Brain Associations and How They Impact Our Lives

What are brain associations?

Our brains are literally filled with associations--neural connections--that we make daily over the course of our lives. The idea of "associations" may sound quite abstract and complicated, but on the surface, it isn't. You know very well what associations are and have surely noticed them in your own life; it's just that no one's ever told you what they're called. 

Here's an example for you: you grew up having pizza for dinner every Friday night, and now you still want it every Friday night. Your brain wired a neural connection of Friday nights with pizza. Even further, you loved having pizza for dinner every Friday night, so now just the thought of it makes you happy. More on the added component of emotions below.

Here's another: you start watching a new show every night for dinner while also on a chicken salad kick. After just a few nights, if you sit down to watch your new show with spaghetti, you're going to notice that you're not eating chicken salad. 

And one more: if you turn on a song that you played over and over in high school, I am sure you'll have a rush of all the feelings, even sounds and smells, from that time of your life. It's just a song. But your brain wired it to all the things.

Without even dealing with any kind of chronic issues, you can have negative associations too. For example, even though it's been a decade, when I see covered sidewalks, I think of college. It's not great. And I could disconnect that if I wanted to. But it's there. Similarly, there may be a random book, piece of furniture, shirt, whatever that you now associate with something seemingly random to anyone else but just natural to you. Even if the association came from one instance. Here's why: our brains are more likely to wire new associations harder and faster when they are paired with heightened emotion, good or bad. So college being the overall negative experience that it was for me, my brain isn't really fond of covered sidewalks. And you may have a negative stomach lurch every time you see a reference to a certain book that your now-ex talked about highly one time. 

Those are very obvious examples. But our brains wire less tangible ones too, both positive and negative.

Associations with a Limbic System Impairment

As you can see, having brain associations is not inherently bad--it is normal and good. But the thing is, when it comes to having a limbic system impairment--meaning your brain is stuck in a state of emergency, fight-or-flight mode, and chaotic brain pathways--you have picked up associations that are not only not accurate but not helpful and need to be disconnected and left behind. 

Here's an association my brain made while sick that I had to disconnect when doing DNRS: phone calls and anxiety. I am talking heart racing, lightheaded adrenaline rush, and trembling. I'm not sure where exactly I picked that up (though I have a couple guesses), but the thing with rewiring negative/inaccurate associations is that it doesn't matter where you picked it up--and you may never remember when or how you did. It may have been that I got it from one or two instances that burned into my brain, or, more likely, it happened because a limbic system impairment unaddressed will only worsen with time, with or without "cause"--which is why someone can start out with a handful of food allergies that turn into only five safe foods within a couple years, or why someone can start with mild anxiety or depression that turns into crippling versions. The downward spiral of LSI will only continue, often inconceivably so. And that is one huge reason why doing DNRS as soon as possible is so important.

How I Retrained LSI Associations

While I highly recommend sticking to the laid out practice rounds for the first several weeks of doing DNRS, I have mentioned the value of personalizing the rounds and tweaking them to what you need most and what resonates with you. A couple months in, I realized I needed to really talk to my Limbie (that's what I call my toddler-like Limbic System) during that step of the rounds and explain things to her. I started targeting specific associations in my rounds, like phones and anxiety, and talked Limbie through what she was associating them with, why that was not accurate, and what to associate them with instead. I would literally hold up my hands together toward my left, clasped like a cord, and tell her what she had connected; I would tell her to disconnect those while pulling my hands apart; and then I would reconnect my hands toward my right while describing what she needs to connect phone calls to instead. That method was huge for me. Feel free to steal it!

Bonus Retraining for the Win

As I've mentioned before, it's not odd for some brain pathways to fall away while retraining other ones because the whole mess of limbic system impairment is all tangled up together. So you may find that you have some unwanted associations that you haven't even tried to rewire yet that fall away as you do others. That's the power of the brain, baby!

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More to see:

My DNRS FAQs | all my DNRS posts | the DNRS website

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional, and nothing I say is to be taken as medical advice. I speak only of my personal experience. | affiliate links above

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