The Amygdala: your brain’s watchdog

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of stepping off the curb and almost being run over by a truck. But you weren’t! Before you knew it, you’d jumped back on the sidewalk. You were probably amazed that you reacted so fast.

You can thank your brain’s survival system, the fight or flight response. You didn’t have time to register that there was a truck threatening your life. There was no time for thinking. Your limbic system’s amygdala saved your life.

If you’re a trauma survivor, there may be times your amydgala embarrasses you – like when you are startled by someone coming up behind you, causing you to nearly jump out of your skin. When you were a child your amygdala fired and fired, with good reason. It’s as if the amygdala got worn out when you lived with intolerable and inescapable fear as a child.

In your present life, situations that remind the amygdala of the terrifying past–smells, sounds, visual flashes, anything that the brain’s watchdog perceives as threatening your safety–set off the alarm system in your brain.

Your amygdala doesn’t distinguish between your present safety as an adult and your vulnerable life as the child you once were. Trauma therapy and relaxation may lessen its vigilance, but since it’s neurological, you just have to learn to live with it.

It’s worth establishing a friendly relationship with the amygdala. After all, when you were suffering and frightened, it was working very hard to help you survive. Developing a hostile relationship with it will only make things worse.

One comment

  1. Cindy says:

    I lived with a psychopath for 40′ years. Never could figure out what was making me a mess. Could that cause my inability to deal with stress. And what can I do about it? I feel like my amygdala is shot.

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