Here is one of many ways of showing ‘parts’ of the brain.
Things only work well when the parts connect – all the parts, including those not summarised here. When we set out on the scenic route to change, it pays to know how our brain might view our decision!
You can help your brain out.
Let’s explore just five brain areas, described briefly below. Keep in mind that none of these areas is isolated or works alone. There is connectivity between all of these areas, and therapy helps to increase connectivity and create a more integrated brain; see Dan Siegel’s work.
- Our Fear Centre (The Amygdala): The main objective of the amygdala is to determine whether a particular situation, context, person, etc. presents a threat or danger. It’s an area that has been called the “smoke alarm” by van der Kolk. Treatment can reduce activation of this area of the brain. This reduces the reactivity of our Amygdala and symptoms such as hypervigilance and paranoia.
- Our Interoception Centre (The Insula: right in the middle): The insula is involved in interoception, proprioception and neuroception. Terms explained, below.
Proprioception involves one’s sense of balance and awareness of where the body is located in space. For example, the ability to walk and know where your legs and body are positioned. Even with our eyes closed it is possible to know this because of proprioception. Without this ability, one might just fall down.
Interoception is our ability to feel an internal experience and connect with internal sensations. For instance, feeling hungry or cold are examples of interoception.
Neuroception is our ability to process information about our environment, especially other people. Our brains are designed to evaluate risk, danger and safety, especially in new situations. This process is initiated by our sense organs, which communicate at lightning speed – to our brain, and our central and peripheral nervous system. This informs the rest of our body about the next action required to keep us safe. Our insula can become dysregulated and make it difficult to identify and manage emotions and distressing physical sensations.
- The Memory Centre (Hippocampus: around the basal ganglia): The hippocampus is known as the memory centre of the brain; sometimes called the “timekeeper”. It is responsible for putting a time stamp on our memories. This allows us to experience past events as in the past, not the present. Some traumatised individuals lose the ability to make this discrimination. The hippocampus seems less active and smaller in some traumatised people. This can result in memory and stress regulation difficulties. Treatment to increase activation of this area can help individuals feel safe in the present moment, and treatment can help reduce fear when triggers strike. All the ‘parts’ mentioned thus far I have labelled as my not so smart and older brother. It is the faster brother. It gets in first in times of trouble!
- Thinking Centre (Prefrontal Cortex): The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is located to the far left of the diagram. It comprises several smaller structures, which together can be thought of as ‘the thinking centre’ of our brain. Elsewhere, I have referred to this part as my younger and smarter brother. It is not the faster brother!!
It is involved in functions such as concentration, decision-making, self-awareness, and awareness of others. When underactive, it can be difficult to concentrate, make decisions and connect with others. Self-awareness can increase activation of the PFC and promote clearer thinking, improved concentration and a sense of connectedness to others
- Self-Regulation Centre (Cingulate Cortex at the ‘top’ of the diagram): The cingulate cortex, and more specifically, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) or dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), is involved in conflict monitoring, error detection, and self-regulation, including regulation of emotion and thoughts.
This area of the brain, when underactive, can create difficulties with emotion regulation, thought regulation, and decision-making. Increased activation of this area can improve our abilities to regulate painful emotions and manage distressing thoughts.
Overall, improved connectivity between these key areas impact on our responses and functioning in a positive way.
This material is well worth reading alongside Stephen Porges’ information on the role of the Vagus nerve (the tenth of the twelve cranial nerves).