Do you sometimes you wish your spouse would just listen? But they don’t. They won’t. What’s wrong with them? Why can’t they understand what you’re saying?
No, you’re not speaking Martian. Your spouse hears what you’re saying just fine. But they don’t listen. In this post you’re going to learn 6 surprising facts about the particular part of your brain that literally prevents them from listening to you.
Specifically, we’re going to talk about a tiny, almond-shaped part of your brain. It’s extremely powerful and it can literally save your life! Uncontrolled though, it can leave deep scars in your relationship, and your marriage. For life.
Your Brain Is Where Your Thoughts Begin
Your thoughts influence how you feel, and it’s your feelings that influence how you are going to behave. Your behavior, with repetition, creates habits, which in turn determine who you are and what you stand for. Ultimately, your habits determine the results you get out of life.
Knowing that, it’s good to understand a couple of things about your brain. In particular, how the unconscious and conscious parts of your brain work together. That’s because your unconscious mind interferes in your social interactions much more than you are likely aware.
Powerful Tiny Little Almond
So, let’s do a really quick tour through our brains. It will be simplified because we are not brain surgeons, and we don’t need to be.
Our brains have evolved in three distinct phases:
- The brain stem. This controls life supporting autonomic functions like breathing, blood pressure, and digestion.
- The limbic system. The most important part of the limbic system is called the amygdala. You can call it the “ancient brain” because it evolved first, together with the brain stem. It represents our unconscious mind.
- Cerebral cortex. It’s complex and big but it was the last to evolve. It’s the thinking part of the brain, in which we have the most control. It’s responsible for reasoning, judgments, conclusions, making decisions, and predicting things for the future. As such, the cerebral cortex is part of our conscious mind.
Let’s focus on the amygdala for a moment—our unconscious mind. This is a tiny, almond-shaped region of our brains that plays an absolutely crucial role in our reactions to stressful situations.
It triggers pleasure from sex or eating. More importantly, it’s responsible for processing emotions, such as anger, fear, and danger. When the amygdala perceives that you are in danger, it triggers a response automatically. That response can be fight, flee, hide, freeze, or submit.
Notice the big grey area all around. This is celebral cortex (our reasoning, thinking part of the brain). It may be complex and big. But it has little power compared to the amygdala.
Fun Facts About the Amygdala—Your Unconscious Mind
- It’s super-fast! If the unconscious mind (the amygdala) and our conscious mind (the cerebral cortex) were racing, the amygdala would already be at the finish line while the cerebral cortex would have just started the engine (started consciously thinking). That came quite handy in the early days of mankind. Imagine a beast coming toward the entrance of an ancient man’s cave. It was simply a matter of survival to be able to respond quickly, whether it was fight, flight, or hide. But this survival mechanism quickly becomes a disadvantage! If we let the amygdala take over control we are quick to say and do things that we later regret.
- It doesn’t know what year it is. If your partner is yelling at you right now, your amygdala treats this the same way as if the beast was trying to get into your cave and eat you alive a thousand years ago. That’s because the amygdala can’t tell the time.
- It treats symbolic and literal danger the same way. If your partner makes a sarcastic remark or is yelling at you, it can evoke as strong a reaction as a life-threatening situation, like a bear chasing you in the woods. That’s because the amygdala cannot tell the difference between symbolic danger (your thoughts triggered by a sarcastic remark) and literal danger (the bear chasing you). The cerebral cortex does know the difference, but it will be too late, because the amygdala is quicker.
- It doesn’t remember names and faces. The amygdala cannot tell the difference between your mom shouting and calling you by your full name (which usually meant trouble, didn’t it?) and your spouse doing the same thing many years later, but just wanting to talk to you. Has it ever happened to you?
- It is poisoning you every time you get upset. The amygdala is poisoning your organs each time it’s activated, whether that is by a real or imaginary threat. When activated, it floods your bloodstream with cortisol, harming your organs for up to 24 hours. That is why people who are happy and content with their lives have lower levels of cortisol, get sick less often and generally live longer than unhappy people. Think of that, the next time you want to fight.
- Once triggered, the amygdala needs a reboot. Once the amygdala goes off, the cerebral cortex (the conscious mind) shuts down and waits for the brain to reboot before it can think clearly again. When anger settles, we often see things from a different perspective. Many times we are sorry for the words we said and things we did. Why? Because after a “reboot” our conscious mind is back in the game, and we behave reasonably again. Often, the harm is already done, and if we make these mistakes often enough, it goes beyond repair.
The Bottom Line?
Taking into account what you now know about the human brain, two things become obvious.
- If your spouse feels criticized, disliked, unappreciated, judged, or rejected, their brains perceive this as danger. They feel under siege as their amygdala is alert.
- When this happens, it’s impossible for them to listen because they are busy running for cover or preparing an attack.
To bring your amygdala under conscious control takes some practice, but the rewards are great. You can start by consciously recognizing when things are likely to get overheated and responding differently.