What is Emotional Plasticity?

The four rules of neuroscience upon which EBT is based are:

Rule 1. It's not us. It's our wiring

Every thought, emotion or action is a wire, a string of nerve cells or neurons that is aroused. These wires or circuits are formed by experiences, the way that the brain enables us to anticipate challenges, plan for the future and respond effectively to current stresses in order to promote survival, the goal of all organisms. Each circuit guides emotional processing, cognitive processing and a corrective action, and fires in time measured in 10,000ths of a second. Most wires are formed during the first three years of life or during stress.

Rule 2. Wiring triggers brain states

The brain appraises the level of threat and changes the area in charge in favor of the quicker, more primitive areas when stress levels are higher. The more primitive the brain area in charge the more emotions, thoughts and behaviors are extreme and prolonged. Some wires are adaptive, moving us through stresses and returning to states of well-being. These are homeostatic wires ("joy circuits"). Some wires are maladaptive, and they are triggered when there is no objective stressor ("no lions in the vicinity") and tend to be prolonged, the stress buzzer stuck on. They are allostatic wires ("stress circuits&").

Rule 3. Brain states become persistent

The brain errs on the side of triggering stress circuits, and then due to Hebb's Law or "what fires together wires together and what fires apart wires apart" results in these allostatic circuits easily becoming dominant, triggering chronic stress. The cascade of stress hormones affects the very brain structures that protect us from stress and the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus and the amygdala, canabolizing them, and changing our emotional set point to favor stress. The repeated episodes of stress ("allostasis") causes cumulative wear and tear and adaptations, and this "allostatic load" causes the brain to become the primary stressor. In a fixed state of stress ("allostatic state"), stress symptoms in all domains of life are likely, and each stress symptom adds to allostatic load and further compromises health and happiness.

Rule 4. We can change our wiring.

Until 10 years ago, these unconscious circuits were thought to be "hardwired" after the first three years of life. Emerging evidence supports that the brain is highly plastic, and changes in response to experience.

Let's look more closely at the homeostatic and allostatic circuits, as EBT is based on using the prefrontal cortex - the overseer or the emotional brain and the seat of consciousness - to attune to the state of the emotional brain in the present moment, and process the stressors of daily life differently, thereby weakening or dismantling allostatic circuits and building and strengthening homeostatic circuits to change the brain's emotional set point and potentially reverse allostatic load.

Homeostatic Circuit

An adaptive emotional processing phase is followed by neocortical processing and a corrective response that are based on reasonable expectations. Brain state returns to homeostasis (Brain State 1 or 2), with minimal increase in allostatic load.

All circuits that regulate our daily lives have three phases that are shown in the triangle graphic below. You can trust that if you are feeling balanced and good, your brain is triggering these circuits. A stimulus enters the brain, and triggers a wire. If the wire is homeostatic, without any conscious awareness your brain and body move swiftly to manage the stressor. The first phase of the circuit is orchestrated by the lower brain, the emotional brain (limbic system and brain stem). It is quick, and if the wire that is triggered is homeostatic, then you don't over or under react emotionally. The second phase of the circuit occurs in the upper brain (neocortex). You know how you feel, and based on reasonable expectations, you know what you need. Then comes the third phase, when you respond in a way that effectively returns you to the optimal state of being, which is feeling balanced, present and rewarded; what we call joy.

Example: Someone cuts in line ahead of you in the grocery store, and you trigger a wire that is homeostatic and balanced, so: Phase 1. You feel a burn in your body, and a jolt of surprise. Phase 2. You become aware of your feelings (anger), and your needs (to not make a huge scene, after all, they look distraught and rushed. Your expectations are reasonable. Phase 3. You continue with your own thoughts, and appreciate that you are safe and you have taken the action that was right for you at the time, and feel a surge of joy.

An Allostatic "Stress Circuit"

A maladaptive emotional processing phase is followed by neocortical processing and a corrective response that are based on unreasonable expectations. Brain state is stuck in allostasis (Brain State 4 or 5) with unnecessary increase in allostatic load.

It's normal to have another kind of wire, the allostatic circuit. You can trust that if you are feeling unbalanced and bad, your brain is triggering these circuits. A stimulus enters the brain, and triggers this wire, which is allostatic, and creates stress where there is no objective stress and then amplifies and prolongs that stress. The first phase (lower brain) of the circuit causes us to react ineffectively. Some of these stress circuits cause us to shut down our emotions, and others cause us to become highly charged and emotional. Both are stress reactions. The second phase of the circuit occurs in the upper brain (neocortex) and because of the emotional processing, we arouse more circuits from past stressful experiences in which we were not thinking clearly and effectively. Those expectations are unreasonable. This "secondary stress" prolongs the response, so that we are stressed about being stressed or don't even know why we are stressed: we just are! We pull out all the stops and do whatever we need to do to feel better. We do not return to joy, but to a state of stress or disease.

Example: Someone cuts in line ahead of you in the grocery store, and you trigger a wire that is allostatic and unbalanced, so: Phase 1. You feel fury and outrage. You feel as if you are being attacked! Phase 2. You are not aware of your feelings. You just know what you need and it is not reasonable. They hurt you. You want to hurt them back! Phase 3. You make a caustic remark and hurt them back. Then you go home, and pour a drink, eat cookies or fume about them for the rest of the night. You do not return to your joy. You feel stressed. A type of allostatic "stress circuit" that is encoded during trauma, at Brain State 5 and maladaptive processing. The neocortical processing and corrective responses are based on survival expectations, and a false attachment associating safety with external solutions. Brain states stuck in allostasis (Brain State 3, 4 or 5) with unnecessary extreme and prolonged increase in allostatic load.

