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Listen to Your Lizard Brain

February 28, 2019

“We were in the middle of dinner and he lost his temper,” a women shared with her ESD class during a conversation about boundary setting. “I'd never seen him lose his temper before, but somehow I wasn’t surprised. I knew, without question that I needed to get up and leave.”


Which is exactly what she did.


Even though she knew on an intellectual level that she’d done the right thing, her decision to leave had been sudden and impulsive. When she questioned it, her friends told her she'd “listened to her gut.”


And it’s a good thing she had. A few days after the breakup, she found out that her boyfriend of over five months had lost his job and lied about it. He’d yelled at her over the phone and sent a bunch angry emails.


Listening to her intuition - or lizard brain - had allowed her to remove herself from a threatening situation.


We all have a “lizard brain.”


“In the middle of the night

Miss Clavel turned on the light

and said, “Something is not right!"


And afraid of a disaster


Miss Clavei ran fast


and faster. . .”


~ Ludwig Bemelmans, Madeline



Our intuition doesn’t lie.


And there is actual scientific evidence to back that up. The limbic system, a network of parts located just above the brainstem, controls our fight, flight, and fear responses. Its structure is primitive yet powerful, and is often referred to as “lizard brain” because a lizard’s brain is nothing more than a limbic system.


​​Have you ever felt the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? Have you suddenly felt hot or cold? Has your heart skipped a beat or sped up?


Those are all sensations that some ESD instructors refer to as “Miss Clavel feelings,” and they’re all examples of your limbic system at work.


Self-defense classes, especially when they’re adrenaline-based like IMPACT, help wire our limbic systems by recognizing patterns and making certain responses, like fighting back, automatic.


An added bonus: It’s been scientifically proven that women have superior intuition. It’s a gift from our prehistoric ancestors, who needed strong intuition to keep their offspring alive. 


Why do we sometimes ignore our intuition?


“. . . we often don’t speak up because we don’t want to appear rude, or make the other person uncomfortable, or be seen as someone who causes trouble, or someone who has no ‘sense of humor’ or whatever lame societal excuses we use.”


~ The Safety Godmothers, Ellen Snortland & Lisa Gaeta


There’s an empty seat next to you on the bus. Somebody sits down right next to you. But there are plenty of other empty seats. You want to get up and move, but you don’t, even though something feels very off.


You’re invited to a party. But something inside you is telling you it would be better to stay home.


You’re on a date. You have a bad feeling. But you don’t cut the date short.




From the time we’re born, we receive messages about the importance of kindness. Our classrooms are decorated with signs with sayings like, “Spread kindness like confetti.” We’re told to share. We’re told not to hurt anyone’s feelings.