An Intro to Self-Havening with CPR for the Amygdala Practice
CPR for the Amygdala, which utilizes the Havening Touch plus Cognitive Distractions, is a powerful tool for decreasing stress and anxiety rapidly. Join Dr. Kate Truitt to learn how to welcome this powerful tool into your life today!
To start the exercise, Dr. Kate Truitt helps us release anything that has been coming into our mind subconsciously. She then asks us to welcome in havening touch and soothing breath.
Then she asks us to look back and find an experience that has been causing us stress. Once it’s been identified, she leads us to notice all of the sensory aspects of this experience. On a level of 1 to 10, she asks us to evaluate how stressful we rank this experience. After we do this, she guides us through a series of mindful breaths alongside our havening touch.
Once this is done, she asks us to reevaluate how stressful we rank this experience. If it’s still bothering us, she guides us through another round of the exercise. This exercise can be repeated as many times as it takes for us to release the stress surrounding an experience, and it can be repeated for different experiences as well.
Building Healthy Relationships Series
In this in-depth series, Dr. Kate Truitt details aspects of building healthy relationships. The series begins with the key element of setting boundaries in relationships, which is tough, but crucial to promoting positive, comfortable interactions with others which will benefit you and the people in your life. Through 25 videos, Dr. Truitt navigates a wide variety of issues, including how past relationships affect present ones, having hard conversations, effective communications, and stopping relationship patterns that cause you pain. A wealth of mindfulness and healing exercises are also included.
In this informational video, Dr. Kate walks you through a quick do-it-yourself exercise to check on your boundaries and make sure they’re serving you properly. If you like this video, be sure to subscribe–we’ll be posting more information about boundaries soon!
Healing the Fear Brain Series
When we are living in a state of increased tension, stress, anxiety, or fear our amygdala may start to play an overwhelming role in how our brain interprets information in our world. In these moments even the most neutral stimuli may be met with agitation, frustration, or anxiety. In this five-part series, Dr. Kate Truitt invites you into a deeper understanding of how our fear brain impacts our ability to be our best selves on a day to day basis, and then provides exercises and tools for healing the fear brain.
How Amy Designs Our World: The 3 Core Values of the Amygdala
In this psychoeducation video, Dr. Kate Truitt dives deeper into how our friend Amy the Amygdala shows up and plays a critical role in helping us design and create the world we live within. Amy is on board since the 3rd trimester, sorting through sensory data before we breathe our first breath of oxygen. Dr. Kate asks us to imagine that Amy the Amygdala has three core values, to be safe, loveable, and successful.
Throughout our childhood, these lessons about those values shape how we grow up. Amy plays a role in our positive experiences in addition to the difficult or painful ones. She is learning about these experiences and encoding them in our memory, especially the ones with emotional salience, or the ones that are very vibrant.
As our brain continues learning, we develop enough data points to form opinions such as I stay safe by…, I can be loveable if…, and I can be successful if…. These lessons are learned from our caregivers, our peers, and the world around us. If we grow up in a difficult environment, our brain will hold onto negative links (i.e. I stay safe by staying small) until we reach our developmental years.
At this point, we develop I am foundational frameworks such as I am (un)safe. These play a critical role in helping us make sense of how we participate in our friendships, relationships, partnerships, our work, and how we take care of ourselves. We can use neuroplasticity to undo some things that have been taught, and create some new learnings, no matter how old we are in our journey.
Creating Possibilities for Success During the Holidays
By Dr. Kate Truitt
The holidays can be a joyous time, filled with family, friendship, and fun. For many of us they can also come with a little dread that these social and family situations might move us, or even forcefully yank us, out of our comfort zones. Family has a way of doing that, especially over the holidays.
The Holidays Meet the Amygdala's Core Considerations
In this blog we have often explored how the brain helps us make sense of the world and the incredibly important role that our friend Amy, the amygdala, plays. Since many of us are now preparing for our holiday encounters, in this article I want to dive a little deeper into how our friend Amy plays a critical role in helping us design and create the world we live within and how that affects our relationships. Specifically, I want to address Amy’s core considerations for us in the context of the holidays.
As we know, our amygdala is constantly on guard, sifting and sorting through sensory data. Now let’s imagine that our friend Amy has three core values, and they guide her quest to stay alive. As far back in our lives as infancy we have been exploring the world and trying to make sense of it through Amy’s three core values, which are:
How do I stay safe?
How am I lovable?
How am I successful?
Related to those core values is the question, “How can I create change and the world around me?” Throughout our childhood, adolescence and teenage years, the lessons we learned about Amy’s values play a significant role in both our positive experiences and the difficult or painful ones as well. Amy remembers these experiences, and encodes them in our brains, especially the ones that have a lot of emotional salience. As we develop through childhood and adolescence, our brain navigates through a process called synaptic pruning—shutting down certain neurons and holding on to others—saying, in effect, “I need certain types of neuronal links more than other ones.”
