Cray Button: A 1st Person Account Of The Limbic Brain?

Salutations, Dear Readers:

Before we get started, let me first express that I understand that the use of the word “crazy,” or any of its diminutives, is taboo in regard to mental health. My aim herein is not to cause offense. Just hang with me and try to follow the spirit of this here blog post.

In the 21st Century, it can often be a challenge to find music the whole family might enjoy. This is not a treatise on what one’s standards should be for music appropriateness or the censorship thereof. Often, music meant for children is unbearably cheesy (less polite descriptors come to mind) and hard for parents to listen to for extended periods. Conversely, some may find that much of modern pop, hip-hop, rock, and [name it] music, while fun and catchy to listen to, might not always be the most appropriate for younger listeners. Enter Family Force 5, a band whose music is both fun, catchy, on par with contemporaries, and safe for the whole family. This seems to be their niche.

While recently listening to one of their songs, “Cray Button, (Olds, Olds, Olds, Currin, Mount, & Friresen, 2012)” with my own children, it occurred to me that Family Force 5 had unwittingly written a song that in many ways parallels the Limbic Brain’s trauma response. For your viewing and listening enjoyment, I’ve included the original music video, as well as a lyrics video, for “Cray Button.”

Dan Siegel, M.D. uses the illustration of the Upperstairs Brain and Downstairs Brain to talk about and differentiate the Upper Cortex and the Lower Brain (ref: video). Now, a discussion of all of the complexities, functions, and nuances of the neurobiology involved is beyond the scope of this discussion. “This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, and a lotta what-have-yous” (Coen & Coen, 1998). Suffice it to say, for children who have endured complex trauma, the brain’s survival center (i.e., Limbic/Downstairs Brain) can often be the driving force behind profound dysregulation.


In reference to the song, “Cray Button,” I do not see the song as describing a child, but rather I like to think of the song as having been written in the 1st Person by the survival center within a child’s brain. In keeping with Siegel’s metaphor, imagine a person who dwells within the Downstairs Brain and hits a cray button whenever a threat is perceived. Now imagine, as is so often the case, that a child has no control over this.

Of course, the behaviors made manifest by the cray button being hit can be quite problematic, and they can be especially difficult for parents and caregivers to respond to in constructive ways. We’re now hitting on a topic that will be reserved for another blog post some other time.

My hope here is 1) that this might give readers, especially layreaders, a bit of a new framework with which to understand trauma related dysregulation and 2) that this might also serve as a fun, non-shaming, tool to accompany discussions of trauma-and-neurobiology for children having endured trauma and who are working to resolve challenges created therefrom.

In summary: remember, part of the Limbic Brain’s responsibility is the organism’s survival. The problematic behaviors that can arise from an organism’s experience of trauma are rooted in, and aimed at, continued survival. While it might seem counterintuitive in many instances, when an organism gets “cray,” it is really working to ensure that it is not subjected to the same threats it has encountered in the past. When this happens, it is the brain’s survival center that is at the helm. The organism is, essentially, held captive by its own survival mechanisms.


Just As Some Example Parallels (make your own!)
and remember to read this as 1st-Person-Limbic-Brain

I will show you crazy,                                                         (Get ready. I am going to get defensive)
I’m a maniac                                                                         (I’m wild and dangerous)
No more final warning, I’m not holding back                (Time’s up. No more messing around)
I ain’t going nowhere,                                                         (I can’t run. I’ll fight)
let the roof cave in                                                                (I’ll tear the whole place down if I must)
‘Bout to blow up something,                                              (About to blow, and I’ll take you with me)
here goes nothing                                                                 (I’ve got nothing to lose)
Watch me hit the cray button                                            (DYSREGULATE)

Cray (x3)

Let’s get cray                                                                           (Survival Mode: ON)
Turn it all the way up                                                            (DEFCOM 5)
Got a double dose of bass                                                     (Going to shake this up)
You love it so much                                                               (I know you love it when we dysregulate)
Get out of your head                                                             (No room for reason any more)
Get out of your skull                                                             (Move your body. Flail)
If you ain’t gettin’ cray                                                         (Gotta do this, or..)
Then you ain’t got a pulse                                                    (We might die)
A lunatic time bomb just got dropped                               (Time to explode)
I get cray all day, it’s my full time job                               (This is my job as your survival center)
Wild like a wolfpack, howlin’ at the moon                       (Let’s let this animal out to announce itself)
Attack, attack, you’ve bitten by the boom                        (Time to Fight!)

I ain’t going nowhere,                                                           (I can’t run. I’ll fight)
let the roof cave in                                                                 (I’ll tear the whole place down if I must)
‘Bout to blow up something, here goes nothing              (I’ve got nothing to lose)
Watch me hit the cray button                                              (DYSREGULATE)

Cray (x3)

Put your fives in the sky if you’re feelin’ alive                  (Fists Up)
Throw ten in the air ’cause you don’t care                        (Make yourself big)
CrayBans on, rock your cranium                                        (Blinded to what’s happening. Brain on Fire)
3-2-1, detonation                                                                    (Count down. EXPLODE)

I wonder what happens when I hit the cray button?      (How can we survive?)
I guarantee the whole place starts jumpin’                       (This will get everyone stirred up)
I wonder what happens if I hit the cray button                (How can we survive?)
I guarantee the whole place starts jumpin                       (This will get everyone stirred up)
I wonder what happens if I hit the cray button               (How can we survive?)
I guarantee the whole place starts jumpin                       (This will get everyone stirred up)
I wonder what happens if I hit the cray button               (How can we survive?)
Im’ma do it! (do it)                                                                 (I must)
Watch me hit the cray button                                              (DYSREGULATE)

I pledge allegiance to the U.S.Cray (cray)                     (I’m committed to my organism’s survival)
U.S Cray U.S U.S Cray
I pledge allegiance to the U.S Cray (cray)                     (I’m committed to my organism’s survival)
U.S Cray U.S U.S Cray



Coen, E. & Coen, J. (Producers), and Coen, E. & Coen, J. (Directors). (1998). The Big Lebowski [Motion Picture]. USA: Polygram Filmed Entertainment and Working Title Films.

Olds, S., Olds, J.,Olds, J., Currin, N., Mount, D., & Friresen, R. (2012). Cray Button [Recorded by Family Force 5]. On III.V [EP]. Atlanta, Georgia: Tooth & Nail.