First things first. When you get into an argument, remembering what to say or what never to say is almost impossible unless you learn how a small but powerful part of your brain works—the amygdala.
The amygdala, sometimes called “the lizard brain,” is part of your limbic brain responsible for fight, flight and freezing. When someone makes you feel threatened, for example, chemicals are flushed through your body, putting your amygdala on full alert while diminishing your cognitive ability.
Remember this: when your lizard brain is in the house, keep your mouth shut for 90 seconds. Breathe. Don’t rehash the images that caused you to get angry in the first place. Then, you’ll remember and have the ability to avoid saying the following statements:
- “You always…” or “You never…”
- “That’s ridiculous!”
- “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
- “You’re full of %$#.”
- “Why are you getting so emotional?”
- “Look at yourself….Why are you so angry!”
- “Calm yourself down!”
- “Really?! I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Loss of cognitive ability may save a life when you must climb a tree, jump over a fence or rip the door off a burning car to save someone inside. But when your inability to think rationally during an argument can’t keep you from saying the wrong thing, a relationship or job may be at stake.
Now, if you can remember that the chemical reaction that triggers your lizard brain should only last 90 seconds, you can regain your power faster than ever, suggests neuroscientist Jill Taylor Bolte:
“This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening and then you can watch it go away. After that, if you continue to feel fear, anger and so on, you need to look at the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the [negative response].”
At the end of the day, one person has to be the bigger person if the problem is worth solving and the relationship is worth preserving. You can be that person—by learning how your body and brain react to perceived threats, how to let the fight-or-flight response to dissipate, and choosing to put aside combative, sarcastic or passive-aggressive communication.
You can do this!