The ‘gut brain’

Our mind and body work as a unit and our feelings govern about 90 per cent of what we do – the other 10 per cent is what our logical brains do to translate and act upon those feelings.

Our brains are not the only part of us that thinks – our feelings ‘think’ too, and it is in our deeper minds (our psyches) that most of our sense of wellbeing is formed. Neurobiologists these days talk about the ‘gut brain‘ and how our intuitive emotions, or ‘gut feelings’, communicate with our brains. We all know the expression ‘gut reaction’ or ‘gut feeling’ – these show us our awareness of the intuitive gut place in the core of us.

And science is also proving that our brains are shaped by love, starting even before we are born. The more love and trust we feel, the more we feel good about ourselves and the more we can then care for others. Love spreads generosity of spirit – when we feel good about ourselves we are more likely to be kinder or more understanding towards other people, animals and our environment. Having a secure feeling inside us – good self-esteem – means we tend to see the world generally as a benevolent place that offers us the chance to find positive attachments to others and also offers hope that we can manage life, make changes and find fulfilment.

The ‘primitive brain’ reacts in dangerous situations (it has a ‘flight or fight’ reaction) when we don’t feel safe or secure. We might not feel safe or secure in a variety of situations, like spotting a bully up ahead or realising you’ve been left out of something in your group, and you feel instantly nervous with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach (the gut-brain reacting), and perhaps sweaty palms and quicker breathing. Stress chemicals are released that need calming down once the danger has passed and then, once we feel safe, valued and understood again, our higher brain releases oxytocin and we feel better.

The bridge between fear (trauma) and security is trust. If we can trust that things can get better, if we can trust the main people in our lives, if we can trust that we can be ok, then we will get through hard times and enjoy the good times. Trust is formed when we feel loved and understood – trust and love enhance each other.

Attachment and love

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Attachment is the emotional bond that is formed between people in order to establish security and safety. Secure and stable relationships are the foundation for healthy emotional development and subsequent good relationships.

Giving and receiving love are the cornerstones of a happy and productive life, which starts from the very beginning within the early baby-mother relationship.

Being loved shapes the brain and therefore all its responses: our brain gets hard-wired from its early experiences. If the experiences are unfulfilling, our brains are not as healthy as brains experiencing satisfactory love and nurturing. Early happiness builds good relationships as we grow up. Early emotional distress undermines our ability to trust others and it follows that we may then grow up repeating insecure relationships which don’t nourish us as well as we need them too.

This repeating is what is meant by ‘patterns of relating’ and we can be caught in a spiral. However these patterns can be re-wired during our lives so we are never doomed to stay with the original ’emotional template’ which will however still hold an influence over our attitudes to ourselves and others. These influences and what we make of them as we grow up, are what give us our unique personality.