Dr. Barter talks with Dr. Loretta Breuning, Founder of the Inner Mammal Institute and author of Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain your brain to boost your serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphin levels. They talk about the “feel good” chemicals of the brain, how they work (how they’re supposed to work) and what to do when people just don’t feel motivated, happy and themselves. We learn it’s more than just these chemicals but also their pathways, which, with practice, can be “rewired.”
Intro [00:00:03] Welcome to the Fearless Health podcast with host Dr. Ann-Marie Barter. Dr. Barter is on a mission to help people achieve their health and wellness goals and help men and women live their best lives fearlessly. Dr. Barter is the founder of Alternative Family Medicine and Chiropractic in Denver and Longmont, Colorado.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:00:24] Thank you so much for joining us here on Fearless Health podcast, I’m your host, Dr. Ann-Marie Barter, and I’m very, very excited. I have Dr. Loretta Breuning, the founder of the Inner Mammal Institute and the author of Habits of a Happy Brain Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin and Endorphin Levels as a professor of management at California State University. As a mom, she lost faith in the prevailing views of human motivation. She searched for new answers and found studies of the brain chemistry we share with early mammals. Suddenly, everything made sense. She began creating resources and helping people manage their inner mammal. The Inner Mammal Institute offers videos, books, podcasts, multimedia and a training program to help you make peace with your inner mammal, the inner mammalian and Inner Mammal Institute dot org. Her latest book, Tame Your Anxiety and Rewire Your Brain for Happiness. Thank you so much for joining us today. Really appreciate it.
Dr. Breuning [00:01:26] You’re welcome. Nice to be here.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:01:28] Well, so I really liked your book habits of a healthy brain. Typekit habits of a happy brain.
Dr. Breuning [00:01:34] Yes. Yes, everybody does that. But I say you said habits of a healthy brain.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:01:40] Oh, sorry. Habits. Habits of a happy brain. So here’s here’s my question for you. Why are we so driven by social norms here today? Why do we feel that pressure to conform?
Dr. Breuning [00:01:57] Sure. First, if you don’t mind, I just want to explain why I emphasize happy brain rather than. Sure, that’s great. This is part of social norms. I guess we’re flooded with all these things that we should do like if if you eat vegetables, you’ll be happy. And so I really want to emphasize that the goal is to feel good rather than to follow all these good for new norms, you know.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:02:20] So again, it’s awesome. Yeah. No, I agree. I agree.
Dr. Breuning [00:02:24] So social norms. So there’s a few reasons. So first, we’re all born helpless, and we need social support to survive. So imagine when you’re born like, you can feel your needs. We can’t do a thing about them. So imagine how scary that is. Like, that’s the first experience you have in life. So the idea of like life or death feelings about social support is like the core circuit that each of us has. That’s like the foundation that we build our other experience on. So how we define that social support and what it takes to get us to get it, that’s something we gradually add on experience by experience in youth. And the important thing is, when you’re young, you have peak neuroplasticity. So as much as we don’t like to think we’re using our childhood brain to define social norms, that’s basically what we’re doing now. Each brain, we have a burst of neuroplasticity, which is a burst of myelin when we’re under age eight and then we have another burst in adolescence now in adolescence. You define social norms in a different way, which is in the interest of time. Let’s just say peer acceptance. So it’s like you feel like you have to have both. And you have to have them is like your life depends on it because from a mammal perspective, if you don’t have pure acceptance, you don’t get mating opportunity. And your genes are wiped off the face of the Earth. So we’re not going around saying, Gee, I’m worried that my genes are going to be wiped off the face of the Earth. But when you risk oh oh, like failing to be accepted with social norms, you live with that you are going to be up. It triggers your cortisol, which is your survival threat chemical, and it creates a physical feeling that your survival is threatened, even though you’re not in any way thinking this consciously so. And that’s just one part of the story in the other. The other part is that the serotonin thing, so we could get to that now or later, whether whatever you want.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:04:40] Let’s touch back on the serotonin. I am curious to just to get your thoughts on why we have such an epidemic of depression. It seems that everybody is depressed, especially in the winter or what what your thought is. That’s contributing to that, potentially with with brain chemicals.
