If we really understood all our brain does for us, we would spend less time judging ourselves for how we feel.
The brain’s main job is to keep us safe. It tries desperately to protect us. It doesn’t want us to suffer. Any time it senses we might experience uncomfortable feelings, it goes into fight, flight, freeze mode. It freaks out if it can’t make sense of what is happening. This is when we experience being overwhelmed.
Let’s say you will have surgery. Your brain wants to avoid it and sends you emotions such as fear and nervousness. In this case, your brain can actually make sense of what is happening. It would just rather avoid it. Your life might be threatened or you might feel pain and your brain doesn’t want you to experience that. The fear goes away once the surgery is over.
But, let’s say you have a fight with a friend. Your body’s alert system turns on. It’s trying to figure out what is happening, but it can’t make sense of it. Your fight, flight, freeze response has been activated but your body doesn’t know what to do. It doesn’t know how to protect you from the pain, it really isn’t even sure what the pain is. And we get stuck here, feeling intense uncomfortable emotions that won’t go away.
This is where the self criticism, judging (against others and ourselves), disconnection, disassociation (substances or physical), numbing, and fighting comes in. This is the way our brain tries to protect us; by trying to get away from the emotional experience.
Whenever we experience uncomfortable and overwhelming feelings I always recommend naming them, being compassionate with ourselves for feeling human emotions, and thanking our brain for doing it’s very best trying to protect us. Journaling is an excellent way to help our brain make sense of what is happening to us. Once our brain understands, it allows us to be with our emotions because it knows we are human and it’s normal. Although it is overprotective, so from time to time it will still try to avoid uncomfortable emotions even when it knows perfectly well what is happening to us. Think of it like an overprotective friend or parent, always looking out for you.