Dealing with the rage within

Hijacked by rage

Have you ever been triggered, just exploded and left wondering what happened?

Silly question, maybe, because feeling triggered by life and people is a common human experience for many. The word “triggered” captures the essence of what happens so perfectly, as we feel anger coursing through our bodies like a gun going off, blasting whatever we perceive to be the cause.

These incidents are called an amygdala hijacking, a term coined by psychologist and author Daniel Goleman in 1996. An amygdala hijacking is an immediate, over-whelming emotional response that’s out of proportion to what’s happened.

We hear about people exploding over a seemingly insignificant incident. Reports of road rage incidents are commonplace.

What kind of a person would act like that? What were they thinking? As it turns out, nothing. They weren’t thinking because they’d been hijacked and were out of control.

The amygdala, the fight-or-flight centre of the brain, is part of the reptilian brain. The amygdala doesn’t process rational thought, it simply reacts, bypassing the higher function and reason of the brain’s neocortex.

When we’re hijacked by the amygdala, reality becomes distorted. We don’t see or hear what’s really in front of us. Our sense of time is also altered when the amygdala is running the show.

The brain’s neocortex separates us from animals. It’s most evolved in the human species, allowing us to perform the intelligent things animals can’t. When we’re hijacked by the amygdala, the reasoning/thinking part of the brain gets bypassed because we need to react quickly. Don’t think, just react.

This is a good thing if we need to jump out of the way to avoid being hit by a car, or a bear is chasing us. It’s not such a good thing when it causes us to lose control and react to non-life-threatening situations.

Highly stressed people are at increased risk for amygdala hijacking. Living in a reactive mode easily becomes a habit, destroying relationships and families, resulting with people considered to be hot-heads.

People may believe they’re just wired this way and feel victim to this response. In truth, they may be wired this way because they’re living life in survival mode and exhausted. Even small things can be perceived as a threat or danger when we’re living this way.

The good news is the changeable nature of the brain. What you practice grows stronger.

We can change a reactive nature to gain better control over the reptilian brain, learning to allow the rational, thinking parts of the brain to kick in. That puts us in the driver’s seat of our lives instead of living life in reaction, always scanning the environment for immanent danger where there is none.

With awareness, we can learn the value of pausing when we feel the rush of adrenaline start pouring through our bodies. Pause and take several deep, slow, conscious breaths, to give the thinking centre of the brain a chance to kick in. We may need to walk away to allow this to happen.

With practice, we can gain self-awareness into what’s happening within ourselves before we explode and possibly create collateral damage. We may still take the same action, but at least we’ve thought about it, and can respond instead of simply react. We can become more skilled.

I’m grateful for my own less than stellar experiences of amygdala hijacking. It’s helped me understand and experience what happens inside a stress-filled brain and body.

Mindfulness practice has caused my brain to change from being wired by stress into one of greater calm and awareness. It reminds me to pause and take a moment allow my rational thinking to return.

The stress level many people are experiencing today is showing up in news reports. My heart fills with compassion now, instead of judgment, when I hear reports of road rage and similar incidents.

Learning to pause and just breathe may be one of the most powerful practices you can do to protect yourself from being hijacked.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Living life by learning from the past

Life like revolving doors

I loved using the big, revolving doors in our city’s large department stores as a child.

I recall my mother’s protective grasp keeping me safe and moving forward at pace with the speed of the door. This was important, as the speed and weight of those doors could easily knock a child off their feet.

I’ve been thinking a lot about those big revolving doors as I consider the way life easily sweeps us forward, knocking us off our feet, if we’re not aware and mindful. It’s easy to get swept along.

Around the world the arrival of the new year caused multitudes to pause and reflect on charting a new course for the coming year. I’ve heard many people declaring their resolutions or goals for what they want to accomplish or do in the new year.

Many of the resolutions of outward changes we want to make are intended to make us feel better or more successful within ourselves. Many resolutions fail because the actions we take will not achieve the internal goal we desire.

I’ve found it much more helpful and powerful to set a successful course to my desired experience of life to begin with the inner experience I’d like to have of my life. What quality or experience in life do I want to embody for the coming year? Happiness, freedom, joy, and peace?

