These Neuroscience Techniques Are Also Used In Navy Seals Training
Warning: Explicit Content — Suicide
I spend a lot of time reading blogs where believers are becoming aware of the lack of credibility in their holy books but have an extremely difficult time with fear because of their indoctrinated beliefs about eternal hell. Some Christian apologists will state that scriptures related to hell are not about fire and torment for eternity, but they are.
For example, Matthew 10:28 states: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
In Four Views on Hell, p. 20, John F. Walvoord writes: “Luke 12:5 has a similar thought to that expressed in Matthew 10:28, that one should fear the devil far more than those who might kill them physically. Though not always expressly stated, the implication is that the punishment will have duration and be endless.”
1 Peter 5:8 states: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
Approximately 56% of Americans surveyed believe in the devil, 53% believe in hell and 43% believe in hell as a place of suffering and punishment. In an interview in New York Magazine, with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, he stated that he believed in the devil (Satan).
“Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.”
“Every Catholic believes this? There’s a wide variety of Catholics out there …”
“If you are faithful to Catholic dogma, that is certainly a large part of it.”
“Isn’t it terribly frightening to believe in the Devil?”
“You’re looking at me as though I’m weird. My God! Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil? I mean, Jesus Christ believed in the Devil! It’s in the Gospels! You travel in circles that are so, so removed from mainstream America that you are appalled that anybody would believe in the Devil!”
In the comment section of a post “Gary Responds” published by Ken on his blog The Divine Spark Within, Gary, a physician who was tormented by the thought of hell being real, replied to my comment and this was what his wrote:
“You may very well be right, my friend, and to tell you the truth, I hope that you are right.
I would happily give up heaven and seeing my loved ones again if it meant that no one else has to go to hell. Hell is an absolutely horrific concept. In my opinion, no one deserves to be burned alive day, after day, after day, without there ever being an end.
I hope you are right: I hope that when we all die, the only thing that will happen to us is that our bodies will decay and provide nutrients for new life from the earth. And that’s it. However, if you atheists are wrong, and I buy into your story, I will suffer horrific torment, possibly being burned alive, in a black hole, in the center of the earth, forever and ever.
Maybe some of you ex-Christians have been able to get that fear out of your heads. I can’t.
I’m not going to take the chance of YOU being wrong. I will obey God. Whether I believe in Him or not is irrelevant in Lutheran theology. I have been baptized. I am a child of God. As long as I do not reject God, or willfully disobey him, I will attain eternal life. The consequences of not obeying are too horrific for me to contemplate.”
Anxiety, distress, and fear are closely related negative emotional states associated with physical or psychological harm. These three emotions can be differentiated by the temporal relationship between the feeling and the potential threat. Anxiety is characterized by the anticipation of being harmed in the future, where as fear is characterized as the anticipation of being harmed in the present. Distress is characterized by the awareness of being harmed at this particular moment. The three emotions can diffuse into one single diffuse state. Source
So you say to yourself — hah — I don’t believe all that mythological stuff. Good for you., but millions do. Millions have had their brains wired (indoctrination) to believe it. I was one of them. I was indoctrinated by the Roman Catholic Church (the largest Christian denomination in the world) at a very young age. I was told by those I trusted that hell was real. That demons and Satan were real. It caused night terrors for several years during those very impressionable years. Such indoctrination is a form of child abuse. But the RCC isn’t the only Christian denomination teaching this.
When we were both in our twenties, my husband was told he was being oppressed and possessed by demons after seeking spiritual counseling. Who told him this? Christian clergy from the 2nd largest denomination in the United States. What he was actually experiencing were hallucinations caused by a traumatic brain injury he had sustained in a car/train accident. The symptoms of neurological disorders caused by traumatic brain injuries were not very well understood in the medical profession 20+ years ago.
His brain progressively worsened to the point that he could not fully reason. In ignorance, the clergy instilled this belief. My partner was overcome with fear and in his fragile mental state, killed himself. It took me over 20 years to talk about this publicly, and my journey was long in figuring out how to overcome my own fears and the repercussions of post traumatic stress disorder. I was home the day my partner ended his life. I heard the shotgun go off. When I entered the bedroom I saw the brain matter, pieces of skull and teeth scattered throughout the room. I saw his blood splattered on the walls and bed linen, and I saw it gushing out of my partner’s body.