The brain sorts through these three core values, saying:
I can stay safe by_____
I can be lovable if _____
I can be successful if_____
We learn these lessons from our caregivers, our peers and the world around us, and they can guide how we react in times of stress, anxiety and emotional distress. And of course, if we’re growing up in a difficult environment where we stay safe by staying small, or through people pleasing, or being loud and creating chaos, those are going to be the lessons and the links that our brain holds onto until we hit our developmental years. And by this point, it becomes an I am experience—a definition of the Self. This is who I am in the world: I am safe or unsafe. I am lovable or unlovable. I am successful or unsuccessful. And those foundational frameworks build and guide our day today-life. They guide how we show up and participate in our relationships, our partnerships, our work, and everything that we do, and most especially how we take care of ourselves.
If we haven’t been taught that we have value and we matter, we are likely not going to treat ourselves like we matter and have value. If we have learned that we stay safe by disconnecting and numbing out, then as adults we will disconnect or numb out. If we are successful through being a workaholic, or manipulating people, as adults, we will be successful in the same ways.
Cyclical Maladaptive Patterns and the Holidays
Having healthy relationships helps to facilitate Happy Holidays. Unfortunately, some of the relationships in our world are less than healthy, and we often are reintroduced to that fact over the holidays. One of the key issues I delve into in our extensive “Building Healthy Relationships” Series playlist on YouTube is something known as cyclical maladaptive patterns. These show up in our relationships and unintentionally reinforce beliefs we would rather not have about ourselves and the world around us—experiences of feeling unsafe, unlovable, and unsuccessful. They can make us feel as if we are not good enough, or a failure, and have us constantly anticipating rejection. These patterns are the result of underlying core self beliefs that tend to frame the way we navigate our world in moments of stress, anxiety, depression, and so many other painful emotional experiences.
I have often said that 90% of each moment in the present is defined by our experiences of our past. Amy is our fiercest warrior, maternal protector, she has our best interests at hearts, and she remembers all the difficult things. That being said, we are hard-wired to want to be in deep, safe connection with other people, so we all have underlying expectations and desires for what we want to have happen. But when the amygdala gets involved, that can start to play a role in how we anticipate or expect that other people will treat us. (If you haven’t watched our “Healing The Fear Brain” series, I highly recommend it for taking a deep dive into the amygdala.)
But for our purposes in this article, the point is that we are narrative-based, meaning-making creatures. And if our brain has ever been taught or shown, and our amygdala has encoded experiences, about our self, and our self-value in the world around us—we’re unsafe, the world is dangerous, we’re unlovable, we’re not good enough, all those core constructs—then we will start to create a framework through which we expect that people will treat us. And that’s usually tied to this 90% of the past. So if our caregivers taught us that we weren’t good enough, if our caregivers taught us that we were only worthy if we were perfect, then 20, 30, or 40 years later, we’re putting that same stamp on the expectations that we have with anybody in our world.
Think about if you’ve had a moment where somebody has interacted with you and you started to have a less than preferable self-consideration and interaction, then your mind starts rolling: This person is judging me. That person doesn’t like me. I can’t trust this person. That person is going to betray me.
Those are wonderful opportunities to step back and look at whether there is a pattern from the past that is intruding on your present moment. Because what happens is we start to create a self-fulfilling prophecy about our expectations and anticipations for how others will treat us. This is that cyclical maladaptive pattern: If we believe we will be rejected we create the experience of rejection; if we believe we are unlovable, we will create the experience of being unlovable.
If you’ve ever had an experience of thinking that person is going to hurt me, so I’m going to shut myself out and disconnect from them, and then you wind up feeling hurt, that’s an example of a cyclical maladaptive pattern at work. So during the holidays it is helpful to start noticing behavioral patterns that may be getting in your way of being your best self.
Tips and Tricks for the Holidays
The holidays are all about relationships and usually some family time. This is a good time to review some of the core tips and tricks that we’ve learned to help our mind and body calm down when we’re in an interaction with somebody and Amy starts waving those yellow flags, or may even a red flag, saying that we need to get out of here. In the rest of this article I will present some tips and tricks to help you do that and also calm your stress as you anticipate and then go into your interactions with the people who matter to you.
CPR for the Amygdala
The first tool is my favorite—our CPR for the Amygdala® exercise and the mindful touch of havening. If you are not familiar with CPR for the Amygdala and self-havening, I invite you to watch the brief video in the sidebar of this article titled, “An Intro to Self-Havening with CPR for the Amygdala Practice.”
