BLOG: Reactivity and the Reptilian Brain
When was the last time you found yourself reacting in less than a positive way to something your partner said or did?
Welcome to being human and know that you are not alone!
We’ve done a number of podcasts on this topic, as it’s one of the most common challenges that couples face in their day-to-day interactions.
Most couples experience this, often repeatedly. And even when we know it’s not helpful to the relationship or business (if you work together) we are hard-wired to do this.
And in complete transparency and humility, I will admit even with all our knowledge and experience helping others to recognize this pattern and become more mindful, Michael and I occasionally find that we still react to one another.
What can we do when we find that we are in a habit of reactivity?
First and foremost, give yourself a break…you are not doing anything wrong or bad. Stop asking yourself why you keep doing this or blaming yourself. Instead ask, “What can I learn from my behavior?
What we begin to learn and realize is that we are reacting because we are programmed to do that. Essentially what we're describing is what goes on in the base of the brain stem, in the part of our brain that is identified as the Amygdala that is responsible for our survival as a biological organism from a biological standpoint. The survival of the species depends upon each one of us to protect ourselves from being annihilated, eaten by that saber tooth tiger or attacked by neighboring tribes. It's deeply ingrained in our survival skills and subconscious.
Now this doesn't work very well in making connections in our intimate relationships and with our business partners. The survival mechanism in our brain does absolutely nothing to help us communicate with others. Its sole purpose is for the survival of each of us. When it kicks in we are not interested in anyone else except ourselves. In fact, we cannot listen to reason. We’ve probably had the experience of attempting to talk with someone when they are upset, angry or very emotional. It doesn’t work. They can’t hear us.
When you and/or your partner are in reactive mode realize that listening or reasoning skills (or lack thereof) will not work so disengaging is generally best to let things “calm down.”
The Amygdala is often spoken about as being the most primitive part of the brain…also known as The Reptilian Brain. Think of alligators in a swamp or other reptiles. Alligators will eat their own young if they need to or just because it serves them and they don't really care about anybody else but themselves. Well human beings have that part of their brain that doesn't work very well when it comes to making connections so we'll just leave it at that. We symbolically can “eat our young or jump all over our partner” and we will justify it to ourselves.
So for now know that our reactivity is biologically programmed. Our next blog will go into more detail about what we can do next when we find ourselves reacting and the question becomes:
How can we regulate our reactivity?
PS- The photo was taken when we were kayaking on the Rainbow River (Florida) and just happened upon this big guy sunning on the bank..
P.P.S. If you would like more support in applying these principles, give us a call. In between our speaking and coaching engagements, we carve out a few individualized sessions each month. Schedule your appointment here.