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Monday, May 10, 2010

Emotional Disorders - What Controls Your Conscious Point of Focus?

By Carl Harris
Scientists tell us the Prefrontal Cortex, a relatively small area of the brain just behind your forehead, performs your 'executive functions' - planning and controlling what you do with your brain and body. It carries out these plans by directing your 'Conscious Point of Focus' to open up to certain sources of stimulation.
Your Focus acts like a pen to the cellular map writing ability of your brain - whatever stimulation you deliberately open up to determines what gets written into your neural maps. The more you consciously and repeatedly focus on the same things the more intense and permanent those new maps become. You have the ability to write and re-write whatever you want to as long as you are willing to do the work involved in the writing - the work is hard.
How you use your tool of conscious focus can either lead to or heal serious emotional issues. Your Conscious Point of Focus is generally called 'what you think about'. Usually we assume thinking means working with strings of just words in our heads.
In our brains words appear to us as sounds we identify as 'verbal self-talk' - of course they are not actually sounds but neural energy creating an illusion we are hearing sounds. When we translate these stimulations into the written word we convert those sounds into pictures and these pictures act as representatives of both sounds and shared social meaning for others (have you ever looked at words as though they were pictures and also sounds with meanings attached to them?). Words are an example of our ability to 'associate' different types of stimuli in such a way we do not even realise they are actually different types of stimuli combined.
Words are quick-fire representations of other things, streams of these representations flow through our conscious and we shape these streams into logical thinking patterns - but we use those patterns to build:
  • pictures
  • shapes
  • sounds
  • smells (or at least, memories of smells).
We can also reverse this process.
When meanings are related to our value systems they are also attached to powerful emotional responses. We see new patterns in regards to these sources of stimulation in our minds and link these to previously learned patterns. The patterns are created because of differences in intensity, vibrational tone and duration.
We can deliberately choose to focus on any of these things using our Conscious Point of Focus, but we need to choose wisely because our focus is a limited resource. Although there are several options here in regard to stimulation type, there is a limit to the number of stimulations we can deliberately pay attention to at any one time.
Our conscious brains can only work with 4 to 11 bytes of electrical information per second. The greater the number of bytes of information we work with at any one time the harder it is to make sense or even remember what we did in our thinking. Once the incoming rate of information goes to 11 bytes per second you react with stress due to information overload.
When your conscious focus works at full throttle in this way your neo-cortex uses up a lot of glucose energy and gets tired more quickly in comparison to other parts of your brain. There is a limit to how long you can focus on those bytes. Biologically, thinking really is hard work.
Cut It Out
Your Prefrontal Cortex has the job of choosing what to focus your 4 to 11 bytes of conscious attention on whilst dealing with the fact your brain receives stimulation from your senses at roughly 2'000'000 (two million) bytes per second. In order for it to be able to resist this mass of distracting stimulation, most of which comes up from your body as a result of brain signals stimulating hormonal responses previously being sent downwards, your PFC controls a stimulation-resistance-system.
By the way, this organic resistance system is the same system you use to suppress and repress your emotional responses. The main stopping valve of this system is the root-like Reticular Formation in your brain stem. The Reticular Formation is designed to control the level of electrical/emotional energy flooding up into your brain at any one time.
From your brain stem the Reticular Formation spreads upwards and outwards into the net-like Ascending Reticular Activation System (also known as the ARAS - this system makes us consciously aware of the world around us). Different parts of your Reticular system have the ability to reduce and filter electrical stimulation in different parts of your brain. For example, there is a layer of reticular material surrounding the Thalamus, the main sensory signal router sitting between your upper conscious brain and lower emotional brain, acting like the insulation you find on household wiring.
Without this built-in resistance system you would be unable to focus on anything other than a mass of sensory information. In the case of emotional disorders, however, the resistance system has been used so effectively it has led to a state of internal overcharging and to trapping the emotional charge in the body.
An emotional charge trapped in the body keeps the body on high alert and this leads to an internal battle for control of your 'Conscious Point of Focus' between your Prefrontal Cortex and two other internal attention management system; your:
  • Orientation Response and your
  • Emotional Alert System
When these two mechanisms are activated they repeatedly snatch control of your Conscious Point of Focus away from your PFC and it in turn repeatedly snatches control back through the process of deliberate 'distraction'. This produces a constant state of physical tension in the body and establishes a vicious war between how your PFC wants you to feel and how your body is trying to communicate to it what it actually feels.
