Monday, September 24, 2012

Emotional Self Control

In his book, The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social Brain, author Louis Cozolino discusses the concept of cortical inhibition and conscious control. He explains that as the cortex develops (the upper regions of our brain), it forms numerous neural networks with subcortical brain areas. These top-down neural networks provide the brain with pathways to inhibit reflexes as both body and emotions come under increasing cortical control. In his paper Neuroscience; Area Responsible for ‘Self-control’ Found in the Human Brain, Marcel Brass pinpoints the dorsal frontal-medial cortex (dFMC) of the brain as the center for self-control. This area, the author explains, is critical to self-control, or the brain’s ability to have ‘free will’, or in this case, ‘free won’t’. One of the leading neuroscientists and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder researchers, Jeffrey Scwartz, in his book The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity andthe Power of Mental Force, elaborates further on the idea of free will and free won’t. He explains that free will operates not only to initiate an act, but to suppress one as well. By willfully attending to certain thoughts/event and not to others, we can utilize our mind’s mental force to modulate neural functioning in multiple brain regions, increasing some areas and decreasing others. Thus we use our brain, through the process of cortical inhibition, to control our emotions. 

Although it was only briefly reviewed above, there exists much literature on the importance of controlling our thought process. In fact, the entire area of Cognitive Therapy rests upon this understanding: If we can control our thoughts, we can control and shape our behaviors. However, long before Cognitive Therapy came about, Christianity, through the Bible, has been teaching this very same concept. In 1 Peter 1:13 we read, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled”. The importance of emotional self-control is key for the average person, but also for overcoming multiple mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

So we see that God calls us to be self-controlled people and He gives us the ability to do so through cortical inhibition (as confirmed through neuroscience). But why would we apply this to our own lives? Well, in a similar manner to the field of mental health where emotional freedom is key, God too desires for us to enjoy a life of freedom through Jesus Christ (John 10:10). This includes spiritual health, physical health, and mental health. Demonstrating self-control over our body and emotions isn’t just a biblical principle or fruit of the spirit, but also a means by which we can enjoy greater freedom in our day-to-day life.   

Brass, M. (2007). Neuroscience; Area responsible for ‘self-control’ found in the 
     human brain. Biotech Week, 1, 210.

Cozolino, L. (2010). The neuroscience of psychotherapy: Healing the social brain 
     (4th ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Schwartz, J. M., & Begley, S. (2002). The mind and the brain: Neuroplasticity and 
     the power of mental force. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. 

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