The Alligator Brain

therapist Jun 30, 2019

The Alligator Brain

By: Audrey Grunst, LCSW

Flight, fight or freeze. The alligator mind in all of us.

There’s an alligator in your brain! Ok, well not really. But there is a part of the brain which is linked to the emotional center of the body. It receives messages from all over the body. We’ve all experienced it before because on a fundamental level we respond to perceived threat just like any other animal would.

So..if we all have alligators then why do some of us struggle more with emotions compared to others?

The key difference between those who are emotionally out of control and those who are regulated, the latter has learned to train the alligator. Now, insert <smart monkey or alligator trainer or wise owl> and realize that we can react to the alligator in a way that makes us feel in control.

Step 1

Begin to identify key triggers that makes the alligator storm out of the water. It might be hormones, lack of sleep, or stress. It also might be a bad grade, a fight, or a driving ticket.

Step 2

Become friendly with the alligator. WHAT?!?!? Friendly?!?! Yes, friendly. Because whether we like it or not, it’s there. The purpose is to not wrestle the alligator, lose, and exhausted ourselves. Realistic, we have to accept that it’ll be there whether we like it or not.

Step 3

Understand what is threatening the alligator and address the real problem. For example, you might be upset with the police officer for a speeding ticket and lash out at him or her. However, the alligator is reacting to the fact that you missed your alarm, late to a meeting, and the already existing financial burden you’ve had this past month.

Step 4

Talk to the alligator. Walk him through the triggers and explore why he is thrashing around in distress. Train him to react differently to the perceived threat. That means the <smart monkey, alligator trainer, or wise owl> needs to be regulated the alligator. One way to do this is “self talk” which is the practice to objectively talk to oneself aloud or mentally. This is a key skill that separates those who control their emotions and those who don’t. Can’t seem to do that in the moment? Well, most of us can’t. Take a break and come back to it when you’re calmer.

Evidence shows this behavioral technique, known as diffusion or imagery manipulation, can help people distance themselves from their emotional thoughts and regain a sense of control. For more information, check this out...a quick guide to other useful diffusion techniques!

—Audrey Grunst, LCSW is a behavioral therapist who enjoys teaching people how to relate to their thoughts, feelings and bodies in a whole new way.


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