Survival circuits are wires that get encoded while in Brain State 5, usually in the early years of life. Because they are our survival drives, these wires are strong and therefore primed for repeated activation, which in turn make them thicker and easier to trigger. In Emotional Brain Training (EBT), there is a tool to help weaken survival circuits and re-wire the brain for something more favourable.
Laurel Mellin, Wired for Joy
A survival circuit gets wired because on an unconscious level we are responding to death or our fear of death and in this overwhelming state of stress and terror we grab onto anything that can provide us with safety, even if the behaviour has little to do with survival. We grab onto whatever security we can find – food, for example, as in “I get my safety from overeating.” This circuit “saves” us from going completely to the dark side.
I hope knowing this will engender more compassion for yourself and others. It is the wire, not you, not me. When we are in Brain State 5, we are overwhelmed. Our rational mind is not functioning and we may even have a lapse of memory, not remembering things like how eating this entire double chocolate fudge cake is not such a great idea.
This is not to abscond our responsibility; rather to understand why we behave the way we do, even when we do not want to.
In Brain State 5, we are looking for a lifeline because we are in terror that the end is near. When our life is on the line, worrying about what a tub of Ben & Jerry’s will do to our waistline, or even to diabetes, is far from our mind. There is no tomorrow, only this moment. After this moment we may be dead. That’s just how the reptilian brain operates.
The thing about weakening these very strong survival circuits is that we have to be courageous enough to trigger them, to face and feel what we feel and to dig for the underlying unreasonable expectation. “I get love from being angry.” Our unreasonable expectations are that, unreasonable and we all have them!
Being in Brain State 5, however, is strong-arming these circuits, which is not productive. Some people then find other lifelines. Finding drink over food, for instance.
Instead of triggering Brain State 5, Laurel Mellin, author of Wired for Joy and founder of Emotional Brain Training, suggests being in Brain State 4, right at the border not traversing into Brain State 5 and using the CYCLE TOOL repeatedly, with lots of support and community to weaken these survival circuits. (A paid monthly membership on EBTConnect gives a variety of tools and support or you can first read Laurel Mellin’s book Wired for Joy for the detailed instructions and examples to better understand the tools.)
The EBT tool for Brain State 4 is the CYCLE TOOL. There is however one key difference between the steps for “normal” stress wires and for survival circuits.
Because survival circuits are tied to our survival and mortality, if we lay down a joy circuit without first being okay with letting go of the unreasonable expectation (what the survival circuit is about), we can trigger a stress response.
What is the Cycle Tool?
LAUREL MELLIN, Wired for Joy
The steps of the CYCLE TOOL are: 1) State the Facts 2) Nab the Stress Circuit 3) Build a Joy Circuit and 4) Strengthen the Joy Circuit.
In the first step, stating the facts arouses the stress circuit which allows the unconscious emotions to surface. Then we nab the stress circuit by flowing through these negative emotions. I feel angry that…I feel sad that…I feel afraid that…I feel guilty that…to get to the underlying UNREASONABLE EXPECTATION and to identity the stress circuit itself. From the UNREASONABLE EXPECTATION, we can find a REASONABLE EXPECTATION to start building a joy circuit.
This new expectation has to be reasonable (doable) and meaningful for you. You will know you have one if you feel that pop and you feel great. It is a powerful “aha” moment.
Continue building this joy circuit by stating a positive powerful thought, an ESSENTIAL PAIN, and an EARNED REWARD.
The ESSENTIAL PAIN is the challenge in following through with the REASONABLE EXPECTATION. This is getting real and honest with yourself. But then if you can get through the ESSENTIAL PAIN, what is the reward that you earn? The EBT rewards are sanctuary, authenticity, vibrancy, integrity, intimacy, spirituality, and wired at 1. Sounds good right?
The last step of the CYCLE TOOL is to strengthen the new joy circuit. This is done with the GRIND IN, which is to repeat the REASONABLE EXPECTATION. As you repeat this statement, you REALLY feel how powerful it is and you go deeper into yourself, perhaps to places you have hidden away. This statement may change as you find greater resonance.
People who deny their emotions can find EBT Tools challenging and also greatly benefit from them. To maximize the effects of the tools, it is important to FEEL, really feel the feelings, and do it until you feel an emotional shift. Keep going through the cycle!
The Cycle Tool for Survival Circuits
For survival circuits, the CYCLE TOOL starts out the same by stating the facts. In some ways, it may be easier to identify this circuit as it is so primal. Instead of laying a joy circuit, here you first negate the circuit before transforming it.
If that puts you in Brain State 5, use the Damage Control Tool to calm the brain and move into Brain State 4.
LAUREL MELLIN, Wired for Joy
What comes up?
Remember it is an UNREASONABLE EXPECTATION so what comes up may be quite surprising. Survival circuits are maladaptive. We seek external solutions rather than finding them within ourselves which is the healthy mechanism. Remember these survival circuits are formed in stress free fall so please allow any judgments to fall away.
To get to the UNREASONABLE EXPECTATION, we need to let go of how we want others to see us – strong, capable, loving, smart and see who we are at the core. Being honest with ourselves and aware of the feelings that come up as we try on different statements is how we get that survival circuit.
Now, time to break the survival circuit with the GRIND IN. Negate the UNREASONABLE EXPECTATION by repeating the opposite statement. It is essential that this step is completed fully. Negating the survival circuit may take a while, even weeks.
If the unreasonable expectation is, “I get my nurturing from eating sweet,” the Grind In would be, “I cannot get my nurturing from eating sweets.” The Grind In for laying down a joy wire would be, “I get my nurturing from me.”
You are ready to move to this last step when the emotional charge from saying the GRIND IN is gone. Step 3 is doing the CYCLE TOOL again. State the facts about the topic. Go through your feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and guilt. Repeat your UNREASONABLE EXPECTATION and state a REASONABLE EXPECTATION. What is your ESSENTIAL PAIN? What is your EARNED REWARD?
This is a HUGE process.
Getting some EBT support and working with an EBT practitioner may be the best way to go. Survival circuits are tough. They touch the core of what we think about ourselves, what we hide from ourselves and others. We use external solutions to cover up our need for love and nurturing and really our external solutions do not make much sense. Using rage to get love?
The reality is that we cannot get rid of stress in our lives and having no stress is not necessarily productive. What we do learn is that there is no need to judge stress or our emotions. Being aware of our brain states, withering away our stress and survival circuits and laying down new joy circuits, and using eudonic over hedonic rewards can help us re-wire our brain for a healthier life. We can groove in joy. “I am creating JOY in my life.” Joy, no matter what.
Until the last decade, none of us knew the there are universal tracks in the brain that could return us to well-being and that rolling, compassionate state of joy. We did not know the power of our focused, trained consciousness to transform the emotional terrain of our brains, to sculpt new pathways, and sequester old ones. Nor did we know that our intimate inner state could travel so freely from one brain to another so that our joy would be contagious and find its way into the emotional circuits of those around us. Now we do.
To the extent that we become wired for joy, we share our emotional wealth with others. Our joy makes us a beacon of light, spreading our positive emotional state to others in a natural contagion of warmth and compassion. One beacon of light shines on another and another, maybe, just maybe, beginning to create a world at 1.
LAUREL MELLIN, Wired for Joy