emotional brain

The Emotional Brain: Here’s How it Gets Feelings

According to my previous post, I was supposed to write an article on how to practice emotional intelligence. But I kind of got a bit diverted with something that I felt, deserved its own piece. And it is about how the brain gets emotions.

The minute we connect the brain to emotions, we are directed to the Amygdala.

What is this Amygdala?

Among the several common traits between my son and my friend’s daughter, including the fact that both share a birthday and are southpaws to boot, they have a brilliant long-term memory. They can recall extremely minor incidents from as long ago as kindergarten! And my son is in fifth grade now.

In the beginning, my friend and I attributed their extraordinary memory to their sun sign. But turns out there is something more to this memory recall.

With both the kids also being susceptible to high emotional outbursts, the obvious direction that my research took me was towards how the brain processed emotions. And the brain processes emotions in a place called Amygdala, which, not very surprisingly, is also responsible for memory.

What the kids are doing is attaching emotions to the smallest of incidents, which in turn, is propelling their elephantine memory run.

Well, we all have an elephant in the brain, and that, is the Amygdala.

Okay…what’s the interesting part of this story?

It is the absence of emotional processing.

I know! I know! Can such a thing even happen?! It can and does when the Amygdala is wired differently. So differently that the brain’s ability to process emotions is challenged. If you are prone to a lot of drama of the mind, like me, your amygdala is wired differently. At the same time, if you tend to move towards more rational thinking, your amygdala too is wired differently.

The truth is every brain is wired differently. Otherwise you and I would be no different from each other. It is the flaw in the system that gives us our identity.

How does this work?

My son’s friend does not exhibit fear. He pets the strays and gets scratched. But he pets them again. My son, on the other hand, tightens his grip around my arm the minute he lays his eyes on a stray that is, in fact, moving away from the direction that we are taking.

Which brings us to…

The installation of fear

Why is the emotion fear installed within us? The fear code exists to revive our survival instincts. In animals, this emotion saves them from predators. And in humans, this emotion directs us towards our various needs.

It is the fear of loneliness that drives us towards seeking the company of others. The fear of poverty drives people towards finding employment. It is the fear of failure that motivates the student to prepare harder for his exams. And it is the fear of insanity – all the words crawling around my head – that has driven me to type out this article on a day that I had decided otherwise.

Now, imagine a world that exists without the fear of committing a wrong deed?! Well, we are moving towards that world because there are more people who are not afraid of doing wrong deeds. There are more people whose Amygdala is going nuts.

Fear is the greatest teacher, the biggest coach, and the most caring mother – as long as we are able to read our emotion right.

But not everyone who is unafraid is going to commit a wrong

That is true. And here’s an incident to support the idea. The three of us – my son, his friend, and I – happened to come across a disabled person begging on the road. After observing him for some time, my son’s friend goes – “Why is he that way? Is he born that way? What made him that way? Is there a disease that causes this? How does it enter the body?” I was bombarded by his questions.

As I looked at my son wondering what questions my kid would pile on me, he had only one to ask. “How will this man make a living?”

You see the two thought patterns here. While one is thinking about the cause, the other is thinking about the cure. But both are looking for answers that will solve the same problem. It is the division of the rational mind and the emotional mind that causes this thought pattern. Even as my son’s friend is thinking with his head, my son is thinking with his heart.

What is it about the rational mind?

According to research, a higher rational mind will indulge in risky tasks. As is the case with my son’s friend. Or, as is the case with scientists who love to experiment. And as is the case with businessmen who have a thing for risk-taking etched into their blood.

All of this, because of the Amygdala’s different wiring, which leads these people towards overriding their emotions instead of processing them.

But the world needs scientists and businessmen!

Another of my close friends is a political activist who shook off her high-flying accountant job because she felt deeply for the people and wanted to work towards their progress. As I talked to her for over an hour about her decision, I understood that she had taken her time pondering over her feelings, had accounted for her personal financial flows, and only after all these brain-breaking activities, had plunged into her role as a change-maker.

The ability to arrive at a judgement after analyzing our wants and needs is a great ability indeed.

Irrespective of the way our brain is bent, the best decisions are always the ones that arise from our understanding of our emotions. It is only our emotions that leads us towards our wants. And our wants, in turn, lead us towards the needs. A balanced mind is always the one that can figure out and match its wants with the needs.

But the world needs scientists and businessmen!

What the world needs, is people who care irrespective of whether they are scientists, or entrepreneurs. It is the want to win a Nobel twinned with the need to find a cure to a disease that should trigger our experiments. It is the want to be recognized in the stock market coupled with the need to feed people well that should build restaurants. And all of that because of how we feel.

It is very hard to run away from the underlying fact that personal growth is always entwined with public growth. That to grow personally, and to be able to sustain this growth; feeling and doing for our family, and our community is just as important as feeling and doing for our own selves.

Here’s to achieving your balance and managing it!

In the next post (my thoughts willing) we will figure out how to practice emotional intelligence.


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