Definitions Definitions Useful Words & Terms for Learning about the Brain & Coping Skills How to use these definitions with this

Useful Words & Terms for Learning about the Brain & Coping Skills

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abandoned – Humans are social beings – and have social brains (look up). We feel safe having friends, family or a group that makes us feel we “belong” and are supported. Feeling abandoned occurs when those important to us, don”t seem to care for us. Often in our youth we feel alone, sad or lonely following experiences when friends, family or those close to us leave or no longer want to be with us. We all need to feel approval (look up) and know that we are “lovable and acceptable.” Feeling rejection or a loss (look up) may seem like we are abandoned. Those feelings are among the most common emotional wounds (look up) and require healthy coping skills to get over. Feeling abandoned involves both emotional and reptilian brain (look up) survival instincts (look up).

abstract symbols – We need our thinking brain ( neocortex ) to create and understand symbols such as words and numbers. These abstract symbols help humans to communicate with each other and put complex ideas into a simple form.

adapt – (see resilience ). All living creatures are able to change the way they behave to grow or adapt to new situations. Coping skills help us to adapt to change throughout our life.

adolescence – The period of life when you go from being a child to being a young adult.

aggression – When someone attacks another person with words or actions

ambivalence – A feeling of confusion that occurs when we have two opposite feelings about someone or something – such as love and hate – at the same time

anxiety – Worrying that something bad is going to happen is a type of fear that makes us feel anxious when we have to do or say something that is difficult – like standing up before a group and speaking. Anxiety often adds to stress and may even cause depression when we have an emotional or physical wound that requires the use of more effective coping skills.

approval – Our social and emotional brain needs to feel we are “lovable and acceptable,” since we want others to have a good opinion of us. This is why social attachment is important for making us feel safe and supported. The opposite of approval is when we feel rejected or humiliated – two of the 4 core emotional wounding experiences .

assurance – To feel good about our self, we may need assurance from others about our abilities and that we are a valued person. This is helpful in building our self-confidence.

avoiding – Keeping away from somebody or something. For example when we feel threatened or in danger, reptilian brain automatically triggers hide or attack action to protect our self. Hiding (or even running away) is an impulse that is part of our survival instinct .

axon – Each of our brain”s billions of neurons link to other brain cells by microscopic thread-like axons, which transmit impulses from one cell to another.


betrayal – One of the 4 Core Emotional Wounding Experiences all humans have that often leads to stress and feeling upset. Betrayal hurts because it happens when someone we trust (parent, friend, teacher, etc.) discloses a secret we don”t want others to know. Betrayal also occurs when a person we trust doesn”t live up to a promise, or does or says things that hurt us inside. When we trust or respect people, it can be very upsetting if they betray us.

brain – based coping skills – These skills refer to an understanding of basic brain functions involved in coping with stress. We use this knowledge of our brain functions and to help us get over emotional stress more easily. These “smart coping” skills are important since they help us manage our reactions when we”re emotionally upset.

brain imaging fMRI – A brain fMRI, shows our inner brain activity while a person is conscious. This recent technology utilizes strong magnetic impulses and a system of sensors that show blood flow, which represents brain activity in real-time. While there are other types of brain imaging, most use radioactive material. Today fMRI is one of the most widely used diagnostic imaging tools for examining both brain functions and physical.

bully”s brain – Often those who like to hurt other people”s feelings and make them feel bad can”t cope with and get over their own upsets. This leads to bullies needing to upset others to make themselves feel more powerful, or think they are “getting even” for being hurt.


characteristics – This is a feature or quality we have that helps us to define our self or others.

conflict – This is a disagreement within us or between persons, which is often a difference in beliefs between individuals or groups. Another example is when our three coping brains are in conflict and don”t work together as a team (see Captain Neo and the Brain Team), this can make our stress level worse.

coping brains – The three human coping brain functions – reptilian, emotional and thinking – each play an important role to maintain our health, safety and survival.

coping skills – (See resilience ).

cue – This is a way in which our brain senses if we are safe or in danger. We get separate cues by observing how other people act or look, in addition to what they say. A cue is a “non-verbal” sign.

curiosity – This means having an interest in discovering information to understand things, situations, our self and other people. For example, our neocortex uses higher thinking and reasoning by questioning why and how we feel the way we do.


dendrite – This is the receptor for axons connecting one neuron brain cell to another. Each of our billions of brain cells can have thousands of dendrites connecting to other cells.

