BLOG: You CAN do it!
Our last blog focused on why we react to our partner and how reactivity is hard-wired in each of us.
Let’s talk now about what we can do when we find ourselves in reactive mode. The important question is:
Can we regulate our reactivity?
YES with awareness and intention…
Here is a transcript of a podcast we did on this topic.
Now the amygdala (primitive part of our brain) doesn't get information from the outside environment, the amygdala gets information from the signals that we create in our own brain based on how we're interpreting what's going on in the outside world. If for instance, I'm interpreting that something Valerie is doing is threatening me, my amygdala gets triggered and send signals through my nervous system and it releases hormones that we identify as emotions and those emotions create a perpetuating cascade of thoughts that correspond with the chemical reaction in our brain. It’s these emotions and the thoughts that correspond to the emotions that create this perpetual state of reactivity that does nothing in regard to creating, maintaining or building connections with others.
So what's really important here, from what you're talking about Michael, and it’s the reason that we want to catch ourselves when we're in the middle of being reactive. Change only can take place in the moment, in the actual interaction and when you can catch yourself and realize what you've been thinking or how your mind is going off in the direction that's not helpful, that's when you can actually make a shift. That's when you're going to actually see in your relationship that there is the potential for a completely transformed interaction and the beginning of a transformed relationship. That really is what we had in mind when we created the Courageous Loving Program. It's about shifting the way that we habitually do things.
You know I remember a time, Valerie when you and I were just at odds with each other and I remember thinking of this when I’d go away and I'd say, “that's not the man I want to be.” I actually had a picture of when Gary Larson did those cartoons of the alligator heads and I felt like I was 5'9 with this huge alligator heads standing at the door blaming you and I swore I didn't want to be that kind of person. I also reminded myself of somebody else that I know that I grew up with, which is my father when he got angry, anyway what I remember is a morning when you and I were in an argument again and God knows what it is about, it could have been anything and I remember words getting ready to come out of my mouth and I caught myself in mid-sentence and I said, “ I do not want to do this anymore”. Do you remember that time when I said "I am not going to do this anymore" and you looked at me like I said "I don't want to do this marriage anymore I want to divorce" but that's not what I was saying. I meant I didn't want to argue with you anymore it was senseless and at that moment, that was a huge shift that happened in a moment.
Right, that's exactly what I was just speaking about and I do remember that time and you're absolutely right, that was when my amygdala was activated, thinking the next thing that was going to come out of your mouth is, “I want a divorce.” And so yeah that's why you saw that look on my face. I won't forget that time… you know there's been some pivotal times in our relationship, where we've had these conflicts and where if we hadn't shifted or done something different, you know let's be real. We probably wouldn't be sitting here doing this podcast today.
Yeah that's right. And I can look back and see that moment in time as being monumental because I gave it meaning that was so significant that I wouldn't ever repeat that same pattern again. Yes, we've had disagreements but never to the level that my anger was at that time, you know thinking and feeling and ready to spew out angry words in that way, and it's never happen again.
In working with clients and even in our own experience, what becomes really important here is to understand what we're reacting to and be able to at least stop it. It's that NLP (neuro linguistic programming) concept of stopping a negative thought in your tracks. I remember the time when the kids, when they were really little, we're doing things and I could have easily reacted and just like you were mentioning, I didn't want to be that kind of mom that yelled at my kids. It was really helpful for me to take a timeout, or count to 10, or take a deep breath before I spoke with them. Because I didn't want them to feel that they were doing something wrong, they were just being kids. It's the same kind of thing you know for the people that are having that kind of challenge, "what can you do to stop your reaction in the moment and shift?"
A lot of times couples tend to give in to these habitual patterns of interactions where they feed off of each other's reactivity and it turns into a downward spiral. All it takes is one person to make the decision that they're not going to participate in that they just simply say, "I'd rather not do this or I'm going to go in the other room and calm down this isn't working for me." Whatever it takes to disrupt that old pattern is what can turn a relationship around. It can change the habit. If you can break that apart and disrupt it once you can disrupt it twice. If you can do it twice you can do it 3 times.
Yes, absolutely. And another thing I remember us doing sometimes, when we were way more aware is that one of us was reacting, the other one was able to hold the space and not get into the reactive mode with them, just like you said it only takes one to shift. Sometimes one of us would put her hand over her heart to indicate to get in touch with that piece of who we were. Sometimes we put our hand over our belly, talking about softening our belly.
PS- In case you missed the last blog on Reactivity and the Reptilian Brain you can catch up HERE
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.