Dr. Breuning [00:05:04] Sure, there’s a lot of things, but again, in the interests of time, let me go right to the most controversial part. So I think on some level, our brains always default to the negative because in the state of nature, you can survive without rewards, but you can’t serve. IV, if you ignore a threat, so when our bellies are full, we could focus our full time on threat like an animal. They’re always choosing between Do I go for food or do I run from a predator? And when they have enough food all then they could just focus on like predators. So the controversial part, though, is this so you get rewarded for identifying yourself as depressed in today’s world, whereas all throughout human history, people went to negative feelings and that was considered a character strength. A for also many reasons that you can think of. You actually get rewarded for identifying as depressed.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:06:15] Interesting, wow. And it’s does the same thing play with anxiety, or is that a difference?
Dr. Breuning [00:06:22] Yes, in my opinion. And again, I’ll just give you that simple example. I went to a meeting in my local high school, had nothing to do with high school. We were just using the space and I was reading all the posters on the wall. And one of them said, Did you know 23 percent of all Americans will experience an anxiety episode this year? So they’re almost there trying to normalize an almost alluring and seducing you into a identifying yourself as having anxiety. And this is all built on to put the most positive face on it. Once you identify yourself as a victim of this disease, then you can go and get the cure. So they’ll be OK if a cure existed. But if the only cure is taking responsibility for your emotions and building the skill to turn it around, then always help is not really helping.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:07:19] Hmm. It’s true. So if we’re getting into the neurochemicals that are our happy neurochemicals, what are we dealing with? We’re dealing with dopamine and serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins. Is that correct?
Dr. Breuning [00:07:35] Those are the ones I write about, and other people have their favorites and write to me, and these are the ones I focus on because these are the ones we know how they work in animals. We know how they reward survival behavior in animals. And it’s easy to see because we have inherited a mammalian limbic system how we’re motivated to repeat behaviors that stimulate the.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:08:04] Great. So can you go through because they’re so interesting? Can you talk through each one and why they’re relevant in an important for us, but there, but also that they’re fleeting?
Dr. Breuning [00:08:21] Yes, thank you. Perfect. Sure. So dopamine is your excuse me. Dopamine is your brain signal that you’re about to meet a need so you can imagine your primal ancestors. They were hungry. They were wandering, looking for food. And if they saw like a tiny cue in the distance, it’s like, Oh, that looks like a fruit tree, or that looks like an animal. Then you get excited. You say, Well, there’s something that can meet my need and that I can get. So that’s what’s relevant in our daily lives is it has to meet a need and you have to believe that you can get it. And how do you make these decisions? It’s very easy. Is whatever triggered your dopamine and your past built the neural pathways that telling you, Oh, this is going to meet my need, oh, I can get it. And then each step closer, you enjoy more dopamine until you get there, and then it stops. So I’ll stop there and let you follow up.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:09:26] No, that’s great. I mean, I think in your book How I loved how you defined it was maybe a lion that’s stalking the prey and you know, the dopamine. It’s really needed to motivate to be able to run or to pounce or to get the prey to have that motivation molecule. That’s always how I think about that in practice. And I think that that is just so important that the dopamine isn’t long lasting, that it stops immediately, maybe after that first bite of ice ax
Dr. Breuning [00:09:59] the child it evolved to do. Because our ancestors didn’t have a refrigerator, they had to keep looking or they die, and dopamine made it feel good. And today, when you have a full belly, then finding food doesn’t make you feel good unless either you are on a camping trip or you find something bigger and better.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:10:25] Right? And so I think that the just the important point about this is that it’s just not constantly high. There’s nothing wrong with you, but there’s it’s not constantly high.
Dr. Breuning [00:10:38] Thank you. Exactly, exactly. And yet people are somehow deluded into believing. Well, my doctor says I have a dopamine deficiency or they go to well, other people get it more easily than I do, so my life is harder. So both of those are not really helpful. Mm hmm.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:11:00] Yeah, I think I think that that’s a really important point that you almost have to be okay with some of the lower points that you’re just not always going to feel so motivated all the time that maybe you need rest. I think that’s a really important point that maybe you’re not going to be up and go, go, go all the time or feel that way. Sometimes you’re going to need more rest.
