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The limbic system, or the protective center of the brain, is constantly keeping us safe from perceived threats. If we are trying to change beliefs or do something new that is outside of a previously established agreement within our psyche, the limbic system has a protection program to keep us from changing. It is hardwired to keep our biochemistry and our behavioirs the same, even if it’s the biochemistry of fear or disease. Simply put, the brain favors familiar over what is in our highest good.
Limbic system resistance to change can look like the following examples:

  • Feeling unmotivated/procrastination to work on a project that could lead to success or happiness
  • Being easily distracted from your routine for self care/exercise/mediation
  • Lack of emotional desire or excitement in your life keeping your from really trying to create the life you want
  • Increased symptoms when trying to heal from illness or create healthy new habits
  • Acting “young” around your parents or loved ones. Acting out old patterns of behavior and not being in your full adult consciousness.
  • Feeling overwhelmed with the slightest effort to change a circumstance in your life
  • Having the same habitual negative feelings despite doing a lot of therapy or process work
  • Being unable to recall positive memories or unable to create future visualizations without stressful responses.

Sometimes we cannot directly move into the feelings or behaviors we desire and we have to find a “backdoor” into the desired emotional/consciousness state. There are several ways of sneaking past the limbic protection programming to rewire our brains into a higher vibrational consciousness pattern. When doing belief/emotional process work or brain rewiring practices, I have found the following approaches helpful.
Ask yourself questions instead of trying to outright stating an affirmation, a new belief or vision. For example instead of saying “I am vibrantly healthy and strong!”, you might ask instead “Why is it I feel more vibrant and healthy today?” The brain gets tricked into immediately looking for the answer to our questions. It starts to look for evidence to support that question. Or “I wonder what would help me feel more vibrantly healthy today?” When we say a statement that we don’t feel is true, we will block that idea. But asking a question interrupts that protective process in the brain.
Embody the feeling/emotion of a certain word. For example, what does the word “I am CERTAIN” feel like? BE the word. Here are some powerful words to practice embodying: happy, vibrant, powerful, capable, magical, inspired, joyful. Sometimes we can change how we perceive ourselves or our situation when we “become” a word that is more in line with what we want.Metaphoric expression. Sometimes the limbic system will allow us to move past blockages by becoming something or someone else and using shamanic concepts of metaphor and symbol we can introduce new meaning into our psyche. For example if you are stuck in situation you can pretend to be a certain animal that is caught in a trap and is able to wiggle its way out of the trap and find it’s freedom. What does it feel like to be that animal when it can run and express itself freely again? Act out the whole seen where you are metaphorically expressing your own feelings of stuck/trapped and finding freedom and ability to move past that experience.Music/Dance. Music and movement trigger the limbic system to relax it’s protective mechanism. You can also act out the emotions or sing them out and then move into movements or sounds that are more positive. I love “5rhythms” dancing to move through limbic blockages.
Get into the body rather than the just the mind. I love somatic movements to engage whole brain state- I like the somatic practices from Feldenkrais, Hanna Somatics, or Alexander Technique.
Reframe the past- What other perspectives can you find? Or even change the memory in the way you wish it would have happened as part of your brain rewiring practice. And then make a new belief state or agreement based on this rewrite.
Engage mirror neurons by having a companion do a process or visualization where they are able to move into positive feeling emotional states, then do your process following them. The brain doesn’t know the difference between you and them. Mirror neuron work is very powerful, which is why workshops often have much more profound effect than individual private process work.
Ask a partner to facilitate your process work or visualization practice. Adding another mindset to help prompt you through “sticky spots” in the process work is helpful.Essential oil techniques can be powerful to assist the limbic system to “diffuse” its protective grip on keeping you stuck in a limited perspective
Focus on any better feeling thought or behavior for now. Let go of trying to solve the current issue or emotional state and do anything to get yourself into better feeling state (more of a whole brain state). Revisit the issue when your vibrational frequency has shifted into a more positive, whole brain state. You cannot shift resistance while in the same conscious brain pattern of a low vibration emotional state that created the resistance. You almost need to “forget” about the issue you are resistant to, and once you are feeling different, then revisit it to address it.
Sometimes we cannot move past our current blockage until we are willing to just “put it on the shelf” and get back to our “main adult personality”. Once we are in a more positive/aligned state, we are much more able to move past the limbic protective mechanisms.
And the hardest one- patiently allowing yourself to co-exist with the uncomfortable feelings, without distracting off from it by emotionally detaching from any story, or meaning you have to that resistance pattern. Become the curious observer of your experience without trying to “fix” or “better” yourself. Allow yourself to be human and watch the resistance around your perceived blockage to melt on its own simply through detachment of story line and being fully with the body sensations in the present moment. Know that presence is enough to move through the situation.
One method I use in my programs that has been the very effective for limbic resistance are my customized brain rewiring attunements. You can read more here…or experience them in my Portal of Primal Trust Mentorship training. Repatterining our memory structures and gaining conscious mastery over our inner sub-personalities, like the pleaser, controller, or perfectionist can make a major impact on our resistance patterns.
The protective mechanisms of the limbic system are “filters” that decide what perspectives to have and are activated by certain structures of our brain, such as the amygdala and insula. When these structures are active, our ability to be creative, to make new choices, to be in a more conscious state is very limited. So we do things to try to get into a whole brain state, where our prefrontal cortex engagement is more dominant, and the ventral root of the vagus nerve is signaling the safety and connection pathways. There may be a latent period where even though we are doing things to get into a better emotional/vibrational state, the limbic system pathways are still activated. This is the space between having new choices/perspectives available to you and still experiencing the uncomfortable limbic emotional/thought state. This is part where faith comes in. Having the certainty that by being present with whatever is happening and doing your best to try to engage a whole brain state and trusting that at some point a tipping point will occur. This tipping point is when the pathways to the prefrontal cortex are activated long enough and strongly enough to send the signal to the limbic system to down regulate the amygdala and other protective structures of the brain. Sometimes this lag time will feel like your efforts to get into a better feeling perspective are in vain. But they are not, it’s just matter of reaching a certain threshold in our brain state activation.

Cathleen King, DPT

I'm an expert on chronic illness, chronic trauma, relationship/attachment repair, and inner child healing. I’ve got the rare combination of in-depth doctoral-level education and training as a physical therapist, and many years of coaching others in wellness and lifestyle education. And, I have been through my own heroine’s journey of spending nearly 2 decades of my life navigating through deep, debilitating illness and finally found my way out!

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