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  • Writer's picturePatricia Faust

Wisdom or Emotional Response? Wisdom Wins!

If you have been following my articles, you know that I am working on the way the brain functions. Behavior is pretty cut and dry, until it isn’t. Intelligence changes as we get older. Fluid intelligence is the ability to think on your feet. Fluid intelligence declines as we get older. Our brain slows down and we can’t process the information fast enough to be able to give a quick, useful reply. We rely more on crystallized intelligence to help us process information and make good decisions. Crystallized intelligence is dependent on our past experiences, education, careers, living environment. Crystallized intelligence increases as we get older.

What happens then, to our brain and decision-making ability when we are facing a personal crisis? Perhaps it is a family problem like caregiving for an aging parent or helping a child work through drug abuse issues. They are highly emotionally charged problems that can interfere with rational thinking processes. But we need to make good decisions about how to move forward.

It comes as no surprise that we both have brains that are functioning in somewhat the same manner. Our brains are hardwired to keep us alive. The amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, is always on alert for threats to us. All of us – parent or child – have the brain signaling that there is a threat and sending out emotional responses. It is at this point that you have to damp down your emotional response because you need to be the person who makes the necessary rational decision. Where do you find the internal focus you need to make the best decisions?

Let’s look at an aging parent first. Cognitive decline, even normal aging decline, can really cause problems for older adults with declining health. Now, as waning health settles in, they are still in the thought mode that they can take care of everything themselves. They know what to do. But they don’t and they can’t. You are the person that must honor their personhood but get them the help they need. This can tear a caregiver apart. But stepping back and getting the proper help they need, can reassure the caregiver that they are making the best decisions. Handing over the caregiving duties to a professional caregiver allows you to fully ‘be’ with your loved one in a loving way.

Children with drug issues are a gut-wrenching problem. Their brains adapt to the substance they are addicted to. Remember, our brains adapt to our environment – good or bad. A parent can’t grieve the situation. The amygdala might throw out much emotion, but parents must act with rational thought to get the help their child needs despite the resistance they throw up. When you are living life with the amygdala in charge, emotions take over and decisions become reactive. In highly emotional times, it is important to step back, let the prefrontal cortex kick into gear and make thoughtful decisions. Trusting your wisdom can lead to a better outcome.

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