- The Reptilian Brain is the oldest and most primitive part of our brain. It is responsible for instinctive survival, fight or flight/attack of hid response, aggression, anger display, fear, revenge, territorial behavior/tribalism, and of course the reproductive instinct. Learning how this brain, and the Emotional and Thinking Brain operate and interrelate, is valuable for a coach to do so that they can understand more about how to tap the reptilian brain.
- There are 4 ways to manage the reptilian brain as a coach so that the Emotional and Thinking brains get reconnected: Make it Safe, Keep it Simple, Paint a Picture of the Future, Take Away their Fear.
- Hot Buttons are what keep conflict alive for most people. Becoming aware of your own hot buttons helps you to be able to make different choices. There are constructive and destructive ways to respond to your hot buttons being pushed so it is helpful to be able to discern early on when your hot buttons have been pushed so that you can still manage them while you have your wits about you! There is Effective and Ineffective actions you can take in response to conflict and allowing your hot buttons be pushed.
- The Conflict Pivot is a model for resolving conflicts which helps you to help the client: 1. See their Story, 2. Recognize the what hooks them about that conflict; 3. Focus Forward and decide how they want the conflict to be instead; and identify the next step to take the move towards that goad regardless of what the other person does.
The Reptilian Brain in Action
8 Attributes of the Reptilian Brain:
- Instinctive survival
- Attack or hide response
- Anger Display
- Tribalism and territorial behavior
- Reproductive instinct
- Instinctive survival
1. Survival is the #1 job of our brain, and particularly the Reptilian Coping Brain.
Coping is the ability to both protect our self from outside threats and adjust or adapt to life changes and challenges. Because reptilian brain coping functions help to keep us alive, we are all born with an instinctive or automatic survival coping behavior.
Because it is an automatic response, we don’t even need to think before we act to protect our self when we feel threatened or injured.
2. Attack or hide response
Humans and all other vertebrates have two instinctive ways to defend themselves when threatened or injured. Their reptilian coping brain instincts are either attack to protect one’s life, or we can hide. Since we are born with these response options, humans may act like lizards or alligators when threatened or wounded, if they didn’t have the other Coping Brain functions to help control reptilian brain instinctive impulses.
One type of reptilian coping behavior is trying to show you’re stronger or meaner by using aggressive behavior, which means showing that you are the boss and laughing when other people get hurt. One type of aggression is students starting fights on the playground or being a bully who threatens and hurts other kids. This makes kids feel bad and also afraid of the bully.
4. Anger Display
This reptilian-based behavior is another kind of automatic reptilian brain response that is used to frighten a person or group to keep them from trying to hurt or control us. When we display anger we are not only frightening others, but also preparing our self for battle.
Anger increases blood pressure, heart rate and releases stress hormones into our brain and body to prepare for either attacking of hiding (running away). Reptiles and mammals besides humans, have reptilian brains that trigger anger as a way to protect themselves and keep others from harming them or their babies.
Humans often get angry when their feelings are hurt, but they don’t know why. A good way to remember this part of our Coping Brain is to add “D” in front of “anger.” This is how reptilian survival brain causes us to show anger when we fear we’re in D-ANGER.
Fear is an instinctive, primitive response to help us to avoid threats, injuries or death. We all fear for our lives when we’re hiking and come upon a wild bear or mountain lion. But we also fear things that we have learned through experience are capable of hurting us. One automatic fear we quickly learn is touching a hot stove. Another common fear is being frightened of spiders and other insects that hide and bite, as well as snakes and wild animals. When become constantly fearful of specific things we call it a phobia.
Revenge or retaliation is the reptilian coping brain urge to avenge or “get even” with others when we have been injured, threatened or something is taken from us that we value. Quite often revenge leads to even more violence between humans since both sides in a conflict use reptilian responses to increase their harm to each other.
The reptilian urge for revenge leads humans to punish people or groups because we are hurt by their actions — and sometimes even by their words! We know that reptilian revenge can easily turn into violent conflicts or start wars between groups or countries. Since revenge stems from primitive reptilian coping brain instincts. If we don’t learn to control those instincts, they can cause us to hate or attack even particular types or whole groups of people.