Are all stress circuits the same?

Some stress circuits are encoded when we are in moderate levels of stress, and others when we are in a full-blown stress response, in "survival" mode. These "survival circuits" are responsible for most disease and suffering, the result of the stress buzzer being stuck on. Because they are encoded when we are in states of overwhelm, they are very strongly wired.

They are also harder to rewire. The connections between neurons, the synapses, are only fluid and open to change when we are in the emotional state in which they were wired. In order to rewire a circuit that was encoded during a full blown stress response, we must be in a full blown stress response, in which the brain defaults to that wire -- and strengthens it.

What is special about "survival circuits"?

These circuits are so pernicious because they associate survival with something that doesn't help us survive, even though it did at the time it was encoded. On a chemical level, we have unstoppable drives for the cookies, drinks, cigarettes, spending, rescuing, numbing out, etc. In EBT, we use a special "Survival Circuit" technique to erase these circuits. Instead of "pushing down" the symptom (e.g., going on a diet), which adds stress and makes the problem worse, not better, we opt to erase the circuit, so that the chemical drive to use that external solution or excess fades or disappears. Then behavior change is easier.

The first phase of the survival circuit is very quick and very intense. The executive functioning of the brain becomes rigid, and we feel terrified, as if we are going to die. We are overwhelmed and feel lost and confused. The neurotransmitters in the reward centers of the brain are abnormally high or abnormally low, and fuel unstoppable drives for artificial pleasures or anything that will stop the pain and enable us to get out of the vortex of stress that is threatening to suck us into oblivion. The false association formed by the wiring of that circuit associates survival with a thought, emotion or behavior and the corrective response is to dissociate or to become hyperaroused, in a rage, depressed, panicked, ashamed, or manic. We use the corrective action to stop the pain, and to relieve our agony.

Example: Someone cuts in line ahead of you in the grocery store, and you trigger a wire that is allostatic and encoded in a full blown stress response, a "survival circuit", so Phase 1. You go numb or have intense negative emotions, such as wanting to strangle the person who cut in front of you, or shutting down feelings and needing to escape. Phase 2. In a reflexive way, you reach for the escape that the circuit dictates. Phase 3. You bolt out of the store, scream at the cashier or the patron, get in the car and drive recklessly on the way home, and when you get there you blame your partner for needing those groceries, yell at your child, and get sugary, fatty foods, pour a drink, take a smoke, or pop a pill, depending upon the circuit that has been triggered. That stressed state can last an hour, a day, a week or a month or more, and is the chemical cascade that is most deleterious to our health and our happiness.

Once the survival circuit is reconsolidated, the survival drive fades or vanishes, and an awareness of a "post-traumatic growth" which can result to an even more intense joy. Minimal increases in allostatic load or allostatic load reversal.

Why can erasing these circuits be so healing?

Although no one would plan to be in intense stress, having experienced stress opens the door to a deeper level of personal evolution, and joy. If survival circuits are not rewired, they cause ongoing stress and challenges. We work hard to feel better, but do not feel better, or just substitute one symptom or problem for another. However, by erasing that circuit, the original moment of stress is healed, and the downstream effects of that false association, the link between survival needs and something that does not actually enable us to thrive, ends. We are better off for the healing ("post-traumatic growth") in fact, more compassionate, insightful, and secure than if we had never had that intense stress. We feel more joy.

What is the progression of positive emotional plasticity in the EBT Kits?

The introduction to EBT (Wired for Joy or the c-course) and EBT Kit 1: Sanctuary increases resiliency necessary to efficiently rewire stress (and survival) circuits. The synapses (connections between) nerve cells or neurons are more fluid and open to change during stress, so learning now to use The EBT 5-Point System to become resilient to stressors is essential. EBT Kit 2: Authenticity, includes week-by-week training and guidance in rewiring a survival circuit.

The remainder of the kits build on this capacity, and increase rewards. The capacity to experience high-intensity natural pleasure eases stress, and the focused intensive, progressing rewiring of the emotional over brain occurs which can reverse allostatic load and change the emotional set point. This is important, because as long as the set point is in stress, not only do our individual circuits that were encoded during stress become "hot" and triggered, but our shared physiology, the circuits that trigger extremes of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, the general stress response, are triggered. Establishing a new set point takes that focused intensive practice over approximately one year, although some people take longer.

The goal of the training is that within the limits of genetics and circumstance, to be wired at Brain State 1, that is, free to be in all the brain state without judgment, skilled in using the tools consciously to improve the brain state, and establishing a new set point in the homeostatic range - Brain States 1 and 2. Life is still difficult at times. The brain errs on the side of encoding allostatic circuits to novel stimuli, so as one encounters changes life, new allostatic circuits may form. However, the dominance of false associations and generalizations about life have weakened and with a set point in positive emotional states, joy is familiar and the emotional set point favors homeostasis. The eudonic rewards of life tend to mitigate stress and the unstoppable appetites and cravings for external solutions that are triggered by survival circuits fade.

Most people report continuing to use the method consciously over time, and some remain in EBT groups for the long-term for the community, inspiration and training. Many continue and become EBT Providers if they are health professionals, and others share the method with others informally or as EBT Mentors, volunteers who support the mission of the Institute for Health Solutions to bring these tools to others. The EBT Community Fund ("World at 1") supports efforts to bring thee tools to those who are most in need.