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dependent – When we have a physical or emotional need for a person or drug, that relationship can be called dependent. For example, a baby is dependent upon its mother for survival and well-being.

depression (or depressed) – This is a health disorder that describes long periods of feeling hopeless and helpless, which can affect daily functions and may increase anxiety that affects our ability to enjoy life, concentrate and have restful sleep.

devastating – A sense of being overwhelmed by grief and emotional wounds such as a major loss, humiliation or other stressful experience.

disconnect from emotions – When we cannot feel our hurt feelings or love for others.


electro-chemical impulses – Brain cells communicate with each other through electro-chemical reactions. Because our neurons are not permanently “hard-wired” to each other, it is these chemical connections that make our brain cells work together! The space between where one neuron connects with one another is called a synapse . These rapid firing impulses are what enable us to think, learn, remember and be creative. The body”s Hormones also interact with these brain chemical connections, which helps explain pre-teens” major brain and behavior changes that occur between childhood and teenage years.

embarrassed – (see humiliation )

emotional health – (see resilience and respond to us ). We can measure our emotional health in many ways. One factor is coping skills — how easily we can get over periods of disappointment, anger and sadness when we are stressed or upset. Another is how our sense of self sees as being OK or not OK. One of the most important signs of emotional health is if we feel we are a lovable or acceptable person. This doesn”t mean we have to be loved and accepted by others, but whether we feel we are basically a lovable and acceptable person ! See Emotional Honesty & Self-Acceptance book.

emotions – Emotions come with our life experiences. They affect the way we feel about our self and others. For every emotion we feel there is a reaction both inside our brain and body. That reaction is what we call feelings – our awareness of an emotional experience. Our neocortex puts words to our emotional experiences . It is important to know how we are feeling about an upset. This process involves both our emotional and thinking brains . Feelings and emotions are different than thoughts . We can have thoughts that create an emotional response (like thinking of something we fear), but that is something we can control (or cope with) because our thinking brain gives our experiences meaning.

emotional attachment – When our emotional brain senses trust with another person this “attachment” becomes important. This instinctive ability we are born with is necessary for emotional health. Being connected to others is a basic human need to feel safe throughout life. It means there are others we can talk with about important things, or friends who enjoy doing things we like. This helps us through times of upsets and emotional stress .

emotional (coping) brain – This is also referred to as mammalian brain , which is an instinctive function that registers (and remembers) what we are feeling. It also is part of our social brain function that makes us aware of our connections with others (see empathy and emotional attachment ). Positive feelings such as love, as well as fear or dislike of others, are also used by our neocortex thinking brain to tell us how we feel about our self.

emotional disconnection – One way of coping with stress and upsets is to disconnect from our own feelings to avoid experiencing hurt when we are emotionally wounded . By “tuning out” and ignoring emotional experiences it may seem “I really don”t care.” Sometimes we think or say “I don”t care.” It seems to protect us from feeling emotional pain. But it really means ” I don”t feel! ” Using this as a way of coping, may also reduce positive feelings about important people in your life. Think of this as an “emotional lie” we use to protect us.

emotional health – Both emotional health and physical health require constant work to maintain them. Learning brain-based coping skills takes effort. But with practice it is easier to get over feeling angry or sad. Healthy coping skills build self confidence so that the next time we have an emotional wounding experience it won”t make us as upset as before.

emotional honesty – As our brain matures, we develop ability to recognize our real feelings vs. thinking what we should think or feel. Those who can identify and name their real feelings can cope with and get over those upsets more easily. See emotional disconnection , which is a way we try to fool our self into believing we don”t care about something or someone when we actually do care, but can”t admit it to our self.

emotional pain – (see emotional wound ). The part of our brain that senses physical pain also registers emotional pain. This means when we”re emotionally wounded our brain may over-react as though our life is in danger. When embarrassed, a person may even say “I could have died…”

emotional wound – The importance of this term is that emotional wounds may not always heal themselves . Unhealed wounds can become infected with hate and revenge. See the website author”s book, Emotional Honesty & Self-Acceptance Chapter 7, “Core Emotionally Wounding Experiences” – for more information on this subject.

empathy – This higher brain ability is identifying with and understanding another person”s pain or joy. Both our human emotional/social and thinking/reasoning brain abilities sense what others feel during an emotional experience. In a loving relationship two people become so deeply connected they actually experience the loved one”s feelings as their own.

excited – A brain state activity in which synaptic connections between neurons are affected by turning on and or off. Neuroscientists call the turning on process “excitation.” This is the way our brain become stimulated (excited) and prepares us to respond to a coping challenge.


feelings – Often we refer to “feelings” and “emotions” as the same thing. (Go to emotions for a description of the difference between the two terms.) Feelings may be thought of as our personal interpretation of an emotional experience. For example, two people may have an identical experience, but each of their brains interprets that experience based on their own earlier life experiences, coping ability, beliefs and attitudes.


