That Big Special Place Inside My Brain

Once when I was young, I believe it was middle school, I wore my shirt to school inside-out.  A very silly thing.  Who remembers something like this?  Obviously me.  But someone noticed it, pointed it out in a crowd, and laughed.  Everyone else laughed too.  It was humiliating.  Not the reason I wanted to stand out.   I still have the propensity to do things like this, and it makes me cringe.  The memory has a special place in my brain.

Another time, when I was in college, one of my friends told me that his roommate had called me “the dumpy one.”  It wasn’t an isolated statement.  There was much more to the story and his point was that his roommate was an idiot.  But I can’t tell you anything else about the story…that phrase is all I remember.   I never let on to my friend, but it crushed me.  Especially since at that time I had less of a problem with weight than I have any time prior or since.  I had struggled with weight my whole life so it was a definite sore spot.  That just poured salt on it.  And it is one of those stupid things that I just can’t seem to get out of my head that has a special place in my brain.

And then there was the time that someone asked me what was wrong with me that I wasn’t married.  Implying, I guess, that there was some major flaw that I had that all married people don’t have. Yeah, I thought it was a stupid thing for him to say, and made a sharp retort, but in retrospect I don’t think his intent was to hurt my feelings.  I do think that he was thoughtless, but I believe he was really interested in the answer.  Not knowing the answer, it frustrated me.  And embarrassed me.  Even knowing it was silly, it somehow worked itself into a special place in my brain.

I can tell more of these stories.  I could probably go back as elementary school, if I were to think about it a bit.  Not all are exclusively about me.  There are also those times when I’ve said really stupid things to people that hurt their feelings. Sometimes unintentionally.  For some reason I find that harder to forgive in myself than when I said things with intent (a bit crazy, I know!)  There have been times I made a mistake at work that made me or someone else look a bit stupid.  Lots and lots of times in life where you just don’t measure up.   I remember them and hold them in that special place in my brain.

I read a magazine article this morning that referenced a book called “The Female Brain” by Dr. Louann Brizendine.  (God bless the people who read nonfiction books and write magazine articles that hit the high points so I don’t have to read the whole thing!  Who said Cliff notes don’t follow you into real life?)  It said there is a part of our brain called the “anterior cingulate cortex,” that my simple mind would describe as a place wired to hold onto the bad stuff. It’s for a sound biological purpose….a protection device to keep us from doing harmful or stupid things to ourselves over and over again.  It’s like a magnet for the negative.  While we all have this part of our brain, in women it is larger than it is in men.   And we see this in play often….women tend to hold onto these stupid memories way longer than men do, and often they are the complicated reason as to why we are more critical of ourselves.  It is also probably the reason we don’t hold onto the good things that people tell us for as long…they don’t provoke that “danger” response. (I won’t discuss right now that this anterior cingulate cortex size thing may be the reason that men do stupid things over and over again, but if someone else wants to make that deduction it does seems to fall right in line.  And explains a few things to me that  I could never figure out.)  

So this has all made me think….how do we fight this part of our brain when it comes to the dumb stuff?  How do we hold onto the real valid danger warnings and get rid of the stupid things that we use to self-criticize, eat away at what is good about us, and monopolize our lives?   I think the fight is ongoing.  At least in my case it is.  Here are a few of the things I think we need to do….

  • We have to find a way to see the logic in the stories.  I have a strong logical bent, so I have done this with those stupid things over and over again.  But I need to do it more.  With me it may work for a while, but then the replay begins.  When that happens I need to get the logic out again post-haste!.
  • We have to see what is true and what is false, and work to fix those things that need fixing.   Hurtful things said to us can contain truth, and we need to mine this out.  Because we are hurt we don’t have to reject the one who hurt us by validating what they have said.  It’s OK to mine the nuggets of gold from the dirt, and keep them just for us.  (And while throwing the dirt back in their face after we have mined it does seem like a fun idea, let’s not do that.)  We can change those things that we need to change for ourselves… make our lives better, healthier and more rewarding.
  • We need to value ourselves for the whole of who we are, and not base our value on a few outtakes from our lives that should have been thrown away years ago and not been allowed to make it into the film.  We are amazing beings, created in the image of God, and the very fact that our heart beats and our blood flows through our veins is a miracle.  How can we overlook all of the good stuff and let the silly and unimportant bad stuff trump it all and keep us from enjoying the party?

We will all continue to do stupid things.  Other people will continue to hurt our feelings.  We will continue to hurt theirs.  But I plan to start to pay attention to the faulty wiring in my anterior cingulate cortex.  I’d prefer not to repeat the dangerous and stupid, but there are times when I need to do a little personal brain surgery on some of the things that are stored there. 

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