Day 12: Cognitive Soothing Of Two Minds Over the past eight days, I’ve talked a lot about the importance of teaching your brain that it’s safe. You may have wondered, “How can I teach my brain anything, isn’t my brain me?” Yes and no. In the 1970s, physicians started conducting an experimental brain surgery on epileptic patients. They found that if they cut the nerve fibers that connect the left and right hemispheres of the brain, they could significantly reduce the patients' seizures. But then these patients started developing some bizarre side effects. One man tried to light up a cigarette, and his left hand – acting entirely on its own – knocked it out of his mouth. A different man had to restrain one of his hands from trying to strangle his wife. Another woman woke up to someone slapping her across the face. It was her own right hand...she’d overslept. These cases led to whole new branch of neuroscience. It turns out that the right hemisphere of the brain controls the left half of the body, and vice versa. So when the lines of communication were cut, the patients found that each half of their body started acting independently from the other! Studying these “split-brain” patients gave us a new understanding of the brain. Researchers found that within each of us, there are two separate minds: there is the “us” that we identify with, and there is a more primitive part of our brains that’s beneath the surface. Learning Fear These experiments help explain why our fear can be so persistent. If you grew up in an environment where you didn't feel entirely safe, the primitive part of your brain could have learned and remembered that fear...so that even if it’s 30 years later, your primitive brain doesn’t know that you’re out of danger. The following clip is a great example of this. Marge Simpson has a fear of flying, and her therapist is exploring her past to find the root of that fear: Even if logically you know that you're safe, your primitive brain may not. But it can learn. Fostering a Sense of Safety Imagine you have a child who can’t fall asleep because he’s scared there’s a monster under his bed. You’d do everything possible to soothe his fears - you’d talk in a calm voice, you’d show him that he’s safe, and you’d put his mind at ease. There’s a part of your brain that, like a scared child, lives in fear. But you have the ability to calm those fears. One way to communicate a message of safety is through Cognitive Soothing. Cognitive Soothing simply involves giving our brains the message that we’re safe. In the following clip, Mandi uses Cognitive Soothing to disarm her fear: Click here to download the mp3 audio "It’s going to be okay. You’re safe. These feelings will pass. You are okay." The more we give ourselves this message – when we’re in pain, when we feel fear, even when we’re doing okay – the more we’re able to internalize it. While Somatic Tracking communicates a message of safety through a physiological channel (the body), Cognitive Soothing conveys the same message through a different channel (the mind.) And you can let your brain know that it’s safe through multiple channels simultaneously.