What Causes Conflict Seeking Behavior?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Why is it that certain people cause you to feel like you need to walk on eggshells around them? In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen reveal a surprising cause for this type of behavior that has more to do with the physical function of the brain than pure psychology.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here, we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD, and addictions.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we've transform lives for three decades using brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain M.D., where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information visit brainmdhealth.com. Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. And, stay tuned for a special code for a discount to Amen Clinics for a full evaluation, as well as any of our supplements at brainmdhealth.com.

So, we are back and I have a question. Have you ever, and I kinda know the answer to this, but I'm gonna ask it anyways for our audience. Have you ever known someone that you have to walk on eggshells all the time? Because I have, and it's really uncomfortable. But, you are never sure what you're gonna get when you walk in the door. You, all the way home, [crosstalk 00:01:23] ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: You're actually describing 20 years of my life!

Tana Amen: ... so, all the way home, you're worried, because you're already setting up in your head how you're gonna respond to something; what it might be. You're not exactly sure. You're thinking about how you're gonna handle it. What are you going to say? It's very stressful. I know that you've experienced that. I wanna talk about what is going on in the brain, not only with the person that, that's happening with. But, how do you handle that? It's really tough.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I have, often in my ADD writings, talked about raising ADD children and being in an ADD marriage.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And, one of the first things I learned, not only with my family but with my patients, is people who have low activity in their prefrontal cortex are often excitement-seeking. That's sort of known in the ADD world. These are people who are more likely to jump out of an airplane ...

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... to race a car, to got to scary movies. But what a lot of people don't know is these are also people who not only are excitement-seeking, they're conflict-seeking. They play this game called, Let's Have A Problem, and it's painful.

Tana Amen: Oh my gosh!

Dr. Daniel Amen: If you're not conflict-seeking, in fact, if you're a little bit like me and you tend to be conflict-avoidant, that you don't really like confrontation, then finding yourself in that kind of family really unbalances you. You don't like it and you're irritated, anxious; a lot. One of my favorite stories about this is I saw this woman, Betty one of my first patients when I opened our first Amen Clinics in Northern California. She was suicidal. The reason I saw her was, I was seeing her kids. And then, I began to her when she got really depressed. For like a year, every week, she comes into my office, sits on my couch, and tells me how she's going to kill herself ...

Tana Amen: Oh wow!

Dr. Daniel Amen: ... in the most gruesome ways. And I'm like, I'm always anxious. I'm always worried. I'm always signing suicide contracts with her. And then when I scanned her, and I saw the low frontal lobe activity, I began to understand why she was doing that. She was doing it as a way to turn on her brain. One day I looked at her and I said; you need to stop that.

Tana Amen: So interesting.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. I don't recommend most doctors do this to their suicidal patients. But, I looked at her and I said, you know; you're no more gonna kill yourself than I am. You love your children, and you know, by the way, if you kill yourself, you've just increased the chance they will kill themselves 500%. Growing up Roman Catholic, I had to pass guilt 101 and advanced guilt, and, I'm not above using it with my patients! And, she's like; what do you mean? I said; you are telling me these things, and you have these bad thoughts as a stimulant. This is your way of stimulating yourself, so that you're treating your ADD. When I treated her ADD, she stopped talking about suicide. You have to be highly skilled to do this. I don't recommend it.

Tana Amen: Yeah, don't do what I do. I had someone who threatened to commit suicide, and I thought they were being manipulative. I'm like; welp then, I'm gonna call 911 and I'm never talking to you again because you are either manipulating me, or you're serious. Either way, I'm not qualified to deal with. So, don't do that. But anyways, you just reminded me of my childhood and I just got PTSD. My mother ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: Who's terribly ADD.

Tana Amen: ... oh my gosh.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And, you're the one that told me that you didn't believe in ADD our first date.

Tana Amen: I totally did not believe in ADD. Totally! I met him, and I'm like; it's an excuse to fail or not try. So, I thought he was just total nonsense. And then he goes about it like ... you're very sneaky. You go through the back door. You start asking these questions instead. So, instead of saying; oh, it's real, and live life trying to prove it to me, you just start sneakily asking questions, picking away; tell me how you get off at 4 o'clock in the morning and work out every day? How much coffee do you drink before you work? You work on a trauma unit. I'm like, all of a sudden it occurred to me; you think I'm ADD!

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right, and your voice went up; you think have ADD!

Tana Amen: I was really mad about it. But I have a very different-

Dr. Daniel Amen: Was I right?

Tana Amen: Well, I have a very different, that's really important for us to distinguish here. I have a very different kind of ADD from my mother. My mother is very classic of what we're talking about.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Classic!

Tana Amen: She needs a little bit of drama going on, and conflict, in order to get herself going, I think. She would always take me to horror flicks when I was little. There was always some sort of family conflict. If you know my mom, she's amazing. She's an amazing human being, so this seems weird that she would do this like she sort of needs this, because she's this great person. But, there's just always some kind of conflict or drama. Not so much now, but when I was growing up.

If you know me, I'm very anxious. I don't like that. I have my own ways of stimulating myself through working out, through; I meditate. I do all these things. Yes, I drink coffee. I used to drink a lot of coffee. Now, it's less now that I know how it affects you. But, I had a very different way of handling my life. People, like my mom who I was used to, but didn't necessarily know how to deal with very effectively. And so-

Dr. Daniel Amen: What makes you think she has ADD? She dropped out of school when she was 16.

