In conversations with individuals and groups who are new to my work, one of the first things I try to convey is indeed one of the most obvious. We all have bodies.
From a basic neurological perspective, human beings are hardwired to live with, learn from and grow in relation to one another. In this capacity, we are distinctly social creatures and it is our ability to connect on a deeply limbic level that allows us to survive… and communicate.
The term ‘limbic’, as seen in the image above, refers to our limbic brains which, along with the reptilian brain and the neo-cortex, forms the human triune brain. The limbic brain has a hugely important role to play in the way that we relate to one another and, as a result, the way we think and behave as individuals.
The limbic brain allows us to react to both danger and deep connection. Our ability to react to danger aka - our freeze, flight or fight reactors, stem from the limbic brain. Just as importantly, this part of the brain allows us to bond with others. Each of these functions are so important for our survival. We need to react quickly and efficiently to danger; we need to bond in a deep and sustained way with others in order to build the relationships which allow us to move from our very first breaths of air on this earth, to our very last. And the beauty of all of this, is that this type of work happens naturally – it is in essence, a factor of our shared humanity.
So, what’s the catch?
Just because the natural work of the limbic brain is automatic, does not mean it should be ignored. On the contrary, we must tune into our limbic systems in order to fully understand ourselves and our needs.
Let’s take public speaking as an example. The thought of standing up, in full view – out in the open – in front of potentially thousands of pairs of eyes can send most people into complete limbic overdrive. As you stand at the ready, your hands are sweaty, your breath is short (if you are remembering to breath at all), your eyes are wide – you are exhibiting classic expressions of freeze/fight/flight symptoms. You are preparing to run.
Question 1) Are you in danger?
Question 2) Is public speaking going to harm you?
Question 3) Does reacting in this way serve you?
Part of reducing our fear of things is embedded within our neocortex’s ability to understand the world and understand ourselves within it better. In other situations in which you experience similar reactions, you can identify what is happening, properly assess the situation as essentially non-threatening, and you can then introduce choice, and intentional practice to physically show up in a different way. It’s called facing your fear for a reason.
From another perspective, if you are unaware of the positive effect of limbic connection with another human being, you risk convincing yourself that you are fine by yourself. This could not be further from the truth. We need each other. We are built for one another, whether we are aware of that or not.
To Sum Up
By tuning into the limbic brain, and the way we react in situations of stress and duress, but equally in situations of social harmony, we introduce a much greater capacity to understand and decode the world around us, and ourselves.
The next time you find yourself in either a stress inducing scenario, or with a person you really feel good about, tune into what your physiological responses are… this is the first step towards detangling some basic, but complex emotions and reactions that make you who you are.