In 2008 Harvard trained neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor, gave a talk, “My Stroke of Insight.” It has now been viewed over 25 million times and remains one of the most popular TED talks ever. It was the first TED talk to go viral on the Internet and as a result both TED and Dr. Taylor became globally famous. Within three months of delivering the talk, she was chosen as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World for 2008. She was the premier guest on Oprah’s Soul Series webcast, her memoir was published by Penguin Books, and it spent 63 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
In the talk she shared with the audience her story of surviving a massive cerebral hemorrhage in which the left hemisphere of her brain shut down and the right hemisphere became dominant. She described how she, through the eyes of a neuroscientist, watched with fascination as her circuits and faculties went off-line. She took the audience on a mind-expanding journey into the deterioration of her own left brain whereby she shifted into a state of peaceful euphoria and oneness with the universe, unlike anything she had ever known.
“Underlying the functional differences between our two hemispheres,”
says Dr. Taylor
“are neurons that process information in unique ways. The left hemisphere works linearly and methodically and is all about the past and the future, while the right hemisphere functions like a parallel processor bringing multiple streams of data that simultaneously reveal a single complex moment of experience.”
It took her eight years to fully recover and her journey opened my heart, mind, and soul to the beautiful and mysterious power of our brains. Dr. Taylor offers a window into how we can get to know the four main Characters in our brain that guide our destiny. But she didn’t stop there.
“In my heart the talk failed to accomplish the one thing I had hoped I would do. I wanted us, as human beings, to recognize that we are connected as part of a whole, and I wished for us to treat one another with a higher degree of respect and kindness. Instead, our civility toward one another has clearly decayed over the past decade or more.”
In her new book, Whole Brain Living: The Anatomy of Choice and the Four Characters That Drive Our Life, Dr. Taylor offers hope that we can reclaim our partnership roots with ourselves, our family, friends, communities, and life on planet Earth. As a psychotherapist, who specializes in helping men and the women who love them to live fully and love deeply, I find Dr. Taylor’s work profoundly important.
Our Four Characters: How We Think, Feel, and Love
“I am a brain enthusiast,”
says Dr. Taylor.
“But, beyond the beauty of this amazing organ we all have inside our heads, it is our remarkable brain cells that manifest our choices and abilities. When we understand which cells manifest which of our abilities, the more power we have to choose who and how we want to be in any moment.”
She goes on to say,
“I learned the hard way that we each have four distinctive groups of cells in our brains, divided between our two brain hemispheres, that generate four consistent and predictable personalities. Neuroanatomically these four groups of cells make up the left and right-thinkingcenters of our higher cerebral cortex, as well as our left and right emotional centers of our lower limbic system. I consider my new book, Whole Brain Living, to be a roadmap to the four different ‘Characters’ inside your brain. The better you know your Four Characters, the easier your life will become.”
Since all information comes into the brain first through our emotional centers, Dr. Taylor says we are all “feeling beings who think, rather than thinking beings who feel.” The philosopher, René Descartes’ dictum cogito, ergo sum, (Latin: “I think, therefore I am), whose views have greatly influenced our culture, demonstrates the imbalance towards our thinking centers which have come to overshadow our emotional centers.
Character 1. This rational character in your left-brain thinking is amazingly gifted at creating order in the external world. This part of your brain defines what is right/wrong and what is good/bad based upon its moral compass. It is also our left-brain Character 1 that triggers our stress response since it is a perfectionist in all it does.
Dr. Taylor suggests we name each of our brain characters as a way to begin to become intimate with these unique characters within us. She calls her Character 1, Helen.
“She is Hell on wheels and gets things done.”
I call my Character 1, Jaydij for Just Do It, Jed. This character is action oriented, takes no prisoners. He is impatient and jumps to creating solutions, often before he gets all the facts. Rather than taking his time–On your mark, get set, go–he often “goes off” quickly, never needing to get ready or set. This can, and often, does cause problems with relationships.
As you get to know your own Character 1, you will come up with your own name and learn his or her characteristics. Dr. Taylor lists some of the characteristics of Character 1 as follows:
- Organizes and categorizes everything.
- Divides people into we and they.
- Is protective of our people and suspicious of those people.
- Plans well.
- Respects authority.
- Critically judges right and wrong, good and bad.
- Interested in details and differences.
