Metaphors matter – especially when we are referring to ourselves

Just a quick note about a useful video by neuroscientist Dan Radecki which summarises many of the themes we cover in our work. He talks about the ways different parts of our brain interact in “threatening” situations and ways we might change those interactions – especially with regards to our social interactions and relationships. He also touches on the “stories” we tell ourselves about those interactions.

The Struggle Btwn the Powerful Emotional Brain & Our Logical Brain (14 minutes)

While it is indeed a useful summary and he makes some important points I have one important quibble with his metaphor(s).

He constantly uses the phrase “Lower Brain” and “Higher Brain” and at one stage he uses the phrase “lurking” to describe the “Lower Brain” that we are “at the mercy of”. His talk is entitled “The struggle between the Powerful Emotional Brain & Our Logical Brain” (my emphasis). Those of you who have worked with me will know I am particularly interested in the metaphors people choose in their communication. Metaphors and words matter. A lot. So…

Radecki uses the lower/higher dichotomy because the “higher” he refers to is the cortex that surrounds the “lower”.  Ok. Fair enough. Yet the title of his talk and his use of the word “lurking” creates the idea that the “lower” brain is something we have to suppress to avoid it winning the “struggle”. This is, in my opinion, a really unhelpful metaphor.

We are the product of millions of years of evolution plus between 1 and 80 or so years of experience. The fact that you are here reading this opinionated blog post is due to the fact that the strategies resident in your brain work! The balance between the circuits devoted to physical survival and those dedicated to social interaction (a kind of “survival” for humans) is a delicate and essential one. Sometimes your physical survival circuits will take over – good! Sometimes your social circuits will override your physical survival circuits – good! Sometimes your social circuits will direct your behaviour in ways that move you towards something rather than away from it – good!

Remember that the emotions you feel are part of the process of moving you in your world toward reward or away from threat. Those emotions can have their genesis in either the inner or outer parts of the brain – not to mention the body itself. The association he makes that the “lower” “emotional” brain is something to avoid makes no sense. If we did not have the innate ability to move in our environment towards reward and away from threat we, like all animals, would not exist.

Your older / inner brain is your ally not your opponent. So is your newer / outer brain. Honour them both if for no other reason than you can by virtue of your existence. Be grateful for that opportunity and continue your work in fine-tuning the balance between all your “parts” without unhelpful labelling as “good” or “bad”.

Oh… and the idea that the “higher” brain is “logical” is also not accurate but that is another story for another time.

Just this morning’s two bobs worth!




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