How to flip the switch – Shame, guilt and worry

Our brain wants us to feel good but it hasn’t quite figured out how to differentiate “good” feelings from “bad”.  When you feel shame, guilt and worry your brain is trying to reward you by activating its reward center! 

Feel’n Blue by Peggy

When you are being followed by a black cloud, Alex Korb* has some insights that might help you find the sun. It’s all about neuroscience.

According to Korb, “Despite their differences, pride, shame, and guilt all activate similar neural circuits, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and the nucleus accumbens. This explains why it can be so appealing to heap guilt and shame on ourselves — they’re activating the brain’s reward center.“

“A similar thing may be going if you just can’t seem to stop worrying. Korb says worrying stimulates the medial prefrontal cortex and lowers activity in the amygdala, thus helping your limbic system, your emotions, remain copascetic. His theory is that, even though worry is widely recognized as a pointless thing to do from a tactical point of view, apparently the brain considers it better than doing nothing at all when you’re anxious.”

How do you redirect your brain from “rewarding” you with guilt, shame or worry?

“Korb suggests asking yourself: “What am I grateful for?” His reasoning is chemical: “One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.”

“Even more intriguingly, actually coming up with something you’re thankful for — not always an easy thing to do in a dark mood — isn’t even required. Just the acts of remembering to be thankful is the flexing of a type of emotional intelligence: “One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.”

Serotonin Boost by Peggy

We’ve written about gratitude before – and will undoubtedly continue.  Quick and easy ways to refocus on what you can be grateful for is often hard when you’re feeling down.  Force yourself to name, list, draw 3 – 5 things every day.

They can be the same things every day and minor things taken for granted.

Examples of my gratitude:

  • I have teeth to brush

  • When I turn on the faucet water runs out

  • Blog followers clicked “like” on this post whether they “liked” it or not

Ahhhh. . .  I feel a serotonin surge in my anterior cingulate cortex and my  emotional intelligence increasing as I type . . . 

(jw)

*Alex Korb,  The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time

http://bigthink.com/robby-berman/4-things-you-can-do-to-cheer-up-according-to-neuroscience

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Do You Meet My 3 Criteria for Feeling Guilty?

This is typically the time of year we begin to take stock of all that has transpired in the past months and our hopes for the coming year. It’s also that time of year when feelings of “guilt” tend to rise to the surface:  Guilt we’ve not given enough, been kind enough,  done enough, been enough, said enough, worked hard enough, lived up to our own goals or missed meeting others’ expectations  . . . .  You get the idea – humans are very creative when conjuring up guilty feelings.

Almost everyone I saw in private practice as a psychotherapist, at one time or another, expressed guilt:

Some harbored guilty feelings they were responsible for a parent’s short-comings, abusive behavior or unhappiness; Many felt guilty they had left an abusive home when they were of age and left a younger sibling behind without protection;  Clients felt guilty they couldn’t provide for their family in the way they imagined they should.  I could give millions . . . of other examples.

Guilt is my least favorite emotion because much of the time it is an intellectualization – an attempt to make sense of the irrational – while the feelings of sadness, hurt or fear lurk beneath our surfaces .  

Don’t get me wrong.  Guilt is needed and appropriate if you’ve done something immoral, illegal or unethical as it helps correct the course of future choices and actions.

  • Immoral – Guilt maintains healthy relationships
  • Illegal -Guilt helps keep society functioning at it’s optimum
  • Unethical – Guilt keeps business, commerce on the right path

If I said this once while I was in practice,  I said it a trillion times:

“DO feel guilty if you’ve betrayed or hurt another person, broken the law, or been unprofessional.  STOP thinking you’re guilty if your behavior doesn’t meet the the immoral, illegal or unethical litmus test and choose another emotion”

Why do we choose guilt when our actions aren’t immoral, illegal or unethical?  We want to think we have/had control – that we could have chosen to do something differently and therefore we will be in control and have choice in the future.  With feelings of sadness, fear or hurt we are simply vulnerable and feel out of control – out of control of ourselves and over circumstances.

If you think you are “guilty” and have not broken an immoral, illegal or unethical code pick another feeling! – any other feeling:  mad, sad, disgusted, fearful, hurt . . .  You won’t die if you are vulnerable.  Our fantasy of always being in control is mainly that . . . fantasy.

(jw)

 

 

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