Dr. Breuning [00:11:23] Yes. And the other big thing it’s called habituation, which is something that excited you in the past will not excite you once you get it, because that’s the whole point of dopamine is the expectation of a reward. So once you’ve gotten it, it has already done its job and you just don’t feel it anymore. And to use the simple example is people blame that on their partner. They blame it on, you know, the new job is not as exciting anymore. Maybe my boss is a jerk or something. And it’s very hard to sustain that level of excitement. And so part of the solution is new goals. And part of the solution is realistic expectations to appreciate what you have rather than expecting to be on a constant high.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:12:14] It was the example you used in the book I felt was really important because I think that everybody can also relate to this. You’re given an award, right? And you get this award and you feel this high for 10 minutes. You’re so excited to speak. Yay. But then suddenly you realize that you’re second and fifth cousin aren’t there and you’re upset and then you’re rationalizing why they weren’t there. And that makes so much sense because I think that everybody can relate to that or wanting more. And it’s just that expectation of, you know, it never being enough and how your dopamine levels need more stimulation in order to increase.
Dr. Breuning [00:12:57] Right? And the other thing is, even if you said, Oh, that was perfect, that was the perfect moment of. My life, then the dopamine still going to end and then your brain is trained like, Oh, so that’s what I need to do. And then you drive yourself crazy trying to reproduce that perfect moment. So it’s sort of like you hear about unhappy movie stars that no matter how big of a movie star you are, then you just fear losing your peak of of reward. And that’s how the brain works.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:13:32] So I can hear everybody rationalizing this. Why can’t I have high dopamine all the time? I want to feel that way. Why can’t I do something for that? I’ll take phenylalanine. I’ll take Oh, I’ll take tyrosine and cocaine,
Dr. Breuning [00:13:45] cocaine,
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:13:46] cocaine, right? We’ll be happy. Go lucky.
Dr. Breuning [00:13:50] So by the way, I’m not advocating cocaine. I just have to add that I’m just saying that cocaine increases dopamine,
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:13:56] a huge dopamine dump like over-the-top dopamine, which you clearly can’t sustain, which then depletes it after that, right? But actually, but in your much lower than when you start it. But what would you say to the people that that want that dopamine dump all the time or don’t like that low? Can you explain why the low is important?
Dr. Breuning [00:14:18] Oh, very good. Yes, yes. Thank you. And I talk about this in my book in terms of a a vicious circle versus a virtual circle. I mean converts to a circle versus a vicious circle. So once good feelings mask bad feelings, and as I said before, bad feelings are natural because our brain evolved to prioritize threats, including the threat of losing your celebrity movie star position. So the minute you stop having this dopamine high to mask your threatened feelings, you go back to those threatened feelings. And if you’ve never learned to manage them, then you’re managing them with effectively the childhood neural pathways that you had at the moment when you learned your whatever your dopamine habit is, that’s your coping skill to push away threatened feelings. And if you’ve always been pushing them away, then you’ve never learned to manage them from an adult perspective.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:15:25] Wow, that’s great. So let’s go on to the other neurochemicals that are really important. Do you want to do next serotonin?
Dr. Breuning [00:15:36] OK, so what I discovered about serotonin, which was so shocking to me and so motivating for me to understand this all in the 1980s, there were studies that a monkey in the one up position enjoys a serotonin moment, and when the monkey loses the one up position, its serotonin falls. So it means that constant respect from the other monkeys in order to keep stimulating it. And although this is rather surprising because it deviates so much from what we hear, otherwise that serotonin. It totally if it’s a whole century of research in the field called ethology, which shows that mammals are quite hierarchical and status seeking, and they put all their energy into one upping each other once their other needs are met. And so it’s so easy to see that humans obviously care about having this one up position. It feels good for a little bit. And then when you see a threat to your one up position, you, you see that as a threat. But when you get the one up position, it only feels good for a few minutes and then the serotonin is metabolized. And that’s why we have to internally stimulate that feeling again and again, or we seek to.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:17:03] So when you say status. Are we talking about I mean, we’re not talking about monkeys throwing dollar bills around, so it’s not about money status, so what type of status are puts you on top?
Dr. Breuning [00:17:19] That’s a great example. I mean, it’s a great question, because although it’s not monkeys throwing dollar bills around from the monkey view, when an animal lives in a group, then every time they see food, another individual sees it too. And if you reach for a banana and a stronger monkey had their eye on it, the stronger monkey will bite you. As much as that may violate your peace and love training. That’s the facts about monkeys. And so every little monkey learns. I am not going to reach for a banana when a bigger monkey is there, but if I never reach for a banana, I’ll starve to death. So what do I do? I constantly compare myself to others, and when I see that I’m in the one up position, serotonin is released and that relaxes me, which says, You have the strength, you’re OK, it’s safe to go for it. And that’s the feeling we want because all of our other needs are met. So we obsess over getting that good feeling because basically we have everything else. Wow.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:18:28] And and as this. So is this playing into vulnerability at all or trust?