When a person does not suffer with an emotional disorder their mental focus naturally comes to rest on whatever their senses are resting on at the time. There is no internal battle for control and no sense of tension.
Your Orientation Response and Your Emotional Alert System - Your Emergency Situation Managers
Your PFC is concerned with long-term strategic self-management. It works with such things as changing your self image; deciding what kinds of environment you would like to eventually live in; planning the route it will take to get there and putting in place the motivations you will need to keep yourself energised along the journey.
Your Orientation Response and your Emotional Alert System, in contrast, are emergency problem solvers designed to work with unexpected life events. One is an automatic process designed to search for and identify potential threats while the other is designed to galvanise the body into urgent life-saving action by responding to threats with the most powerful source of energy you have.
Is that a Spider? No, it is a Bit of Fluff
Our Orientation Response is the mechanism that drags our attention away suddenly from what we are currently doing to pay attention to something new we have just become vaguely aware of entering our environment.
Out of the corner of your eye you spot a small fuzzy blob on the floor and you look to see if it is a spider. It is a bit of fluff. You go to run a bath and spot something black against the white enamel. You cannot resist looking. It is an apple seed. How did that get in there? Who has been eating apples in the bath?
Your Orientation Response is partially pre-programmed by your perceptual bias. Your perceptual bias is your unconscious list of things you want to avoid and is decided on previous experience. So when you go into the bathroom you are now pre-programmed to check the bath for things that should not be there.
When you leave the bathroom you are now pre-programmed to find out how the apple seed got there.
The response is also designed to pay attention to the new, the fast moving, the tiny, the potentially itchy, the unknown; the large; that scraping sound you hear that sounds like it is in your house. The only way to satisfy this response is to consciously pay attention to the source of concern until you have fully looked at it, identified it as safe and then let it go. This completes the release cycle for this part of our conscious focus mechanism and you can then return to what you wanted to focus on earlier.
Until you pay attention to an unknown and unexplored stimulus for long enough, and in enough depth, to the point your Unconscious attention systems believe it to be safe, they will keep grabbing the attention of your conscious focus.
Admit it - you looked for that bit of fluff, I know you did.
If you have an obsession and you do not understand how obsessions work, and you lack confidence in working with such things to the point you cannot just put it to one side without it grabbing at your conscious focus against your will, it is the orientation mechanism that keeps causing this to happen. The other reason is because your body is on High Emotional Alert.
Your Emotional Alert System
A real-life event or an imagined event (imagined so effectively your Unconscious emotional system thinks it is real) triggers an emotional response. The emotional response travels up through the body towards the brain to meet up with the issue identified by the brain in order that your overall body and brain together take appropriate external action to deal with the alleged problem.
Trouble is when the emotional response reaches the brain your brain says 'not yet' and your PFC pushes the energetic response back down into your body. So the response stays in place, the body remains energised, waiting for the 'go' command from the brain. And it waits, but not for long. It reminds the brain by coming up through the body again, making the attempt to link up with the issue in the brain and again the brain says 'not yet'.
Your body remains in a state of continued emotional pre-release and the emotional response, now held in place for a prolonged period of time, starts to desperately seek release through a process known as projection and keeps pestering the brain to pay attention to it by any means available. Now it comes up for any stimulus that even slightly resembles the original issue. By now, unfortunately, the brain has forgotten what the original issue was and refuses to acknowledge the response needs to release at all.
'What, you again?'.
Your PFC refuses to allow the emotional response to leave the body declaring 'something is wrong with my emotional system' when the response keeps showing up..
Your Orientation Response is continually re-triggered by this because you have no idea what is causing the repeating imagery and your brain keeps being constantly re-stimulated by the emotional charge attempting to leave the body through the normal release process.
Want to Switch the Emotional Alert Driving Your Obsession Off?
In order to removal an obsession or any other emotional problem you have to switch off the emotional alert driving it. There is nothing you can do about your Orientation Response - but once it has taken a good look at your obsession and at the emotional response attached to it, and realises what is there is just 'fluff', it will stop demanding your Conscious Point of Focus be directed to it.
Your PFC is fighting the reality of how your emotional system works by creating belief systems that cause your lower brain parts to join in with resisting release. In order to stop the battle going on inside it must change its approach and agree to taking your Conscious Point of Focus directly into the emotional world it has spent so long fighting.
By systematically surrendering to the demands of its rival competitors for control of your conscious attention it will gradually release the emotional response behind the high alert emotional state and find itself returning to its rightful place as natural, relaxed controller of your conscious focus.
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