Asking ourselves what we hope to feel by making these outer changes will take us closer to the real goal we hope to experience. When we set our inner compass for how we want to feel, the actions required to arrive at our desired feeling-goal are more on point and easy to achieve.

Before we add what’s new or next, it’s helpful to first release what’s no longer serving us. It’s easy to live life by default, pulled forward by previous habits and life’s demands, pushed forward by the busyness of life, just like those big revolving doors.

Busyness is worn like a badge of honour, personal value closely tied to our productivity. We’re applauded and rewarded for the great number of things we can accomplish. Believing we’ve got to do everything quickly and savouring the present moment seems a lost art.

Busyness doesn’t equate with quality in our lives. It is a state of mind in which savouring the moment is often lost as we’re pushed forward, one activity to the next.

Carving out time for ourselves, to make space in our lives for contemplation and mindful examination of our lives helps in identifying activities and habits that add to the quality of our lives, and those that take away.

Instead of making new year’s resolutions, I now make commitments to myself, and I honour them. Commitments are promises I make to myself and I hold them as sacred and important. I schedule myself into my own calendar, and make it a priority because honouring the promises we make to ourselves is vital. Taking time to pause and reflect adds richness and keeps us on point.

As I mastered the ability to safely manage these big revolving doors, I felt I’d accomplished something and delighted in realizing I could slow those doors down, to have them move at my own pace. It took me far too long into my adult years to learn that I am the only one who can choose the pace and direction of my own life.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Forgiveness helps us as much as it helps those we forgive

Importance of forgiveness

Not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to suffer, so the saying goes.

The bigger question is, how can we end our own suffering and pay the price for the actions or inactions of another? How do we free ourselves?

Personally, I’m tired of paying the price for other people’s mistakes and bad behaviour. We’ve all been hurt in big and small ways by others, either intentionally or unintentionally. There’s no denying, horrible things happen in life.

This, in no way, denies the scarring and damage life’s atrocities, big and small, have created for people. It’s about ending our own suffering. When working with forgiveness, it’s best to start with smaller hurts, not the big ones.

I believe hurt people, hurt people. This doesn’t excuse them, but we don’t have to perpetuate the suffering in our own lives.

It’s important to be clear about what forgiveness is, and what it isn’t. Forgiveness is not saying what happened is OK. Forgiveness isn’t saying we must ever seek out or reconcile with the person who has harmed us. It’s an internal process others don’t even need to know about it.

Forgiveness isn’t “forgive and forget,” it’s letting go of our own pain. Forgiveness liberates us from the shadow of another’s mistake and we take our power back. If we had to wait until someone apologized or felt sorry for us to forgive, we might be waiting a long time. Sometimes, they aren’t sorry, they don’t even know the pain they’ve cause, or they’re dead. Waiting for another to feel sorry would only keep us trapped and locked into our own pain.

Forgiveness is a process, not an event, and it can take time. It’s often done in layers. We don’t over-ride or deny our own hurt and pretend we’re all happy-happy-joy-joy.

Bottling hurt feelings up doesn’t work and puts added stress on our minds and bodies. This can make us sick. Bottled up emotions often spill over into our lives in other ways. We can shut ourselves off from support, or avoid any situation or people who remind us of one that hurt us. In this, we lose out on life.

Be nice to the right person—yourself.

Many of us use a critical voice with ourselves. But when we’re hurt, it’s important to be kind with ourselves. Imagining we are our own best-friend is helpful. What would we tell someone we really loved who’s hurting? How would we be with them? It’s important to acknowledge and feel our emotions, pausing to ask ourselves what we need. Writing about it or sharing with a caring friend or counselor may be helpful so we can gain perspective and feel heard and supported.

It is helpful to name the feelings that arise. Naming the emotions helps to turn the volume down on the emotional centre of the brain and invite the rational part of the brain into action, according to a study conducted at UCLA.

When we’ve been hurt, there’s often a tendency to go over-and-over what was said or done in our own minds, and rehearse what we’d love to say. As best we can, stop having conversations with the offender within our own mind. This used to happen to me in the wee-small-hours, just when I was supposed to be sleeping. Each time I did this to myself, I felt a shot of stress chemicals in my body, causing me to be wide awake, and re-experiencing the hurt and I suffered.

