How To Become The Person You Want To Be By Changing The Way Your Brain Works, Says Science

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Do People Change? Science Explains Neuroplasticity & Brain Plasticity
Self, Health And Wellness

Do people change and can they do it if they are aware of how the brain works? While teaching grad students at the USC School of Social Work, I've covered a lot of areas in the class, including learning and teaching the neuroscience of psychotherapy. It's a fascinating subject.

We basically have 3 brains:

  1. The lower or reptilian brain, which is responsible for many of our autonomic responses such as heartbeat and respiration
  2. The limbic brain, which is called the home of the emotions — a part of the limbic system, the hippocampus, is associated with long-term memory
  3. The neocortex, which is used for higher level thinking  

We also have the left hemisphere and right hemisphere of the brain. The left hemisphere processes information from part to whole — taking pieces, lining them up, and arranging them into a logical order before drawing to conclusions. The right hemisphere processes from whole to parts, holistically — starting with the answer by seeing the big picture first, not the details. 

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But, the brain is far more complicated than this because different parts are responsible for different functions. 

We are born with one hundred billions neurons and they form connections with each other to form a seemingly infinite number of possible connections. Some neurons fire with each other; some don’t. 

If a person experiences some kind of trauma, it disrupts the connections. People that have defense mechanisms such as denial or repression have some disrupted connections in their neural network as a coping mechanism. 

With trauma, some of the connections from the cortex to the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for long-term memory) can stop firing which may lead to repression of the memories of the painful event. The neural connections actually work with each other in a way to protect you from trauma and pain!

Now, here is the great news: You have the capacity to increase and enhance your neural connections, ultimately changing your brain, through neuroplasticity or brain plasticity.

What is neuroplasticity? According to MedicineNet, it is "the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment."

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Successful therapy does exactly this. Good parenting does this. When you’re in a relationship with someone who is emotionally attuned to you, you have the optimal environment for increased neural connections.

If you leave your comfort zone and experiment with new healthy behaviors, you can change your brain. 

For example, a person who is sexually inhibited who allows herself to "pretend to be more sexual" could actually establish more neural connections and incorporate her sexuality into her self concept). Thus, what seems fake can begin to feel real and genuine.

So, can people change? The answer is yes, they can.

New research is substantiating that change does happen [NEED SOURCE LINK] and that successful therapy can actually have physiological effects [NEED SOURCE LINK]. New brain testing [NEED SOURCE LINK] has opened the door to demonstrate the correlation between psychological and brain changes. 

When a client in therapy suddenly remembers a previously repressed memory that leads to increased psychological health, we now understand that the safe relationship between therapist and client allowed new neural connections (such as between the cortex and the hippocampus) to develop. 

So there you have it — you are dynamic, ever-changing, and with the right environment, you have the ability to increase your psychological wellbeing. 

There is truly a close relationship between nature and nurture. The brain, one of the major organs of the human body is a physical structure but is truly shaped by early relationships. 

Through one’s lifespan, a person can overcome at least some of his early conditioning because of this wonderful plasticity of the brain.

RELATED: When It Comes To Love, Is It Really Possible For Someone To Change?

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Todd Creager is an expert in relationships. For over 30 years, he has worked as a relationship therapist, specializing in marriage, sex, and couples counseling. For more information, drop him an e-mail.

This article was originally published at Todd Creger's Website. Reprinted with permission from the author.