Everyone messes up. But not everyone apologizes in the same way—or even apologizes at all.
Interestingly, we can glean information about a person’s brain organization by how he or she responds after making a mistake or doing something that adversely affects others.
So, what’s a cortex response to an error?
How might that play out in daily life? Well, let’s suppose we’re 30 minutes late to a family dinner.
If we stay in our cortex and follow the above guidelines, we immediately address the fact that we were late (rather than breeze in as though we were on time and hope no one notices).
We do not mention that the sitter was late or there was unexpected traffic or any other reason that may have caused us to be late. After all, none of those reasons ultimately change the fact that others still had to wait for us.
Instead, we dive right in with an acknowledgment that addresses how others were affected by our tardiness and then ask how we may rectify the situation.
Here, we might say something such as, “I totally understand how everyone must be feeling irritated that we’ve arrived so late, especially since the food now is probably getting cold. We apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused, and we do thank you for your patience. Is there something we can do—like heat up the food or something else—to help get dinner back on track?”
We also share what we’ll do differently in the future. “Just to let you know, we plan to allow ourselves a much bigger window for getting ready and arriving somewhere on time in the future.”
In contrast, here’s what we may do if we’re late for a family dinner, and we respond with our lower centers of the brain.
We never mention that we’re late, but then get defensive when another family member says something about it. (You try getting out the house on time with two small kids! It’s not like you’re always on time!)
We blame someone else. (You didn’t tell me the right time. You shouldn’t have made dinner so early. Sam’s teacher called just as we were walking out the door.)
We minimize being late. (It’s not that big of a deal. So the food is a little cold. We’re not actually that late.)
We become a victim. (Everyone is always on my case. You have no idea how hard my life is. I get it– I’m the black sheep of the family.)
We actually never say we’re sorry, or we do so in a way that doesn’t sound sincere.
Or, we say we’re sorry without putting a period after that thought. For example, we say, “We’re sorry, but” (and then we finish the sentence with a justification). However, the second half of the sentence now negates the first part . . . that included the actual apology.
And since we don’t see the bigger picture when we’re operating from the lower centers of the brain, we never ask how we may rectify whatever transpired as the result of our actions. In fact, we seem oblivious that we even inconvenienced others or that they will now have to pick up the slack. It’s more of an “oh, well” kind of shrug and a “let’s drop it” sooner-than-later kind of attitude.
So what ultimately happens when we respond with our lower brain instead of our cortex? An already bad situation just gets worse.
But if cortex responses are actually more helpful, then why don’t we always respond that way? Well, that’s where our own brain organization comes into play.
If our lower centers of the brain are fully developed, we have a much greater chance of staying in our cortex and responding in kind. On the other hand, if we have incomplete lower brain development, we’re more likely to go into a fight or flight mode as soon as we’re placed in an uncomfortable situation.
So the next time we’re apologizing, we can choose to pause and ask ourselves: Where is this apology coming from . . . my cortex or my lower centers of the brain? If we realize it’s the latter, we might just quit talking—right then and there—until we’re sure that we’re responding with our cortex.
And if we do that, everyone, including ourselves, will be very glad we did so.
I recently came across a story that underscores how kids often see the world with very different eyes than adults. Here’s the story.
A little girl was in desperate need of a blood donor, but there was none to be found. As a last resort, the doctors checked her 6-year-old brother—and he was a match!
So the parents and the doctor set the boy down and explained how he could help save his sister so that she wouldn’t die. He just needed to give her his blood.
However, the little boy asked if he could have some time to think about it. His parents were surprised by the response, but they honored his request to ponder the decision.
The next day, the little boy informed everyone that he agreed to give his sister what she needed.
The hospital staff moved quickly. His sister’s rare blood disorder was at a critical stage, so they could not waste any time.
The medical team put the little boy in a bed next to his sister. As soon as the transfusion began, everyone was thrilled for the little girl.
But a few minutes later, the little boy turned to the doctor and in a quiet voice asked, “How long before I die?”
Yes, the little boy thought that if he gave his blood to his sister, she would live—but he would then die. That’s why he needed some time to think about his decision.
As parents or professionals who work with kids, what can we glean from this story? Namely, we may need to probe a little in order to discover what kids are truly thinking. We can’t assume that our vantage of the world is the same as theirs.
In the above story, the parents or doctors could have responded as follows when the little boy did not immediately say he’d be a blood donor. “We absolutely respect your decision to give us an answer later, but we’re curious . . . why might you want more time?”
