Laughing with ice cream in hand, Beth and Jack stood with a group of their friends outside the restaurant.
Looking over to Jack, Beth whispered, “are you ready to leave?” Jack smiled and kept talking to a friend. Suddenly Beth got ‘triggered.’
Beth could feel her neck tense, her face get hot and her thoughts go negative. “He doesn’t make me a priority, he just doesn’t care about me. He is such a jerk.” Beth stewed and sulked for about half an hour then walked up to Jack and said, “Stay if you want but I am leaving now!” Jack was surprised at Beth’s harsh statement. “What happened? ”he asked himself.
What did happen?
What gives your dragons their flames? You can thank your amygdala.
You may have never known you had an amygdala. But I am sure you know what it feels like when it is triggered.
Let me explain.
When we get our feelings hurt by someone, it is the small almond shaped part of our emotional brain that fires up and gets us all worked up.
It is called the amygdala. The purpose of our amygdala is to constantly scan all that is going on in the world around us and get our attention if danger is near.
Once triggered, our amygdala will:
Cause our blood pressure to go up
Make us more alert and highly focused on the danger
Get our muscles ready for a quick response.
So for example, if we see a hot cup of coffee balancing on the edge of a table, our amygdala might sound the alarm causing us to jump up and reach for the falling cup before we can even think about what just happened.
The amygdala’s purpose is to scan for danger, alert us as soon as it senses it and then help us get ready to react and face the danger. What ever the danger is perceived to be!
Now this is the interesting part.
Your amygdala does not know the difference between a falling cup of hot coffee and a critical comment made by our spouse. Your amygdala is constantly scanning your spouse’s tone of voice, choice of words and actions as well as perceived intentions. And if what your spouse does (or doesn’t do) triggers your dragon, you better believe your amygdala will sound the alarm and get you ready to react. Your amygdala, listening to your dragons, causes you to jump to conclusions, and get this, with an attitude!
An attitude of ‘you don’t love me if you don’t do that,’ or ‘you are wrong,’ ‘I am better than you,’ ‘you are stupid,’ ‘get out of my way,’ ‘do what I want.’
Our attitude has a huge impact on any and all conversations.
Actually, our attitude can sour or sweeten how we view every aspect of our life. Our amygdala is not designed to give us a calm, sweet, kind attitude, but rather a, there-is-a-problem-and-you-are-it attitude.
So what can we do in the middle of an amygdala hijacking?
We have to thank our amygdala for being on top of things and showing us what could be a possible danger (not connected with our spouse) and then realize that the situation is probably not an emergency (your husband isn’t abandoning you, he just didn’t acknowledge your wanting to leave the ice cream store) and you probably will not think your spouse a selfish jerk in the morning.
Contrary, what Beth really wanted Jack to understand is that she felt hurt, discounted, as though she didn’t matter to him when he ignored her request to leave. This gives Jack an opportunity to share what was going on for him (he didn’t hear what she said, or if he did ignore her, he was not trying to imply that she was unimportant), and then to apologize. Which will calm things down right away. Jack can try be more sensitive in the future and Beth will be reassured that even if Jack doesn’t do things just right, they will be able to turn toward each other and repair.
What does your amygdala hijacking feel like?
Go back to the last time you and your spouse got into an argument.
What did your amygdala hijacking feel like?
What sensations did you feel in your body?
Become aware of the signs of your amygdala hijacking, and learn how to slow it down so you can get to the heart of what is really going on in the middle of your arguments.
AMYGDALA HIJACKING: Stress Response I feel in my body
Pain in chest
Pit in stomach
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Dr. Sharon May
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Dr. Sylvia Hart Frejd
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