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By: Mozelle Forman

Teddy hears his name being called and goes into a panic.His brain, sensing some kind of danger, immediately begins to scan his memory for any transgressions he may have committed which would cause him to be summoned by that voice. He can’t seem to remember anything he did wrong and curses his faulty memory. How can he mount a defense when he doesn’t know what the charge is?

Unbeknownst to him, Teddy, a forty-three-year-old father of four, is simply being called over by his wife, Sarina, because dinner is ready. But the benign fact of that reality can’t competewith the drama unfolding in his head. You see, as a child Teddy was a bit rambunctious and had heard his name called thousands of times. The iterations ranged from “Teddy, stop that!” to “Teddy, didn’t I tell you not to do that?”to “Teddy…again?!”These exasperated remarks were usually followed by swift punishment — the loss of something precious to him. So this visceral panic, which reverberated all the way down to his gut, felt real. His instinct was to associate his name being called with unpleasant consequences.

A scientist would tell you all about the fight or flight response triggered in Teddy’s amygdala when his name was called. He would describe how his adrenal medulla flooded his brain with epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol, causing his heart to beat faster and his blood pressure to rise. Suffice it to say, the combination of all that activity occurring in his brain at once makes Teddy feel like he is under attack.

Teddy’s succession of thoughts – I am being called; I am in trouble; I need a good defense– take just a few seconds to complete. Next, he weighs his options. I could ignore her, he thinks of his wife, but then she will come and find me and probably be angrier that I didn’t respond. I could just answer her, but then it would seem like I’m admitting I’m guilty. I could just act annoyed and let her deal with it, but….

For Teddy, the possibilities roll on. Ultimately, “What do you want? I’m in the middle of something!” is how he chooses to respond to his wife.

Stay tuned to learn how Sarina’s brain reacts to that.

Mozelle Forman is a clinical social worker in private practice for 20 years.
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