I’m sorry to be sharing something so grim and graphic, but I wanted the reader to see, at least in part, the trauma I had to overcome. Had it not been for mental training I wouldn’t be able to write about this. I share to offer encouragement.
“In [the] pre-9/11 United States, more than half of all adult men and women have been exposed to at least one traumatic event in the course of their lives. If you go to countries where there’s much more civil unrest, the rates are higher. For example, in Algeria, 90 percent of all adult men and women will have been exposed to at least one traumatic event. Same is true in Palestine, Cambodia, other places. So the lesson from this is that traumatic exposure is not unusual, and we as a society need to be prepared for that. This is not just something that happens to war veterans, to police, to firefighters, to emergency medical personnel; it’s something that can happen to almost anybody, and there’s at least a 50 percent chance that it’s going to happen. And this is before 9/11.
For many years, if I heard a loud sound like a balloon popping or fireworks, I would be startled and immediately have flashbacks. Even though it wasn’t happening in real-time, by brain and body reacted as though it was. In a split second fear and panic came over me. My heart would race and I’d start sweating. Sometimes I had difficulty catching my breath. Stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, would course through my veins leading to an increase of visceral fat in my abdomen. Visceral fat is a key player in a variety of health problems. Chronic stress can put your health at risk, both psychologically and physically. PTSD was first defined back in 1980, but for many years to follow, many, if not most therapists were not well-educated in helping people find the tools to reverse the toxic side-effects of PTSD.
I have experienced PTSD more than once.
The long-term activation of the stress-response system — and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones — can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
Depression became my companion though I hid it from everyone. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds only made me worse. Within a few short months of taking the prescribed medications, I almost died due to Serotonin Syndrome a.k.a. serotonin toxicity. I’m not sharing this to discourage anyone from taking these medications, nor seeking therapy. But medication was no longer an options for me. I was in therapy for a couple of months but my doctor ended up taking an extended medical leave of absence. How did I find ways to overcome? I became my own advocate. I spent countless hours doing research; finding alternative ways to manage my stress, overcome fear, and to curtail the toxic stress hormones associated with fear. I studied about brain plasticity, finding effective ways to rewire my brain, and prune disadvantageous neural connections in my limbic system. I read everything I could find about the brain, neurotransmitters, hormones and the mind/body connection.
A neuroscience group at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory led by Assistant Professor Bo Li Ph.D., together with collaborator Professor Z. Josh Huang Ph.D., have just released the results of a new study that examines how fear responses are learned, controlled, and memorized. They show that a particular class of neurons in a subdivision of the amygdala plays an active role in these processes.
To examine the behavior of mice undergoing a fear test the team first trained them to respond in a Pavlovian manner to an auditory cue. The mice began to “freeze,” a very common fear response, whenever they heard one of the sounds they had been trained to fear.
Li’s group found that fear conditioning induced experience-dependent changes in the release of neurotransmitters in excitatory synapses that connect with inhibitory neurons — neurons that suppress the activity of other neurons — in the central amygdala. These changes in the strength of neuronal connections are known as synaptic plasticity.
Particularly important in this process, the team discovered, were somatostatin-positive (SOM+) neurons. Somatostatin is a hormone that affects neurotransmitter release. Li and colleagues found that fear-memory formation was impaired when they prevent the activation of SOM+ neurons.
SOM+ neurons are necessary for recall of fear memories, the team also found. Indeed, the activity of these neurons alone proved sufficient to drive fear responses. Thus, instead of being a passive relay for the signals driving fear learning and responses in mice, the team’s work demonstrates that the central amygdala is an active component, and is driven by input from the lateral amygdala, to which it is connected.
“We find that the fear memory in the central amygdala can modify the circuit in a way that translates into action — or what we call the fear response,” explains Li.
“When a novel stimulus is presented slightly before or at the same time as a well-trained condition stimulus, the condition response will be disrupted. Another method of inhibiting the fear circuit is through conditioning. In a typical conditioned inhibition procedure, conditions are arranged such that one stimulus, denoted A, predicts shock, while another stimulus, denoted X, predicts absence of shock.
