Reflections on Whole Brain Living: Getting to Know Your Character 2

Read part 1 here.


Then, let us continue.


1. Do you recognize your Character 2? Pause for a moment and imagine yourself engaging in Character two behaviors. Picture yourself feeling resentment or jealousy, or whatever your core issues are. Do you have strategies to calm this circuitry, or does your Character 2 tend to seep out into your life in unloving ways?

The other day at the Galleria, a wave of resentment hit me. My wife and I weaved through the weekend afternoon Traffic, the Saturday before Christmas. We waited to park the car on a high level floor. And eventually we got in, only to bump shoulders with a thick crowd and spend a considerable amount of dough. Before we left, this fretful anxiety began oozing out of me. What lit the fuse, however, was browsing a ten dollar pair of socks at Urban. I thought, how funky, I should get them. But then, my higher order brain said, “Bro, what are you going to do with an extra pair. Let’s go.” And mentally I had a fit.

My wife asks what’s wrong, and I tell her about the socks, about the traffic, about a nurse who had been rude to me in a clinic two months ago, about how I want to start boxing, yadda yadda. All this anger rushed forth. So that by the time we got in the car I was upset at being upset! This sounds like my lower limbic brain, Character 2. It had stored up all the drama of the winter, and vomited it all out when the pressure tipped.


2. What does Character 2 feel like inside of your body? Do you feel anger, anxiety, or panic very often? How do you hold your body or change your voice when Character 2 comes online?

My voice squeaks. I spout incoherencies. I bring up old ish. The world around me falls apart, as I stare directly at the person bothering me. Eyes squinted. Chin forward. Teeth gnawed. It probably happens more often than I would like. Character 2 is the one that stores all painful memories, so it can bring them to consciousness. Warning! Watch out! Remember this!? If I am in an argument, sure, it makes sense. But sometimes I will get home, brain fried after 9 hours plopped in a chair, on a day I skipped my workout, when all this anxiety surges out from my bowels like a burst pipeline of someone else’s sewage. I don’t like this part of me. Yet it’s always there. Collecting bile. Amassing day to day annoyances, as well as other people’s drama.


3. We have already noted that our Character 2 reflects the Jungian archetype of the Shadow, which is by definition the most primitive part of our brain. Our Character 2 is a part of our unconscious brain that may be unknown or outright rejected by our conscious Character 1. If you tend to keep your emotions under wraps, you may not recognize your Character 2 at all.

Here Dr Taylor starts to lose me. First, this is not even a question! But let’s take it like a conversation, and string out a reply. I wonder, is not our reptilian brain the most primitive part of our brain? Alas, the limbic system is pretty old too. It’s all emotions. All memory of painful events. Triggering the “pissed off” function. But also flooding my body with the dull pain of anxiety, the “uh oh” of “what’s going on?”

Every once in a while I try to do my “shadow work” that is, I hold a conference with my different desires. Whenever things are not going my way that is, especially because of my own actions or inaction. Then it is time to ask myself the three-word question: wtf? Sometimes I don’t move forward with a desire, because of legitimate Character 1 reasons. I want to sign up for a boxing gym, for example. But the cost, the time spent away from my writing, and the risk of joining the wrong gym are enough to keep my at my free apartment gym following my own routine.

Other times I don’t move forward with a desire, because of acceptable Character 2 feelings. I wanted to apply to the Ford Foundation Fellowship. It is a generous scholarship to ease the burden of doctoral studies. But after 187 literary magazine rejections this year, plus 2 artists grants rejections, not to mention I am waiting to hear from 2 other fellowships, while twisting my beard until 10 other magazines respond . . . I said to hell with Ford. I didn’t feel like asking the same recommenders for letters to yet another foundation I sort of believe in, an application which would take 10-15 hours just to prepare while taking my first semester finals at UH . . . all for the 99% chance of failure? No, no, my Character 1 stepped in and rationalized the decision. But it was my Character 2 pouring me the tall glass of FU.

Of course there are illegitimate Character 2 feelings, but I cite my aforementioned mental fit at the Galleria. Plus the examples to follow.


4. Assuming you can identity your left-brain emotional Character 2, do you value this character, or does this part of your brain scare you? How much of the time do you let this character run your life, and under what circumstances?

