My emotions have been pulled every which way during the last few days. Happiness in listening to things I agree with. Unhappiness listening to those I disagree with.
But since I want to be happy, it’s got me asking what part my own brain is playing in this. Can we face those who disagree with our strongly held convictions while maintaining peace of soul? Yes. And part of the answer lies in our brain chemistry!
Deciding to do what’s good is always possible, but it can be harder when emotions flare up. Negative emotions can trample the good we mean to do and leave it in the dust. So it helps to be aware of the sneaky things our own brain is doing behind our backs.
For example, when we feel threatened, the amygdala (uh-MIG-duh-luh) fires up, sending out adrenaline, giving us that fightin’ spirit that makes us want to retaliate for the affront. (Check out a previous post on avoiding “amygdala hijack.”)
But the amygdala’s a culprit in another way. As the chief archivist-of-past-pain, it dredges up similar injuries, whether raw or long-forgotten. It’s what makes us say, “There they go—they always do this!” We overlook any good “they” may have done, which releases more adrenaline, making us even madder.
Here’s the thing—when we allow ourselves to get us too upset, our ability-to-think automatically shuts down. That’s built into our wiring. And then we become, well, less than our best selves. We’re tempted us to act in a less-than-adult way.
Below are two tips for sending the brain’s archivist back to the stacks and refusing to look at the old, hurtful memories that take us out of the present moment:
- Recognize that the adrenaline in our system is causing us to be upset. Often, this is enough to let the “thinking brain” take control again, which enables us get back our broader perspective and freely choose to love. When the thinking brain has first place, we can fight with all our might for what’s right without wasting our precious energy on resentment.
- Name one good thing about the person, or people, who are making us mad. Better yet, write it down. If we can’t do that, we’ll know our brain has shut down our ability to reason and we’re not acting from that fully human place where we can see that God (shocker alert!) loves them as much as He loves us.
Virtue is about freedom to choose what’s good. If my own brain hijacks my ability to reason and to love, I have lost that freedom—and it’s time to remind my emotions that they exist to serve my thinking brain and not the other way around!