I want you to remember the time when your partner or someone close upset you. You walked into the room with some big news, happy and excited to share but your partner did not react with appropriate amount of interest. Or maybe even ignored you completely and changed the subject.
You felt hurt and rejected. You got angry and pointed out to your partner how they never listen to you or how they don’t care about you.
Maybe you even stormed out of the room to sulk alone in the bathroom.
That’s what I used to do – sit in the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror and crying as I felt disappointed, ignored and hurt.
Do you react or do you respond?
Some people react and some people respond. The difference is huge.
When you react, you let your primal brain control the situation and get in the way of your heart. You go with the first impulse and do not think the event through.
When you respond, you dig deeper and your behaviour comes from a place of knowing yourself and feeling into yourself.
You look past the appearances and you ask “Why did they behave this way?”. You are capable of acting with compassion and kindness. You connect to your empathetic side and you don’t let the initial upset rule you.
The oldest part of our brain is called the ‘primal brain’ or the ‘reptilian brain’. It’s located at the lower back of the scull and it’s responsible for our fight, flight or freeze response.
The primal brain is very useful when a sudden threat appears on our path and we need to react immediately in order to save our lives.
It kicks in when you suddenly notice a shadow in a dark street, a shadow that could possibly be an attacker. Your primal brain reacts immediately, creating stress hormones and adrenaline in your system, increasing your heart rate and the pace of your breathing and by pumping blood into your legs and arms, preparing you to run or defend yourself.
It creates a state of hyper vigilance which has the ability of saving your life if the risk is real.
To listen or not to listen?…
This was an extremely useful mechanism when we all lived in the forest and had to face wild animals and dangers in our daily lives.
However, this mechanism is not so useful in the modern world because in most situations a more thought through response would be more appropriate.
When your partner is saying something hurtful to you, the last thing you should do is listen to your primal brain.
Instead, feeling into your heart and into your body will create a kinder response.
The problem is that most people in our society are so disconnected from their hearts and bodies, that they don’t actually know how to respond to situations from a space of deep inner feeling.
From a very young age we’re taught how to behave and what to say regardless of how we feel. As kids, we learn to bypass our own bodily responses in order to follow rules and guidelines.
Many people simply don’t know how to feel their bodies anymore.
Each time a child needs to sit still in a classroom instead of playing outside, or when they have to hug a relative they don’t want to hug, the body creates stress hormones, eventually putting us in a state of chronic fear and anxiety. And in that state, the primal brain is very active and starts to dictate our behaviour.
“A lot of the time we are being hijacked by our primal brain without awareness and it is making a lot of the choices in our lives and relationships.” – Andrew Barnes
Is there a way out?
The good news is that once we’re aware of this mechanism, we can start to notice and observe when the primal brain is kicking in.
Through awareness comes change.
Whenever you notice yourself reacting, stop and feel.
Allow yourself to respond from a deeper place, from your heart and from your body.
After all, if somebody is hurting you, it’s most likely because they feel hurt themselves.
Or maybe they’re not actually aware that you’re perceiving their behaviour as upsetting.
Instead of getting angry, soften your reaction and look for compassion within yourself.
This has a potential to change not only the quality of your relationships but also the quality of your life.
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