Ever notice how complicated and convoluted communication gets when you are in the midst of a highly emotional “discussion”? You think you are making great points, but the other person is not picking up what you are putting down. How about all those discussions you re-play in your head over and over, but with loads of new, completely logical, impactful points from you? I know you know what I’m talking about! I’ve been “re-doing” some of my most heated discussions for years, and my points get more refined every time. LOL!
“Out of control emotions make smart people stupid”
I believe Albert Einstein is credited with that quote, and he was absolutely correct. It is physiological. Inside each of our brains is a little thing called the amygdala, and its whole job is to protect us. In order to do this, it stores away all of our stressful, frightening, frustrating, negative – highly emotional – memories. It then works 24/7 as a little eavesdropper, scanning everything we encounter, searching for something familiar from our past. When it finds what it feels is a match, it elicits an immediate reaction to everything it interprets as a threat. The amygdala’s only job is to trigger a reaction from us. It is the keeper of our fight or flight response, and it’s great! Accept when it isn’t accurate.
Here’s how it works:
When your amygdala is triggered, it sends an instantaneous signal to your sympathetic nervous system, causing your heart rate to become erratic and your breath to become more shallow, along with a host of other physical reactions, as your body prepares itself to fight or run. At this point, your logical reasoning ability is physiologically circumvented. If left unchecked, your triggered amygdala has the power to seriously complicate communication, as well as damage relationships and reputations.
So how do we stop ourselves from doing and/or saying things we might later regret, during highly emotional moments?
- Realize you will be triggered. Our brains are hard-wired to react quickly to potential harm. It is not “if”, it is “when” and “why”.
- Know what it feels like when you are triggered. We feel faster than we think, so knowing what it feels like (when your amygdala is triggered) is critical for checking its accuracy. Running away or fighting may not be your best options right now.
- Put a little space between trigger and reaction. Space comes very quickly. Simply noticing what you feel, then asking yourself what is really happening right now, might be all you need to shift from overly reactive to rationally responsive.
- Choose to respond to the trigger in a manner than compliments how you wish to be known, and who you really want to be.
We are human. We are going to encounter people and situations that trigger our amygdala, creating an immediately intense reaction. However, you don’t have to let every highly emotional trigger turn you into less than your best self. In a nanosecond, you can re-evaluate the trigger, and choose what to think, say, and do. This practice is what separates the wise ones from the rest of the pack.
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