News Dragon Brain – The Dark Side Of The Lizard Brain

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Dragon Brain – The Dark Side of the Lizard Brain


Most of us are familiar with “the lizard brain.” Few understand that with the right abuse or trauma that lizard can grow into a dragon. When that happens we call the resulting condition PTSD. One of the most prominent signs of PTSD is anger.

All people experience anger in a progression. Healthy anger goes from discomfort, to warmth, to annoyance, to pissed off, to anger, then to extreme anger all the way up to rage if the thing or person making them angry persists and no solution is reached. If the person doesn’t leave the situation or resolve it in some way, anger merely escalates. It may take minutes to hours, or weeks to experience that increase in anger. In a person with untreated PTSD that anger takes nanoseconds to reach full boil. There is no escalation – only reaction. The reaction is how the lizard brain protects the person. It’s a great thing actually.

We know the lizard brain is the part of our limbic system that sends us into fight or flight. For most of us the lizard is triggered when we anticipate failure, criticism, loss or rejection or a fear around those things. However, in people with PTSD the lizard becomes a starving dragon. The “on” switch stays on and circumstances that send most people into ordinary “fight or flight” fear and anxiety send us into fight or flight overdrive. It’s like fear on steroids. And worse? It almost never shuts down. Medical experts call it hyper-vigilance. It’s a feeling like the other shoe is going to drop any minute, only the thing wearing the shoe is a centipede and the other shoe is really a hand grenade. It has a way of ruining lots of things in your life, like jobs, relationships, even daily living. But it can be a good thing as well. It can save our lives or complicate them. Learning to recognize the surge of adrenalin and to take actions to cope with the panic, anger and fear can help a person with PTSD cope, or appear to cope outwardly, but internally those hormones and chemicals are still raging and are still there – ready to act if needed.

For instance:

The lizard has learned that when a bully shoves or pokes you that what comes next is a painful beating. So, it immediately pumps ten-times the amount of adrenalin into the system because it knows that you’re going to need all the energy, oxygen and strength possible to fight or flee. Shoving becomes a trigger. So if that person is later shoved or bumped into on the bus or subway – guess what? The lizard recognizes only the shove because it’s geared to survive, not to be rational. If the poor unfortunate who bumped or pushed doesn’t apologize – then they’re likely to be the brunt of some pretty brutal verbal attacks. If they push back – thinking they’ll intimidate you – they’re likely to end up brutally beaten…like the incident on a bus where a 67-year-old Vietnam Vet was pushed and intimidated by a 20-something guy on a bus. He got up and moved to the front of the bus, but the young guy followed him, and hit him. Bad move. This vet KNEW from his history and his training that when someone threatens you, or comes at you in anger or hits you that the chances of being killed next are pretty good. So he reacted with all his training and strength to protect himself.

The older vet cleaned the younger, mouthy guy’s clock. NEVER push someone with PTSD. Hard lesson to learn, but a good one. Chances are the guy who got his clock cleaned will feel fear, even anger, the next time he encounters an old white man on a bus. He will either overreact and hurt or kill the man, or avoid him. His lizard brain is telling him, “We got hurt last time we encountered an old vet. Let’s steer clear.” He’ll think twice before he engages again. So, the hyper-vigilance and heightened reactions can and DO help save our lives. However, most of us aren’t going to encounter truly threatening situations like this – or at least not very often – unless you’re in combat, a rough neighborhood or a job that demands hyper-vigilance (police etc).

But PTSD has it upsides. As someone with PTSD being hyper-vigilant means I have an almost super-natural ability to spot patterns, to recognize and catalog body-language and to understand people. It’s on par with psychics and mind-readers at times. It’s the gift of an amygdala that has doubled in size from a lifetime of trauma. The down side is a tendency to be more critical, quick to jump to the defense of others, to sense a threat where none may exist, or to sense a bigger threat than actually appears. And while most people reading this don’t have PTSD, chances are very good you do know someone who does, or have worked with people who do. One in five returning war veterans has it.

One in three women who have been sexually assaulted (that’s one-quarter of the population) have it.
Anyone who has survived a natural disaster or terrorist attack – (9/11 for instance), may have it. If you have had a bad car wreck, witnessed a traumatic event where people were hurt – ie. car crash, house fire, beating, shooting or accident, chances are you may have PTSD. Most people who have it aren’t aware of it. Untreated PTSD can be deadly as we’ve seen in veterans who kill their families after returning from war. In most PTSD victims however, the anger is turned inward – resulting in suicide, depression or isolation. In those who have been diagnosed and treated and who work at controlling their PTSD, it’s hard to tell they have it since the panic attacks, depression and reduced incidents are controlled through behavioral therapy. Many will channel anger into work, exercise or volunteer work since all anger is, is a reaction to a rush of hormones and chemicals. When I was younger I sought out sports and activities that duplicated those feelings of excitement. I burned off the adrenalin through exercise and activity. Now that I’m older I have to find other ways to channel and burn it off. Exercise and work are two ways. But I can still feel threatened by rudeness or a verbal attack and lash back with a sharp tongue or anger. It’s the dragon brain stirring.

If you’re working or know people who have a quick temper, or are quick to take offense to slights, remember they may be operating with a dragon brain. Back off. Be calm. Reassure them you mean them no harm. They are not responding to you personally. They are responding to a powerful surge of adrenalin and other hormones and chemicals that come from having experienced something horrible. Please understand that and don’t escalate the encounter. It won’t help and chances are you could really unleash the dragon in your direction.

Source: International Emergency Telephone Numbers
Im not sure why I have experienced this, rather how it originated, but when I have been forcefully grabbed to prevent my leaving, I remember little afterwards.
This is a wonderful description, thank you! Can the dragon brain ever be reduced to just a lizard again?
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