During some training I attended a few years ago, the audience (or at least me) was delighted when one of the teachers pulled out three cute, stuffed toys: a dinosaur, a cow and Einstein. Jan Yordy works with kids, and uses these three stuffies to teach children about the brain and nervous system. I loved this illustration and regularly use it with people of all ages.
The dinosaur represents the most primitive part of our nervous system. We have the same kind of neural bits and bobs as scaly, slithery things. Lizards are not famous for their intelligence, or their warm social behaviour. Bigger lizards eat smaller ones. The meaning of life is pretty straightforward for a lizard: survive. Whatever works will do.
This primitive nervous system circuitry views life in two basic categories: safety or threat. Live or die. Be calm or freak out. When a threat is perceived, there are 3 options available:
a) run away
c) shut-down, aka collapse.
Not to get sidetracked, but option number three is kind of interesting. Lizards are amazing survivalists. They can shut-down their bodies to a point just this side of death, as a way to make it through life threatening situations; like alligator ponds freezing over.
I’ll get into how that applies to us humans later, as I plan to spend a few posts on this whole 3-layered-nervous-system thing. For now, I’ll introduce a key point: the dinosaur ain’t too bright; but it’s powerful. The cow and Einstein are no match for it, when it goes berzerk. I’ve alluded to this sort of thing before.
The Dinosaur… My Nemesis
Here’s a big reason why self-help books and seminars — and for that matter counselling — fail. OK fail is inaccurate. Disappoint is a better word. It’s not that the ideas and strategies offered by books or therapists are bad or useless. They might be fabulous. It doesn’t matter.
When the dinosaur rampages (or shuts-down), all the lovely ideas and strategies get flattened.
This phenomenon has frustrated me for years. It’s so discouraging to watch my clever and beloved tricks get trampled into the dirt! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I tried that thing you told me about, and it didn’t work!” (Or maybe slightly better, “… it worked for a time, then it stopped working.”) When I hear something like that, I now suspect primal forces at work.
There is some good news. The cow and Einstein are not completely helpless. In fact, each of them in their own ways are able to help the dinosaur calm down. It requires patience, persistence and practice; but eventually the dinosaur can be encouraged to simmer down and play the role it’s meant to.
Stay tuned to learn more about all three of these quirky characters!
- cute_triceratops: Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay
- the_victor: Image by Peter Fischer from Pixabay
- dinoaur_cow_einstein: Images by Parker_West, Clker-Free-Vector-Images, and janeb13 from Pixabay