Dr. Breuning [00:18:38] Huh. Good question. Well, that’s I mean, it plays into it, but that’s another whole chemical. So that’s oxytocin. So oxytocin in the sort of verbal human mind we can call it trust. But in the animal world, it’s the feeling that you’re safe enough to lower your guard because you’re surrounded by your herd. And when you’re with the herd, the reason you feel safe in a herd, it’s not because, oh, they’re going to protect me and defend me is mostly because the wolf is going to eat them. So humans have got an unrealistic expectations about social trust, and we think other people should lay down their lives for us or something, which is rather selfish to expect that, you know. So the idea is that when you can lower your guard because everyone else is helping you look out for the predator, then it’s safe. It feels relaxing to lower your guard. And that’s the feeling we look for. And fortunately, oxytocin surges at birth and that enables attachment and trust between parent and child. And that’s effectively what differentiates mammals from reptiles. And in the human world, long, long story short, we get to be in this safer, trusting cocoon for a longer period of time than other mammals. And every time our oxytocin is stimulated, it connects a neural pathway that tells us what to trust in the future. But in reality, people don’t always live up to our expectations. So then we feel threatened and threat builds a huge circuit. And so we’re always navigating between when should I trust and when should I not trust? And that’s healthy because in the animal world, trusting everything would not promote survival. So we’re not designed to release it all the time. We’re designed to make careful decisions about when to release it.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:20:48] And so if you’re oxytocin is high and then you’re panicked about potentially a threat, then we’re getting a negative feedback loop. And at that point, we’re secreting cortisol.
Dr. Breuning [00:21:01] Yeah. But when you said your oxytocin is high, I just want to be very careful to say when you’re having a high oxytocin moment. OK, great. No such thing as like a high oxytocin person who just gets it for free. But to me all the time and tell me this, you know, so that’s why I’m being very stressed. So I’m sorry. Repeat the question. So if you feel
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:21:29] you feel you have a great oxytocin moment with somebody, a friend or lover or somebody somebody is fixing your hair, you’re having this amazing moment and then you feel threatened. They say something that makes you feel distrustful. I don’t know. You hear your front door jiggle, you feel threatened in some way. Then immediately you’re getting a negative feedback loop at that point where you’re where your oxytocin levels lower that were elevated from that moment in your cortisol increases.
Dr. Breuning [00:22:00] Yeah. So in a way, there are two different things. So oxytocin falls when you distance yourself from the herd and start feeling isolated so you can imagine an animal who’s hungry. And it would rather go over to greener pasture than to compete with all the other mammals for the same little patch of food. But when it starts walking to greener pasture, it’s oxytocin falls and it has to make a decision. Do I go back to the group or do I go ahead for the dopamine of meeting my needs? So that’s like one decision between one happy chemical and another. A separate decision is something that triggers my threatened feeling because in the past it was a threat. So one kind of threat is, let’s just say I’m here enjoying my grass and the rest of the herd has moved on without me, so I’m alone. So that’s why mammals are constantly trying to follow the herd, because if you’re just not watching what you’re doing, you get left isolated and the lion comes and eats you. But then more specifically, what if another mammal is eating their grass and their horns poke you? And then more specifically, what if when you were a kid, you felt the poke of another individual’s horns? So you’re hypersensitive like it. It hurt you. So you built a pathway and now? You’re constantly suspecting others of trying to poke you with their horns and take your food away, so it could be all of those things. And each of us is individually wired depending on our individual scenarios with all those things.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:23:44] So basically what we’ve grown up with or potentially the trauma that we’ve had that maybe hasn’t been addressed or just the experiences that we’ve had, we have decided to make certain decisions about the world, whether that be, you know, the world is a dangerous place. And so we will support what we find based on. I think the world is a dangerous place because of what I see on the news. I think I think that the world is coming to an end because of what I see on the news and because of these seven factors. You’re basically creating your own reality. Is that correct?
