Your brain is designed with specific reflexes guaranteed to ensure your survival. Why is it so important for you to know what they are? Because, when triggered, these brain reflexes cause behaviors that look and feel like anxiety. They can also make you feel like you are losing your mind…
For purposes of today’s discussion, let’s call the survival part of your brain the “Beast Brain”, so it’s easy to remember. It’s just one part of your brain, and although it’s one you have met, it’s not likely you have been properly introduced. So let me take care of that right now:
Meet and Greet: Your Beast Brain
You cannot get away from your brain’s biological imperative to survive. Your Beast Brain is inborn. It’s supposed to be there; a normal and natural part of your brain.
You cannot talk to your Beast Brain. And, it cannot talk to you. Your Beast Brain does not use language.
Your Beast Brain communicates to you through reactions. Think: Fight or Flight reaction. (Though there’s much more to your Beast Brain than just the two reactions of “fight” and “flight”.)
When you know what triggers your Beast Brain, you can recognize its reactions as part of your experience. Also, being aware of the Beast Brain triggers may help you (finally) understand exactly what has hijacked your brain and left you wondering what just happened!
If you have ever had a moment when you wondered “Why in the world did I do that?”, you have experienced a Beast Brain Trigger and Reaction. The nature and force of the Beast Brain often makes us either regret our actions or behaviors towards others, or feel so uncomfortable in our own bodies that we want to escape ourselves.
Your Beast Brain does not have emotions. It’s the part of your brain that reacts in an all-or-nothing way to anything it senses as a threat to your survival. It doesn’t get sad. It doesn’t get angry. It doesn’t get terrified. It gets busy…saving your life.
The Nitty-Gritty of Triggers!
A trigger is any event or experience your Beast Brain categorizes as a threat to your survival.
A trigger causes your Beast Brain to react immediately. It shows up as behaviors that feel dramatic, extreme, uncontrollable, intense, or even outrageous. You, your friends, family, and passersby might be surprised by or judge your Beast Brain behaviors. But, your Beast Brain couldn’t care less. Its job is to make sure you survive. Rest assured, your Beast Brain is not trying to stress you out; it’s trying to save your life.
Move In Closer: Introducing YOU to Your Beast Brain!
Using animal mascots to codify the ways your Beast Brain tries to protect you, we’ll go through each one of its seven most common reflex triggers. This is an introduction you won’t want to forget!
The 7 Animal Mascots that Represent Your Beast Brain and its Top Triggers are:
(1) The Dog is the mascot for this trigger:
The Sense of Hunger for Food
When your Beast Brain believes there’s no food, it means there’s no fuel. That’s a threat! So, it’s immediately triggered to survive.
(2) The Monkey is the mascot for this trigger:
The Sense of Hunger for Sex
When your Beast Brain believes there’s no mate, it means there’s no procreation. That’s a threat! So, it’s immediately triggered to survive.
(3) The Lion is the mascot for this trigger:
The Sense of Displacement
When your Beast Brain believes there’s no territory, it means there’s no rest. That’s a threat! So, it’s immediately triggered to survive.
(4) The Wolf is the mascot for this trigger:
The Sense of Isolation
When your Beast Brain believes there’s no pack, it means there’s no protection. That’s a threat! So, it’s immediately triggered to survive.
(5) The Eagle is the mascot for this trigger:
The Sense of Scarcity
When your Beast Brain believes there’s no prey, it means there’s no hunt, i.e. no resources. That’s a threat! So, it’s immediately triggered to survive.
(6) The Rabbit is the mascot for this trigger:
The Sense of Defenselessness
When your Beast Brain believes there’s no size, it means there’s no authority, i.e. no advantage. That’s dana threat! So, it’s immediately triggered to survive.
(7) The Cat is the mascot for this trigger:
The Sense of Weakness from Illness or Injury
When your Beast Brain believes there’s no strength, it means there’s no energy. That’s a threat! So, it’s immediately triggered to survive.
The Beasts represent time-honored lessons of evolution, developed over millions of years. They are there to keep you alive. Alas, your Beast Brain mascots might be very uncomfortable with what you call “normal life”.
