What comes out of your mouth in relationships with those you love? Do you use sarcasm, placating, bluntness, anger, explaining, silence, name-calling or do you give a perpetual apology? Perhaps you use passive-aggressive gestures that speak volumes … such as rolling of the eyes, slamming of a door or shaking your head.
Understand Relational Pain from your Brain’s Perspective
If you believe that “the past is the past” and it doesn’t impact you today — that’s coming from a very logical/rational area of your brain. The amygdala controls and rules over your emotions — and it doesn’t believe that the past is the past.
The amygdala is part of the limbic system within your brain. You have two small amygdala — they are the shape and size of an almond. They are the powerhouse that stores painful memories and feelings from the past. Much of it is in your unconscious.
Your responses (anger, irritation, frustration) become fused together with certain emotions (sad, alone, hurt, rejected, hopeless) within the amygdala. When you are hurt today — the amygdala attaches meaning on your hurt of today based on your hurts of the past.
The speed at which the amygdala processes is 5-6 times faster than your logical, rational thoughts. Anger, irritation, frustration, blame, placating and silencing yourself … kick into gear before the logical portion of your brain even knows there’s a problem.
When you have been hurt or disappointed by people throughout your life (mom, dad, sibling rivalry/teasing, childhood friends, grade-school bullies, high school sweethearts, insensitive teachers/coaches, previous divorce/affairs), the amygdala stores those smells, sights, sounds, tastes, feelings to that painful memory and person.
When you automatically and repeatedly use the same responses over and over — you might begin to see the negative impact on your relationships:
- Pulling away from your spouse increases the feelings of hurt/alone and rejection.
- Moving toward your partner with defensiveness or irritation destroys relational connection, increases relational ache and drives loved ones away.
- Drawing closer by appeasing/placating, solidifies your feelings of not being heard and can boom-a-rang back at you since your partner doesn’t ever really know what you need.
- Putting up walls guarantees your relational needs won’t be met and increases your own feelings of being alone, hurt and misunderstood.
- Seeking out comfort from another person (friend or lover) to soothe your feelings – robs you from repairing the relationship with your loved one and feeds the relational sickness.
Awareness of how you respond is the first step to changing it. It means slowing everything down when you begin to experience a strong reaction (irritation, frustration, “not this again!”, shut down). By slowing yourself down, you allow time for your logical/rational brain to catch up and realize that you have more choices in how to respond in that moment.
Giving your partner the same response over and over — puts your relationship on a perpetual merry-go-round that feeds the downward spiral.
A different response from you — gives a greater chance for a different response from them.
Easy? No. Worth it? Yes.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”