Biochemical Model

The Biochemical Model teaches that “feelings” are actually biochemical interactions  that connect the brain and body in a constant dance of two way communication. Scientific research has shown that feelings affect every cell in the body, and if what one is feeling on an ongoing basis is stress, anxiety, worry, confusion, overwhelm, frustration, guilt or any other body-constricting, alarm-raising feeling, then this chemistry of emotion will not only affect health and life span, but also motivation and relationships.Synapses in the brain

How does this happen? On the surface of every cell there are thousands of receptor molecules that act like the key hole on a door. A neuropeptide is the unique key that unlocks those doors, activating the cell. Dr. Candace Pert PhD, former Chief of Brain Biochemistry at the National Institutes of Health and author of Molecules of Emotion, discovered that cells have a receptor (key hole) for opium. This sent the scientific community scrambling to find the body’s natural painkiller, or neuropeptide that fit into the opium key hole. After all, if there was a key hole, then there also had to be a key. That key was the neuropeptide called an endorphin. This discovery confirmed that the brain, specifically the limbic system, makes chemicals (such as endorphins) that create emotional states. In other words, feelings are caused by neuropeptide chemicals, created in the limbic system and communicated to all parts of the body.

The Limbic System is made up of the hypothalamus, thalamus, amygdala, hippocampus and several other structures. It is an ancient part of the brain and one of the first to form in the fetus.  The Limbic System works to keep the body in balance by regulating emotions, the immune system, thirst, hunger, sex drive, circadian rhythms, blood sugar levels, blood pressure, heart rate, motivation and memory. It is also responsible for converting short term memories into long term memories. Working together, the various structures in the limbic system are like movie cameras that record events in life. They take in information from all the senses (smell, taste, sight, sound and touch), attach a chemical signature (neuropeptide), and then store important information into long term memory. That chemical signature may represent joy, sexual arousal, jealousy, frustration, anger or anything that would complete the sentence “I feel …”.

The limbic system is constantly working to quickly and efficiently match current sensory information with stored memories (each with a chemical signature). When it finds a match, the neuropeptides (or emotions) associated with those memories are sent to every cell in the body, telling the cells to do something. The resulting feeling could be anything from fear to joy and the resulting action could also be anything from hiding from danger, to playing a musical instrument. When the chemistry goes through the body its effect is almost immediate like the fight or flight response of seeing a dangerous animal on the path ahead, or barely avoiding an auto accident. This is how the limbic system translates sensory information into instinctual or automatic behavior. These rapid changes can raise the heart rate, raise blood pressure and suppress the immune system. This is how the limbic system affects our health, our motivation and the quality of our relationships, all below our conscious awareness.

This is also how undesirable emotional patterns, buttons, or triggers that are created . To learn more about these patterns read the Thinking Model.

photo courtesy of rajcreationzs and