“The brain is built like an ice cream cone (and you are the top scoop): Through evolutionary time, as higher functions were added, a new scoop was placed on top, but the lower scoops were left largely unchanged. In this way, our human brainstem, cerebellum, and midbrain are not very different in overall plan from that of a frog. It’s just that a frog has only rudimentary higher areas in addition (barely more than one scoop). All those structures plus the hypothalamus, thalamus, and limbic systems are not that different between humans and rats (two scoops), which have a small and simple cortex, while we humans have all that plus a hugely elaborated cortex (three scoops). When new, higher functions were added, this did not result in redesign of the whole brain from the ground up; a new scoop was just added on top. Hence, in true kludge fashion, our brains contain regions, like the midbrain visual center, that are functional remains of our evolutionary past.”
— David J. Linden The Accidental Mind
Here’s how I see the three parts of the brain:
Neocortex (rational brain):
This is where language, power of choice, imagination, intellect, executive function, and reason come from. The neocortex is conscious, and therefore is open to discussion and likes to learn. This is the part of the brain that is addressed in meditation, education, talk therapy, 12 step programs, religion, etc.
Midbrain (limbic system or mammalian brain):
This is where warm fuzzy bonding feelings come from. Instincts around food and reproduction. When someone is tired, or after a couple of drinks, or they can’t stop eating, or they must cuddle, the midbrain is comfort seeking without thought to consequences. Many people become compulsively stuck in midbrain instincts. It records and reproduces human emotions. Much of the midbrain is subconscious or unconscious and not open to rational talking unless a therapeutic method brings it conscious.
Reptilian brain (brain stem):
This is the part of the brain that performs the “fight or flight response”. When a person goes through trauma or is under stress, it grabs on and sends signals to the rest of the brain that there’s trouble. Even after the trouble is over, or when trying to sleep, or years later, this part of the brain can be stuck. Where the brain stem shines is when there actually is trouble, in which case it can make you strong in a way that you never knew you had in you, so you can survive if you are being, say, hunted. Otherwise it is often inappropriate. It also controls vital functions – heart rate, breathing, balance, body temperature. It causes a lot of problems for people. It’s way down in the base of the brain and you have no idea consciously what it’s up to. I like to call it my unconscious lizard brain that does whatever it wants while I am walking around pretending to be a person.
In the Craniosacral world we say a person’s “neocortex is not available to them”, which means they are out of it, or they made a bad choice, or they had a meltdown, or they were under the influence. Once a person’s neocortex shuts down, they have underlying animal brains with other ideas of a good time to take over. Instincts which register as needs. The mammalian brain likes to eat, sleep and have sex. The reptilian brain likes to fight, flee, freeze, and tornado about. Addiction happens here, where the habit latches to instincts. We all have a human brain atop animal stuff at the core of our instincts running the show.
That’s all fine for a happy person who was raised well in a safe environment and has no unsavory genetics who never had a concussion or trauma or went to war or played hard sports or got sick, and learns swimmingly and life is a joy and their inner animal brains are in sync with their outer human brain.
But a brain stuck in fight or flight because it thinks it’s still at war even though the rest of the person came home, or it’s been tackled too many times, or it grew up in an abusive home, or it comes from two long lines of alcoholics, or was sexually abused, or its neurons don’t fire right, or the environment registers as hostile so it needs to lash out, or because it’s a strung out type A personality – no matter how safe a brain like that gets – that lizard brain keeps punching that human in the face from behind and causing anxiety, depression, insecurity – or worse – flashbacks, insomnia, headaches, emotional disturbance, outbursts, chronic pain, criminality, suicidality, violence, etc. These are irrational decisions. They come from an irrational place.
The whole brain puts out brainwaves constantly. HPN High Performance Neurofeedback can help to train the brainwaves of all three parts of the brain to be in harmony. It can effectively organize the reptilian brain, midbrain, and neocortex.
With brain training, inappropriate instincts, needs and compulsions tend to become a matter of choice. The urge to fight, flee, freeze or fawn, however it shows up, whether it’s insecurity, rage, panic, dissociation, or benders, tends to land in a place of choice and healthy expression. Ability to focus tends to improve because the brain is in tune with itself, and focus can be a matter of choice. The mammalian impulses can be chosen. For many, “choice” is a very foreign place for these drives. It can take some getting used to.
Once brainwaves are optimized, a person can make friends with their problems. It doesn’t matter if they are six years old, sixty years old, an executive, an athlete, an addict, a parent, a divorcee, unemployed, or on the autism spectrum. I like people to come in freaking out, I let them freak all they want. They can talk about it or not, I run the HPN Neurofeedback on those freaking brainwaves. They often come up with a solution during the session, their inner swami comes out, or they laugh and say something wise, and inherently from the core of their truth, surprised to meet themselves after the parts of the brain have quieted. Sometimes it takes a few sessions. They might wake up one day and do things differently, or stop procrastinating, or behave more calmly in the face chaos, or notice they stopped taking things personally, and things that used to rattle them aren’t a challenge anymore, all because their brainwaves aren’t rattling them anymore.