- Counts everything.
Character 2. The left-brain emotional character is preoccupied with one vital question: “Am I safe?” This is the core issue for any intimate relationship as well as our very survival through our long evolutionary history. Making a wrong decision was literally a life and death issue, particularly for women. Picking a partner who was not safe put women at risk of sudden death from predators, from males from other tribes who might cause harm to her or her children, as well as from a potentially untrustworthy partner. For men, the risk was also there, but the threat of death was less imminent.
Character 2 is often powered by a familiar feeling of unease that stems from either a traumatized or out-of-control past. As a result, this Character 2 part of our brain may end up feeling either “less than” or “not worthy.” It can also bring up fears of abandonment. That’s why I call the Character 2 part of my brain, Aban.
A great deal of the conflicts I have had in relationships can be traced back to my fears that my safety and security needs were being threatened.
Dr. Taylor says some of the most important characteristics of Character 2 include:
- Anger and name-calling when upset.
- Feels guilty.
- Internalizes shame.
- Loves conditionally.
- Negative self-judgment.
- Experiences a great deal of anxiety and worry.
- Blames others.
Where Characters 1 and 2, address issues of our past and future, our right brain Characters 3 and 4 are all about the present moment.
Character 3. The right-brain emotional, is our experiential self that seeks similarities rather than differences with other people. It wants to connect, explore, and go on adventures with others. The way the present moment feels is delicious, and sharing time, having fun, or deeply connecting through empathy can be gratifying for everyone.
I call my Character 3, Jeddy, the endearing name my wife, Carlin, calls me when we are feeling the most connected and playful. Jeddy is like a big joyful puppy dog. He is spontaneous, exuberant, unrestrained. He may unexpectedly jump into your lap and lick your face. He also can overwhelm you with his barks of delight and may even pee here and there when he is overly excited.
Dr. Taylor says some of the most important characteristics of Character 3 include:
Character 4. The right-brain thinking character which exists as our most peaceful, open, and loving self. Our Character 4 is right here, right now, and completely invested in celebrating the gift of life with immense gratitude, acceptance, openness, and love. I call my Character 4, Lovers. My Tarot deck says the card VI, Lovers, is “symbolized by the conjoined male and female, is the law of union—oneness through the marriage of opposites.”
Along with the right-brain feeling Character 3, Character 4 is what Dr. Taylor experienced in all its magnificence when the left-side of her brain was incapacitated due to the brain hemorrhage.
“This is the part of our consciousness, right thinking brain that we share with one another and all other life,”
says Dr. Taylor.
“I see the brain cells underlying our Character 4 as the portal through which the energy of the universe enters into and fuels every cell of our body. It is the all-knowing intelligence from which we came, and it is how we incarnate the consciousness of the universe.”
Dr. Taylor says some of the most important characteristics of Character 4 include:
- Aware: I am connected to all that is.
- Expansive: I am open to possibilities and value the big picture.
- Accepting: I am curious about what is and accept all of life’s experiences.
- Embraces change.
- Generous of Spirit.
- Connected: In the consciousness of the cosmic flow I embrace the timeless, all-knowing part of myself that is connected to all that is.
The Brain Huddle: Your Power Tool for Peace
One of the challenges of life is being able to balance our individual me-ness with the larger we-ness that is required to have a successful relationship with another person as well as all parts of ourselves. Dr. Taylor says that bringing our Characters together can help, particularly when Character 2 is terrified and acts out.
In my book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come, I talked about the importance of understanding Stage 3, Disillusionment, which is where many couples get off track. Before that happens most often the couple have Character 2s that are freaking out and in conflict.
What Dr. Taylor calls a “brain huddle” enables us to bring each of our Characters together to figure out what is best. When Character 2, Aban, is terrified, irritable, and angry when he feels uncared for, we can meet with Character 1, Jaydij, my playful and interactive, Character 3 Jeddy, along with the Character 4, Lovers. The more we get to know our various brain Characters, the more we learn how we can work together to heal the inevitable conflicts that arise in our relationships.
Dr. Taylor’s book has a whole chapter on The Brain Huddle and much more detail about the Four Characters. You can learn more here. If you’d like to receive my free weekly newsletter with articles and opportunities to live fully, love deeply and make a positive difference in the world, you can do so here. I enjoy hearing from you. Please send your comments and questions.
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