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  • Matt M.

You Are Not Your Brain – The Belief Comes First

I’m writing this blog post because it seems almost trendy these days for people to blame their problems on their brain.

There is even a meme for it… “scumbag brain”.

This is a very Western science-based thing. Western philosophies and medicines only seem interested in dealing with things that are tangible… things that can be touched and analyzed and broken down into the minutiae that make them up.

You have a specific thought caused by your “scumbag brain” which perhaps is due to low serotonin. The low serotonin is perhaps due to a genetic deficiency or lack of a certain nutrient, say magnesium, which is required to convert 5-HTP to serotonin. Or perhaps it’s vitamin B6 that you’re low in which is also required for this process. Or perhaps you’re low in 5-HTP in the first place, which is why some people prescribe it. Or maybe somewhere in that process once of the enzymes required to produce the final product isn’t functioning properly. And then maybe science can dive into that and figure that out, and figure out why your scumbag brain is torturing you.

The first problem with these theories is that they’re all maybes. Maybe it’s B6, maybe it’s magnesium, maybe it’s a problem in your gut where you don’t absorb either of these nutrients properly. Maybe it’s genetic and your brain just doesn’t work well.

The second problem is that these theories totally strip you of any power to do anything about it. The answer is somewhere outside of yourself. There’s a supplement to take, or a medication to fix your inability to produce serotonin, or a genetic test you can do to figure out what is wrong. The answer couldn’t possibly be somewhere inside of yourself that you have the power to change.

Be very careful about putting your eggs in that basket. In looking for an external solution you are disempowering yourself to make any real lasting change. And on top of that you’re telling yourself that “something is wrong here”. My scumbag brain is doing this to me and it’s not right. Something is wrong with me… with my body, with my brain, even down to the level of my DNA… and I’m going to fix that.

It’s not a productive message to be sending to yourself.

I used to wonder about this myself… what comes first, the neurotransmitters or the thoughts and the beliefs? Not only that, but I spent years and years trying to fix myself with supplements and treatments, and specific tests. I say today however with 100% certainty that it is the latter (the belief) that comes before the rest.

Stamp this in bold on your forehead… THE BELIEF COMES FIRST.

The negative or perhaps destructive thoughts stem from a belief. The thoughts and/or belief results in negative emotions which you want to get away from. You wonder why you’re having these thoughts without realizing that you are creating them subconsciously through a belief or choice that you’re not aware of.

Let’s take an example of a mother, Claire. She’s a great mother and does all that she can for her kids, but never feels like it’s enough. She lies in bed and her head spins, wondering if she made the right lunch today and if it was nutritious enough for her son. She knows she did her best and made something healthy, but she still wonders.

Claire has a memory from 2 years ago when she turned around for a minute and her son fell and hurt his knee and cried. The thoughts come that she’s such a bad mother for doing this and she feels horrible.

But WHY is her brain telling her this? It was two years ago… and my scumbag brain is showing me these memories now… why?!

There’s a lesson herein that took me a long time to figure out. If you have an interest in such thoughts, then they will bother you. You are interested in turning over that story in your head… did I really do enough? Could I have done better? Maybe I could have done this or that differently. Without the interest in the thoughts, they will cease to exist.

So what makes this mother have an interest in these thoughts? It is because she has tied her entire identity to being a good mother. If she’s not a good mother than who is she? That’s just who she is.

*Note that this is a specific example for this specific person… I’m not saying that thoughts like this stem from the same place in everyone who feels this way.

This ties into something called I AM statements which I will explore in more detail in a later blog post. But essentially they are statements we have within ourselves that define who we are and what we believe our self worth to be.

It’s like René Descartes’ statement “I think therefore I am”, or in other words, “I am able to think, therefore I know I exist”.

Claire’s I AM statement (we can call this her belief) is: “I am a good mother, therefore I am”, or “I am a good mother, therefore I exist”, i.e. her entire being is hinging on her being a good mother. Without that she feels as though she is nothing, or perhaps worthless… almost as though she doesn’t exist.

As such she needs to constantly reassure herself that she is a good mother, and therein come the thoughts, and the interest in turning over those thoughts all the time. The belief that I AM a good mother, therefore I am, is the working foundation for what happens to this woman when she tries to fall asleep. The belief comes first, then follow the thoughts and emotions.

Without reassuring herself of her I AM statement she is terrified. Who am I? Am I worthy? How do I know if I’m good enough? She scrambles constantly to be a good mother to run away from these fears. Without being a good mother she is lost.

Now another point I’d like to speak on here is “brain wiring”. We hear in the scientific community that trauma survivors – or perhaps any person who has experienced anything outside of the norm – have their brains wired differently than the rest of us. They are wired to respond to trauma, rather than responding “normally” to stimuli, i.e. a woman who was yelled at constantly as a child flinches when she is yelled at as an adult. That’s just how her brain developed.

But a key point is missing here. Within the trauma beliefs exist.

Let’s say Simon grows up with his mother doing everything for him. She doesn’t let him have a say in any of his decisions. She takes care of him completely and overprotects him. When Simon tries to do certain tasks for himself his mother screams at him. He gets scared and sometimes cries and retracts into himself. Looking back at these moments as an adult he feels that he was traumatized as a child by his mother’s behaviour.

As such Simon doesn’t develop certain skills, and when time come for him to grow up and rely on himself he gets incredibly anxious, fearing that he will fail. He doesn’t trust himself.

He believes that his brain is just wired differently than other people’s brains because he didn’t learn like other people did as children, and therefore he’s just lacking something.

But he doesn’t realize that as a child he decided to believe that he couldn’t trust himself. He saw his mom doing everything for him his entire youth. His mom told him that she knows best. His only logical conclusion was that he simply doesn’t know better and that he can’t trust himself or his instincts. He feels lost in his present self and in life because of this.

Believing as he does he cuts himself off from that part of himself and it feels like it’s missing.

In a Holistic Counseling session we help Simon to understand what is going on inside of him. Through exploring his feelings of being lost, we trace it back to his childhood and how his mother used to do everything for him. Simon knows that he doesn’t trust himself, but he has never even considered that it is a possibility to trust himself.

For him, currently, he believes that he is lacking certain intuitions, judgements, etc. Simton doesn’t realize that the belief he made as a child, that he can’t trust himself, is the only thing that is actually preventing himself from trusting himself and connecting to a deeper confidence in himself that he holds. By disconnecting himself from this part of himself he has felt lost his entire life.

In the session Simon has a lightbulb moment and realizes the decision he made. It’s a little scary for him, but he is happy and hopeful for the first time in his life. He feels an inner joy as he starts to connect with a part of himself that he has never really felt before. It’s strange and different, but good.

If you liked this article please check out the rest on my blog for a little bit more about my thoughts and philosophies and what it’s like to work with me.


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