Here are some examples:
- You might call it “intermittent fasting”, but your Dog Beast Brain might sense it as a threat: No food?!! No fuel?!! Then, the Dog Beast Brain Behavior kicks in, and you wonder why you fade, or feel faint…
- You might call it “postponing having kids until after I’m 30”, but your Monkey Beast Brain might sense it as a threat: No mate?!! No procreation?!! Then, the Monkey Beast Brain Behavior kicks in, and you wonder why you fawn, flirt, or want to f***…
- You might call it “moving to a new apartment”, but your Lion Beast Brain might sense it as a threat: No territory?!! No rest?!! Then, the Lion Beast Brain Behavior kicks in, and you wonder why you fixate, or feel like you need to find somewhere to settle down…
- You might call it “finding new friends”, but your Wolf Beast Brain might sense it as a threat: No pack?!! No protection?!! Then, the Wolf Beast Brain Behavior kicks in, and you wonder why you fall back from or follow others…
- You might call it “living off my savings for a while”, but your Eagle Beast Brain might sense it as a threat: No hunt?!! No prey?!! No resources?!! Then, the Eagle Beast Brain Behavior kicks in, and you wonder why you force yourself to compete, or feud with people you care about…
- You might call it “being lowest on the company totem pole”, but your Rabbit Beast Brain might sense it as a threat: No size?!! No authority?!! No advantage?!! Then, the Rabbit Beast Brain Behavior kicks in, and you wonder why you freeze, or flee…
- You might call it “limping around with pain from a bad sprained ankle”, but your Cat Beast Brain might sense it as a threat: No strength?!! No energy?!! Then, the Cat Beast Brain Behavior kicks in, and you wonder why you forget about your priorities and forego invitations…
Right! Now you know: Your Beast Brain couldn’t care less about your life’s sophisticated choices. All it cares about is your survival.
The part of your brain that houses your survival reflexes is called your Beast Brain. Every human has one. And, yes, that means every person on planet earth has the same seven triggers and reactions. It also means everyone struggles with those why-in-the-world-did-I-do-that-? moments.
Knowing these triggers exist and understanding when and how they manifest gives you the insight you need to recognize what is going on when you feel like your brain has just been hijacked. Feel embarrassed by the way you behaved? Feel like you don’t understand why you feel so stressed inside and out? Feel like you don’t even recognize some part of yourself? Feel like you have anxiety? Feel like something is wrong? It may not be a psychological problem. It might just be evidence that your Beast Brain has been triggered.
Psychotherapy Does Not Work on Beasts
Apart from cartoons of animals lying on Freud’s couch, you won’t see animals undergoing psychoanalysis.
If you have tried psychotherapy or other therapies that have not worked to eliminate anxiety…episodic, social, separation anxiety, panic attacks…heck, any kind of anxiety, or apparent psychological problem, consider this:
- Maybe the poor outcome is not because you aren’t trying. Maybe it is because no amount of psychotherapy will ever calm a panting dog, a horny monkey, a pacing lion, a growling wolf, a screeching eagle, a paralyzed rabbit, or an unresponsive cat.
- If the beasts within have been triggered, then there is just too much noise and activity within your nervous system to think! Neither you nor a therapist can restore calm to your nervous system when it’s in Beast Brain mode.
After the Beast Brain has been assuaged, you will be able to reflect upon and contemplate what just happened. Maybe then you will want to do psychotherapy. But, first, tame the beasts or you’ll never be able to form words, let alone hear yourself think.
The Difference Between a Beast Brain Reflex and Psychological Problem
Life is easier when you can differentiate between a Beast Brain survival reflex (there within you to protect you) and a psychological challenge (there within you to authenticate your identity). Each problem requires its own solution.
So, before going on blaming yourself for suffering from anxiety – or thinking you have a psychological problem – how about finding out, first, if the uncomfortable feelings you experience are, in fact, healthy protection for your survival that you have misinterpreted (that have nothing to do with your mental or emotional brain)!?