The result of this procedure is that A comes to elicit a fear reaction when presented alone, but not when it is accompanied by X, the conditioned inhibitor . This is a similar method of treatment that is used for people with phobias. This method is inhibiting the emotional response produced by the amygdala during a threatening situation. The patient still remembers that he used to be afflicted by his phobia, but no longer has the emotional response attached to it.” Source
Four Steps To Overcoming Fear from the documentary “The Brain“
Within the limbic system are the amygdala (demonstrated in red), one in the left hemisphere, and one in the right hemisphere. Some of you have often seen me comment about the amygdala in relation to fear based religions, e,g., Christian denominations that indoctrinate about punishment and hell. The amygdala are about the size of an almond. They are considered the brains central command center for our emotional reactions.
Navy Seal recruits are put through special training to change the way their brain’s react to fear and the capacity to control these impulses is extremely important when having to make quick decisions in fearful situations. They go through a rewiring process. The amygdala is one of the most interconnected regions of the brain and affects the whole body. When put in a fearful situation the brain and body can go into a fight or flight mode. So the key in overcoming fear is to control these signals from the amygdala.
We can train our brain to bypass the emotional center and send the signals to the frontal lobes for quick assessment before reacting.
As we evolved, another part of the brain called the cortex also became involved in processing fear. The part that makes us most human is our frontal cortex. The frontal cortex is divided into four sets of lobes. The frontal lobes are where conscience and rational thoughts are processed. It’s where we do our problem solving. The frontal lobes are the conductor of the brain, so to speak. They synchronize all activity. Neuroscientists discovered that information from our senses reaches our amygdala almost twice as fast as it takes to get our frontal lobes.
The speed of these different brain signals means that unless we instantaneously know how to react to the potential threat, we might freeze in fear or overreact while waiting for the frontal lobes to catch up to figure out the right response. So, for example, if I had a flashback caused by a loud sound, and my body reacted as though I was actually experiencing it for the first time, mental training would allow for the signals to bypass the amygdala and head straight to the frontal lobes to assess the situation — that it’s only a memory, thus preventing the release of unnecessary stress hormones.
It’s important to react in a top-down way. In other words, from the frontal lobes to the amygdala. Breakthroughs in neuroscience have played a major role in helping the Navy to rethink how they train Seal recruits, and using specific brain plasticity techniques have proven to be quite successful. Special exercises are used to help the recruits brain regulate fear and avoid panic.
The 4 techniques are:
- Goal Setting
- Mental Rehearsal
- Self Talk
- Arousal Control
Goal Setting: This technique works by assisting the frontal lobes. The brain’s supervisors are responsible for reasoning and planning. Concentration on certain goals lets our brain bring structure to chaos and keeps the amygdala — the emotional center of the brain in check. Set small, realistic goals for yourself when retraining your brain.
Mental Rehearsal: Mental rehearsal, a.k.a. visualization, is when you continually run an activity or event through your mind. You see it in your mind’s eye. For example, I visualized the fireworks and the balloons popping and over time, my brain didn’t react to the sound of a shotgun. For Navy Seal recruits, they would visualize a life-threatening combat situation to trick the brain in thinking that this wasn’t the first experience.
Self Talk: Self talk helps focus the trainee’s thoughts. The average person speaks to themselves at a rate of 300 to 1000 words per minute. If these words are positive instead of negative, they help override the fear signal coming from the amygdala. Taking time out to become aware of your internal dialog is really important and you may be quite surprised to learn what your internal dialog is saying. I certainly was when I became aware.
Arousal Control: The final technique is centered on breathing. Deliberate, slow breathing helps combat some of the effects of panic. Taking long exhales mimics the bodies relaxation process, getting more oxygen to the brain so it can perform better. Breathing is a great focusing strategy as well. Breathing is a focal point in meditation to help quiet the mind. The amygdala sends out such a powerful signal it is tough to suppress if we are still feeling fear, but combining the four techniques makes a big difference.
Look what happens to your brain when you change your mind. <—- Watch (two minutes)
Animated Amygdala — Wikipedia Commons
Note: Information presented in this post is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any mental or physical health conditions. Please see a mental health professional if you suspect you have PTSD, depression, or acute anxiety.