Dr. Breuning [00:24:24] Everybody is creating their own reality, of course, now creating a negative reality. So first, let’s address you use the word trauma. So when you say the traumas of your past, so the word trauma is so routinely used today that everybody has trauma, but then trauma is defined as like a disease that relieves you of responsibility for your life and enables you. And what’s the word entitles you to certain special rewards. So this is a whole thought loop that if a person goes down that road, they sort of go far down that road and they they stop maybe taking responsible actions for their lives because this other road seems like a reality because they hear that on the same basic media that is also telling them that the world is ending in the world is terrible. Now, the idea that the world is a dangerous place now imagine our ancestors. One hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, 10000 years ago, they starved. They watched their children die. They grew up watching their siblings die in bed next to them. They were attacked by neighboring villages who stopped, who took their food. They got diseases, and they didn’t even know every time they sneezed or had a cut whether they were going to die from infection. It’s insane to be telling people that life is so horrible today. It’s so true. And yet people buy it because it makes you one of the herd. And that’s the whole thing about herds is that they bond around common enemies, so you have to share a common threatened feeling in order to create a herd. And that’s why it works. Wow.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:26:28] And so I do. I love actually what you said about trauma. I do think that’s really interesting about the relieving of responsibility. I find that fascinating. I think that that is true. So you believe that that’s maybe a little bit of a scapegoat to not work through certain things that you would maybe need to work through to have a different perception or a different reality or different responsibility?
Dr. Breuning [00:26:53] Yes, but just to specify, I’m not saying that the person is like scapegoating, but that thought loop is being scapegoated. Yes.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:27:05] OK, that’s great. So that’s amazing. Let’s go ahead and go on to the last neurotransmitter that we’re going to discuss today, which is endorphins, I believe. Is that correct? Yeah.
Dr. Breuning [00:27:22] Well, yeah, that’s the last one I addressed in my book. Yes, this
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:27:25] one hit home to me, and let me tell you why.
Dr. Breuning [00:27:29] Yeah, so
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:27:33] I love athletics and I love to get out and go. And so as you are talking, you know, I’m certainly not interested in running a hundred miles, but I definitely have been known to experience runner’s high. And so I’m going to let you go ahead and talk about and talk about that a little bit.
Dr. Breuning [00:27:55] Sure. So endorphin masks, pain, it’s endogenous morphine. That’s what endorphin means. Now we associate it with runner’s high because that’s it’s one of the first chemicals that was studied and understood and publicly communicated. And that’s why many people use the word endorphin as a generalization for all of the others. And in fact, my daughter goes to a gym where they use the word adrenaline instead of endorphin, and then they generalize that for all of them. So in the animal world, what does it do when an animal is attacked in a lion’s claws and teeth are ripping its flesh apart? The animal still can run for its life. How does it do that? Because endorphin masks pain with a euphoric feeling for 15 minutes. So if you were a caveman and you broke your leg, endorphin would mask pain for 15 minutes to enable you to climb out of a hole and call for help. After that, we’re designed to feel pain because that tells us to protect our injuries. So we are not designed to be on endorphin all the time, and we’re not designed to inflict pain on ourselves to chase it. And in fact, you habituate to it and you have to inflict more and more pain. So it’s quite tragic enough to go down that road, and I’m very emphatic all the time to not be an endorphin chaser. Now we all chase whatever felt good to us before. So I, frankly, I’m not like into this going to exercise as my default place. I’m sort of like, Oh, exercising is a lot of work. So I had to work hard to make exercise fun for me by listening to a fun audiobook while I’m doing it. But I’m just as automatic in whatever made me happy when I was in my mile and years. That’s where I go to for my, you know, automatic good feeling, and I just as much inclined to overdo it like anybody else.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:30:03] Great. So I feel like a lot of people can relate to having a lot of these neurochemicals lowered. Right, I mean, I think you and I can both agree on that. I see this a lot and practice a lot of flawed neurochemicals. What do you think is contributing to lowered neurochemicals if you even think that that’s an issue?
