Upstairs & Downstairs – A Brain Concept

You may have noticed that many of us tend to trend more in either our thoughts or emotions. For example, the stereotypical feedback of “he’s so logical” or “she’s very emotional” bounce around our culture. As many personality tests show us, we often have preferences with thinking & feeling, just like introversion & extroversion. The stereotype of gender, however, is not accurate. All men, just like all women, have emotions. And all women, just like all men, can think logically.

Dr. Dan Siegel shares a helpful concept of the brain that identifies our thinking center as the upstairs of a house, and the feeling center as the downstairs. This can be especially helpful in practicing both cognitive and emotional awareness. Here are some helpful examples.

Individuals may ask: 

  • “Where am I in the house right now?”
  • “Am I downstairs feeling an emotion that is about to determine what I will say or do?”
  • “Or am I upstairs thinking about how to solve a problem?”

Couples may ask:

  • “Where am I and where is my partner in the house right now?”
  • “If I am downstairs feeling a strong emotion, are they upstairs and have no idea?”
  • “If I am upstairs wondering what to say or do next, should I consider how my partner is feeling first?”
  • “If we are on separate floors, how could we meet in the middle of the stairs?”

Parents may ask: 

  • “Is my child upstairs or downstairs?”
  • “Do they need help solving a problem or calming down?”
  • “In response to them, am I upstairs or downstairs?”
  • Disclaimer: for parents of teenagers, their upstairs brain does not finish developing until their mid-20’s!

Mental health counselors are trained to support identifying, regulating, and practicing helpful thinking and feeling patterns. If you are interested in learning more, feel free to reach out to our team at GROW Counseling.

Written by: Michael Kanner