The internationally best selling book, Emotional Intelligence spent over one and a half years on the New York Times Best Selling List. Needless to say, it’s a good book. However the actual title of it is under criticism. That’s because it’s a contradiction in terms. Most neuroscientist agree that emotion has no intelligence!
The intelligence comes from a different part of the brain. To say that intelligence comes from emotion is like saying that the engine in your car is what makes it change gears. The engine supplies the power but the transmission is what makes it change gears. Emotion doesn’t weigh up pros and cons or does any logical comparisons. A different part of the brain does that.
In the book, author Daniel Goleman coined the phrase, ‘Emotional Hijack’.
This page is about the emotional hijack that can occur within us. Brain function is very complicated and I’m simplifying it into common language. It’s an important subject and its workings shouldn’t be exclusive information available only to scientists.
Most people can relate to the picture above. It’s common knowledge that emotion can take over and make us do things that;
- We know is wrong
- We don’t want to do
- We know that it will probably aggravate the problem but we do it anyway.
- It makes us feel ‘out of control’
We all have times when emotion gets the better of us. How often this happens from person to person is very different. Some get overcome emotionally once every blue moon while others ‘lose it’ twice a week! For simplicity let’s refer this as the rational/emotional ratio (R.E.R.)
This is common knowledge. Unfortunately it’s commonly believed that there is nothing that can be done about it. Trying to alter the RER is almost like trying to change the weather! The rhinoceros can feel like a hurricane!
Actually, this ratio is quite easy to change and it often does this by itself – FOR THE WORSE! If fact if little or no effort is made (to manage the rhino) then it will naturally become worse and you can start becoming one of those people that lose it twice a week.
This is why trying to change it for the better is so important. Improving our ability to control emotion and keeping it from running astray is difficult. However the alternative is to allow our emotions to become stronger and stronger at controlling our lives for us! (and ruining it)
The animation above shows anger. However, fear, despair, hate, or negative self talk can also make us a ‘puppet on a string’.
Before I can explain about how to improve the R.E.R., we first have to explore the brain and how it works before we can understand what can be detrimental to it and how it can become our own worst enemy!
In 1960, the concept of the triune brain was introduced. This splits up the brain into three major parts. Not only does this show the divisions but more importantly it shows the order of rank. For example, the reptilian brain can ‘pull rank’ and override the Neocortex. (human brain) Rational thinking can be disregarded at any time the cerebellum perceives the situation is a survival one and fight or flight is required.
So far so good. That’s they way it’s suppose to happen. Survival should take priority. If we’re being chased by a bear, we have to react ASAP. We don’t have time to weigh up the pros and cons of different ways to react! We play the responses in the cerebellum. They’re lightning fast! These are like subroutines in a computer. They’re so fast because very little thinking is involved. The brain simply executes this program.
Our brain is hardwired for survival and this has worked well for centuries. However things become unstuck when the amygdala (stress trigger) starts perceiving that minor things are life threatening situations and justifies that desperate actions are needed!
It’s very common for a squabble at work to turn into a contest. One or both of the people arguing can determine that their honor is at stake! They MUST defeat their opponent. Otherwise they’ll lose face and be ridiculed or walked on for the rest of their life! Although the amygdala has served us well for centuries, our stress trigger is changing. Over the last few decades our fear culture has abused it and is making it overly sensitive so that it fires inappropriately.
The amygdala gets damaged from chronic stress. It was designed to spur us into high gear for a survival situation. The human brain was made for this temporary action. (the key word is TEMPORARY) We weren’t designed to stay in ‘fight or flight’ for long periods of time.
Let’s get back to the triune brain. The brain stem and cerebellum developed first. Millions of years later the limbic system followed. Although we have had the neocortex for 20,000 years, it’s only 0.001% as old as the cerebellum. The older the section of brain, the higher the ranking order. The irony is that the intelligent frontal lobe is the youngest part and therefore the lowest rank! When we get stressed, the smartest part of ourselves can be forced to sit out on the decision making! This can lead to poor choices and thus create even more stress! Poor choice – stress – poor choice – more stress – even poorer choice………etc.
Again, I’m oversimplifying. Under normal circumstance, rational thinking often over-rides emotion. However, this page is more concerned about abnormal conditions. (The fear culture upsurge in the last 30 years is starting to make the abnormal as normal) I’m talking about allowing our R.E.R. to dissolve so that we become a person that loses it twice a week. It takes an effort to prevent this from happening. Unfortunately, some people give up.
The Chimp Paradox is a brilliant book that covers this quite well. It refers to the limbic system as a chimpanzee and the neocortex as the human. I like this analogy because it’s common knowledge that a chimp is stronger and can easily overpower a human. It also points out that the human is NOT responsible for the nature of the chimp but IS responsible for managing it. This is a great way of explaining it. It also explains why some people feel so helpless that they don’t even try.
“THE CHIMP DID THIS TO YOU! IT WASN’T ME!” You may feel this way at times because it’s partly true. I’ll explain it another way. Let’s say that you take your dog for a walk. If your dog bites me, I know that you’re not the one that bit me. However I’m not going to label you blameless! You are responsible for managing your dog. I’ll still be angry at you!
We’ve all met pet owners that are terrible at managing their pet. They do this because:
- They don’t know how to
- They’re too lazy
- They don’t care about the unruly behavior of their pet and how it ‘treads’ on other people.
Whatever the reason is, it doesn’t take away from the fact that these pet owners are very annoying.
This isn’t meant to be a cliff-hanger. I don’t mean to stop short of telling you how to manage the unruly dog. That page hasn’t been written yet. In fact I have to write several pages before you can understand how these techniques will make a difference. However I did write a primer to this on my page, False info. It introduces the concept of ‘building roads’ that we don’t want. It also shows how drama junkies strengthen the emotional limbic system without even realizing. (and erode the stress trigger that activates fight or flight by making it overly sensitive) I talk about how we can me practicing actions that erode our stress trigger on this page.
Meanwhile, if you want to learn how to control the dog that can get unruly, I urge you to read The Chimp Paradox written by Steve Peters.