I have been reading my mindfulness book to keep me some what sane in a period of crisis. I always read but I second guess what I read and vice versa. Its hard having a thinking pattern like I do and I am trying so hard to make my brain learn different ways to think. Its a very challenging time for me and I think I am doing the best that I can.
What really grabbed me was a chapter in my mindfulness book about how the brain operates when suffering mentally with BPD. So I decided to write the facts from the book and let you decide if you think its a damage of the brain or behaviours you can control. Having a scientific explanation can be beneficial when trying to understand how someones brain works.
The critical brain structures- The adult brain weighs around three pounds. The brain connects to the spinal chord through the brain stem, which contains bundles of nerve cells, or neurons. The largest part of the brain is called the cerebrum. The outer layer of the cerebrum is called the cereal cortex (think skin of an apple), and although its only a few millimetres thick, it contains nearly one hundred billion brain cells.
The cerebrum consists of two hemispheres, left and right, and each is divided into four individual lobes, known as frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital lobes. Each lobe handles specific behaviours. The frontal lobe deals with decision making, planning actions, and co ordinating movements. Just behind the frontal lobe is a region known as the anterior cingulate cortex, which regulates heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate, and is active during many mindfulness exercises, such as slow breathing.
Deep inside the brain, below each temporal lobe, are the hippocampus and amygdala. The hippocampus is primarily response for various forms of memory. The temporal lobe itself contains the part of the brain that deals with hearing as well as processing sound and speech.
In the back of each brain hemisphere is the occipital lobe, which contains the visual cortex, where signals from the eyes are processed and interpreted.
We will focus on two areas of the brain that get the most attention in BPD: The amygdala and the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC is located right behind the forehead.
The amygdala is an almond-shaped group of neurons deep inside each hemisphere of your brain. It processes emotional information. This means that it takes in the emotions that arise in a situation, and it allows you to experience the emotions and then decide what to do. The amygdala is most known for managing the fear response, which is also known as the fight or flight response. In people who have BPD, the amygdala is very active, almost too active, so the emotional responses that arise tend to be big. If you have a big emotional response, the behaviours that arise from that response also tend to be big. For example, imagine that your significant other promised to be home by 7, and because of work traffic, got there 15 minutes late. You start to get angry as each minute passes, and then by the time he gets home, the anger has boiled over and you blast him. If you were to stand back and think about it, you would likely say that your reaction to his fifteen minutes being late was an over reaction; however, given your powerful emotional response, your behaviour seems justified in that moment. In BPD you can blame this response on your overactive, uncontrolled amygdala.
The amygdala also plays an important an important role in the making of memories- in particular, memories tied to strong emotions. This is a critical function that, under normal circumstances, would work like this: Imagine that you go up to an unfamiliar dog thats wandering in the park, and the dog growls at you then bites you. You experience fear, and the memory is registered and locked in, making it less likely that you will go up to strange dogs in the future. From an evolutionary perspective, the amygdala would have helped keep us away from all sorts of dangers like saver tooth tigers. In BPD this response is magnified, and then, rather than their serving simply as a warning system, the memories, paired with strong emotions, play over and over, causing suffering even after the danger has passed.
The most consistent finding in imaging studies of people with BPD, compared to those without BPD, is increased activity in the amygdala, particularly if they also experience suicidal thoughts. Finding a way to reduce this activity is critical to reducing the flow of unrelenting emotions with BPD.
Unregulated emotions are not always present. There are many situations in which your emotions are just fine. Context matters. This means that only certain people will experience your BPD. For instance, you might be able to regulate your emotions at work so they are not out of control when events are pretty neutral, yet you might not be able to regulate your emotions at home, when things get heated. This too, can be confusing for others, who might argue that if you can do it in one place, then why not the other? One way to explain is to point out that the situation has changed. A person who is able to swim in a swimming pool is not able to do so if the water is boiling.
The Prefrontal Cortex
The PFC is the part of each brain hemisphere that is located right behind your forehead. It is responsible for controlling what are known as executive functions. Executive functions include the following:
- Mediating conflicting thoughts like I want to eat more pizza because it tastes great; on the other hand Ive already had three pieces
- Making choices between right and wrong; or good and bad: Should I call in sick to work, which means others will have to do more, but can I get a pedicure?
- Predicting future events like If I don't write the paper thats due tomorrow, Ill get a failing grade
- Governing social control. for example, surpassing the urge to do something or have sex with your significant other in a public space.
The brief brain anatomy lesson is all you really need to know about the structures of the brain as they apply to BPD.
Connecting the amygdala and the PFC
Under typical circumstances, the PFC regulates the amygdala and the rest of the limbic system So, for instance, imagine that you are wearing a light coloured jacket at the family reunion, and your hyper active brother, who is excited to see you, trips and spills his glass of red wine all over you. Your amygdala processes the information, and you get angry with him. Your hippocampus kicks in as you remember all your years of having to deal with your brothers lack of body awareness, making you all the angrier. You want to lash out and yell at him. This is where your PFC steps in and says, I know you want to yell at him, but it would ruin the reunion, and if you yell at him, he will get upset and not talk to you for a week. You can still be mad at him, but go get another jacket and talk to him later.
These exchanges among the various parts of your brain happen very quickly, as fast as two hundred miles per hour; many of these communication happen without your awareness. Because your PFC is in charge of regulating your amygdala, you can see what would happen if your PFC were either not working well or not fully developed. You would reduce the ability to control the impulse to lash out. People with BPD are often called 'impulsive', and as you will see in fact its due to the PFC not being as developed as people without BPD.
Source: Mindfullness For BPD By Blaise Aguirre & Gillian Galen