Emotional Healing: Instant Gratification / Long Term Rewards

Golden Willow Retreat

Whenever there is loss, there is a tendency for high impulsivity, in which behaviors are often highly impulsive and reactive.

There is a reason for this type of behavior, and this type of behavior is common and related to what the brain does after loss. When there is loss, the brain moved into survival mode as the foundation of one’s reality of themselves and the world around them has changed.

The loss of this foundation causes the brain to react due to consciously, or unconsciously, thinking the person is dying, not only the definition of how they perceived themselves.

When this survival part of the brain kicks into gear, the future is almost negated or at least becomes overwhelming.

After loss most people find themselves focused on the lost (which is in the past) and overwhelmed by the future. As the past and the future collide, the present is in a freefall and the brain is not responding to the present.

As this “freefall” happens the brain is only interested in getting out of the present discomfort due to brain thinking the future may not exist, so it needs to react quickly and get someone out of their immediate issue. When contemplating this idea, it may not make sense, because why would someone just be reactive and not be making decisions that may not serve them in the long run?

Pertaining to this topic, this column will simplify the brain into two sections. Part of the brain is for survival (limbic system) and the other part is for sustainability (pre-frontal cortex).

When someone has loss, the brain moves to survival which is to immediately get out of the pain and work towards instant gratification, while the pre-frontal cortex is programmed to long-term rewards. To jump out of discomfort, a person may become impulsive, causing reactive behaviors that serve for the second but maybe not for the long run.

Behaviors that come to mind are addictive behaviors such as drug, alcohol, promiscuous behaviors, porn, impulsive shopping, rageful acts, dangerous behaviors, and any other behaviors that, in the long run, can be detrimental to someone’s health mentally, emotionally, physically, and/or spiritually.

It is almost as if the brain doesn’t care about how actions may have consequences and only cares about that moment. What is interesting is most people don’t know they are in this state of mind, while in an instant gratification mode which makes it more difficult to think that, “this action may hurt me in the long-run.”

As emotional healing happens and the grief process has time to reestablish the neurological pathways to the pre-frontal cortex, long-term goals and rewards can start to override instant gratification. Self-discipline and being conscious of actions are not usually the path of least resistance, but can lead to a higher quality of life, and allow sustainability, stamina and perseverance.

Trying to be conscious of what part of the brain is driving your actions, can help decrease impulsive and harmful actions. Taking a moment to see if an action will serve someone in the long-run can help reestablish the pre-frontal cortex as the dominant navigator of behaviors with a higher quality of life.

I wish you well, and until the next column, take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct questions or learn more about virtual grief groups to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, Founder of Golden Willow Retreat GWR@newmex.com or call at 575.776.2024.