These are intense, extreme times. Everyone is triggered, emotions are high. Nobody knows what’s gonna happen. Many of us are experiencing some very real loss, like maybe a loved one or a job. All of us are experiencing the loss of our former lives. And that means everyone’s a little batsh!t right about now.
It seems obvious, but when things go sideways with people—maybe you have a big family fight, or a misunderstanding with a friend—we forget that right now is not normal.
Family Feuds In Lock Down
I have been talking to friends a lot more than normal lately, because I’m very aware that in my quote unquote normal life staying connected to friends is something that keeps getting crowded off my plate, and I’ve heard about epic fights and big emotions that involve the whole family. Or well-meaning conversations that just keep going and going until everyone is wiped out and feeling exhausted, or random little outbursts that turn into big disruptions.
I’ve had them myself.
For example, the other night, my son Teddy was down in the basement playing on his xbox. Now, he’s been playing on his xbox pretty much every day—he’s 10, and his friends are on there, and he can meet up with them and chat with them and I’m super pumped he has a way to socialize right now. I wish my 12 yo daughter had any interest whatsoever in the xbox because i would love it if she were interacting with her friends now, but that’s another story.
Anyway it was getting close to bedtime. Lenient with screens, but not right before bed. Trying to get work done. Hollered down to him to turn it off. He didn’t hear. I just went immediately into ogre mode and stamped down there and pulled the plug mid game. He was playing with a friend, building something he was like no no no and I was like grr grr grr and when I turned it off he lost his mind. Big upset. Right before bed.
And the thing we need to remember right now is that because everything is so nuts, we have to consciously TRY to have empathy for each other.
Daniel Goleman, wrote Emotional Intelligence, a classic book. And in it he described something called amygdala hijack. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain. We’re talking big emotions like anger and fear. It’s also what cues the stress response, by triggering the release of adrenaline and cortisol.
More nuanced emotions and thought processes are ruled by the frontal lobes of the brain. This is what tries to make sense of situations and understand complexities and make thoughtful responses instead of knee jerk reactions. It also helps us see others’ points of view.
But when the amygdala is switched on, it’s like the circuit to the frontal lobes is tripped, and we can entertain those nuanced thoughts. And guess what, all of our amygdalas are on high alert now. Any little thing and we go right to 11 on the upset scale. And it makes it very, very hard to stay open to others’ points of view.
The first thing to remember is that this is happening. If your partner over-reacts about something, don’t judge them for it, remind yourself that this is a really intense time and this reaction is more about circumstance than it is about you. It will help your own amygdala hijack from happening.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Today’s tiny assignment will also help, and it will facilitate keeping the lines of communication open in your household, too.
Tiny assignment: Share Your Experience
During your next difficult conversation, make it a point to share how you’re feeling physically in that very moment, such as:
Even as I’m saying this, I can feel a knot forming in my stomach.
Or like there’s an elephant sitting on my chest,
Or smoke coming out of my ears
Someone may be able to argue with you when you say how you feel, if you say, I’m really upset they might say well you shouldn’t be upset. But no one can argue with what you’re feeling in your body. That is undeniably yours, and inarguable.
In order to be able to share this with someone else, you have to stop long enough to assess what you’re feeling. Which helps you have empathy for yourself.
It also means you’re not trying to direct the conversation toward some end goal. It’s about relating, instead of attempting to control—and that helps you connect in a meaningful way.
Again, your tiny assignment is to at some point today share how you’re feeling in your body the next time you have a moment of disconnection or upset with someone you’re quarantined with today. I hope it helps you maintain your ability to have empathy and wards off an over-reaction!