Dr. Breuning [00:30:32] Yeah, I don’t think it’s an issue. What I think, I call it social comparison. So our brain evolved for social comparison, which means the monkey is always comparing itself to others. And when I use the banana as an example, in fact, it’s mating opportunity, which is the crux of all of this because if a monkey goes for a mating opportunity, it has to be in the position of strength. And so we’ve all myelinated ourselves to sort of have a life or death feelings about being in the position of strength. And when you compare yourself to others, you tend to focus on your weaknesses because you could get killed if you ignore your weaknesses. Whereas if you focus on your strengths, then you’re afraid that people are going to say, Oh, she’s stuck up, who does she think she is she? Even the word self-satisfied has become an insult. You know, we need to be self-satisfied. Otherwise, either we keep putting ourselves down and then we blame the world for putting us down and deprive ourselves of serotonin. Or we expect the world to put us up like, I’m going to cheer for you and you’re going to cheer for me. And then when we don’t feel constantly like the world is cheering for us, we get bitter and resentful that it’s the world’s fault for not cheering for us.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:32:01] And then we basically that becomes our our neuro pathway that we continue to push through and become stronger and stronger and stronger. So how do we break? That I mean, first off, I’m assuming we learned a lot of these traits from our parents or watching siblings, early peers. I think you call it mirror mirror neurons. Is that correct?
Dr. Breuning [00:32:26] Yeah. But I think we also learned from college professors and the therapeutic community because this has become, you know, when people leave their parents and whether it’s high school or college, this has become the dominant. Educated world view that it’s not OK to be to feel good about yourself, but you’re supposed to merge into the community and not put yourself, not feel your own strength, but put others up. This has come to be defined as a healthy way of functioning, and if you don’t go along with that, you’re shunned as bad person.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:33:17] Yeah. So our most. How can we? Build these back up or have a healthier. Healthier communication system in our neurons and not be running through these negative pathways. What are some steps we can do to change that?
Dr. Breuning [00:33:41] So two different answers. So as you know, my book habits of a Happy Brain has a very individual answer without like you could call it, a laundry list that each person can embrace the strategies that they think best fit onto the roots of the neural pathways they’ve already built. But you’re more specific question what’s in the context of sort of like the we? That’s my other book called The Science of Positivity, which addresses this this shared communal thought process where everybody else says, you must think this way in order to be one of us. And how can you then rewire despite the fact that you risk being ostracized from the herd if you don’t share that? So depending on which solution at which problem person identifies with, and then I have another book Your anxiety, but let me just say that two different solutions. So one is the idea that I’m going to focus on how can I feel good about my own strength and my own power to take my next step? And I’m going to set a timer and have a positive view of my own strength for one minute, three times a day? And that’s going to build the pathway to feel positive about my own strength. And that’s a very good solution. That’s one solution. Then the other one in habits of a happy brain is more focused on choosing a particular chemical that you want more of planning an action toward that one, which I then explained some choices and then committing to do that for 45 days, because that’s what it takes to build a new pathway.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:35:35] So if we just took one in particular, one of the neurochemicals and let’s say somebody said, I’m really struggling at work with getting respect, and I feel like I demand respect from my boss and my bosses and I. That’s why I dislike my job or whatnot. What would you tell somebody that’s really maybe deep in that situation where they’re pretty angry about it already to move through, say, for example, you can see that they’re really trying to pull serotonin?
Dr. Breuning [00:36:13] Sure. OK, great question. And this is really very widespread because it’s natural to want more respect. And whenever you get it, then you just want more. That’s the way your brain evolved to work. So the whole idea of getting into a bitter, a bitterness, resentful pattern, it’s very widespread because we’ve sort of grown up, you know, the cliché about that each child gets to be the superstar of the week, but then you have to learn that when the week is over, then another kid is the superstar of the week. But then how do you deal with that? So however, you dealt with that when you were young? That’s the core neural pathway that you’re using to deal with that today. So how did you learn to deal with that? Some people may have gone to a place of of bitterness and resentment because there are so many societal messages that. The simple word is injustice, they’re constantly rewarding you for thinking you’re a victim of injustice and that this celebration of you is owed to you and other people are getting it effortlessly all the time. It’s not a realistic expectation, but it’s an expectation that we’re taught. And another layer of this is if you had a parent or family member that either they felt resentful and missing out and victimized and or that they rewarded you when you went into the poor me thing, right? Yeah. So the more practical question is how to get out of it. And the answer is always surprisingly with small steps. And often people kind of delude themselves like, someday I’m going to be a superstar. And that makes you feel good for a minute. And maybe that’s a minute you feel good, but then your brain realizes, Hey, I’m not getting any closer to being a superstar, so it stops rewarding you for that delusion. So it’s actual steps toward some goal that you can feel worthy of respect. And taking those were those steps often small steps, often that you feel worthy of respect and don’t make your boss the gatekeeper of your self-respect. You don’t need their respect. And another thing that I was very bad at doing this when you leave the room, you think, Oh, my boss is probably criticizing me for X, Y and Z. So you’re always replaying that circuit of somebody else putting you down. And so what I say is instead of thinking that they’re putting you down behind your back, why don’t you imagine that they’re putting you up behind your back and thinking, Oh, maybe my my boss is impressed with the way I handled that, but they’re not necessarily jumping down and applauding me because that’s not adult life. So you build this circuit, all of the pain goes away.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:39:31] That’s great. Do I really like that? You also said something in your book that hit home for me personally, which was. In sort of in the negative emotions you can take on other people’s feelings or sort of feel what other people feel in the in the pack and as we’ve talked about empathic people that that feel other people’s pain or have spoken openly about noticing other people’s pain when they walk into a room or whatnot. Can you expound on that piece as well?
