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Resilience journey #6 – control your reactions! i.e. leave your reptilian brain behind

Who’s in control?

One of my most painful revelations came when I realized that the source of my ongoing problems with my bosses in my frequently changing jobs was me.

Of course, at the beginning I started with blaming others (especially them), the circumstances, the workload (too much or too small), desperately trying to justify I had nothing to do with how they treated me. I was absolutely sure it was not my fault in any way that they showed barely any respect for me. Well, at least, that was how I saw it for quite a while – changing jobs and hoping to find peace.

Then one day someone asked me a question. I have no memory who it was or what they asked, but I still can recall the feeling of being punched in the stomach when I realised that it was all my fault.

My bosses treated me the way I let them treat me.

I did not respect myself, I had fully submitted myself to them (in working matters), and I was surprised at the lack of their respect.

When we act like a doormat we will be treated like a doormat.

Even if we are not treated like that, we likely would perceive it, simply because this is how we see and evaluate ourselves. Good news is we can change it –

we cannot change how they speak to us but we can change how we react.

I am not saying it would be as quick as it was for me, but we do have power over what battles we choose to fight, and whether we engage in emotionally heated ones.

As we teach our children about healthy boundaries and the right to walk away we also might start practicing it 😄.

Reflecting back on my own story, I believe we are wired to find someone or something else to blame first when things don’t play out well. It takes courage to humbly admit when it is our fault, but this is a key step in the process, because now we can focus on the how.

Whenever we find ourselves in an unexpected and/or emotionally involved conflict it seems we cannot think clearly. Which is true, we cannot think because our brain has switched into fight/flight/freeze mode. This is when the reptilian brain and the limbic system takes the control over, so the neocortex – where logic, planning, self-control are situated – switches off.

No wonder we cannot think.

However, we switch this back on when we pause as we have started the process of rewiring our subconscious. To turn our brain on we first need to turn our survival mode off by slowly breathing through our nose down to the bottom of our stomach. Then we can think, evaluate our situation and can choose a different response to it. It is absolutely fine to walk away to a secure place and avoid immediate confrontation.

Leaving the situation does not mean acknowledging the other party is right.

Walking away simply means acknowledging that it makes no sense to continue the argument.

The conversation can be resumed at a later time when both parties have their logic switched on. Undoubtedly, it is a choice that is hard to make, as deep inside we carry the false impression that leaving an argument means defeat.

However, stepping out of a fruitless conflict requires courage, but implies the benefit of creating a future chance to solve it. Staying in a heated conversation when both parties are throwing smelly buckets of emotionally rooted garbage is a loss, for both of them. Even if it does not seem like it at first: one usually leaves feeling victorious and the other defeated. However,

winning that battle might bring ruin long term:

the unconscious feedback we get from that “victory” could push us to resolve all our conflicts that way, and we find ourselves fighting most of our battles using emotional pressure. This way worked before, so we keep on using it. But

it will damage us.

Over time we might become “what we are”, like a puppet driven by uncontrollable emotional eruptions. Finding our way back to “who we are” would take a long period of painful corrections in our thinking.

Was winning that argument really a victory?

Here is my hand.