Seeing Your Brain As The Place Emotions and Behaviors Come from is Terrifying


Image by pablokdc via Flickr

Where do emotions and behaviors come from?

Now think about it and answer your true beliefs.

I was speaking with a wonderful physician the other day to whom I asked this question, (let’s call her Doctora.)

I respect Doctora for her character, personality, standard of medical practice and interpersonal beauty. She is a bulldog in the operating room. When patients need studies done that insurances won’t pay for, she tears barriers to treatment apart with vicious tools of rightness. And she cares.  She sits.  She asks.  And she cares.  She sees the person in the paper gown, each one for the person she knows them to be and the person yet unknown.

I admire Doctora greatly not only for these qualities but also because it gets personal.  I, who have my own special practice of medicine, cannot do her’s.

When just a green bumbler in medical school, there was a fateful day when I shadowed another great artist of medical care into a locker room.  I suited up in that blue sack they call scrubs.  I put little blue sacks over my tennis shoes too.

Do you know why there are blue sacks on the surgeon’s shoes?  So that when wet things come out of the human body and fall onto their feet, their toes won’t feel squishy. Yep. That’s what was going through my mind as I scrubbed my hands, each finger and each finger nail the ten minutes it takes to reach what is considered clean.

Surgery in progress, the color red mixed with a smell and monstrous sensual force that clobbered me to the ground.  I swooned, gagged and promptly ended my surgical career.

There is nothing more irritating to a surgeon than someone who doesn’t appreciate the “fun” of “cutting.” Yes. I irritated this mentor and others too I’m afraid.

This doesn’t keep me unfortunately from pleasuring in telling people, “I am licensed to do surgery.”  I am you know.  Any Jane with a medical license can pick a scalpel up and bring back the dark ages, or contemporary, depending on who holds the license.  I’m irritating to my mentors, remember.  It reminds me how anyone can go online and pay to become a marriage registrar, i.e. perform a marriage ceremony for couples.  My brother did that twenty years ago and has yet to perform the marriage ceremony for a willing couple.  For real judges and clergy, this might be irritating too and that makes me a little happy as well.

Anywho, Doctora and I were rolling with the injustices haranguing us in the practice of medicine, both from the angle of the physician and the patient. I was pumping her up for being the cutting-wonder who she was and she was dutifully marveling at my jabber-mouth work that she would, “never be able to do in a million years.”  Somehow this brought us round to how our culture avoids embracing the biological paradigm of anything inside our skull but is so willing to celebrate it for any other part of our human bodies.

Where do emotions and behaviors come from?

Doctora answered me with a frozen breath. Then after I soiled the air with a lot of jabbering and she was finally able to speak, she said,

I would just be horrified if my brain got sick!

I wondered if it was scary enough to clobber her to the ground, but I do agree.  Terrifying.  Don’t you think?

Question:  Is that why hardly anyone can speak about the brain being human and largely responsible for where our emotions and behaviors come from? How has this played into your experience of self-care?  Please tell me your story.

Self-Care Tip – Go to the fear that keeps you from embracing your biology to gain more freedom.

20 thoughts on “Seeing Your Brain As The Place Emotions and Behaviors Come from is Terrifying

  1. It would be why I have refused, until recently, to call my illness a “mental illness”. Somehow, an “emotional breakdown” didn’t seem so horrifying. Never thought of it as being a ‘”brain illness” until I became a friend to myself. Because that’s not such a popular nomincature (sp), it doesn’t sound so scary…or maybe it does…but it might not have offended my mother as much as “mental illness”. :-{


  2. I’m not sure you’d actually want me to tell you my story on this one, Sana… but here goes.

    My dad, as you know, was a doctor. That made me look at the human body in a particular way, also the brain – so I saw things in a pretty rational, logical way: the emotions are inside the brain, without the brain, you’re dead – so where are the emotions then. End of story. Except it isn’t, because I’ve always been rather spiritual in the sense of being in touch with nature and other creatures, the elements and so on. Somehow getting those two ideas together didn’t quite happen for me, except for everything changing (like nature) everything moving on. So we humans, as part of nature, move on, change, change our forms.

    All very well til my dad got ill and was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I watched him go from a highly intelligent, intellectual man to a child in a matter of weeks. I could ‘see’ the intelligence draining out of him.

