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Getting to Know Your 3 Brains Part 5: The Challenges to Becoming Aware

getting to know your three brains

Read more about getting to know your three brains: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

For most of us, at least initially, there exists an uphill battle to pay attention to our three brains — even though it is ultimately very good for us. Since the foremost goal of humans (from an evolutionary standpoint) is to survive external danger, we are biased to attend to the external world. Looking inside takes willfulness.

Yet, we know that when our Self is aware of our three brains and “talks” to them, all of us think, feel and function better. Why then, do so many people continue to suffer when working with the three brains could help? Many good reasons!

Rightfully so, we are sometimes afraid, uncomfortable or reluctant to get in touch with our internal world. Here are a few reasons that come to my mind on why deeply knowing our internal world is hard. I bet you could add some more!

  • You forget to focus inward.
  • It takes too much work.
  • You choose not to know yourself deeply.
  • You don’t believe it will help.
  • You need the encouragement of another.
  • You can’t get out of your head and into your body.
  • What you find is too emotionally painful.
  • What you find, you judge as a personal flaw.
  • What you find feels physically painful.
  • What you find conflicts with your beliefs or morality.
  • What you find scares you.
  • What you find, you cannot assimilate, validate, or work with.
  • What you find causes awful sensations to be felt (i.e., the floor falling out from beneath you or you feel like you will evaporate or disappear).
  • What you find you think others can’t accept.

These are excellent reasons NOT to be aware of the three brains and the SELF. Not being aware then is a form of self-protection from all of the above.

Obstacles can be overcome by tending to our inner world while we feel safe at the same time. In fact, establishing safety as you get to know your internal world is fundamental to everything I have shared in this series. None of us want to be traumatized (any more than we already have been) by diving into our deepest self only to feel worse. I want to leave you with the idea that it is absolutely possible to increase awareness of your emotional world in a way that feels good-enough so you can reap the benefits I outlined in Part 1 of this series.

We can overcome most of the above obstacles above by first getting education on how emotions and trauma affect us. We also benefit from learning how the brain and mind heal. I recommend books on trauma, like Getting Through The Day by Nancy Napier, and books on how the brain changes like Mindsight by Dan Siegel and How the Brain Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. Education helps us understand that there are reasons for what we are experiencing — it’s not just that we are “crazy” or “damaged.” As I have written elsewhere on The Change Triangle, understanding the brain and how to work with our thoughts and emotions, shows us a path to wellness that is predictable and makes sense. Education on the brain reduces our shame about suffering and about needing others.

Sometimes we need outside help. Therapists trained in AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy), EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing), Somatic Experiencing, and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, are just some of the methodologies that emphasize the three brains. Or if you prefer doing it on your own, there are many self-help tools like audiotapes that help guide you through your inner world. I love listening to Pema Chodron’s Getting Unstuck and Unconditional Confidence. Lastly, I write notes to myself in my iPhone calendar that say things like, “Remember to slow down and check in with your emotions.”

I think of our internal world as an ocean. Depending on our viewpoint, oceans can seem ominous and scary or beautiful and magical. Looking at your three brains through a lens of fear, judgment, and physical constriction is like swimming in the undertow: Fear, judgment and constriction will make your three brains seem like dangerous territory. But if we can shift from fear and judgment to curiosity and compassion, we embrace what we discover. We come to accept what we find. Thoughts, feelings and physical sensations become experiences to work with for our own wellbeing. With practice, we get comfortable allowing thoughts, emotions, and body sensations to flow as we notice them. When we can do that, we have great power to heal from the past and deal effectively with life’s present challenges.

Approaching the three brains from an informed, relaxed, curious, compassionate, and non-judgmental stance opens us up to seeing what’s interesting, beautiful, and colorful about us even though we also feel pain. Then, when the waves of challenge or adversity tumble us down, a “trigger,” we can ride those waves back to the shore, where calm and peace await. We will emerge again each time wiser, stronger and feeling better about both our SELF and others.

Getting to Know Your 3 Brains Part 5: The Challenges to Becoming Aware

Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW

Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, takes the complex world of emotions and makes them easy to understand for all. She is author of the award-winning self-help book, “It’s Not Always Depression: Working the Change Triangle to Listen to the Body, Discover Core Emotions, and Connect to Your Authentic Self” (Random House & Penguin UK, 2018). She is a certified psychoanalyst and AEDP psychotherapist and supervisor. Hilary’s blog on emotions and how to use them for wellbeing is read worldwide.For more FREE resources on emotions and emotional health, visit:

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APA Reference
Jacobs Hendel, H. (2018). Getting to Know Your 3 Brains Part 5: The Challenges to Becoming Aware. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 23 Sep 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.