The adage of holding a grudge is like letting someone live rent-free in our head applies here. I often consider how much air-time I give to people who’ve hurt me. They’ve likely not given it a second thought. How much power do I want to give others in my life?

I used to be the great pretender, and try to fake through it. Now, I take the time I need with myself until I can gain some clarity about what happened. Deep, slow, belly-breaths are helpful.

I’ve found power and liberation in pausing, taking a few deep breaths, and turning toward my hurt feelings with self-compassion. I name what I’m feeling, and don’t pretend nothing happened. Sometimes, I just silently whisper ‘ouch’ to myself.

Deepening our understanding about what forgiveness is and isn’t is just a starting point. Getting clear forgiveness is about ending my own suffering, and not about the other, was helpful for me.

Forgiving and freeing ourselves from past hurts can be liberating and is the perfect way to start the new year.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Dealing with grief during the holidays can be difficult

Grief and the holidays

It isn’t always happy holidays. This time of the year can be difficult for those who are grieving.

Once meaningful traditions can feel painful, only serving to remind us of who’s missing and amplify feelings of sorrow. This is true for the holiday season, or any other significant days when grief is involved.

We’re left feeling alone, possibly wanting to avoid anything festive, causing a deepening of sadness and isolation. We may want to cancel the whole thing and just survive the season. Just surviving is okay.

Grief is love with no place to go. As grief expert, Alan Wolfelt shared, grief is both a necessity and a privilege. We experience grief because we have loved. It’s a challenging part of being human.

Grief is messy and unpredictable, with no set course and no certain end-date. It shows up in confusing ways, often taking us by surprise. We might try to fake it to make it through the holidays, but feelings of grief and sadness become magnified and leak out all over the place.

What to do? How can we support ourselves or others who are grieving at this time of year?

While there are no simple answers, there are some helpful things to do.

• Acknowledge feelings of grief and talk about it.

• Allow yourself to feel your emotions, they may be a mixed-bag, but feel them without judgment.

• Remember to breathe.

• Connect with understanding, supportive people who care.

• Express your needs, let others know what they are.

• Set healthy boundaries; avoid isolating, but also don’t overschedule. It’s about balance.

• Grief can be exhausting. Respect the limits of your body and mind, lower your expectations of what you’re able to do.

• Be compassionate and understanding with yourself. We can’t shame or “should have” ourselves out of our grief.

• Plan ahead. Discuss plans with others and let them know about changes in plans.

• Talk about the person who died. Don’t be afraid to mention their name.

• Treasure precious memories and share them with family and trusted friends.

• Create new traditions. Decide which traditions you want to change and which ones you want to keep.

• Find a way to honour your memories.

• Take an inventory of the good and positive things in your life.

• Extend kindness to others. That will make you feel better.

• Connect with your faith and express it.

• It’s OK to enjoy the season and to celebrate.

• Seek professional help.

Each of us grieves differently and our grief varies with each loss. Create connections with those close with you by sharing your experience. This helps create connections and is helpful for others to understand where we’re at and how to help.

Remember, grief has many different faces and may not just present as an emotion of sadness. Grief may show up as remoteness, guilt, anxiety, exhaustion, irritability, and anger.

Grief’s so uncomfortable and we can feel powerless to help, so we may want to avoid the topic all together. All of the platitudes in the world won’t help. There are no phrases we can use to magically remove their pain.

When someone we love is grieving, it’s important we don’t take their withdrawal, or need to change traditions, personally. They’re just trying to make it through. Offering understanding support, and encouraging them to participate at the level of their own comfort is helpful.

Check in with friends who are grieving. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they’re doing. Avoiding the topic for fear of reminding them of their loss is like pretending there’s no elephant in the room. Accepting their feelings, and just listening to them and validating their feelings is so important.

The biggest gift we have to offer is our caring, non-judgmental presence. I choose to remember grief specialist, Clair Jantzen’s advice: Just show up, shut up, and listen. See what they need, and then do that.

My heart is around all who are grieving this holiday season.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More New Thought articles

About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress or to life. We are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 44 years and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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