It pretty much is my default, I hate to say. My Character 1 is pretty extroverted, so I normally present a a wink and a smile to strangers I met. But when it comes time to paying a bill at a hospital, or going on a grocery run, or spending money in any sense, the conservative tie-on-too-tight reminds me I hate to spend money! And I am the guy doing reiki to his toothpaste tube, just to squeeze out that LAST DROP of goo. I wish I could credit my Character 1 here (“being scrupulous”). But it is my Character 2 (“WE ARE POOR, YOU FOOL!”) feeling: an anxiety that tomorrow will never come because on some yesterday I had to choose between wearing an extra sweater to bed, or spending my rent money on the electric bill.


5. As you think about your Left Emotional Character 2, can you assign it an appropriate name?

I am tempted to call this part of my brain Panic!, like the emo band from the 2000s. Exclamation and all. That’s because this is the part of the brain that ran my life in middle school and high school. Always scowling. Always mad at everyone. Every little thing bothered me. And I was an overall winey. I say it now with love, because back then there was none. From my side, I mean. All emo, no emotions. If only I had been attended to other people’s struggle, their pain, then I would not have been so focused on my own. Like a one hit wonder, I kept playing the same old tune of “Why me?” And this is, as I understand it, the classic opening track on the album of Character 2. Followed by “Hell no,” “Watch out,” and “You suck, I suck, we all suck.”


6. Who are some of the Character 2s over the course of your life who have influenced you, in positive or negative ways? Were you emboldened by those encounters or repressed by them?

I was shaking my head, a few pages earlier in the book, where Dr Taylor gives us a snapshot of Character 2: Name calls, deceives, guilt trips, internalizes shame, loves conditionally, self-judges negatively, anxious all the time, whines, blames. This perfectly describes an ex of mine. And the fact that she comes to mind, and that part of me hopes she is reading this and weeping, tells me she is well seeped in my own Character 2 limbic brain. Always blaming others. Never satisfied with herself. She could flip from arrogant to spiteful in three seconds; from tears down her cheeks to rolling her eyes in two. It emboldened me to do the same to other women. And I beat myself up for letting her get to me

On the other hand, my grandfather is pretty petty himself. And I have purposefully repressed his genes in myself, except when I have needed to stand up to someone in real life; when I have been cheated or played for real and I defended myself. Then it pays to be judgemental, emotional, and biting. So thank you, Character 2, for keeping me afloat in this cruel, cruel world.


7. Who in your life appreciates, cares for, identifies with, and wants to hang out with your Character 2? What are those relationships like?

Funny enough, when I reconnected with my middle school friends not long ago, I rekindled some of the most important friendships in my life. We joke about one another, make fun of the world, and are brutally honest about our shortcomings, as well as our successes. The kind of friends you can share good news and bad news with. It’s almost all emotion and no thinking about things. And having history feels good. Everything can be a reference, with nostalgia only a phrase away, “Remember . . .”. It was Freshmen year of college when we all started handing out together. And I felt valued, funny, and myself. And I hope I made my boys feel the same way too.


8. Who in your life does not get along with your Character 2?

I guess any car dealer, shop mechanic, secretary, nurse, coworker, or employee of some sort who overcharged me; or worse, who charged me fairly but I felt wronged.


9. What kind of parent, partner, or friend is your Character 2?

Definitely my Character 2 is the ‘asshole friend’ inside of me. I can’t get rid of him. And he is just funny and useful enough to keep around. Plus he would never leave me. I could call him all sorts of names, but Panic! sticks by me. His loyalty is astounding.


10. Again, I don’t mean to jump too far ahead of myself, but it’s important to consider: What is the relationship like inside your head between your Character 2 and your other characters? Does your Character 2 respect and value your other characters, or does it relish disagreeing with and antagonizing them?

If I had to be honest, I would say that Character 2 always gets the first word. But rarely the last one. It’s my default to react, to feel robbed, to want things my way. But over the course of my life, being called “bossy” or “extra” or “unreasonable” has really, and socially, pummeled my Character 2 down to the size and shape of a gremlin inside my head. It still pops up all the time, yet it maintains a cordial relationship with its buddy Character 1. Charles is always making excuses for and lending money to Panic!. So they are chill. My other characters, I haven’t read about yet, so I can only guess things are cool between them.

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  1. Pingback: Reflections on Whole Brain Living: Getting to Know your Character 4 - Iván Brave

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