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Discovering Men’s True Nature

reactions are still only efforts to fight or flee perceived danger.

by Charles Glassman, MD

udging by some of our behavior, men oftentimes seem not to have changed much from our prehistoric ancestors. What is it that drives the competitive, aggressive nature of many men? Are woman any different? In December 2009, at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago, researchers presented MRI findings revealing that when faced with danger, men’s and women’s brains respond differently. When viewing negative images, men showed activity that was more pro- nounced in the area of the brain involved with involuntary functions, including sweating, heart rate and digestion. In oth- er words, activation of this area evokes what most people consider a typical ‘fight or flight response’, telling men to either face up to or run from danger. Women, on the other hand, showed activity that is more pro- nounced in the left thalamus, which controls the pain and pleasure areas of the brain, meaning that they may react on a more emotional level, the research suggests. But are we really so different? The ‘fight or flight’ response can include a wide spectrum of behaviors and thoughts. Men and women pos- sess what I have termed the ‘automatic brain’ or AB. Each gender responds to perceived danger, threat or vulner- ability in only two ways—fight or flight. The thalamus (where the above study shows women respond) is actually a part of the same autonomic nervous system (limbic system) that causes the very typical physiological reactions that happen automatically when we feel endangered. Therefore, although men and women may seemingly behave differently in response to danger, the

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Women’s automatic brains help them fight or flee with behaviors that are more emotional, whereas men might do so more physically, which on the surface appears more aggressive and competitive.

The Key to Happiness –

Understanding Our Behavior Although it is important to understand someone else, it is much more impor- tant to understand ourselves. Lao Tzu, in the Tao de Ching, wrote, “Under- standing others is wisdom; understand- ing yourself is enlightenment.” So, men, let’s start understanding ourselves. Indeed, much of our behaviors are driven by a primitive, mechanistic brain which is not much different from that of our cave dwelling ancestors. And if unaware of this primitive influence, anything—person, place or thing—that makes us feel endangered, threatened or vulnerable will be enough to flip the switch on and prepare us to fight or flee. The danger may be as simple as someone taller than you at a party, someone cutting ahead of you in the checkout line or the vulnerability may be not getting to a sporting event on time. From simple to complex, our brain will always default to the worst- case scenario in order to ‘protect’ us. This is what gets us in trouble.

What Happens When the

Switch is Flipped On? Take this situation for example. During the course of one day, someone cuts you off on the road, the doctor says you have high blood pressure and the waitress brings you cold food. Your neighbor then tells you that he’s build- ing a pool and planning a two-week family trip to Bermuda. Your AB senses all these to be in some way dangers or threats and your switch will flip on, automatically, and often unbeknownst to you. The resultant fight or flight be- havior is unhealthy and uncomfortable.

Often it is manifest by aggressive and ‘counter’ competitive behavior.

Simple Steps When

in the Heat of the Battle 1. The very first step is removing your- self from the ‘danger’, either mentally or physically. For example, if your children or spouse flip your switch on, say that you need to take a brief time- out and will return in a minute or two when you have settled down.

2. Next, since your breath will quicken and become shallow when danger triggers your AB, you can consciously override this reflex by slowing the breath down and taking deliberate slow steady, deeper breaths. Counting the inhale and exhale helps. Try first count- ing to five for both inhale and exhale. As you get more experienced, I suggest counting to five on the inhale and ten on the exhale.

3. As your muscles tighten, picture one of your socks resting on your bed. See how the sock lies limply on the bed. Recite in your mind: ‘There is no danger, there is no threat’. As you recite this phrase, see your muscles—from the top of your head to your toes—become that limp sock. The most important muscles to relax are those on your face. Let them relax into a smile. Relaxed muscles will be more open to receive blood and thus be healthier and better prepared for any problems.

Where most of us go wrong is when we think that we have no control over what we call human nature. For men, this nature is the nature of being a man—chock full of machismo and testosterone. But our true nature and talents lie beyond the reflexive nature of our automatic brain. We will go a long way at clearing up our reputation as cavemen when we recognize this.

Charles Glassman, MD is the author of Brain Drain and has a private practice at the New York Center for Longevity & Wellness in Pomona. For more info call 362-1110 or visit

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