guilt (shame) – Feeling guilty or shame is not just a human brain function. It also occurs among higher animals which have an emotional (mammalian) brain. Domesticated animals, for example, can be trained to feel guilt and shame. When they hear their master repeat “Bad dog!” in a loud and angry voice, they realize something they did was so bad that their master may stop loving or feeding them. This is one way they learn to obey their master.


harmful behavior (toward self or others) – Why do we sometimes feel like hurting or harming someone else, or even our self? It may be that we punish others or ourselves because we feel anger or pain because we carry emotional wounds we haven”t learned to cope with and get over. Attacking others or punishing our self may be a sign that we are over-stressed so much we don”t know what else to do to make our pain go away. Sometimes we may punish ourselves by thinking were a “bad person” when we”re just not able to cope with an upset. One way to remember why people act mean, bully or attack others with words or acts is that HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE!


hide or attack – Our instinctive , survival reptilian brain”s first response to feeling in DANGER is to either hide or attack. Some people call this impulse “fight or flight.” In modern society our social brain often chooses to HIDE to escape from danger. We can “hide” in a different way by “hiding our hurt feelings” when we”re upset; or hide by being alone so we don”t risk being disappointed or rejected by others. To “attack” someone, we don”t need to hit them, since ignoring people is another way to make them feel unimportant and rejected .

hippocampus – This important part of the inner brain of mammals is a key center for learning, attention and memory . When we are emotionally upset our body produces a stress hormone that can harm our hippocampus and keep it from performing its key role. If we haven”t learned to use healthy coping skills to get over stress, the hormone cortisol can affect many of our higher brain functions we need in school for learning new things.

hormones (see electro-chemical & neurotransmitters ) – Our body goes through cycles when we produce a wide variety of hormones that not only change our body, but also affect brain functions. Hormones travel in our blood stream. Since our brain uses 20% of our total body”s blood stream to function, these chemicals cause dramatic changes in our mood and behavior. From pre-teen into teenage years we experience big waves of hormones. This may be the reason we begin to feel differently about ourselves and others. Also, there are some hormones in medications that may cause changes in our feelings, thinking and behavior.

humiliation – This is one of the 4 core wounding experiences . Humiliation comes in many forms, from mild embarrassment to a terrible sense of shame that we may remember all our life. For pre-teens and teens, humiliation has special meaning, since we are very sensitive to belonging and being accepted by peers. When peers or parents make fun or laugh at us, the effect on how we feel about our self can be devastating . This is another reason for learning coping skills in elementary school, so we can get over humiliation more easily.

hypnosis – Most people have heard about being hypnotized. Sometimes it”s used as entertainment before an audience to make a person behave in silly ways. However, serious hypnosis for health problems also relies on our brain”s ability to be influenced by others saying a pill should help us to feel better. Even advertising is effective because of the way it suggests benefits of buying and using particular products. There are many ways our brain is fooled. Learn more at How the Brain Fools.


impulse (see instinct ) – There are two ways that make us act or feel a certain way. One is by “learned behavior” like you”re doing with this website on coping skills. Another way is by following instincts within our brain that we were born with . Our emotional and reptilian brains automatically send impulses to other parts of our brain . Without them we would need time to think before we react when someone is trying to harm us – or know when we are attracted to someone.

inevitable – None of us have a choice about growing up. That just happens because of forces within us that we mostly can”t control. One example is that our brain, body and feelings about our self and others change due to rising levels of hormones during adolescence .

inner sense of self (ISS) – This is one of our special brain senses that, at tells us how we feel about our self at any time. ISS changes as we build coping confidence that helps us accept our self by learning how to get over painful emotional wounds throughout our life.

instinct (see impulse and learned behavior ). This refers to a thought, feeling or action that is automatic and often occurs quickly in response to an impulse . This happens without thinking or being fully aware of where in our brain that impulse comes from. In humans lower level brain areas often react instinctively. Everyone is born with important instincts necessary for their survival. People unaware of their own or others” feelings are driven by lower brain instincts and impulses , rather than higher level social and thinking brain functions.

interpretation – A major role of the neocortex is reasoning and judgment, mostly by interpreting (figuring out the meaning) of impulses coming from instinctive reptilian and emotional brain areas .


learned behavior – Abilities we are born with are called instinctive . All other abilities come through learning or observing others. Much of our vital brain functions are instinctive because the first job of the brain is to keep us alive. This is why baby”s cry is instinctive, as is mothers” instinct for loving, caring for and feeding their baby to keep it alive and healthy.