    I was with him when he died (which I’m glad of), and I saw him in the mortuary after he was laid out. What was there? The same as was there when I saw my mother’s body. Leather. Nothing. An image.

    I have never got to grips with it. Where the f*ck are the emotions now? Where is the spirit? Nature goes on and on and on, with or without us, it just goes on. Sometimes, honesly, I wonder why we’re here at all.


    • ouch val. your dad was a big loss for all of us. we r all connected as your allude to in talk about spirituality, i agree. these questions r important as they help us understand who we are under inevitable circumstances of the changing body (including the brain) through life and then death. I disagree w many smarter psychiatrists who believe the spirit is in the amygdala. let us know where you find yours to b. your voice is far reaching and powerful. keep on lady-friend.


  3. Physical illness does not especially frighten me. I have had some serious physical stuff happen and I have had a bout with some depression and I do have some residual issues with PTSD but overall I’m ok. Everything is under control.

    (When I read over the above ^ I had to laugh–I don’t sound ok, do I?)

    That being said, having lived with one parent who was severely depressed and the other with bipolar and alcoholism, having a grandparent with severe depression and a brother with DID and bipolar the thought of mental illness scares the beans outta me.


  4. We are so vulnerable, yet so tough. One blood clot can snuff a good part of normal functioning. Or put one into nirvana. (Jill Bolte Taylor)

    Or into a state of nothingness? Can there ever be nothingness while the heart continues to pump and lungs function? Does that brain just keep regrouping and adjusting beyond our comprehension?

    What about brains that are given seemingly horrific electric shock treatments and in turn provide people with fewer memories, but some happiness?

    Then there’s parts of brains cut out and other parts simply take over. Amazing.

    The design is unfathomable. It’s all a phenomenal puzzle to me. But I’m with you, Dr. Sana… Surgery can be left to those whose gifts and talents allow them to work inside bodies without one shudder. I’m with you…I’ll be a jabber-mouth any day.


  5. At one point I was diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder – the dreaded of all brain diseases! (Aside from schizophrenia.) Soon after I was told that this was a misdiagnosis. Now, 20 years later, I’ve been told that while I’m not a “true borderline,” I have borderline “features.” This has led me back to researching this disorder. What I find in the literature offers little hope. Honestly, I feel like a death sentence of sorts has been handed to me. I just finished a memoir on the topic with the belief that it was going to give me hope – “The Buddah and the Borderlline” – but I found little hope there. What do all my efforts amount to if I’m programmed this way? I would take a short life with a physical disease over this long life with a brain disease any day. It is terrifying.


  6. Most people agree at least from the metaphoric , behavior and emotions come from the heart. At least that mental and spiritual heart that is part of the brain. The ancients and well into the AD 1500’s believed thinking actually came from the heart. Pythagoras is credited with being the first to propose that thinking came from the brain not the heart and that palsies and mental illness were indicators of malfunction in the brain not the heart. Smart guy for livin’ coupla thou years ago, huh?


  7. How surgeons clean up for surgery reminds me a little of me getting ready to touch video game discs. I must be clean. Clean! I wouldn’t want to do surgery, either, even if I had such skill or smarts. I don’t think the blood would bother me too much, but the organs would. And the cutting. It’s cool you tried it, though. Anyway, back to the topic, perhaps that indeed is why people don’t want to think too much about emotions coming from the brain. It’s scary to think that there is something controlling your emotions when it’s something that can get injured or diseased. One of my big fears is mental problems. I don’t want to go mad. Or lose my memory. So many important things depend on a vulnerable lump of mush in our heads.


  8. I think anyone who has had proper clinical depression knows that this is exactly the case – something goes wrong, and you go ‘AWOL’ for a bit. Your judgement is no longer your own. Your values and attitudes change. It’s been both incredibly scary, and incredibly releasing, looking at my own depression to realise that no matter what the nay-sayers go in for, there’s a definite biological malfunction going on somewhere in there, that you’re pretty powerless to stop until it’s ready (or, for the fortunate, responsive to medication).

    P.S I’m on a surgery attachment at the moment and I LOVE IT! I’m that medstudent who gets a bit overexcited at the thought of being allowed to pop an abscess. I am also paired with a wannabepsychiatrist who literally cannot be on the same side of the hospital as the OR.


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