Is your inner Chimp making you anxious!

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Is your inner Chimp making you anxious!

15th January 2015 10:36 AM


How often does something wind you up to the extent that you fly into a rage, ranting and raving for a few minutes, and then leave you wondering where on earth it all came from?

Road Rage is a fine example of this.  We drive along, quite happily in our own little world, cocooned in our vehicle, in relative comfort and safety… and then someone cuts us up, and ... Whoosh ... out of nowhere (out of your mouth, but seemingly out of nowhere) comes a string of words and gestures that would make a seasoned sailor wince. This lasts for a few minutes, and then you calm down and it's gone again.  You return to relative normality and continue on your journey.

Another example is during an argument, often with those closest to you, and something is said to just flip that switch and you turn from normal, easy-going person into heat-seeking missile, determined to destroy anything in your path with your vicious words and frantic arm waving and finger pointing.  Then, as the argument dies down, you take a step back and really wonder why you said all of those really nasty things.  You didn't mean them, this isn't you – you just wouldn't say those things to your loved one!

Well you are right – it isn't you.  Well it is, but not the ‘you’ that you know and your mother loves.  This is the ‘you’ that resides deep inside your brain, and comes out to play when it feels that you are under threat.  We all have this emotional centre, which dives into action and reacts often before we even realise there is a problem!

Professor Steven Peters is the renowned sports psychiatrist who has worked with the likes of the British Olympic Cycling Team, specifically Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton; World Snooker Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan; footballer Luis Suarez, who is well documented for his bizarre habit of biting people; and more recently the England Football Team, and in his book, ‘The Chimp Paradox’ he has likened this emotional centre within our brain to a chimpanzee, or more affectionately, our Inner Chimp!

Peters suggests that our mind can be seen as three teams, each with their own agenda and unique way of working, all for the benefit, protection and survival of the human being.  Team 1 is the Human.  This is the logical thinking brain, our conscious mind, which is able to rationalise, justify and work with facts and truth.  This is mainly the frontal lobe area of the brain.  The area which spits its dummy out when it feels threatened is Team 2, our Chimp. This is an emotional thinking machine, which works with feelings and impressions and is mainly based in the limbic area of the brain.  The Human and the Chimp think totally independently from each other, and the Chimp often acts without your permission!  This is where the swearing and gesturing during a road rage incident comes from – you are happily driving along minding your own, logical business, and you are suddenly hijacked by your Chimp and all hell breaks loose.  For a few minutes.  That is all it takes for the Chimp to vent his spleen and go back to sleep, safe in the knowledge that he has kept you safe from harm.  Leaving you to pick up the pieces, and mend and bridges that may have been burned if you said things, during an argument, which you didn’t mean. The Chimp is four times more powerful than the Human, so if there is a clash, it is likely that he will win – hence our uncontrollable outbursts!

The Chimp and the Human are both responsible for feeding things into Team 3, the Computer.  The Computer is our unconscious brain, which is our storage area for programmed thoughts and behaviours.  It is thought that we are all born with a blank computer, and that this is largely populated within the first six years of life.  Every experience we have ever had, be it good, bad or indifferent is stored in the Computer and the Human and the Chimp are both continually checking the Computer for familiarity.  In other words, have we had this sort of experience before, and how should we react to it?  Whilst the Chimp and the Human think independently of each other, it is possible for them to work together.  The Computer is five times more powerful than the Chimp, and hence, twenty times more powerful than the Human.

It would be easy at this point to think that there is nothing you can do about your Chimp and to let him run wild, but he is your responsibility and it is down to you to manage him.  You can tell if you are being hijacked by your Chimp if you have any thoughts or feelings that you do not want; if you act impulsively and regret it later; or if you have unhelpful feelings of anxiety or catastrophic thinking.  

The Chimp is yet to catch up with evolution.  He still thinks that the world is full of predators and that everything and everyone is out to get you.  He takes everything personally and is completely irrational.  His main purpose is to protect you, and his main instinct is survival.  The first step to managing your Chimp is to recognise that it is the Chimp reacting, not you, the Human.  Then, slow down.  This allows your Human to catch up with the situation and bring some logical, rational thinking into it.  Get perspective of the situation.  For example, ask yourself if it is life threatening.  If it is not, then you can thank your Chimp for stepping in, and assure him that you will take it from here.  Give yourself time for your sympathetic nervous system (the bit that increases your heart rate, makes you feel fuzzy headed, and gives you sweaty palms) to calm down, and allow you to take control of the situation.  Then you can create a plan of action, which will help to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and replace them with the more secure feelings of familiarity.

Everyone experiences symptoms of anxiety from time to time, but it is when those symptoms are becoming restrictive to your well-being, and preventing you from doing what you want to do, that you need to pay them a little bit more attention.  Anxiety is your body's way of telling you that something is not quite right.   If your feel that your Chimp spends more time sabotaging you than happily asleep in his box, you may need some help, and there are lots of professionals out there that can help with anxiety, and if your emotions are becoming difficult to deal with, search out someone that can help you.  


Franca is an experienced Hypnotherapist, Counsellor and Mind Coach with a broad range of expertise; specialising in Anxiety, Sexual Issues and Fertility Issues.  See her website for more details.

Tags: Anxiety, Stress

Treatments: Hypnotherapy

The views expressed in these blogs are those of the blog authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Bridge Centre for Natural Health.

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