This is the part of the brain that has 'looking out for number one' (or what Darwinians like to call 'survival of the fittest') as the top priority. And if it's not reined in, this part of the brain causes people to act like selfish animals, to use other people for selfish procreation purposes, to rationalise and justify anything that gives them an advantage over others, however immoral or destructive, and makes lust-gratification the number one priority.
That's why people are becoming more narcissistic - and more mentally-ill, generally - because people were designed to have a connection to their Creator, and to go after a higher purpose, and when that doesn’t happen, all sorts of problems occur instead.
When a person's frontal lobes go awol, then a lot of the functions we associate with a ‘higher self’ and with a more spiritual outlook and grasp of life disappear.By the time you get to this stage of things, you really need a miracle to reverse the literal brain damage that’s been done (and that’s causing things like Narcissistic Personality Disorder, to quote one of many mental illnesses that have reached epidemic proportions).
Here’s where the spiritual side HAS TO come in, because if people have a Creator to turn to, they can still get their miracle (and I have seen this happen with a bunch of people) -and stop being mentally-ill / NPD-type egotists.
When God is out of the picture - there’s nowhere to turn, really, and the person will continue to treat others very badly, and probably pass on a whole bunch of mental health problems to the next generation, too.
I think that’s part of why modern society is so Godless and atheistic: the frontal lobes are ‘out’ on a whole bunch of people, and as well as leading to huge spikes in NPD-type behaviours and mental illnesses, it’s also cutting people off from their innate spirituality, which is compounding the problem in myriad ways.
The following describes the scientific basis for what I describe above, namely how a connection to God via meditation and prayer can reverse narcissistic tendencies, and other mental illnesses:
Regular personal prayer and meditation can help us get a grip on our subconscious ‘fight or flight’ response.
Remember how we said that the frontal lobes is the home of free choice, and is responsible for most of the attributes associated with being a sentient human being, like empathy, consideration for others, patience, moral behavior etc? (All things that are either ‘missing’ or severely impaired in personality disorders like NPD.)
When we’re dealing with a potential threat, the fight-flight-freeze response will kick in if either the emotional brain believes the danger to be overwhelming and close to home, OR if the rationality and higher functioning of the frontal lobes are unable to restrain the emotional brain’s baser impulses.
Let’s describe a couple of situations, to demonstrate what we’re really talking about. Say, there’s a psycho who decides to drive their Harley Davidson at full throttle up on the sidewalk, and they’re heading straight at you. The danger is objectively serious, objectively real, objectively imminent, so there is pretty much nothing your frontal lobes could say to your amygdala in that situation to call off your fight or flight response – and rightfully so! By the time you’ve thought things through, you’d could already be meatloaf.
But now, let’s take another example: your neighbor accidentally bumps into you coming up the stairs. If you haven’t been previously traumatized, then your fight or flight response shouldn’t be overwhelming, and your frontal lobes should be able to get you to calm down relatively fast, and to apprise the situation from a calmer, more compassionate and understanding point of view: accidents happen, it wasn’t on purpose, they aren’t out to get you, no real harm done, etc.
BUT – if your frontal lobes are kind of shut-down (as happens a lot with people who have experienced a lot of trauma in their lives), and / or your knee-jerk reaction is much stronger than normal (another common occurrence with traumatized people) – then even a minor event like this can turn into a big deal, especially if you go ballistic and start yelling at the neighbor aggressively, or panic and start going to great lengths to try to avoid the ‘dangerous’ neighbor.
Whenever someone is acting irritable, highly-strung or hypersensitive, that’s a sign that their frontal lobes are struggling to keep things together, in the face of some overwhelming internal stress.
When the emotional brain is in the driving seat, conscious free choice about how to behave in the danger of a perceived threat is effectively out the window. Here’s the thing: most of the time, we’re not being running the risk of getting flattened by a Harley Davidson.
