Are We Being Ruled by Our Toddler Brains?
Stress and outside influences make us revert. But you can rise above.
Published on August 20, 2014 by Steven Stosny, Ph.D. in Anger in the Age of Entitlement
Did you ever wonder why smart people make the same mistakes over and over? Or why you see so many stressed-out people acting like toddlers? Or why we seem to take target practice to get better at shooting ourselves in the foot?
The answer is in ourselves, to be sure, but it’s also in our stars. The current pop culture almost demands superficial feelings and self-defeating behavior by duping us into living and loving in the wrong part of the brain.
Toddler Brain vs. Adult Brain
Suffering and failure begin in the volatile limbic system, or Toddler brain, which reaches full structural maturity around age three. When we’re not under stress, we’re able to turn pain and failure into growth and accomplishment in the Adult brain—the prefrontal cortex, which is the most profoundly evolved part of the most complex organism in the known universe. In the Adult brain, which reaches full maturity around age 28, we have the mental capacity to construct a solid sense of self. Living in it, we’re able to improve situations, connect to others, protect all that we value, and appreciate people, ideas, nature, and creative beauty. We can stand for something, learn from our mistakes, make the world a better place, and forge a legacy.
When we retreat to the Toddler brain under stress, we create conflict and almost invariably act out self-defeating behavior. In the Adult brain, we create value, meaning, and purpose.