Can you go mad with grief?

ABC of grief

So that you can understand your behavior, it is important to know what happens in your body and especially in your brain in extreme situations. The death of a loved one is such an extreme situation.

The human brain can be divided into three different regions.

First there is the lower brain region, consisting of the brain stem and the cerebellum. From a developmental point of view, this part of the brain is the oldest and is therefore also called the lizard brain. On the one hand, it is responsible for controlling physical processes such as your breathing, your heartbeat and the regulation of body temperature (brain stem), and on the other hand, all control loops for your reflexes, instincts and your movement coordination (cerebellum) are located there.

If you prefer to think in pictures, then imagine that this region of the brain is your bunny.

Another part of the bunny is that limbic system, also called the mammalian brain. This is located roughly in the middle of your brain and consists of the amygdala (almond kernel) and the hippocampus (seahorse). The limbic system is responsible for your feelings. The almond kernel is your personal alarm system that goes on in the event of danger (or in extreme situations), sounds the alarm and triggers certain alarm reactions. The hippocampus is a librarian. He accepts the information, fetches it from the interim storage facility and forwards it to the archive.

The third part of your brain is that Cerebral cortex, also Neocortex called. It is located in front of your forehead. It is your archive and is responsible for the processing and permanent storage of information. This is the rational part of your brain. The thinker who helps you to assign experiences in time and space. He experiences things consciously, plans your actions and weighs up all the alternatives. He weighs up whether it is worth doing something or not. With its help you can consciously perceive your feelings, control them and with its help you can perceive yourself and others and empathize with yourself.

If everything is okay, then bunnies and thinkers are a really good team that always works together. The two sit completely chilled in their beach chair, exchange ideas and have the time and space to discuss everything or to be silent with each other.

But what happens in an extreme case?

Then your internal alarm system goes on and your brain switches to the emergency program.

You start to sweat, your heart is beating very loudly, your breathing is faster. You may want to run away. No matter where, the main thing is as far away as possible from the dangerous situation. Or you get so angry that you want to scream out loud or cut everything down. If your extreme case is so bad for you that neither flight nor fight work, it can happen that you lapse into a kind of paralysis and feel paralyzed. In the animal kingdom, this behavior is also called the dead reflex.

All of these reactions that I just described happen because the bunny in your brain is jumping out of the beach chair. It is well hidden by the side wall of the beach chair and your thinker is left alone in the beach chair. Now all information from the brain stem is passed on directly to the thinker. It is precisely this process in your brain that causes you to behave as you do.

This is a perfectly appropriate response to inappropriate life events and is ultimately a pretty ingenious function of your body because it protects you through it. The important thing is to get the bunny to hop back into the beach chair so that it can work as a team again with the thinker.

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