Inhibition and the Brain

Let me be clear. Freedom is one of my core values. Self-expression, living outside the box, taking risks — these are defining aspects of my being. Strangely, however, I am finding I have a new respect for the word INHIBITION, at least as it concerns my brain. In fact, one could say it is the brain’s ability to inhibit that allows us to live uninhibited lives of joy and freedom. Let me attempt to explain….

I’ve thought (and taught) that one of the most powerful aspects of coaching is its ability to help connect the two hemispheres of the brain, so that they can “talk” to each other. The Left Hemisphere (LH) gives voice and language to the Right Hemisphere’s (RH) intuition and sensing. The RH sends its creative ideas to the LH, who makes them practical and puts them into action, etc. It’s not that we are ever solely “in” one hemisphere (pretty much everything we do requires both), but coaching and personal development seem to make us more able to use what’s most helpful from each in an integrated manner.

While this is indeed the case, there is also something else going on that is even more dominant in the brain. The stronger the corpus callosum (the interconnecting “white matter” between the two hemispheres), the more able each hemisphere is to inhibit the other. In fact, it is much more the job of each hemisphere to inhibit the other than it is to connect with it. We exist and thrive in the tension between our LH and RH impulses.

At the extreme, the LH holds the space of rigidity, the RH, chaos. Our lives flow in between the two, ideally not becoming beached up on the dry side of rigidity or lost in the floods of chaos. Each hemisphere holds the other in check so that we can move forward. We need enough structure to keep things focused, with enough freedom to keep them moving. This is the balance all human beings,  groups, systems and organizations strive for — and often struggle with.

And so, how is inhibition key? First I want to make a distinction between inhibition and suppression. Suppression is shutting something down, trying to contain it, not allowing it to be. Suppression (whether of people or emotions) does not work. It actually creates a build up of energy (the old adage “what you resist, persists) that can explode. Inhibition, in the sense I am using it here, is not about shutting one hemisphere down. It’s about bringing things back to the middle of the river so life can continue to flow.

Let me give you a personal example of the value of inhibiting each hemisphere (by the way, as coaches, you are helping your clients do this all the time, even if you didn’t know it). Yesterday I got an email from my ex-husband saying that I owed him some money (a fairly large amount) for costs on our property in Costa Rica. This DID NOT make me happy and I experienced some negative aspects of each hemisphere in my initial response. On the Left side, I was aware of being angry and wanting to blame him. I wanted to be sarcastic and confrontational about it, ask demanding questions like “how did you let this happen?” and “why can’t you manage things better?” HOWEVER, my RH was there very quickly, reminding me to look at the big picture, asking me if that is the sort of person I want to be, and helping me remember that he is probably doing his best — after all, 20 years of knowing him has shown me his competence and integrity. (The RH understands wholeness, context, connection, and the importance of relationships.)

Now — being the complex human I am (and we all are), I was also aware of some of the negative aspects of the RH that got triggered as well. I felt hopeless and overwhelmed, wondering when this black hole of a money pit will ever sell. I felt the “poor me’s” come on as I tossed this additional bill onto what seemed like a huge (and growing) pile. And then, blessedly, my LH jumped in, telling me I had enough money in the bank to cover this expense, and that rental income from the high season would start coming in very soon. It reminded me that summer is always tough, and that someday the property will sell at a profit. (The LH understands facts and figures and brings logic to the situation. It’s also more positive than the RH.)

Interestingly, I was able to do this without suppressing how I felt at all. My RH wasn’t saying to the LH “don’t be angry,” and the LH wasn’t saying the the RH “don’t be depressed.” It was more like they were each saying to each other “come back,” each hemisphere helping the other come more to the middle, to the flow of the river.

I’d still love to sell my house in Costa Rica, and I’m not thrilled about writing the check, but you know, I’m ok. I don’t have to carry that upset with me. I have inhibited but not suppressed, and it’s a beautiful day.


3 responses

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s