Good decision making during separation and divorce is often hijacked by strong, out of control and overwhelming emotional reactions. Just when you need your logic, creativity and problem-solving skills the most, your thinking brain shuts down, and you become very reactive and unable to think straight. This emotional response to perceived danger is due to the fight or flight response. I do find that a simple understanding of how this reaction is triggered, and your emotions arise, can help people manage better during separation and divorce.
Our human brain consists of 3 basic parts according to Paul Maclean and his Triune Concept of Brain and Behaviour. This theory suggests your brain has evolved to have three basic components built on top of each other. This blog is my very simplified understanding of Paul’s theory.
The reptilian brain (our basic instincts evolved):
The reptilian brain is the most ancient part of our brain and it is constantly scanning the horizon for danger and threats. Like a lizard watching for some imminent threat, we still constantly search for danger and are ready to react instinctively. When a threat is detected the reptilian brain immediately goes into what is often called the ‘fight or flight response’. This response makes us ready to either fight for our very survival or run away from the danger. This is a great response if you are a lizard. Lizards do not have emotions and usually react with automatic or ritualistic patterns created to resist change. Reptiles do not get emotional like we do and just fight to protect themselves or run away.
The mammalian brain (our emotions evolved):
The mammalian brain is the source of our basic emotions. Our emotions help us view events as agreeable or disagreeable so we can learn to both avoid pain and seek pleasure. Emotions help us store our memories and learn new things. A key difference between a reptile and a mammal is that you cannot teach a reptile tricks but you can train a mammal. Mammals are capable of learning new behaviours because they have emotion. Emotions are considered a good thing because they allow us to learn and change our reactions.
The primate brain (logical thinking brain or neo-cortex evolved):
The primate brain is the seat of higher thinking, reason, and logic. This is where our human intelligence, or lack thereof, sits. This primate brain actually has limited direct control over your emotional mammalian brain and almost no control over the reactive reptilian brain. In short, you cannot ‘will’ your emotional brain to do much, or your reptilian brain to do anything. You can, however, teach yourself to react to your emotions and instincts in desired ways, continue to learn from them and choose to respond differently.
When you have a fight or flight response triggered, common in arguments during separation and divorce, your body instinctively reacts and floods your body with chemical messengers that cause you to prepare for a fight or run away. As the body floods with these messengers, we feel them as our emotions. The higher thinking brain, in a fight or flight response, actually gets shut down as your pounding heart redirects blood to your large muscles to fight or to escape. Interestingly, this response means that you cannot think well at all and definitely cannot make a good logical decision until the chemical messengers work their way out of your system.
How can you best cope with the hijacking of your emotions?
- Recognize that the flight or fight reaction is a normal and very human reaction.
- Learn to recognize when you are being emotionally hijacked by how you feel.
- Acknowledge that your emotional state is not serving the situation, and you would like to return to the problem when you are calmer and more able to think and talk.
- Remove yourself from the situation quickly – before things are said or done you will regret later.
- Allow yourself the time for the chemical messengers to clear out of your system – this normally takes a minimum of 20 minutes and longer if you are repeatedly triggered. Give yourself the time needed to break down the adrenaline and return to a more normal state.
- Physical activity like a run or heavy exertion can help speed up the depletion of the adrenaline in your system and help your recovery faster.
- Wait for calmness to return and your thinking brain to come back online before you return to the situation that triggered you.
- In separation and divorce, it not only makes a lot of sense to give yourself time to calm down and be able to reason again, it also makes good sense to let your partner, soon to be your former partner, to do the same if you want both or you to make better decisions and reach any agreement.
- Be patient. You can only communicate clearly. This includes listening and actually hearing what is being said, as well as responding reasonably when your thinking brain is capable of it.
- You can only negotiate well, with reasonable outcomes, when you are both calm and not overreacting emotionally.
- Practice good self-care to keep yourself healthy to help you increase your resilience to overreacting.
Please contact me if you would like more help dealing with your emotions!
I do offer a strategy session.
I also manage a private Facebook group where we can connect and you can be kept up to date with challenges, products and all sorts of other resources. Please join me in ‘Growing Through Divorce‘.
Take good care of yourself!
The Divorce Coach in Dundas