Stuck Stories: What’s Really Going On and What Can I Do About It?

by | Apr 21, 2015

Have you noticed that some situations trigger a negative voice in your head? Perhaps it is, “I’m not good enough,” I have to achieve to be worthy,” “They won’t choose me,” “I’m not smart enough.” It’s a stuck story and it hits quickly and powerfully. Stuck stories are fear-based reactions that are not accurate but they are embedded in your brain and seem relevant. Neuroscience helps understand what’s happening and how to de-program the old story and re-program a new one.
First, let’s look at what’s really going on from the perspective of your brain. That fear-based reaction comes from the amygdala – a key part of the brain’s emotional response particularly for fear. The amygdala is very quick, effective and highly sensitive to emotional cues.

• Subliminal Reaction. If the amygdala perceives (based on encoded memory) that the stuck story is threatening it will trigger a reaction. Studies indicate that the amygdala will notice a threatening situation even if it occurs subliminally. You experience discomfort and a sense that something’s wrong.

• It’s unique to you. A situation happens and you feel an emotional reaction but no one else does. It’s perplexing. Don’t they see the unfairness, the injustice, the travesty? The answer is “no.” It’s your stuck story. It may not register for someone else because no one else has the same set of memories as you. By probing with courageous self-awareness, you can identify your history that created the stuck story. That situation or context is what your amygdala picks up on and reacts to…quickly.

• Captures attention. According to research, when a situation activates the amygdala, it shuts down the parts of the brain that process inputs like reasoning. The perceived fear or injustice captures your attention and all else falls away. It is as though you are hyper-focused on the stuck story and no other thought can get through.

• Emotion is processed first. The brain processes emotion before it engages cognitively. That’s why you react before you think. And it is frequently an over-reaction disproportionate to the situation. It’s your brain’s natural reaction designed to preserve existence.
So, what do you do about it?

You can work with and deactivate your stuck stories. It’s called reappraisal. Find another way of viewing the situation that is just as plausible as the stuck story but more productive. It’s like seeing the glass half full instead of half empty. For example, being left out of an important meeting may trigger, “They just don’t want me there.” Reappraisal may be, “This is not the best time for me to be involved.” Conscious reappraisal of the situation calms the amygdala and deactivates the perception of fear. But, once is not enough. Each time you reappraise the situation, the stuck story loses some power. With practice, you will be able to, more quickly, find a constructive way of seeing the situation. The next time a stuck story strikes, be kind to yourself. Think: “Oh, there you are again. How can I reframe this situation in a more productive way?” Keep it up and your amygdala is retrained and loses its fear.


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Author Byline: Founder and CEO of Blue Fjord Leaders, Shelley Row P.E. CSP, was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the top 100 leadership speakers. Professional engineer and former senior executive, she was recognized as one of the best minds in advanced traffic management systems.

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