Can you remember a time when you felt under pressure or stressed enough to react to something before you were even aware of what you were doing? Maybe you shouted at a partner or threw something across the room in a rage. We have all experienced these moments of emotional intensity. Those times when you have acted before you have even seemingly thought it through or made a conscious decision. This is the most pronounced experience of the silent controller that we all have in our brains; the Amygdala.
The Amygdala is a small region of your brain that sits in the middle part of your brain, shaped like two almonds and is responsible for memory, decision making and emotional reactions. It works on a completely subconscious level and can exert an influence on your life you may never have believed possible.
How can it affect decisions and exert control?
One of its primary functions is to store emotional memories. These are events that you have experienced throughout your life that have left a real emotional mark on you. These memories can have an impact on your decision making now, so much so that you don’t even notice. The amygdala has developed an ability to observe patterns that it has seen in the past and thereby take actions to protect you. For example, if you grew up in a household with one dominating voice and any ideas you had were shouted down, you may develop a protective pattern of not speaking up in order to save yourself the pain you experienced when you were younger. These behavioural patterns are present in everyone but they can vary widely. However, they all have a subconscious effect on our decision making.
The Amygdala also plays a large role in our anxiety. The more active it is the more significant anxiety can be in your life. Anyone who has suffered any form of anxiety, which is most people, can relate to the crippling feeling it can give you when you are trying to make decisions. That hazy fog that it often feels like you are in when anxiety strikes is a consequence of an overactive amygdala.
It also uses fear…
One of the other core functions of the Amygdala is the fight or flight response. This is when it sense imminent danger and gets ready to fight or run. This is an absolutely automatic and deeply unconscious process. This is very much the function that was described in the introduction. You have acted on something before you even know why.
Now in modern society that function is not really as key to our ancestors on the wild savannah. But it has lasted and exerts its influence in our everyday lives. Our fear can influence many of our decision whether that is to stay in that job you hate or shout at a loved one because they may have made a slight mistake. FEar is possibly one of the most influential and damaging aspects of an overactive amygdala, it can stop us from being ourselves.
There are ways you can reduce the influence of the Amygdala, for those solutions you will have to wait until next time.