Surviving vs. Thriving

Jun 21, 2016

Emotions are not mystical; they are biological signals meant to guide our actions.

At the centre of your brain is what is known as the limbic midbrain – the core of the emotional self[1]. This right-brain biased structure connects to your body through the vagus nerve, registering anciently wired emotional signals through core areas of the body such as the chest (“I am heartbroken”) or the stomach (“I knew it in my gut”)[2].

These body-signals serve a purpose! To survive as a species, it was most important that the emotional brain send fear-based signals into our body to warn us of dangers that could kill us. Specifically, the amygdala (our brain’s ‘smoke detector’) prepares our nervous system for fight or flight[1].

While this helped in the past, unfortunately in modern life these danger-detectors often work against us by responding to illusory threats during social situations. These fear-based body states are no longer activated by threats to our species, but rather by social exclusion, judgment, and the ubiquitous fear of not being good enough[3].

Living in a state of threat-detection (i.e., survival-based living) is exacerbated by personal traumas. For instance, if one of our parents was loving when we were in a good mood but critical and rejecting when we felt anxious or moody, social interactions will more easily activate the ‘smoke detector’ (amygdala), flooding the body with painful sensations. Some of these are shame, fear, guilt and anxiety, which may be described as falling, imploding, being stabbed, or a fire burning inside[1].

Sadly, the pop-culture tone of our world favours empty standards of perfection, rejecting the wholeness of our realistic selves. As a result, we may spend the majority of our time in survival-based living experienced as heavy detachment.

The Remedy: Thriving

Fortunately, our nervous system is also capable of powerful transformative states of bliss that activate when we feel understanding, genuine acceptance, admiration and love. Within these body states, our capacity for creativity, immune system functioning and tissue repair is greatly enhanced.  We thrive when we feel accepted[4].

By looking lovingly at our broken parts, we achieve the spontaneity and pure joy of our childlike selves coupled with the wisdom of our adult selves. The amygdala relaxes and the vagus nerve, no longer occupied with stress-processing, is freed to aid digestion and immune system functioning[3].

We walk through the world with enhanced security and the belief that “I am good and the world is safe.” From a place of security, we can look up at others’ faces and explore the world with playful curiosity. Because our brains and bodies mirror each other’s feelings, by entering states of bliss we have the potential to create a heaven on earth by non-verbally activating others’ joy circuitries[2].

While James, Matthew and I practice from a style that cultivates this ‘heaven within,’ this is not a product or service that can be sold. This is our hardwired right and destiny as living beings and the peace described by all major spiritual paths. Groups and individual services provided at Thrive Counselling Centre in Vancouver are but one example of support in realizing our goodness. In the day-to-day, simply by understanding and supporting each other we repair the tears of isolation and aloneness that have kept us all separate, like a body whose cells are at war with each other.

Think about how you’ve felt lately — are you surviving or are you thriving?

[1] Cozolino, L. (2014). The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: Attachment and the Developing Social Brain (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology). WW Norton & Company.

[2] Siegel, A., & Sapru, H. N. (2006). Essential neuroscience. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

[3] Fosha, D., Siegel, D. J., & Solomon, M. (Eds.). (2009). The Healing Power of Emotion: Affective Neuroscience, Development & Clinical Practice (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology). WW Norton & Company.

[4] Fosha, D. (2000). The transforming power of affect: A model for accelerated change. Basic Books.

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari

Carson Kivari is the Founder and Clinic Director of Thrive Downtown, with years of experience helping individuals and couples overcome anxiety, depression, and burnout. He guides clients on a journey of self-exploration and trauma release to find purpose, connection, and safety. Take the first step towards healing and contact Carson today to schedule a session.

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