Dr. Breuning [00:40:10] Yeah, I don’t so much agree with the way this has been used. You know, there are sort of like the disease of the year and every year it’s a new thing and. Sometimes two a year, and so we all feel we all make projections about other people’s feelings and we make those projections with neural pathways built from past experience. So there’s no simple answer to this because let’s say I grew up with a parent who was always unhappy. I built neural pathways that project unhappiness onto other people. And my my human cortex will always find evidence to prove to fit the circuit I already have. Now, currently, you’re now considered a superior person because empathy is considered the be all and end all in this new collectivist mentality that it’s not your fault. You feel bad. It’s because you’re so empathic. It relieves you of responsibility for managing your brain because now calling yourself an empath makes you a superior person. Well, another way of looking at this all is everybody has a difficult time managing their brain. If I grew up with a parent who was happy all the time, which is very rare because it’s not natural. So then maybe I would project happiness onto other people. Well, that’s not functional either, because then maybe you’re missing some information about what’s really going on. So for everyone, you’re all pathways can never be a perfect guide to what’s going on. And we all have to second guess ourselves, gather more information and make an effort to feel positive, despite the fact that there’s lots to feel bad about.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:42:13] It’s great. And I think the other part that hit home was that feeling of wanting to be special. I want to be special. I want to be the person. I want you to miss me when I die. Can you also go into that? Because I think that that was really a critical point that you made?
Dr. Breuning [00:42:37] Yes, that’s a great question. OK? The first thing is it’s a natural, healthy impulse. And children would not survive without it. Children, you know, in the state of nature, like if you if your parent forgets to feed you, you die. And so that screaming like, pay attention to me, pay attention to me. That’s how we survive. Despite being born in a fragile, helpless. I always say like gazelles can run with the herd an hour after they’re born. And yet a human is like totally dysfunctional first huge amount of time. So our demanding this is our only survival skill. And so then the challenge of our lives is to gradually transform that core healthy impulse into something that allows you to tolerate other people who are just as wanting to be the center of their world as you are wanting to be the center of yours. So in most of human history, you didn’t have your own bedroom, you didn’t have your own bed, you know, so you, you, you had to you were forced to learn at an earlier age the limits of your specialness. And now it’s like people think they never have to learn. So it’s really a learned skill to say, how can I give myself an adequate, healthy feeling of specialness while still accepting that other people need to feel that specialness? And the simple answer is, I can only do that with so many people. I can’t be the whole world’s friend, you know, or I have to have an inner circle of trust in which I give and receive. And then you have like a secondary circle and a more distant circle, and we all make decisions about that and we constantly then improve our decision making skill in that regard. It’s good.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:44:54] And any additional tips to send the listeners with? Until we hit them off.