If they had asked that question, right then, everyone would have known that the little boy had misunderstood his role as a donor.
But it doesn’t have to be something as dramatic as the misunderstanding in that story.
At the Brain Highways Center, parents often share their concerns about a behavior specific to their child. For example, they may say that they’re worried that their son is antisocial since he always wanders from the guests at a party and then spends the rest of the time off by himself.
I then always ask, “What does your child say when you ask why he does that?”
To date, I don’t think I’ve ever had a parent respond to that specific question—no matter what concern they have just shared. Instead, they give me a blank look and then note that they have no idea.
In other words, the parents have never asked their child what he or she may be thinking or needing when doing a particular behavior.
Yet, when we do ask the child, more times than not, he or she has a very explicit reason for the behavior which then, more times than not, wipes away a lot of the parents’ initial concern about the situation.
Sometimes, we discover that the child isn’t even aware that he’s doing the behavior of concern or, if he is aware, he does not view it as problematic. Regardless of whatever information the child shares, the parents or professionals now have new insights on how to best move forward.
Note that this gentle probing is not the same as asking a question in a prosecutorial way, where the child thinks he’s being drilled. Rather, this information-seeking approach is always done with a true sense of curiosity that has no judgment attached to the answer.
So, talk to kids. Learn how they’re viewing the world. Their answers may surprise you more than once.
Kids aren’t the only ones who may be functioning with retained primitive reflexes, incomplete pons and midbrain development, and poor sensory processing. There are a lot of adults out there with such underdevelopment—yet most have no clue that they’re even compensating.
That’s because adults often compensate in more subtle and clever ways than kids.
For example, a child with an underdeveloped pons may do something overt—like crawl under a table or hide behind Mom—when he’s in the flight mode, whereas an adult may just quit the minute she’s feeling uncomfortable or rattle off a million excuses why she can’t do (whatever). Yet, it’s very possible that adults who give up quickly and always have excuses for bailing are also doing “flight” behavior that’s reflective of an underdeveloped pons.
So, what might be other not-so-obvious examples of adult behaviors that could actually be signs of or compensations for incomplete lower brain development?
Road rage is an over-the-top, distorted reaction to a stranger’s way of driving, noting that distorted thinking is a common red flag for incomplete pons development.
For example, the extreme reactions associated with road rage suggest that whatever the stranger did was personal— that it was intentionally directed at the person experiencing the rage. However, in truth, the “offender” doesn’t even know any of the people in the cars around him.
Likewise, hostile reactions to drivers perceived as annoying or unsafe on the road are also distorted. Not only are such reactions disproportionate to whatever happened (i.e. the person is not just mildly annoyed—he’s furious), but nothing positive is ever gained by such distorted responses.
Namely, the absent-minded, clueless driver does not then become a better driver after an aggressive exchange. Similarly, the driver who believes his safety was threatened by another driver’s poor decision actually only jeopardizes everyone else’s safety by responding antagonistically. In fact, road rage reactions increase the possibility that the recipient will now also respond in kind.
If the lower centers of the brain are not fully developed, yes people hear words, but they don’t always process the actual message that was conveyed. For example, a teacher may tell a parent that her child has not turned in three assignments. But the parent may incorrectly processes that communication as, “You said I’m a bad parent.” In such case, the parent now responds to the perceived accusation, rather than focusing on the missing assignments. Or, a husband may offer to pick up a salad for his wife, whereupon she responds, “I can’t believe you just called me fat!”
Note that it’s useless to correct these misinterpreted messages because these individuals will only become more defensive, insisting that what they heard was, in fact, what was said.
While it can be generally difficult to forgive, it’s especially challenging with an underdeveloped midbrain. That’s because a person with such underdevelopment gets “stuck” on a thought and then, consequently, is not able to let it go. So whatever the offender did that was deemed unforgivable just keeps playing over and over in the midbrain-stuck person’s mind.
When the pons is underdeveloped, people often have distorted angst. Not only do such people experience anxiety regularly, but the subject of their fear is also often something that makes the rest of the world goes, “Huh?” In other words, such people are worried about something that most people have little or no concern about.
But if the pons remains underdeveloped, that anguish never goes away. So such adults need and ask for lots of assurance regarding their concerns.
Yet, such assurance is always fleeting—at best. Since the pons keeps triggering the distorted angst, the person keeps needing and asking for more assurance. This can happen even just a few minutes after the initial reassurance is given.
