Avoid Getting “Hijacked”
I used to ask my kids to name the emotion: mad, sad, glad scared. In their emotional state — a disappointment, an unacknowledged want, an injustice — they hated me: they just wanted to be mad.
By asking, though, I was doing two things:
- I was showing them that it’s OK to feel some emotion deeply, and;
- that there is some value in trying to understand what the dominating emotion is
I learned a lot in the process, too: they showed me that the skill can be acquired at any age. It still gives me hope for the species. Men, in particular, are adept at “stuffing” emotions and often think that getting angry is OK; many think it’s justifiable that it’s an appropriate response for being “provoked.” I’m here to say that’s not really true.
I can’t control how I feel but I can control how I behave.
What do emotions and divorce have to do with each other? That would be like asking “What does the death of a loved one and emotions have to do with each other?”
A simple and partial answer is that divorce is a death of sorts. If we can start to process the emotions, perhaps we can use the pain to help us learn…how to be more human, more compassionate, more empathetic. More kind to ourselves and each other. First, we must acknowledge the grief.
My friend Jay, just a few days ago, was making derogatory comments about his ex- with whom he seems to be in a continual battle about…you guessed it: custody and support.
I was compassionate and firm in a text with him: “she’s fine, you’re fine…the acrimony has to stop…for the kids.” Hating and anger are easy emotions in this culture but what lies underneath is that sense of grief that needs to be named and cherished: divorce causes loss…and the loss keeps going.
To better understand the dynamics, let’s first, let’s do a little neurophysiology: our human brains have evolved and, in many ways, we’re still catching up, behaviorally, with nature’s work. The limbic brain — which controls the sensation of emotions, pleasure centers, stress response systems — is not controlled by the neocortex: it does its own thing and, sometimes, the neocortex — conscious mind — has to catch up.
You know that feeling you get when someone has insulted you and your face gets red? That’s the limbic system and the reptilian brain doing their thing; it can take seconds, minutes, hours, even days for the neocortex to answer the question: what just happened?
A threat came up and…the body and brain are supremely tuned to deal with those situations: I can be taken over — hijacked — without even knowing it or being able to control my response: we’ve all been there.
Being able to interpret what just happened –emotionally, physiologically, psychologically — is a skill that we are not born with but must acquire to live within the norms of society.
When that pain of grief gets touched, when an injustice is committed (“I already paid that month’s support”), it’s easy to get angry and lash out. It would be natural.
A mentor of mine, a wise man, once wrote: “to be human is to do what’s not natural.”
Are my children (23 and 19) more aware than their contemporaries about what’s going on for them? I don’t know…but I don’t have to ask the question — what are you feeling? — anymore: I don’t like getting soundly trounced by these guys.