The more patient, calm, understanding and un-reactive we can be in the face of provocation and external ‘triggers’, the better that will usually be for us, and the easier we’ll find it to get on with other people, to enjoy our lives more, and to avoid getting all stressed-out and irritable all the time.
So how can we do that? What can we do to strengthen the frontal lobes, and lessen the unnecessary knee-jerk reactions coming from the emotional brain?
In a word: PRAYER / CONNECTING TO GOD. That’s the top-down approach that goes from the soul, through the emotions, then to the body.
(There’s also a bottom-up approach that starts with the body, goes through the emotions and ends with the soul, but that’s a post for another time.) Here's some quotes from the scientists in the meantime, who have started exploring the 'mindfulness' part of praying and connecting to God:
“Practicing mindfulness even decreases the activity of the amygdala, and thus decreases reactivity to potential triggers.” SJ Banks, “Amygdala-Frontal Connectivity during Emotion Regulation; also, MR Milad.
“Mindfulness has been shown to have a positive effect on numerous psychiatric, psychosomatic and stress-related symptoms, including depression and chronic pain. SG Hoffman, The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review.
Many studies show that practicing mindfulness reduces stress. In 2010, Hoffman et al. conducted a meta-analysis of 39 studies that explored the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. The researchers concluded that mindfulness-based therapy may be useful in altering affective and cognitive processes that underlie multiple clinical issues.
Those findings are consistent with evidence that mindfulness meditation increases positive affect and decreases anxiety and negative affect. In one study, participants randomly assigned to an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction group were compared with controls on self-reported measures of depression, anxiety and psychopathology, and on neural reactivity as measured by fMRI after watching sad films (Farb et al., 2010).
The researchers found that the participants who experienced mindfulness-based stress reduction had significantly less anxiety, depression and somatic distress compared with the control group. In addition, the fMRI data indicated that the mindfulness group had less neural reactivity when they were exposed to the films than the control group, and they displayed distinctly different neural responses while watching the films than they did before their mindfulness training. These findings suggest that mindfulness meditation shifts people's ability to use emotion regulation strategies in a way that enables them to experience emotion selectively, and that the emotions they experience may be processed differently in the brain (Farb et al., 2010; Williams, 2010).
Definition of Mindfulness / Prayer
Is basically when you pause for thought and reflection instead of going straight into a knee-jerk reaction, and you try to be more objective about what is really 'correct' and 'good' according to God, not just according to the warped and biased perspective of your inner snake brain.
Whenever you do this (i.e., personal pray, or hitbodedut) you’re strengthening your frontal lobes, and you’re slowing down the reaction-time that’s hardwired into your emotional brain. That gives your frontal lobes those crucial couple of extra seconds it needs to be able to more rationally assess a situation, and avert an inappropriate knee-jerk response.
When this ability to think before you react is absent, then your relationships very quickly start to break-down, as you react with ‘fight or flight’ in the face of every real or imagined trigger (and as mentioned, the imaginary triggers and genuinely serious threats tend to outnumber the real ones by many thousands to one.)
Now, here’s the next super-cool thing. In experiments done with neuroimaging, they found that when participants were experiencing very intense states of fear, sadness or anger, this empowered the activity in the emotional brain (effectively, giving it even more juice and sway), while severely reducing the activity and ‘power’ of the frontal lobes, and particularly the medial prefrontal cortex.
To put it another way, when you get very angry, sad or scared, (all bad character traits, and the basis of most mental illnesses, including personality disorders) you lose the frontal lobe ‘break’ on your knee-jerk reactions, which means you can get completely overwhelmed by external triggers and stimuli.
You start to feel suffocated, irritable, cagey, impatient. Small difficulties become impossible problems, you snap at people, you startle at the smallest noise, you tense up when people stand too close, or freeze when you have to talk to even a small group of people, etc.
Personal prayer, meditation and talking to God helps us to regulate our emotions, and maintain self-control - all things that are severely lacking and / or completely missing when God is out of the picture, and the 'animal' brain is firmly in the driving seat.