Some adults may use perfectionism as a cover for distorted angst, which (again) is reflective of an underdeveloped pons. For example, suppose an adult likes to have rolls of toilet paper all lined up neatly in a row. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that preference. But what if someone now slightly moves one of those rolls out of the line? Does that perfectionist immediately experience some angst? Does she feel a strong need to put that roll of toilet paper right back in the line?
A person with an underdeveloped pons may experience anxiety as soon as she starts to think she won’t remember what she wants to say—so she cuts right into the conversation. That way, she won’t lose the thought.
Similarly, a person with an underdeveloped midbrain is prone to being impulsive, so she may just blurt out her thought, rather than wait for the other person to finish speaking.
Appearing to be inflexible and rigid to others may actually be more related to a fear of functioning without lower brain compensations in place.
For example, suppose someone is blind, and he has created his home in such a way that makes it very easy for him to get around. But what if someone now wants to re-arrange all the furniture? While that simple change may not affect others, it’s certainly going to make his life a whole lot more difficult. Not surprisingly, he may resist making those changes.
People may also appear to be unbending when they won’t consider replacing a prior way of doing something with a new approach—even when the latter actually serves them better. Here, an underdeveloped midbrain makes it difficult for such people to shift gears and move in a different direction.
When the lower centers of the brain are underdeveloped, people don’t always have access to the cortex—yet that’s where reflection occurs.
But without reflection, such people cannot consider how they may have also contributed to an undesirable situation. Instead, they quickly blame everyone else for whatever happened.
Such people also often believe they’ve been unjustly “wronged” when they expected others to do something to make their life easier (i.e. help them compensate in some way)—and that didn’t happen. For example, they may have expected others to make an exception to an agreement (even though they signed the contract) or extend a deadline (after they missed it) or present information in a format that differs from what’s offered (since they’re having difficulty processing the materials).
But since these people have no awareness that such expectations are reflective of needing compensations to help their own brain profile, they often believe the person who does not comply then “hates” them or is “out to get them,” thereby escalating the distortion and victim mentality even more.
When the pons is underdeveloped, people often have limited peripheral vision. In such case, their world is literally that which is directly in front of them. But this can also transfer to viewing life, in general, through a narrow lens—where people appear to act as though they’re the only ones who exist,
Tunnel-vision also happens if the midbrain is underdeveloped. Here, people experience difficulty in seeing the “bigger picture” whenever involved in or assessing a situation. So, they’ll get distracted by lots of details— many of which are unimportant—as they expend a tremendous amount of energy spinning in directions that ultimately do nothing to move the current situation forward.
If the midbrain isn’t fully developed, people don’t often process speech at the rate it is spoken. So, to slow down communications—especially in a lecture-type format—a person may ask questions throughout a presentation. Doing so then temporarily stops the flow of information, while making that person look as though he is very interested in the topic (rather than someone who needs to compensate for incomplete lower brain development).
Of course, if that person views his on-going questioning as confirmation that he’s more savvy and tuned-in than the rest of the group, that’s also distorted. Such thinking infers that other people don’t have questions or want to know more. It also does not take into account that most people wait to see whether their question will be answered later in the presentation or after they’ve checked materials they’ve already received.
People with incomplete lower brain development may also repeat the same questions because they’re not always able to access information that has been previously stored. When they don’t remember what they’ve already learned, they have to ask the question again . . . and again . . . and again.
When people have poor proprioception, they don’t have an innate sense of spatial boundaries in relation to other people and objects. Interestingly, that lack of awareness sometimes transfers beyond physical boundaries. In such case, people may act in ways that are viewed as out-of-bounds by others. For example, they may share sensitive information that they should have kept private, or they create a scene in public. Yet, they do such actions without any awareness that they’ve even stepped over the line.
Of course, not every behavior screams incomplete lower brain development. But it’s amazing how often that which we attribute to being “personality traits” really do reflect such underdevelopment.
So, how can we know for sure? Well, the Brain Highways online adult screening provides a way to score whether someone may be functioning with a disorganized brain.
The Brain Highways online screening course explores this topic in even more depth. The latter not only provides five different formats to assess many specific areas of lower brain development, but it also provides concrete ways how to then best interact with someone, for example, who has an underdeveloped pons or midbrain.
And what if we do discover that we’re compensating for incomplete lower brain development? Well, we can always go back and finish that development—at any age. That’s what makes learning whether we have a disorganized brain . . . so worth our time.