Curb Your Adrenaline, Change The World

One of the things I do a lot these days is teach women how to heal conflict. One of the hallmarks of conflict in relationships is that we start from a place of being triggered, which leads to words and actions that we will indeed regret later. Those reactions can be hurtful, self-sabotaging, and deeply damage relationships, sometimes immediately, sometimes over time.

Why does this happen? It happens because of a little part of your brain called the Amygdala. That part of your brain is the one responsible for keeping you alive. Yes, that’s right. What happens when we get triggered is our brains get ready for action. Your body is flooded with adrenaline (and some other stuff,) and your brain thinks you are dealing with a life-threatening event. Even if the stimulus (a partner’s comment, an action or inaction, a Facebook Post) is relatively innocuous, your brain decides it’s a life-or-death situation. And then, the Amygdala does something really interesting. It hijacks traffic to your neocortex (that is, the thinking, wise part of your brain.) So when you are triggered, you actually aren’t thinking. And your actions and words are not rational, and likely to be destructive, or at least not constructive.

I was boiling in the soup of my own triggers in dealing with Facebook over the last few days, and I realized that our methodology to heal conflict within couples might actually be useful in a much broader context. So I figured I’d outline it, and you can try it out, and see what you think.

The process is called “SCORE”. It has 5 steps:

S: Step back into yourself. Breathe. Notice the feelings in your body. Breathe some more. Disconnect from the story (she said… he did…) and focus on how your body is feeling.

C: Connect with yourself with compassion. The feelings you are feeling (hurt, fear, anger, sadness, guilt) are OK. They are really fine, and you are fine, no matter what you are feeling. You are loved and lovable, no matter what you are feeling.

O: Observe the feeling. Investigate the Origin of the feeling. What’s happening in your body? What body sensations are there. Can you name the feeling? Does it feel familiar? Get to know it a little.

R: Remember your Responsibility for the feeling. Relinquish responsibility for other’s feelings. This feeling you are feeling is yours. It was triggered by something someone else did or said, but it is your feeling – it is a response of your brain and body. It is within you. And, you need to relinquish responsibility for anyone else’s feelings – those feelings are theirs, a response of their brains and bodies, within them.

E: Experience Empowerment. If you’ve gone through these steps, you have undone your Amygdala hijack, and so your neocortex is back online. And you are holding yourself with compassion, and have a better understanding of the feeling that got triggered. Perhaps you remember that it reminded you of something from childhood, or a past event. When you’ve gone through this process, you can decide what, if any, action needs to be taken. Your words and actions are much more likely to be compassionate and constructive.

I know this is probably kinda “touchy feely” for a lot of activist folks, but it’s actually based on science (with a bit of scientifically-validated Buddhism thrown in.) I think it could be really helpful, whatever your work in the world is. Whether you are triggered by an experience of racism, or you are triggered by an experience of being called out on something you said or did, this can be really helpful. And I bet the “R” step will be hard for some people to swallow. I know, because I often feel at the mercy of external events, until I remember that I’m actually not.

And the “C” step, self-compassion, is way more important than you think. Cultivating self-compassion is actually one highway to being able to feel more compassion for others. And lots of people feeling more compassion for others… well, that’s when the world changes.