The Amygdala

WIN_20170320_143442 (2)Why does this small region of our brain have such an impact on our behavioral responses?

Navigating our personal and professional lives with resiliency involves being able to respond constructively even in emotionally impacted situations.

The Amygdala serves an important and necessary function, to keep us safe in threatening situations. Unfortunately, when we have experienced past trauma or chronic adversity our brain starts to generalize. Situations that are not in reality a threat can begin to produce strong emotions and trigger survival responses. This happens so quickly that we are usually not even consciously aware of it. Remember, it is not just the situation that triggers the response but the strong emotion. The following are examples of how emotions can be associated with threats:

  • Anger:  a threat to a goal or sense of justice
  • Fear:  a threat of harm
  • Shame:  a threat to our identity and self-worth
  • Jealousy:  a threat to the ego or sense of identity
  • Anxiety:  a threat to our sense of competency or control
  • Grief: a threat of loss of a relationship or something viewed as essential

When an emotion is interpreted as a threat the Amygdala sends flight, fight or freeze messages following already formed neuronal pathways. The neocortex (where reasoning resides) may not be involved at all, at least not until after the Amygdala has responded. Therefore, changing our response cannot involve the neocortex alone. First, we need to learn to recognize the strong emotions associated with our triggers. What are some of your emotional triggers?

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