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A Modern Day Fairy Story

This is an extract from my book Shapeshifting Inside & Out: Shed Your Unwanted Weight & Reclaim Your Life, which details my approach to healing eating problems and trauma using your and Peter Levine’s work.


Once upon a time there were three little brains: 21st century brain, primitive brain and emotional brain. They all lived side by side in three little houses in your mind.

When you were born, they all co-existed happily. Each one knew what its job was, and let the other two do theirs.

Primitive brain is the oldest of the three. Its job is to protect you from danger. It was well respected when your cave dwelling ancestors were around, fleeing from tigers and fighting neighbouring tribes. Think of it as the emergency services of your mind, the quick thinking that makes you swerve to avoid a dangerous driver. It is the fight, flight or freeze department.

Emotional brain helps you navigate the complex world you live in. It offers you some very useful signposting to keep yourself safe, and allows you to emerge relatively unscathed from difficult experiences. Your emotions are these signposts. For example, anger tells you that your personal boundary has been breached, shame that you have breached this boundary yourself, and fear that you need to listen to your instincts. Once we act on these messages, we are happier and the emotions leave our system.

21st century brain is the part of your mind that loves making plans. As long as both primitive brain and emotional brain both feel listened to, 21st century brain is free to work on those great ideas you have for losing weight, changing career and doing good in the world.

One day the big wolf of the ego came along. He liked to be known as the big BAD wolf, but because the ego is all about separateness, diminishing yourself and trying to protect yourself from a world you perceive as out to get you, the truth is that he wasn’t really bad. He was just constantly expecting bad things to happen. His way of dealing with this was to frantically push down any discomfort and big himself up. It’s every wolf for himself was his motto.

Now, the wolf really loved 21st century brain because it was really good at coming up with shortcuts to happiness. On the other hand, he hated emotional brain because he was scared of it. He had no idea that states like rage and hatred were useful, and meant to be temporary. And primitive brain? Well, the wolf was so fond of 21st century brain that he didn’t even know primitive brain existed.

When the wolf came along, he blew down the house of emotional brain. At the same time he trampled on primitive brain’s house without even seeing it.

Primitive brain ran off to hide. The wolf looked at 21st century brain and said: “I thought there were meant to be three of you in this story? Anyway, I’m not hungry today. You are in charge. Emotional brain can come and live with you – on certain conditions. It can sleep in the house when it looks presentable; that is to say when it is signposting messages that are pleasing to me, the big bad wolf of the ego. Joy. Serenity. Peace. That sort of thing. If it starts telegraphing uglier ones that I can’t deal with (hatred, fear, rage etc), then I order you to kick it out.”

“By the way, you – as 21st century brain – can do no wrong. As an ego wolf, I just love avoiding discomfort. Well done on the ever-increasing number of convenience inventions you’ve come up with to stop me having to get up and expend calories. I do love rampant consumerism. How you pulled off a world where people crave a new phone well before they have an actual need for one, where the creators of this insane consumerism are elevated to the status of heroes – now THAT is a stroke of genius.”

The wolf left, and primitive brain came out from his hiding place. 21st century brain was by this time so full of itself that it started laying down the law. It allowed emotional brain to sleep on the sofa, as long as it behaved itself by being 100% pleasant. It told primitive brain: “You can have the tiny box room at the top of the house. If anyone ever sees you, they will talk in an conversational way about how you are an old, disused part of the mind. They might tell anecdotes that involve the concept of fight or flight, but these will always be restricted to out of the ordinary situations. Nobody will understand that even minor stress such as their computer freezing triggers the fight, flight or freeze response”.

And so primitive and emotional brains moved in with 21st century brain, who quickly became increasingly drunk on its own importance, and hardly ever let primitive brain out of its room. Emotional brain spent long periods of time banned from the house – but the less welcome it felt, the more it would signal those forbidden emotions. It would sometimes try to plaster more convenient emotions like serenity over its rage, rather like a teenage girl applying make up for the first time. This always ended in tears and forced removal from the house. Emotional brain would then go off and orchestrate huge binges, starvation diets and other forms of self-abuse.

21st century brain had everything, but was never at ease. The truth was that it needed the other two to be happy. So convinced was it of its power that it could not see that emotional and primitive brains were the support system for its quality of life. 

To be fair to 21st century brain, it was surrounded by self-help books that told it the answer to its troubles were strategies such as goal setting, willpower, determination, as well as a host of magic pill systems and products. What 21st century brain didn’t realise was that these qualities are only accessible to someone with a mind where all three brains are given equal house room.

And they all lived unhappily ever after.

Wait a minute. Where’s the happy ending? 

Well, I did tell you this was a modern fairy story. So rewrite the ending yourself. Storm the house of your 21st century brain, and stick it in the box room for 24 hours. Give primitive and emotional brains freedom to roam and express themselves. Respect your fight, flight and freeze response, and accept that they are an innate part of you. Refuse to enslave yourself to a stressful job. Liberate your emotions by acting on the soul-saving messages they have for you, instead of stuffing them down with food. Stop giving the wolf house room when he visits. 

Now there’s your happy ending.


Available on Amazon: http://amzn.com/B00OHMO5RG

Harriet Morris – eating psychology & body confidence coach

07 78 62 855 92  * Skype: theshiftinside


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