The Good News
The good news is this: You are more than your Beast Brain.
You are more than what triggers the beasts!
You are more than the beastly signs and symptoms that seem to take over your body and brain when your Beast Brain senses a threat.
Right now, however, you must put away any notion that you can escape your Beast Brain. (You can’t.) It’s there, inside you, and it’s always on the lookout for trouble. What it senses as danger might not be so. But your Beast Brain is using its millions of years of evolutionary success as its reference point, not your modern day perspective. Set aside any ideas that you can avoid the physical, chemical, or mental reactions caused by your Beast Brain when it senses threat.
So, then, what? If you can’t override your Beast Brain, what are you to do?
You must learn to Tame the Beasts.
Begin to Tame the Beasts by Observing. Observe Your Behaviors.
There is a part of you that is able to witness all of your experiences. Let’s call it your super-human brain. It knows more than you give it credit for. It knows the beasts. It knows what the beasts are there for (to protect you and to help you survive). Though it can’t easily override the Beast Brain survival reflex, it can tame the beasts. To do that, it needs your help. All it needs is for you to pay attention to the Beast Brain’s reactions. Beasts only react to what threatens them. Remove the threat and the beasts relax.
So, your task is to become a zookeeper! Observe what’s up with the beasts. If they’re calm and quiet, it means they’ve got what they need. If they’re excitable and noisy, it means they’ve sensed a threat. Once you get good at paying attention to them, you’ll recognize how they react, plus develop the confidence that you can give each beast what it needs.
Remember! The Beast Brain wants one thing: Survival. Once you prove it’s safe, the threatened beast will relax.
Knowing what each beast reacts to will help you solve the problem. I’ve already given you a list of what each beast is there to “sense”. Now, use it. Observe your body’s reactions; especially those that seem to happen-for-no-good-reason. What reactions do you observe? If you go into the mindset of being a zookeeper, you’d be paying attention to the beasts in your zoo, and observing for the following behaviors:
- Fixating/Trying to Find something
- Falling Back or Following others
If you were a zookeeper, you’d ask yourself “What could be causing these beasts to kick into high gear? What is threatening them?” You’d want to help them. That would be your job.
Taking care of your Beast Brain is a lot like being a zookeeper.
Your Beast Brain is sensitive to changes in eating patterns, mating dynamics, territory, community, resources, practical hierarchies, and health status.
If you identify a behavior that’s sudden and extreme in some way, it’s because your Beast Brain has detected a change, and registered it as a threat.
So, start your process of observing yourself. You can stop beating yourself up, or calling yourself mentally ill, or giving yourself a diagnosis of anxiety when you know it’s your Beast Brain that’s causing the reactions.
Observe for understanding, so you can be compassionate to yourself:
- You would not kick a dog that was whining for food.
- You would not condemn a monkey that was panting to mate.
- You would not disdain a pacing lion that was seeking territory.
- You would not mock a wolf that was howling for its pack.
- You would not accuse an eagle that was competing for prey.
- You would not deride a rabbit that was scurrying to escape a larger animal.
- You would not ridicule a sick or injured cat that was withdrawing from activity.
Instead, wouldn’t you quickly sum up the beast’s challenge, feel compassion, and try to give it what it needs? (After all, beasts want simple things, right?)
Your Beast Brain awareness will empower you.
Here is the great news: Observation is easy. And, it’s fun. (After all, who is more interesting than you?)
Observation is where the solution begins. Once you observe your own Beast Brain in its various forms, you will begin to know and appreciate yourself in a way you have never done before.
Your survival brain is attuned to interpret any and every event as a threat…as danger. You might not agree with your Beast Brain’s conclusion, but, at least, now, you know you don’t have to be afraid of the beast’s reactions. You know a little more about what’s happening. And, you know it’s not a mental, emotional, or psychological problem.
Your observation will start the process of taming the beasts. Observation is the first step to being DONE with anxiety. It prepares you to take the role as your own inner zookeeper – the one who tames the beasts and takes care of them.
Well, this concludes the introduction! You have now been properly introduced to your Beast Brain.