Mark Goulston M.D., F.A.P.A.

Just Listen

Right Brain, Left Brain; Left Brain, Right Brain...yadda, yadda, yadda

The left brain thinks, the right brain feels...

Posted Dec 04, 2009

It's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you.
- Batman (from Batman Returns)

The left brain analyzes, the right brain intuits; the left brain thinks, the right brain feels; the left brain is logical, the right brain is emotional.  AM radio is news, FM is music. Yin and yang. It’s not a zero sum game. Both sides are necessary and to get into the debate of which is more important is to waste the value that both perspectives have to offer any challenge.

Sometimes they can be coordinated, more often they compete (ergo the “rational” man vs. the “irrational” woman problem; or conversely the “detail oriented” woman vs. the “silly” man problem), in the best of times they interact synergistically, rarely do they integrate with each other.

Although actions should be informed by what you think and also be somewhat in sync with what you feel, I have seen increasingly more people unable to take constructive, definite, proactive action because they become incapacitated by becoming obsessed with thoughts and/or overwhelmed by feelings.

When I worked with couples in my clinical practice, I often saw communication and consequently involvement come to a standstill when the more emotionally inclined person would not venture into a rift unless things felt right; whereas the more logically disposed would hold back until the situation made logical sense.

I remember one session when the emotionally upset women said quite accurately to her husband: “Just because I am emotional, doesn’t mean I’m irrational; and just because you’re logical, doesn’t mean you’re rational.”  She was correct.

What’s the answer? It’s to accept that both left brain and right brain are not opposites, locked in a “zero sum” no win competition, but that they are more like an X and Y axis and the truth (and correct solution to any challenge) lies neither solely on one axis or the other but on some “coordinate” sharing inputs from both sides out on the graph (i.e. the world).

As Batman implied what you think or feel may be who you are to you, but what you do is who you are and your value to the world. And the more that what you do is informed by both your left and right brains (vs. neither in mindless reflex) the more likely it will add value to rather than take away value from whatever situation you're facing.

EPILOGUE: More than thirty years ago I was attending a meeting of the Topeka Analytic Society.  At that time it was a fairly austere, Freudian group and one of its senior analysts had returned to give a "report from the coast" on all the "New Age" therapeutic approaches that were happening in California.  With nearly everything he said, he put down the California therapy he was describing.  You could hear the, "Here, here's" in agreement in the conservative body to justify their solidarity in decrying these "rogue" approaches.  But this is how he ended his presentation: "In conclusion, the unanalyzed life is not worth living..." (again you could hear the group say, "yes" in unison, however after a several second pause, he added his true conclusion: "But the unlived life is not worth analyzing."