limbic – A term neuroscientists use to describe brain functions lower than the neocortex .

loss – One of the 4 core emotional wounding experiences . Losses can include loss of people important in our life – like parents, friends and teachers. Most kids experience their first sense of loss when a pet dies or runs away. Another kind of loss is when we lose physical or mental abilities due to illness or accident. Coping skills treat all losses as important, for when we”re upset it helps us learn just how much we really love or need what has been lost.


mammalian brain – One of our three coping brain functions, it is sometimes called emotional brain . All mammals need this brain to protect their young who are born live (not from an egg). It also means needing a mother or father who cares for and protects them – or they will die. This brain function is important for it is also our social brain , which enables us to form emotional attachments that offer security, friendships and love throughout life.


non-verbal – A non-verbal cue is how people act, expressions on their faces, or even how others interact with you. Often these cues tell us things that a person”s words don”t

neocortex – This is our thinking, reasoning, planning and language brain that makes us human. This part of our brain allows us to develop coping brain skills and confidence. It regulates impulses that come from the other two coping brains – emotional and reptilian.

neuroscience (neuroscientist) – This is a field and type of research that focuses on both brain physical health as well as brain functions . Neuroscience is one of the fastest growing fields in health care for we now know much more about how our brain works and how it can be helped by new medicine and learning new coping skills . Not all neuroscientists are medical doctors. Some are psychologists and biologists who study how the brain reacts to stress, injury, drugs, as well as social or emotional experiences.

neurons – Our brain cells. Each neuron also has connecting threads so small they can only be seen by using a special, high power microscope or brain imaging . We have billions of neurons that make our powerful brain work, imagine and think. Each neuron may have thousands of connections with other brain cells. These connections are made by axons that send signals, and dendrites that receive signals from other neurons. (see neural networks )

neurotransmitters – (see electro-chemical & hormones )

neural networks – higher brain functions such as problem-solving or learning require large numbers of neurons connected with thousands or millions of other brain cells. These are called neural networks because, like computers, telephones or the Internet, they rely on series of switches that can be turned on or off to adapt to new situations. These networks may add new bits of information and delete old ones so our knowledge can grow.


peers – Friends or classmates of the same age are peers. Peers play an important role in forming emotional and social attachments when we”re growing up. When we want to belong to a group of peers, we may follow a way of dress or behavior to show that we are part of a group. “Peer pressure” is the way a group makes you do something you may not want to do.

phobia (fear) – A powerful and ongoing fear or dislike of something, such as spiders, that leads to excessive worry and anxiety .

placebo effect – Placebo effect occurs in the human brain when we react to a suggestion that something is supposed to help us. Before new medicines are approved, they must show research that their effect on persons is more than a “dummy” or plain sugar pill that contains no medicine. Placebo effect is one of many ways our brain is capable of fooling us. We are all subject to this “power of suggestion.” This is how advertising of products works to have us buy something that is supposed to make us feel better, smarter or stronger. (See hypnosis )

pre-frontal cortex – While the human brain is nearly developed by age 10 or 11, the last remaining area to mature is the pre-frontal cortex (PFC). The PFC is a key part of our human neocortex , which is responsible for impulse control, judgment, planning, making decisions and problem-solving. This area of the brain, located behind our forehead, is not fully formed until our mid-20s. So teenagers may act impulsively and out of control in stressful situations.

prejudice – This is a tendency for a person to have unfavorable opinions of individuals or groups based on ignorance, hatred, fear or mistrust. Prejudice is an irrational dislike based on another”s religious, sexual, ethnic, political or national identity, or social status.


rational – (see impulse or instinctive ). When we think or act based on reason or thoughtful judgment we call this rational. Being prejudiced or reacting under stress or instinctive impulses means a person”s behavior is “irrational.” However, parts of our brain that are instinctive and irrational can be regulated by our neocortex, which is the thinking and rational part of our brain. Coping skills use this thinking and reasoning brain ability.

regulate – This term is important for it explains the way our neocortex is able to sense, interpret and respond to instinctive brain ( emotional and reptilian ) impulses . Brain-based coping skills allow us to recognize these lower brain signals by using higher thinking brain power to manage and control our responses to stress, emotional wounds and upsets.

rejection – This is one of the 4 core emotional wounding experiences when we feel that others don”t like us; or don”t want to do things with us; or don”t want us to belong to their group. We can also feel rejection when a person we know or care about ignores us by not listening to us or doesn”t respond to what we say to them.

reptilian brain – This is our instinctive survival brain, responsible for sending fear signals throughout our body and brain to deal with danger or threats to us. Reptilian danger impulses are warnings that set in motion a powerful set of brain and body responses. This automatic hide or attack response tries to protect us from physical or emotional wounds .

