The Role of our Three Brains and the use of EMDR Therapy in Trauma Situations

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Our human brain consists of three different parts: the primal reptilian brain, the amygdala (or emotional brain) and our prefrontal cortex (logical, rational and decision making) part of the brain

 

Our three brains work together and separately, consciously and unconsciously to keep us alive, help us make decisions, feel emotions and communicate with others.

  1. The part of this triune brain that keeps us alive is the Reptilian brain.  The Reptilian brain prompts fight, flight or freeze when faced with a life-threatening or harmful event and operates primarily on an unconscious level. Let’s say you are on the sideline of a soccer match and out of your peripheral vision your brain senses a soccer ball zooming towards your face.  The Reptilian brain takes immediate action and causes you to duck out of the way.  When this happens the Reptilian brain shuts down the prefrontal cortex, simply because there is no time to “think” before taking action.  The Reptilian brain has performed its task in keeping you alive.  The Reptilian brain cannot distinguish between real or imagined threats. This is why haunted housed or horror movies seem so real; to our brains, they are.
  2. The Amygdala, located within the limbic area, holds on to emotional responses to stimuli many times on an unconscious level.  In other words, it connects events with feelings. The amygdala brain stores our emotional memories. When the brain is confronted by a situation, the amygdala searches its stockpile of past experiences for information on how to react and what emotional response will be. Going back to the very earliest time we experienced a similar situation, it checks what the response was at the time and responds in a similar way. In other words, our current reaction duplicates the response and emotional age (many times from childhood) of the response triggered by the earlier situation.
  3. The Prefrontal Cortex is the thinking part of our brain producing executive decision- making choices and behaviors. The Prefrontal gathers information from our senses and operates on selectively conscious level.  This part of the brain tells us when something is “not a good idea” or “you’ve had enough to drink”.  Psychologists agree that at best we are only 15-20 percent conscious of our motivations and behaviors. This means that even when we think we’re being rational, logical and conscious, we’re largely being driven subconsciously by previous similar experiences and emotions.

 

All three brains are connected via an extensive network of nerves. The Amygdala and Prefrontal Cortex influence each other through ongoing communication, linking emotions with thinking and with voluntary action. The Amygdala is connected to the Reptilian brain linking emotions with involuntary action.

 

The three parts of our brains sometimes fight against one another. Think of the conflict when you can’t seem to prevent yourself from acting irrationally. When this happens, the Amygdala (emotional brain) takes over and causes you to act in an emotional state instead of a rational state (Prefrontal Cortex).  Have you ever said something in anger that later on you regret?  It’s the Amygdala’s fault.  In conjunction with the Reptilian Brain the Amygdala will overpower the Prefrontal Cortex, you will become physiologically aroused and you will be reacting in the fight, flight or freeze mode with anger or fear in an irrational way. The subconscious brain is the ultimate behavior maker.

 

We must realize our logical (Prefrontal Cortex) is only responsible for 15-20% of our decision-making.  This can make behavioral changes a bit of a challenge.  Information stored in the Amygdala and Reptilian Brain is what is running the show. Many times this information is stored in a dysfunctional way. In other words it’s damaged material that we are unconsciously tapped into which creates an emotional and physical response.

 

When a person is traumatized, the entire experience becomes dysfunctional information stored in the Amygdala.  In theory, this information is supposed to “keep us alive”.  Unfortunately, this can produce increased anxiety, panic attacks, and avoidance of similar stimuli.

 

Here’s an example:  Let’s say Julie (age 25) is walking down the sidewalk and a tall, white man with a red sweatshirt knocks her down and steals her purse.  She is scraped, bruised, and afraid, but alive. Her Amygdala stores the information (tall, white, red sweatshirt) to use in possible future encounters.  Now, whenever she is in public and sees a tall, white man in a red sweatshirt she becomes anxious, her heart starts to pound and she feels the need to flee.  This is her Amygdala and Reptilian brain working to “keep” her alive.  The perceived threat feels real and she reacts accordingly.   

 

EMDR therapy works to eliminate these trauma responses to stimuli by eliminating the information that is held in a dysfunctional way in the Amygdala. In EMDR therapy Julie would focus on the tall, white man with a red sweatshirt, along with “I am not safe” while she notices discomfort in her body. Applying bilateral stimulation to the brain, the dysfunctional information is “roto rooted” out of her Amygdala giving her relief from being triggered in the future.  She will then be able to go out in public and be free of her fears triggered from her past traumatic experience.

Suzanne would like to help her clients find happiness in life.  Are you depressed or anxious wondering how you can get through the next day? Do you feel over-worked and under-appreciated?  Do you have a difficult maintaining your weight, managing your finances, coping with your own addiction or the addiction of someone else, or maybe you are having a hard time getting along with your spouse or a difficult teenager?  There is relief….The first step, which is the most difficult, is making the call to seek help and direction for a better life.

Suzanne Specializes In: Relationship Problems, Recovery & Strengthening, Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Management, Sexual Addiction/Love Addiction & Co-Dependency (women & men), Addictions (drugs, alcohol, shopping, etc),Trauma ,Personal/Sports/and Corporate Coaching. Clinical Training: CSAT : Suzanne is trained in sexual addictions from the prestigious IITAP institute and Patrick Carnes, EMDR (eye movement and desensitization and reprocessing):

Suzanne offers this processing technique for relief from traumas, anxiety, depression, addictions, fears, phobias, and test anxiety.  EMDR can also enhance sports and speaking/professional performances, Prepare/Enrich: Suzanne can help you learn how to build stronger relationships through communication and conflict resolution skill building.  This program is ideal for premarital counseling, marriage preparation, marriage counseling, and marriage enrichment, Suzanne earned her MS in Counseling Psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic University.