The mental body is the logical thinking part of us as well as our creation and expansive understanding of things. In Jill Bolte Taylor’s famous Ted Talk she explains these two sides of the mind from a perspective of being in each side independently as a result of a stroke. We refer to them as the right side and the left side, but scientists have found that the brain is much more connected than that. However, there are these two characters of the mental process.
Although the brain is the life center of the mental body, it is not simply the brain. The brain regulates the body's processes such as digestion and breathing. When I speak of the mental body, I am referring to HOW we think. The mental body is made up of all the components that created the way we see things whether that is correct and factual or not. Our mind’s number one job is to remember what things provide a positive reward and what things come with a negative effect - the latter being top priority.
Some of you know my doggy, Sully. When he was young we enrolled him in puppy training and the first thing we learned was how to steer him in the right direction by either withholding a reward or offering him one in this case a treat.
This method is very effective...for dogs. As humans, our brain uses chemicals to steer us, or you could say train us.
When things are going well, dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin feel superb. When the brain wants our attention fast; Adrenaline, Cortisol, and Norepinephrine push us into action.
Sometimes the brain gets the slightest whiff of danger whether that is physical or emotional and the chemicals come, rushing. The brain has the body’s senses on high alert for sights, smells, sounds, or anything close to a situation that resulted in a negative effect in the past. This process is the physical function of the brain, not the mental body’s thought process I am talking about.
When the mental body can come in and identify the physical sensations, do some detective work to find out which emotions this produces, and then reframe the situation; we are a mindfulness champion. This takes practice but as we get better and better our reward both physiologically and psychologically is profound.
“Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
- William Shakespeare
The body’s automatic response isn’t always the same as the thinking response.
There are two distinct areas that produce a runaway dump of negative hormones in the body.
Pretty much anytime large amounts of stress chemicals get dumped into the system, the brain has detected something that resembles a past trauma. Traumas are those lessons we learned and never need to be reminded of again. They hurt in some way or another.
Traumas can be as simple as a look or as catastrophic as you can imagine. When stress hormones flood the system, processes like digestion slow down and breathing and the heart speeds up in order to have the most energy available for a fight, a flight, a freeze, or an "appease" response. The decision as to which one the body will choose is automatic. There is not a thought process weighing the pros and cons. In fact, the logical part of the brain is shut down so that all the emotion and expansive thoughts can be utilized.
A fight response may look like a snarky comment all the way up to a fistfight. A flight may look like checking out with food, substances, or getting lost on the internet or binge-watching on Netflix, or literally running away from the scene at hand. A freeze may simply be turning silent or a more complicated frozen-in-time response. And, the response I think is more common for women is to appease. Appease will look like peacemaking, avoiding conflict, not having the ability to say “no”, or serving others.
When any of these show up, it is important to take your thinking first to your body and notice what sensations are happening and where. Then getting curious about your thoughts and beliefs and the emotions you are feeling. Simply observing the situation is the most helpful action to take. Working with someone really helps to put patterns together and get to the root trauma that most of the time sits under the surface in the subconscious.
Shame is another stress hormone frenzy. Shame could be the result of trauma and probably is, but I separate it out because what causes shame is usually more generalized whereas trauma is very individual. Shame can produce the same trauma responses but thoughts and beliefs are center stage. Shame does not happen without a thought derived from a belief that one deserves it.
According to Brené Brown’s research, men’s top shame trigger is being anything but tough. Don’t be a weakling or at least be better than someone else. Money, status, and power are the measuring sticks for men.
Women’s top shame trigger is how we look. Looking good takes up a lot of time and a lot of our attention. A woman can see a reflection of herself and come up with all the flaws in no time flat.
For both men and women, even the slightest hint toward not being enough in these areas can cause a rush of stress hormones to flood the body and send us into a trauma response.
And, because it’s women’s history month I hope you will bear with me on a little tangent.
Imagine there were magazines or websites for the sole purpose of looking at men’s net worth or if it was normal for a man to be asked to open his wallet and let us see how much money he was carrying or to prove his job title. Innocent catcalling and not so innocent pornography hit us women right where it hurts - they are in the face of our most vulnerable shame trigger.
And, maybe we women can be a little more discreet when we wish we had more of something around our guys or when we covet the neighbor's new anything. Our men may hear this as a judgment or criticism of who they are instead of our imagination at work.
Instead of getting curious when shame shows up, we need empathy. We need to speak our shame to a trusted person. This is the work Brené Brown is trying to champion. As a society, we have gotten the idea wrong that we must hide our shame. This mistake is costing our ability to be whole and feel like we are loved and belong. While we may be armoring up and shielding our self from vulnerability, vulnerability is the first thing we look for in someone safe. This effort takes all of us.
The magic word in this effort is ENOUGH. My amazing niece has a company called Flawed Co. She is a woman of many talents and one of them is makeup. She has a pure talent with makeup. Her company combines the tool of makeup with claiming your beauty. Her lipstick line has names like Mighty, Brave, strong, and one I use daily - I am enough lip balm. We have to proclaim enough. It can never be achieved until we claim it. Please go and follow her on Instagram @flawedco.
Reevaluating and reprogramming thoughts and beliefs are a big part of how the mental body can support us and move us into wholeness.