Tana Amen: Well, she came from a very abusive background. She had multiple, not ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: ADD usually comes from ADD, and there's a lot of impulse control issues, drug abuse ...

Tana Amen: ... Well, she comes from a very poor, very, very poor ... lots of family dynamic issues. My mom didn't have minor head injuries. She had some multiple, major head injuries.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And, I was actually gonna say that. New study out today; Secondary Attention Deficit Disorder In Children And Adolescents Five To Ten Years After They've Had A Traumatic Brain Injury. So, people who have a traumatic brain injury often have a significantly higher incidence of actually being diagnosed with ADD.

Tana Amen: So, to anybody out there listening who's going; well, this sounds hopeless. No. I wanna explain to you, my mom, she's a rockstar. My mom is a rockstar. When you think about where she came from, what she's been through; 16 year old runaway, had no money, no education really. She is very successful. Had she had this information sooner, it just would've been less trauma.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And, in the next podcast we're gonna talk about; do you have ADD and how would you know?

Tana Amen: But, before we do that, I wanna actually talk a little bit about what we started off with. This conflict, when you walk in the house and there's eggshells. Maybe we need to continue it in the next podcast, but some people can leave. You could get divorced. I could get divorced. We can leave situations. Some people can't. There are people, there are children who are very anxious who don't have ADD, or maybe they've got a different kind of ADD, or maybe they're overly anxious. And, they've got parents who are constantly causing conflict. What do you do?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, if you can, you get them help. That's the first thing.

Tana Amen: But you're a kid, and you can't.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Then, you don't pick up the rope. So, having three children who have ADD, the little one was hyperactive. I remember when she was like 18 months old. She'd run up and kick her brother.

Tana Amen: If you know her, this is funny!

Dr. Daniel Amen: And, if he didn't chase her, she would go run and kick him again. She was totally stirring stuff up. I'm like; why do you want me to yell at you? As children, they're often excitement-seeking, conflict-seeking, and I tell parents; don't be their stimulant. Every time you yell at them, you beat them, you belittle them. Even though, emotionally, the children hate it, there's a part of their brain, the little dopamine part, that loves it. It's; I bet I can get you to yell at me.

When parents actually listen to me, and they stop yelling at the child, the child initially gets worse, because they go; I know I can get you to yell at me. It's completely unconscious. They never wake up in the morning, or at least mostly never wake up in the morning and go; I'm gonna make mommy cry. In fact, often when I listen to this dynamic in my office with the mom and the child there, I'm like; do you wake up in the morning and want to make her cry? And they're like; no. I said, "But you do it." I said, "Why do you do it?" And they go, "I don't know." The reason, they really don't know, because it's not will-driven. It's brain-driven.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so, the first thing is, you have to take away the drug; conflict and being angry is the drug. You have to take that away. Initially they get worse, and then they get better. But, as soon as they get you; as soon as they get you to snap, to yell, to hit them, whatever, they're gonna do it again.

Tana Amen: Interesting. It's this fascinating dynamic. If you grow up with it, it's very-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so, don't feed the beast. That's the first thing. Get them help if you can. One of the ways to calm down the excitement conflict-seeking behavior is exercise. Exercise can make the big difference. Magnesium can also help, because it tends to settle things down in the brain. It actually tends to balance the brain better.

Tana Amen: I love magnesium.

Dr. Daniel Amen: If they have untreated ADD, please get it treated.

Tana Amen: Yeah, so, after my mom got scanned, she saw her brain, and she got treated. She was so funny. It was like the first time in my life ... I would call her, and I love my mom. But, I did move out of the house pretty early, because I'm very anxious, so I don't like that kind of drama. I grew up with it. There's a point where you just are done!

Dr. Daniel Amen: And there was sort of drama in her relationships.

Tana Amen: Anyways! I was just kind of done. I love my mom and I was always close to her, but I didn't really wanna be that close to it anymore. We talked every day, whatever. But always, I always knew that when I talked to her I'd have to put her on speaker phone, set it down, be doing stuff, give her 10 minutes to just sort of vent about whatever drama was going on. And then, I would interrupt and go; hey mom, I only had a little while, and I wanna be able to talk to you. But, I had to give her a little bit of time to vent that drama. Well, she gets treated for the ADD, and all of a sudden I call her. I'm like; hey. How are you? She's like; you know, I'm fine. I'm like; 'scuse me? I'm like; what?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Don't you remember your mother and your uncle worked together?

Tana Amen: My uncle, yeah. I will.

Dr. Daniel Amen: And so, they both had ADD. ADD runs families. I treated both of them, and they stopped complaining about each other.

Tana Amen: About each other. But, I would all of a sudden I'm like; what? You're good? She's like; yeah. She almost sounded like she didn't know what to say, like a little bit bored. It was really funny. At one time, she even said; I just find myself being a little bit tired. She goes; I don't have the same level of energy I had. She goes; but I'm getting so much done. And I just died! That was when I actually started to believe in ADD for real.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So, if you stay with us, we're gonna through ADD and how to know if you or a loved on has. Stay with us.