One of the most difficult things about being in relationships that are closer in nature is that we can get triggered. Our “buttons” get pushed. “You pissed me off when you didn’t come home on time, again!”, “You never listen!”, “You sound just like one of my parents!” We react in fear, shame or anger, and so withdraw, try to get even, take control of the situation or else punish ourselves.
Our triggers come from fear. Where does fear come from?
Evidently in all mammals, including us humans, there is a portion of the brain dedicated to protecting us from harm. It is almond sized, is very powerful, and is known as the “amygdala.”
The amygdala gets first dibs at analyzing the incoming signals from our five senses. If it detects any sign of danger (physical or social) it goes into action, moving us into the infamous “fight or flight or freeze” reaction. The stronger the perceived danger, the stronger the reaction.
The amygdala is capable of completely taking over brain function, going from the extreme of taking a person into a complete rage, all the way to rapidly executing moves to avoid a motor vehicle collision. Under its power, a mother has even been able to lift an automobile off of her child.
Despite its power, humans are not limited by the amygdala. We are capable of retraining it so that we respond appropriately rather than reacting unnecessarily when we perceive social danger. In other words, we can change what “makes” us fearful, ashamed, and ultimately angry.
I am constantly awed by the ability of fellow human beings to make important changes. At a recent weekend workshop, I witnessed many of the attendees moving through fears. It was made possible largely because of the overall support of the group. Witnessing this in myself and in others, was extremely moving for me.
The power of relationships cannot be minimized. Just as we can be wounded in them (as a child, spouse, employee, student, etc.) we can also heal in relationships. This is where the amygdala comes in again, for it plays an important role to connect us with others.
My childhood experiences of grade school were very difficult. Born with a learning disability, I often felt shame when unable to keep up or understand what was being taught. Shame is a form of fear that afflicts almost all human beings to some degree.
As I came to realize this weekend, shame can turn into such things as a fear of failure, anger and self-incrimination. Having named it, thankfully, I am now able to take care of that fear (take care of me!) and be more the unique individual I was meant to be.
Am I now healed? Hardly. Having the kind of friends and associates who can support me, challenge me, love me means my journey is now well on its way.
Move aside, fears – love is taking hold.
Ian Gartshore is a local therapist and energy contractor.