You probably do.
Dr. Daniel G Amen’s book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life has been critical in helping me connect the dots between how I think and how I feel. Dr. Amen has imaged and studied thousands of brains in an effort to determine which parts of the brain correlate to our different moods and thought patterns. The deep limbic system is located in the middle of the brain and basically functions as an emotion-driven filing system with an adaptable filter. People with depression tend to have overactive limbic systems.
The deep limbic system begins filing with our very first memory, storing every joy and every disappointment throughout our lives. As it files, it begins to filter by familiarity. What this means is, if more negative messages are received and stored than positive ones, the filter adapts and begins to interpret all incoming messages as negative. This is the birth of Lobespierre.
After it has adapted into a negative filter, the limbic system scarcely recognizes positive messages. You know that feeling when you step out of a dark movie theater into the sunlight? It feels kind of good — but also hurts a little — and you end up squinting for a few seconds. Positive messages are the sunlight of the brain, but if your filter has been living in the dark, it shuts its eyes against the light.
So, how does somebody else’s stress become your own? It happens by way of filtering and familiarity. Consider this scenario… You wake up feeling pretty good, and run into a friend who is going through a rough time. As any good friend would do, you lend an ear. Now, your overactive limbic system begins passing every word through its filter. The sadness and anger your friend is sharing is easily matched up by the filter to your own filed-away feelings of sadness and anger because such feelings are familiar to you.
The opposite is also true. I can think of several times where I was feeling low and found cheerful people quite annoying. Granted — some people are just annoying — but why didn’t I absorb their cheerfulness? In these instances, my filter simply couldn’t locate a familiar feeling to pair it with. Instead, it translated the feeling into something more familiar: irritation.
Are you dealing with an overactive limbic system? Is your filter keeping out the sun? The good news is just as your filter became programmed for negativity, it can be reprogrammed to absorb good messages and filter out the bad. You will have to be patient with yourself – undoing a lifetime of negative programming takes some time. I still have days where I catch myself giving in to old thinking patterns, but have come far enough that I now know what it is like to have more good days than bad ones. I’ll be sharing tips to help you take control of your filter in future posts. You will feel better!
You can find a link to Dr. Amen’s book on my Resources page.
NEXT WEEK: Three good things about bad things.
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