Addiction, Depression, Divorce and The Lizard Brain
Here are some common questions people ask:
- Why do people set themselves up for bad relationships when they know the other person doesn’t share their necessary values?
- Why would someone who knows they have a drug or alcohol problem continue to drink or use drugs?
- Why do people get involved with someone if they know there’s a deal-breaker already there (i.e. drugs, alcohol, children, religion, etc.)?
- If someone knew they could do something very simple to feel better, why would they choose to continue to feel bad?
- Don’t people understand that if they settle for less in the beginning, they always get even less in the end?
There’s actually one word that ties these questions together…
People don’t like to change.
Most people don’t change.
Most people don’t think they need to change.
Some research suggests that 95% of the population tries NOT to change.
Yes…they resist change.
The irony is that you really can’t resist change as it’s happening all the time, all around you, whether you like it, or want it, or not.
But can you convince someone who doesn’t want to change that change would do them good?
But the problem is the human brain.
And while it would appear that some people making really bad and self-destructive choices are more suffering from brain damage, it’s actually not that.
It’s the “reptile brain.”
The reptile brain, also referred to as the reptilian brain or lizard brain, is the oldest part of our brain and connected directly to our spinal cord.
The primary purpose of the reptile brain is survival and protection.
If you literally watch lizards you’ll see them automatically defend their turf through behaviors like head-bobbing which demonstrates assertive and aggressive posturing.
They automatically go into protective and survival mode whenever they feel threatened.
Sometimes they run and sometimes they attack.
They never sit still for very long.
They don’t like change…at all.
People who tend to engage in obsessive-compulsive behavior, rituals or superstitious thinking are all being governed by the reptile brain.
Likewise, people who continue to do the same thing over and over (behavior slaves), are also being dominated by the reptile brain.
The bottom-line is that people are programmed to resist change because this reptile part of the brain interprets change as potentially dangerous.
So is there no hope then for these people?
Actually, yes, there is…in fact, more hope today than ever.
The one dynamic every self-help book has in common is that they all support change.
Every personal growth and development program does the same.
So do all the 12-step programs and other related recovery programs.
The question, then, and really the ONLY question, is:
Are you open to change?
Many people will stay in their familiar and predictable patterns only because the patterns are familiar and predicable.
You can invite, challenge or dare someone else to change.
You can even threaten them with losing something if they don’t.
But in the end, the other person has to want it more than you.
Then you may be left asking yourself, “What do I need to do to change in myself to make this all more accepting?”
This is a hard pill to swallow especially if you really care about the other person.
This is, in fact, where most codependency is born.
It’s about caring so much that you actually begin to overstep what you’re responsible for and try to do for the other person what they in fact need to do for themselves.
Good thing you can turn to counselors who specialize in facilitating change for help.
And the Serenity Prayer is a good reminder as well:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (other people);
The courage to change the things I can (yourself);
And the wisdom to know the difference (boundaries and letting go).
Yes, people can manage the reptile brain.
They have to want to first.
Then, they must have the awareness and deliberately step over, around, or just ignore the unnecessary warning signals altogether.
In the end, change is always good.
It’s happening anyway so you might as well learn to go with it rather than against it.