Amygdala Acts on Stored Reactions

eweber   August 15, 2009   19 Comments


Have you ever wondered why you blurt out responses that create problems for you later? Or did you know that your experiences are carried first to the thalmus, where they are sorted and sent as data to different areas of the brain for your response?

Simply put, when you see, touch, taste or experience any situation,  information may go to the cortex for rational thought and consideration.  Or data may jettison to that tiny area, deep in your brain, called the amygdala.

Interestingly you have already stored reactions in the amygdala, which is why some people gently swish a bothersome hornet away, while others swish dishes off a table in fear. Either way, the amygdala tends to act quickly and rather instinctively, whenever stored responses get sparked through daily experiences. It also releases chemicals such as serotonin or cortisol into the blood, to trigger often unwanted emotional response.

On one hand amygdala responses are good since it moves you off the road if a mac truck barrels around the corner. On the other hand though, untamed amygdalas are dangerous. How so? If you’ve ever  taken offense at another person’s words and lashed back without thought of the consequences, you can thank your amygdala for lost relationships, fleeing opportunities, or regrets that can last a lifetime.

How do you tame your amygdala, and rewire your brain to respond to emergencies quickly but without fear, regrets or anger of the cynic?

19 thoughts on “Amygdala Acts on Stored Reactions

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  3. Mary Jo Asmus

    Hi Ellen,

    I love the posts on “Amygdala Attacks” and their usefulness for the coaching I do with executives who live in very volatile worlds of business.

    I have written a bit about this myself. One of the things that my clients learn to do is to Hit the Pause Button. This is what mom did. When mom got angry with us she said she’d count to ten, and we’d darned well have taken care of whatever made her angry.

    The fact of the matter is that counting actually provided her with a pause, allowing the angry signal to reach the prefrontal cortex where she could be more rational in how she reacted to us.

    So, I work with my clients to identify the client’s triggers (examples: “people who don’t get it” or “being interrupted”) so they recognize them, and then get them to learn to count or breathe into their diaphragm when the the trigger is pulled. Sounds pretty simple, but it really is hard.

    It seems to work, but the trick is always around being conscious that their trigger has been pulled before they react. Do you have any other suggestions?

  4. eweber Post author

    Mary Jo, it’s obvious here why your clients are fortunate to have you at the helm.

    To pull back and pause, is a terrific response as it invokes thought from different areas of the brain, and will usually result in a finer comeback.

    That too though, must be acted on in several ways in order to replace snapping back responses and store making space for rational responses.

    That leads to another suggestion I offer leaders we certify: Act in the opposite direction, offer olive branches often, try brainpowered tools to disagree, and observe others whose responses inspire caring communities. For each of these I have written posts – that are listed at the side of this site, under CATEGORIES. Each one shows how brainpower relates, and offers tips for turning around sniping amygdalas.

    Not that we ever get it perfectly, but it’s fun to leap ahead with thoughtful leaders like you beside us, and winning results as rewards!

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  7. Stuart Patton

    Hi Ellen,

    Let me just say I have only recently found your blog, and you have some great information on the aspects of the Brain and it’s functions, written in a very easy to comprehend style, so thank you for all this wonderful information.

    In relation to this post, and having been in a past life, an executive in the pressured world of business, I can relate to the solution Mary Jo provides to her clients. One thing I would like to add to this, from my observation when people, certainly in the business world are working under stress (and we know the effects of stress on the brain), they tend to lose their listening skills, assuming of course they had some. Consequently they only hear certain trigger words which cause them to react in a predicable way, I’m assuming that as a result of the giving this response on a regular basis, they have wired their brains this way.

    It would certainly be advantageous in some business environments, if some people could count to 10, and at the same time improve their listening skills, their communication skills would increase, and their effectiveness to the company would go up, and hopefully their stress levels would go down. A little positive brain re-wiring never hurt anyone !!


  8. eweber Post author

    Stuart, how kind and encouraging of you to see the very core aspects my blog was created to address. Daily I attempt to use aspects of the brain to help others and myself to create tools to cope, to create and to survive the hurdles we all face.

    You said it far better than me and I see so many wonderful connections to what you do with cultural exchanges and with effective learning tools and with gaining new dividends from mutual exchanges and extended conversations across cultures and ages and genders.

    So glad you stopped by to allow us the privilege of sharing the world of adventures you and others extend over at CONNECT2eDUCATION.

    Hope we’ll cross paths on many significant intersections since we are running in highly parallel directions – toward shared targets – along different neuron pathways.

    Thanks for the ways you reach out, and for taking time to model the skills that hone the brain’s wiring for answers we both build with others. Stay blessed!

  9. Robyn McMaster

    Ellen, no matter who you are or how high your position, negative attacks come when we may not meet others’ expectations.

    Through our recent MITA Brain Institute, I learned how much relationship impacts our response when our amygdala flares. When we have high respect or love for another person, we tend to tame our amygdala before responding. This truly shows how much our relationships with others changes the way we respond. The ability to be vulnerable comes with those we respect and love. Together we find solutions and new opportunities.

    Relationship building counts!

  10. eweber Post author

    Robyn, you are really showing here how the brain’s amygdala is tied to deep relationships and a caring community.


    Makes me also realize that we are rarely alone then, when an amygdala flares – and others step in to support, care, teach, challenge, invite and partner!

    We personally make “amygdala” mistakes when we eat wrong foods, fail to exercise, allow negativity to rule, take others for granted – and …

    Then, others who have learned the adventures and dividends of a tamed amygdala, come along and help ours back to more useful conditions to promote brainpower. Thanks – I am sold!

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