Command and Control

Dan Jenkins

About a week ago I heard President Bush mention that the United States is going to help the new Iraqi government build Command and Control Centers in order to fight the insurgency. When I heard the phrase, ‘Command and Control’ several recollections came to mind. I recall several years ago during the initial phase of the Iraqi war our primary objective was to knock out their command and control centers in order to create confusion and lack of direction among the troops loyal to Saddam Hussein. I also couldn’t help but relate this whole idea of command and control to how the mind works.

Individually, a lack of command and control takes a person down the path of confusion and chaos that is so characteristic of addictive behavior.

It’s been said that an army without the structure of command is led around by its privates. What an appropriate analogy for a sexual addiction! In fact, the rational thinking of your mind is done in the outer layer of your cerebral cortex, and that layer is only a few millimeters in thickness. The cortex makes all the big decisions and psychologists have come to refer to this activity as the ‘executive functions of the brain.’

Below the cortex, running through the heart of your brain like a wishbone, is the limbic system and the source of your emotions. The limbic system is concerned with only a few basic things.

When you walk into a room the first thing your limbic system does is threat assessment, ‘Should I fight or run?’ If there is no threat the question becomes, ‘Is it food and can I eat it?’ If it’s not food the final concern of the limbic system is, ‘Can I have sex with it?’ What do you think would happen if the executive functions that exert command and control over the lower levels of the brain were knocked out by, let us say, a strategically placed cruise missile? The brain would function like an army without an executive commander and the result would be chaos, lack of control, and yes, men being led around by their privates.

Did you know that there are more inhibitory neurons in your brain than there are excitatory neurons? In other words, more effort is spent mentally keeping you from doing things than the energy it takes to do things. Let me clarify this further with some examples. People with brain damage are often impulsive in their actions. They don’t seem to have the executive functions that inhibit impulsive acting out behavior. It takes effort for the rational side of your brain to control the impulsive, emotional side.

Now, add to this that the Limbic system, the emotional part of your brain, does not have an understanding of time or reality. Fantasy seems to satisfy almost as well as reality. For example, you fool your limbic system every time you create a sexual fantasy and your body becomes sexually aroused. You know in your cerebral cortex that this is not reality, but that old limbic system doesn’t seem to know or care.

What happens, then, when you give command and control functions over to that base, lower level, emotional part of your brain? Answer: You stop living in reality. You start living a life of impulsivity and chaos. People who have lost executive functions, either by brain damage or addictive processes, feel threatened by things that should not evoke a fight or flight response. Without command and control, people develop anxiety disorders (see threat everywhere), eat excessively, or become sexually out of control. Sound familiar?

When a person with brain damage has lost command and control over their behaviors, we don’t lay big guilt trip on them. The answer is fairly simple. We structure their environment so they are more likely to succeed. For example, sometimes mentally retarded individuals self-stimulate by banging their heads against a wall. Lectures and shame-based approaches don’t change the self-abusive behavior because it’s not based in rational thought. Instead, we take away a little of their freedom and make them wear a helmet.

People with sexual addictions need some external control too (no, not chastity belts). We call it accountability to someone else. Submit yourself to the authority of another person who can help you make those tough decisions. It’s humbling but the alternative is to stay emotionally retarded.

If your command and control centers are not functioning correctly, seek out someone else who will fulfill that function to some degree. I’ve known very intelligent men who are being led around by their limbic systems because they have a long history or relinquishing control of their executive functions to their basic instincts. It’s very humbling to realize that the path to regaining control involves other people but accountability partners will help you start thinking again with your cerebral cortex.

For more help on this subject see Every Man’s Battle.

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