resilience – We use this term for healthy coping skills because those who can “bounce back” after an upset have emotional resilience. Resilient people still get upset or stressed, but they are able to get over being angry or sad more easily because of their coping ability. We are not born with this ability. It takes learning, experience and constant practice.

respond to us – When people respond to us they give us a sense that we are being heard and understood. Our social status grows when others respect and accept who we are. Since humans require social attachment to feel safe and secure, we all need friends and people who respond to us, listen to our concerns and ideas. This is an important part of emotional health.

rivalry – When we compete with others for something or somebody.


sacrifice – (See empathy ). This means voluntarily giving up something valuable or important to help someone else; or when we sacrifice our safety, a need we have, or undergo hardship to help a loved one or other person. An example is when parents sacrifice things they need for themselves to help their children have a better education, success or health.

self-acceptance – (see emotional health ). Often emotional upsets or stress also affect the way we feel about our self. By accepting our self we are able to also accept others. This is one of the important parts of emotional health . (see Coping Skills Practice Exercise)

self-management – (see regulate ). We use the term self-discipline to also describe a type of self-management of our behavior when we”re upset or stressed . Developing self-management ability is also a sign of growing up. Kids that don”t learn healthy coping skills to get over emotional wounds may have more problems at school, with friends and at home.

self-punishing behavior – When we do things to harm, degrade or sabotage our self.

social attachment – (see emotional attachment ). This term refers to the basic human social need we have to emotionally connect to other people. This kind of attachment also provides a sense of “belonging” that comes from being with people you like and trust.

social brain – This is a function of the mammalian brain that tells us how we “fit in” and connect with others, what we have in common, as well as our differences. Loneliness and loss of friends may cause anxiety since our social brain is fearful when it appears there is no one to help us when we are in need.

social identity (see tribalism and social status) – This is a measure of who we are in our group, as well as how important we are to others. Since our social identity depends on how we are viewed by others, it reminds us that no matter what we think ourselves, part of our identity comes from how others view us. As we grow up our social life gives us a sense of how we are valued by others. This may also help us sense how important we are as a person .

stress (emotional vs. physical) – When we experience emotional stress , there is often physical stress in the form of tightening muscles, difficulty digesting food, and a rise in blood pressure. Emotional stress also triggers the release of stress hormones , including cortisol that attacks the hippocampus , part of our brain that controls attention, learning and memory.

survival instinct – All living creatures are born with an instinct for survival – to stay alive. Since the first job of our brain is to keep us alive, you might say the first our human brain isn”t as much about “thinking” as it is to help us survive threats to our safety. Often our reptilian brain sends warning signs to hide or attack when it senses we”re in danger. Our body and brain automatically react to physical AND emotional pain . This can lead to anxiety and more stress due to over-reacting to our survival brain warning instincts and impulses .

sympathy – (see empathy ). Feeling sorry for someone injured or sad is sympathy. Feeling within our self what other people are feeling is empathy .

synapse – This is the area where brain cells connect with each other. The synapse is a space between the neuron”s axons and another neuron”s dendrites , which receive the connecting axons. An electro-chemical charge in synapses make cell connections happen. There are many thousands of billions of synapses inside the human brain.


thinking brain – (see neocortex ). This is the “captain” of our three coping brain functions since neocortex takes information from throughout our brain and makes sense of what is going on inside and outside of us. It is a rational brain process that uses language and higher reasoning abilities for planning, decision-making, problem solving and judgment.

territorial (behavior) – (See reptilian brain ). One way we try to protect our self is to stake out territory that we call “home.” This is called “territorial behavior” since it leads to group behavior to keep out those who are dangerous or different from us. This reptilian brain survival instinct exists in not only animals, but even insects. We will fight to our death to protect our “home.” Nations make war with other nations because of a territorial instinct. Youth gangs may use violence against rival gangs who threaten to invade or take over their territory.

tribalism – (See territorial and reptilian brain ). When people (and even some animals) gather together for self-protection, they form a close group to protect themselves from “outsiders.” Gangs of youth do this. Nations do this and start wars because of group conflict between countries with different races, language, customs or beliefs. Tribalism is a combination of instinctive brain impulses from mammalian emotional and social areas of the brain as well as reptilian , survival brain . Tribalism is the way human beings try to feel safe by staying close together and also keep out groups of “outsiders” who are different from them.


vulnerable – When we feel we are open to or fear possible physical or emotional harm. When people are emotionally wounded they may feel vulnerable and filled with anxiety .


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