Dr. Breuning [00:45:05] OK, well, we didn’t really talk about cortisol, so maybe let’s quickly do that, do that. Cortisol is the chemical that tells you that your survival is threatened. And in the animal world, that cortisol has to be such an urgent message that it interferes with your desire to just keep munching on grass and says, Stop enjoying yourself, do something to relieve this bad feeling. So in the modern world, we know that we’re not chased by predators, but that feeling of wow, something is urgently wrong, and I can’t pay attention to anything happy because I absolutely can’t focus on anything else but relieving the cortisol. Now, why do we have that is because disappointment triggers cortisol. Because you think if I don’t get what I want, my survival is threatened, which consciously, you know, that’s not true. But because of these old pathways, you get a little bit of cortisol. And because you live in such a safe world, that little bit of cortisol feels like an emergency. So whatever relieved cortisol in your past, whether it’s nightclubbing or workaholic or whatever worked in your past, you think I have to do more of that because that relieves my survival threat feeling.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:46:36] That’s neat, that’s good. And I think that’s and that’s where you feel like some people get into some unhealthy habits like food potentially helping with the cortisol spike, whatever works.
Dr. Breuning [00:46:47] Yeah, whatever, whatever worked in your past. And of course, the irony is, if one candy bar worked in your past, then one candy bar will not do it for you forever. And as soon as soon as you have that candy bar, you’re going to start thinking of another because your brain says that’s what works.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:47:06] It’s really fascinating. I’ve done a little bit of work looking into binge eating, and the neurochemicals seem to be high all the way through out binge eating and then immediately after it stops within a few minutes, they totally take down. It’s been really fascinating, just like a drug addiction. It’s incredible to see that change, which is fascinating.
Dr. Breuning [00:47:32] But but again, we have to be careful because then people who are binge eaters will get special status from saying my dilemma is more different and difficult than your dilemma. And that rewards people for doing nothing. So we have to say that this is a conundrum of being human. It comes with the gift of being alive. And I’ll confess to might. So I’m a TripAdvisor addict. So, you know, I get I get high from researching my next trip. And if any of you have done this, it’s like it’s a little bit hard to finally click the button and book that next trip, because then you might curse yourself that you made the wrong choice. And then once you click that button and then then it’s gone, and then it’s like, So now what do you do? So we all have to deal with that.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:48:28] Yeah. Yeah. Then that high goes down. Yeah. And I like how you’re holding people responsible to feel their feelings, you know, not to cover it with something. I think that’s really important. Any additional maybe tips that people can do or that they should take from this?
Dr. Breuning [00:48:46] So when you do something difficult, whether it’s feeling your feelings or taking a new step, so do it in small chunks and reward yourself after. Now the challenge is how can you reward yourself after without, like overly rewarding yourself? So one thing is, let’s say I was already going to have dessert tonight. I’m going to force myself to take a difficult step before dessert and or I’m going to divide my dessert into thirds and take three difficult steps. You know, have you know the dessert after each
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:49:23] so small small steps is like really the really the big point here? And you also said something in your book I thought was also a really good tip was if you need to feel some sort of emotion like, let’s say, anxiety, because I think you use this example in your book. I get that I get to be anxious while I’m brushing and potentially flossing my teeth. That’s the time in the day that I allow myself to do that. Then I can be present for the rest of my day.
Dr. Breuning [00:49:53] Yeah, yeah. Choose whatever you choose some limiting constraint and it says, I’m accepting the fact that I want to worry, but I’m also accepting my control over it. And by the way, you know, many people will say to me, Well, isn’t that the same as mindfulness? So can I answer that? Sure. So it’s the same as mindfulness. If you actually do what you could say, fine. But many people use mindfulness with the idea of, I’m going to think nothing. And I don’t think that thinking nothing is, is that empowering? So it’s having the control to shift yourself back to a positive step, but also having the self-acceptance to know that negative thinking is natural.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:50:43] That’s really good. Anything else to add that maybe I didn’t ask or we left out?
Dr. Breuning [00:50:53] International Institute has lots of resources. Most of them are free, and they can help you do all of this in whatever type of information intake you like.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:51:05] Fantastic. And do you want to repeat the name of the website again?
Dr. Breuning [00:51:08] Your inner mammal institute dot org and I have really fun videos and podcasts and blogs and infographics and books.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:51:18] Great. Well, thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Breuning [00:51:22] You’re welcome. Thanks for the great questions.
Dr. Ann-Marie [00:51:25] Absolutely. And if you want to hear more about us, you can go to FearlessHealthpodcast.com. Please subscribe. Write us in the comments below and review with five stars. Thank you so much! Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed learning with us today, please give us a five star review. Comment like and share our podcast with your friends and family. As always, if you’d like to learn more information about today’s guest, please head over to FearlessHealthpodcast.com for links to their site and other educational resources.