." or " Wow, how stupid I am... I cannot believe I did not see that coming..." or " How could I? Will I ever learn?" Be aware that this is not YOU speaking. This is the AMYGDALA making a scene. But it is only saying these cruel things to us because it wants to keep us safe.
Remember, the main function of the amygdala is to keep us alive. And that's why it will scream out loud in our heads whenever it identifies a behavior or a situation that puts us in danger. When I say danger, I don't only mean the risk of dying but the danger of being alone, of being rejected or ignored by the community. You might be thinking, "ok, but I don't see being rejected by a group or a person a sign of danger." I don't either. But remember when I said the amygdala is very primitive? In the old times, being rejected by your community or tribe meant a risk of death because you would not get food, or receive treatment if you got sick or anything like that, for example.
So yes, being rejected meant a risk of death back then. The whole problem is that the amygdala is a primitive lady living in the modern age. That's why she is so hysterical, because the things that were considered lethal, are not anymore in the present times.
The amygdala does not want you to find a new job, neither a new partner, for instance, if you are in a safe and comfortable situation right now. It is basically the "panic switch" in our mind, the alarm that goes off whenever a slight sign of danger, risk or adventure comes in. If we always follow the amygdala's rules, we might never know how it is to try something new, to take a new career path or to embark on a new relationship. The amygdala does not want you to take risks! It likes everything how it is and the way it is because you are safe. And that's it, her job here is done.
One can definitely choose to live this way. But if you are wondering how it is to get more, you have to stop the amygdala's voice. But how do we do that? This was the main topic of my conversation with this friend of mine. I told her I learned a technique from a wonderful Brazilian coach, Fernanda Saad. Her material is in Portuguese but in relation to this technique, it basically translates to this:
1. To start with, give the amygdala a name. I know it sounds a bit schizophrenic, but it works. Trust me. Why? Because you create some distance from the amygdala's voice (fear, judgments, etc) and yourself, your bigger self, your inner voice.
2. Be aware of your thoughts. Whenever a cruel, low self-steam thought comes in - like the ones mentioned before "Oh, that's me. I always do things wrong anyway!" - say to yourself "ah, there you are ( the name you give to the amygdala. I call mine Amy) again. Thank you for keeping me safe, you are doing the right thing. BUT is that really true? Do I ALWAYS do things wrong? I don't think so, because remember that day that I actually did ( name something good you did, when you helped a friend, or when you did something practical like a great report at work) or that other day that I ..." Keep saying all the good things you did and as many as you can remember, even if they are very small things. Then conclude with "So yes, I don't always do things wrong". And move on. But when to know that is the amygdala speaking? A tip is to observe intense words like "always", "never", very judgemental thoughts, for example, popping in.
Remember: Amy is a drama queen! It will often exaggerate things to make sure you aware of the "danger". Imagine a very loud alarm going off. That's what it is. Amy is an old, hysterical lady in modern times. The last tip is not to suppress your thoughts. You must acknowledge they are there, as well as acknowledge the emotions that come along with them.
Everything we suppress, persist. The more you deny the thoughts or feelings, the more the amygdala will scream, because it must make sure you understand the risks. So just acknowledge the thoughts and feelings, be thankful for them, and remember to always question them. Amy is a drama queen. But you are the master of your thoughts, not her.