Overcoming the Amygdala Part 55


Followers of this series may have noticed that ‘overcoming the amygdala’ isn’t usually a case of switching off something in one’s head and achieving instant peace and happiness — it’s more a change of lifestyle, or at least mental lifestyle.

We’ve been looking at social interaction as a primary lever in dealing with the amygdala. That’s based on the idea that having people around the individual who understand him or her (and who he or she understands — an important corollary) helps to ‘defuse’ the anxiety and tension created by the amygdala.

The amygdala and its associated parasympathetic nervous system is constantly sweeping the individual’s environment, looking for departures from the ideal. These departures can include health matters, menaces in the immediate surroundings, financial concerns, and a whole host of things — but one prominent theme is usually the absence of suitable social interaction: lack of accessible compassionate friends and/or family, in other words.

This doesn’t mean that everyone’s ideal scene is to be surrounded by lots of people — far from it. There are extroverts who love crowds and there are introverts who love solitude. The key principle in the above is the word ‘suitable’: each individual needs a level of social interaction suitable to their own situation and make-up. Suitability is achieved when the amygdala recognises that there are sufficient social resources in the environment to reduce or even remove any threat associated with the loneliness or isolation of being an individual. Those resources don’t have to be present all the time — they just have to be accessible and communicable. Social resources in terms of friends, family members or even professional counsellors are those real, living people who are there for the individual — and, to make the point again, they often work much better when it’s a two-way flow and the individual can be a resource for them too.

Earlier, we covered an organic strategy which is virtually guaranteed to acquire appropriate social resources over time, using social media. One of the prime functions of social media — indeed, the main reason it exists — is to provide accessible social interaction. By using it intelligently, one can acquire what one needs, and provide what another needs, on a daily basis.

Yes, things can go wrong: primarily, an individual can prematurely get too specific or personal with another, and end up alienating them. But, if a person spends some time getting to know themselves first, as we have covered, then the appropriate ‘others’ slowly materialise and one can build a foundation of strong social relationships which can stand one in good stead for the future and show the amygdala that the ideal scene has been approached.

It’s possible to take this whole process further so that the amygdala becomes more-or-less permanently convinced of one’s well-being and only flares up in a real emergency. But to do so requires that we delve a little deeper into the steps involved.

We came up with a formula some time ago which went like this:

You < perceived departure = alarm triggered.

This was the formula used by your parasympathetic nervous system to determine whether or not to alert you to the presence of some menace in your surroundings, real or potential. Whenever it perceived you as ‘not up to’ the threat in question, physical and mental alarms were activated. Many techniques and approaches which we have explored since may well have strengthened You and reduced the proclivity of your amygdala to set things ringing — the ‘You’ element in the formula may well have grown in maturity and security. But the field of social interaction opens up more and more possibilities in terms of its ability to support you and to reduce amygdalic activity.

Let’s look at four ways in which it might do this, starting with another formula:

AA x SC x MB x IL = GP

Don’t worry — it’s not as complex as it looks. It breaks down as follows:

AA = Aligned Acquaintances — these are people who generally share the same interests and concerns as you, as you will have found if you have used social media correctly and joined or created the right sorts of groups.

SC = Social Connections — these are the specific individuals who have emerged from the generalities above and become connected with you in a more meaningful way.

MB = Mutual Benefits — this is the amount of actual mental health benefit of having such social interactions, reducing the amygdalic activity both for you and possibly for them too.

IL = Interaction Level — this is the frequency or appropriate depth or length of interaction between you and the above.

GP = Growth Potential — and it all adds up to this: your individual potential for growth, beyond the restrictions imposed upon you by your parasympathetic nervous system. This can put a new spin on the way you look at this whole process of overcoming the amygdala: do you want to just be ‘normal’ in the sense of ‘amygdala-free’? Or would you prefer to develop into a new, stronger and more understanding person, free from excessive intrusion by the amygdala certainly, but free to grow in new ways? In other words, not just a passive ‘what’s left when the amygdala is quietened’ but a more active new being. That’s your Growth Potential.

So:

Aligned Acquaintances x Social Connections x Mutual Benefits x Interaction Level

= Growth Potential

Doubling aligned acquaintances can double your growth potential.

Doubling social connections can double your growth potential.

Doubling mutual benefits can double your growth potential.

Doubling interaction level can double your growth potential.

If you were to somehow double everything, your growth potential would multiply by sixteen times — but it’s unrealistic to expect something as dramatic as that.

However, you might be able to double one or two of these things.

Yes, this may seem overly quantitative — the nature of social interaction is that it must be meaningful rather than simply 'large'. But it’s just a way of looking at another level of human interrelationships, one which will help you combat the excesses of the amygdala and breathe more freely.

How does it work in practice?

Obviously, if you have more aligned acquaintances, there is a steadying factor involved — more people share your broad views about things, and that can be comforting. There are some perils: you can become part of vast organisations of acquaintances in which you lose your identity and become too aligned to certain points of view to the detriment of others — but we’re only talking here of modest alignments with people of like minds, not joining a cult or an extreme political party.

Another apparently obvious aspect might be the interaction level, the frequency or appropriate depth or length of interaction between you and your social connections or aligned acquaintances — again, this must be determined by the individual, and must be kept sane and balanced or the other person might sense a ‘clinginess’ on your part, where clinginess is defined as ‘taking too much out of something without putting enough back in.’

Mutual benefits are key here: you might meet people who seem so totally aligned with you that a social relationship like marriage might suddenly occur to you (and to them). The mutual benefits shared between human beings vary from purely commercial exchanges to emotional and spiritual gains, to the extent that quantifying this by talking of ‘doubling’ it might seem crass or too mechanical. But many human interactions are capable of developing into deeper and more meaningful connections if they were given a chance — and enabling them to do so stably and sanely can seriously reduce the influence of the amygdala in one’s life.

In other words, there are four methods you have available to grow as an individual:

1. Increase the number of aligned acquaintances (fairly easy to do these days with social media)

2. Increase the number of social connections (a little trickier but possible if you begin with a good understanding of who you are)

3. Increase the amount of gain from each connection (potentially a delicate thing)

4. Increase the number of times you interact or the depth or length of those interactions (not hard if managed correctly).

When you think of growing as a person — if you ever do think about it clearly — you probably think of 3 first and possibly solely. Obviously, you might think, the way to reduce amygdalic power is to get more understanding from those with whom you are already connected. But it’s only one way of four. And the ways in which you think of obtaining the gains may be vague and possibly counter-productive.

A New You, a You who emerges as the winner against the amygdala, is possible if you manage all four elements of this carefully.

As you will see…

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