7. Tribalism and territorial behavior
One of the most primitive ways reptilian coping brain seeks to protect us is joining forces with others. Or we may desire to compete so we “win” or dominate another school in athletic games. College or professional sports teams are examples of how reptilian brain urges us toward tribalism. Most
professional sports teams are named for and have fans from particular cities. When teams from different cities play against each other, they develop fierce rivalries. Being territorial, our reptilian instincts also cause us to seek protect our self and increase our sense of safety by defending a place or space where we live. This is why humans and lower animals often fight to protect their family, home or land. Reptilian tribalism also strengthens our social identity, by being part of a social group, nation, religion, political party, etc. Another type of territorial behavior is excluding and criticizing others who are different from us and outside of our group.
8. Reproductive instinct
Reptilian brain instincts go beyond our own self survival. They include survival of our kind and species by causing us to select mates and produce offspring like our self. This is why all vertebrates, including humans, tend to mate with their own kind. We have an instinctive urge deep in our body and brain that drives us to duplicate ourselves. We are most often attracted to possible mates with whom we have common qualities or desirable characteristics we admire. This is why we have children more like us when we create our own family.
Taming the Reptilian Brain
How to Deal with the Reptilian Brain: 4 Important Approaches in Interacting with the Reptilian Brain
1. Create the Safe Place.
- Our brain scans the environment for threats about every one fifth of a second.
- Reduce being perceived as a threat by asking permission
- Building rapport, and
- Suggesting solutions
- Speak to what is in it for them (WIIFM)
- Include them in making choices
2. Attention is short – Keep it simple
- Grab their attention at the start
- Use contrast to increase motivation (now/future, with/without)
- Avoid abstract concepts – use metaphors – analogies – story examples
3. Paint a picture of the future
- Brain wants something familiar and comfortable
- Ask them what they want
- Share stories about others who have solved the pain – hopeful outcomes
- Draw pictures of what they want to experience – brain processes images much faster
- Use their words wherever possible in describing the solution
4. Emotions rule – take away their fear
- Focus on their concerns
- Address the needs of the reptilian brain by addressing their “hot spots”
- Memory is short in the reptilian brain – be patient – repeat often
- Keep going back to their “Place of Wellbeing”.
Triggers are what keep conflict in place and keep you in a state of perpetual threat. Remember that the Reptilian Brain is scanning the environment every 1/5th of a second, looking for danger, looking for threats to their safety and survival. Threats used to take the form of other animals, predators, and danger to life and limb. In addition to those threats that we may face today in different ways than our ancestors did – but still there nonetheless, we also experience personal affronts, threats to the way we want to be seen threats to our ego, self-esteem or image as threats.
When we experience a threat, our reptilian brain normally takes over immediately, and you may respond with a knee-jerk response. Without thinking about the other person or rationalizing about the impact it might have on your relationship or the negotiations you are undertaking, you respond in a way to mitigate the impact of the threat for you.
Recognizing your own hot buttons is very important so that you can embrace them and recognize that the hot button is at play when you find yourself want to lash out or have a knee-jerk reaction towards another person. And it is important to recognize that your hot button is often pushed by another person just trying to make themselves safe without realizing that it is having an impact on you.
Example of the impact of Trigger Awareness:
I was in a leadership role in a professional association and one of the other board members, new to our chapter, started getting very assertive and pushy and dictating what others, including me should do. He would really irritate me to the point that I no longer wanted to participate in the leadership of the chapter I had been instrumental in resurrecting several years earlier. He and I were working together on a conflict workshop (ironic) and I suggested we do a Trigger Assessment as something we could use in the seminar.
When we each got our respective results, it was crystal clear why we were at odds with each other. His strongest need was to create certainty around him. When he experienced a threat to his certainty, he started making sure that he directed others to be doing what he needed to feel certain. That involved for me threatening my Autonomy. When he started telling me what to do, I had a violent threat reaction and wanted to just leave the organization.
We stood back and laughed at our Triggers running the show. Now aware of our Triggers we can laugh at them and call them out so they are no longer able to hook us. Acknowledge the Triggers, take responsibility for giving the Triggers what they need, and moving on to handle what needs to be handled in partnership with the fellow who had previously been identified as my enemy! We now have a much more solid relationship having developed the self-awareness and ability to put those threat responses aside, or make fun of them in a respectful way.
How do we know what our Triggers are?
There are several assessments which invite you to look at Hot Buttons or Conflict Triggers and when you review the different ways in which different assessment or models describe them, I am sure some of these will be very familiar with you. Or they may trigger another thought about something like these that creates that threat response. None of these are the “right” hot buttons or Threat Responses or Triggers, so just explore these for yourself and identify the response which causes you to get into that survival mode and defend yourself from the “attack”.
©Certified Divorce Coach Program-Divorce Coaching Inc.