Three Parts of the Brain
We often hear individuals discuss the brain in terms of the right and left brain. I prefer to look at the brain through the paradigm of evolution and progress. Through this lens, the brain is made up three major sections: the Brain Stem, the Limbic System, and the Prefrontal Cortex. The Brain Stem is located at the base of the brain and is the connection between the brain and the spinal cord. It is the simplest portion of the brain; however, without conscious thought, it controls the bodies most important basic functions. These include: heart rate, breathing rate, digestion, swallowing, blood pressure, temperature, and general consciousness. Without these functions, the body is unable to sustain itself and death will occur.
The second portion of the brain is called The Limbic System also known as the Reptilian Brain. This is the emotional center of the brain. I find it is best described as the canine brain. This is the area of the brain a dog relies on most. The domesticated dog learns best through association. If I do this, then I get this. If I don’t do this then I get this reward or I avoid this punishment. For the most part, emotional disturbances such as depression, anxiety, fears, panic, and even addiction are connected with this area of the brain. Cravings also originate here.
The third and most complex area of the brain is known as the Prefrontal Cortex. It is found in both humans and primates. This is where higher level thinking occurs. Without this aspect of the brain, we humans would have no capacity for humor, logic, or reasoning. It gives us the ability to use sarcasm, but it also gives us the ability to manipulate others (another aspect that is very true to addiction).
Now that we have a basic understanding of the three major areas of the brain let’s put it to practical use. With this knowledge, we can now understand why it is impossible for the soldier who returns from foreign duty to think his way out of PTSD or for the addict or compulsive eater to simply stop their compulsive behavior with will power alone or why someone cannot think their way out of sadness. All of these problems arise in the emotional area of our brain, the Limbic System, not the Prefrontal Cortex, the thinking area.
I find this simple understanding of the brain helps me and many individuals come to terms with ACCEPTING the afflictions we face in our daily lives. Remember, we are only human. Be kind to yourself! It is in this acceptance and truth we are able to find grace.
David Avram Wolfe