This begins with the self-havening touch—a nice, soothing moving hug, or fingertips across the brow, or the cheeks, or going through the motions of washing your hands under warm water. You can incorporate brain games like naming cities from A to Z and then back from Z to A, or singing songs, or counting numbers. You can even simply count your breaths, while continuing to apply the havening touch. While you occupy your mind, that touch is creating a specific electrochemical cascade in your brain, which then courses down through your body, letting your mind and body know that you are safe in this moment.
The following are some quick hacks for CPR for the Amygdala. If you’re in an interaction with somebody and you start feeling unsteady or emotionally reactive, you can simply do the palm havening. And do some gentle breath counts in your mind or quietly hum the song in your mind. The person you’re speaking with probably won’t notice. And a little side note, a lot of the time when people are talking, they’re just talking; they’re not going to notice if you take a 20-second break from the conversation and do a little palm havening. The palm havening is just as effective as the arms and the face, but not as noticeable. After your break if there is something you might have missed, you can just ask them to repeat it, saying something like, “I didn’t quite hear that part.”
The Sigh Breath Exercise
The next tool is the sigh breath exercise, which only takes about 30 to 60 seconds, and it is another exercise that nobody will know you’re doing. First, you breathe in through your nose, and then before you exhale, breathe in again, and then do a long, slow release through your mouth. Then repeat the cycle. This is inflating all the little air sacs in your lungs and letting go of all of that extra carbon dioxide that you don’t need. It’s saying to your brain and your body, “I have plenty of oxygen so that I can be responsive and present to the present moment.” It actually is slowing your heart rate down, and that has some positive effects on your what’s known as your heart rate variability, which is basically your nervous system’s ability to go from relaxed to attentive to excited and back to relaxed and a fluid motion, as requested by an experience.
Creating Possibilities for a Conversation
This next phenomenal hack is the Creating Possibilities Protocol. This is a good one to practice before you move into an interaction with somebody. Again, you begin by applying the gentle self-havening touch. In this exercise, however, instead of playing brain games, you are going to intentionally link into into a preferred feeling state that you would like to have more of in the present moment or that you would like to carry into a future moment with you.
So, for example, if you’re going into a conversation with somebody that you know can be a dreadful bore, then you might say, “What if I was curious?” Those what if questions start to move your brain toward thinking about the interaction in a different way through bringing on the experience of curiosity. Your brain will start searching for other times in your life when you’ve harnessed the energy of curiosity, and then the what if starts to feel more true and starts to evolve into “Will I be curious in the next five minutes?” And your brain may say, “I can be curious about what that person is saying.”
You might even say, “You know, I am feeling curiosity right now. I am curious. How cool is that?”
Putting it All Out on the Table
This next easy hack takes about three minutes, and it is more on the fly. Say you are in an interaction with somebody, and you start to notice you have some defensiveness coming up, or you’re feeling attacked. This is a good time to try the “Table Exercise.” In this hack somebody is saying something to you, and you take the opportunity to imagine there’s a table between you and that person, and that what they’re saying is simply data points landing on that table.
That data is simply there for your consideration. Just because it’s been dropped out there on the table doesn’t mean that it’s true. It’s simply information that you can circle back to and reflect on later. Our families have a lot of power over us, especially if we grew up with them and they are people we’ve spent a lot of time with during our childhood. In such interactions, our brain tends to put on glasses related to the family system we grew up with. And those glasses can make you forget that it is the present, and you’re an adult, and you don’t have to behave, think, feel, or act the way you used to.
Putting that information on the table creates space for our thinking brain and your amygdala to step back and query, “Am I responding the way I want to be responding?” If you notice any yellow or red flags coming up, this might be a great opportunity to step out and take a holiday bathroom break to calm your system down.
Holiday Priorities: Your Self and Your Boundaries
Remember, these are all signs that our mind and our body have experienced something distressing or disturbing that is either linked immediately to the present moment, or could have happened a couple hours before, or could be something that is bringing up experiences from far back in your past. These are triggers. This is our brain and our body letting us know something’s wrong so we can begin to take intentional action, like we did with the exercises above. You can learn lean into the trigger as a data point for action, that can immediately calm that trigger down. Because we’re moving into agency, we’re starting to take steps to take care of ourselves. And ultimately, that’s what our mind and our body want.
Finally, if at any point in time you start to feel like someone is gaslighting you, or you’re starting to feel unsteady or unsafe, then that is your cue to make sure that you prioritize yourself. First and foremost, you are the most important person in your life. And you are deserving of safety, love, and everything that you could possibly need in the entire world to know that you are O.K. So if you start to feel unsteady, take that breath, take a moment and step aside, do the exercises, then you can check back in and see if you want to go back into the interaction.
Happy Holidays! Happy family time!