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Your Brain on Divorce

Rachel Alexander Oct. 30, 2018

{4 minutes to read} The brain, dear brain, lights up with luminous ideas and cradles our treasured memories. That organ-control center holding both well wishes and well-being, home of intellect and analysis, reasoning, language, and … our survival instincts. If the part of the brain that lives under the brow and crown holds Shakespeare, Wordsworth, architectural plans and e=mc2, then at the base of the brain, closest to the spine, rests [or hisses] our reptilian brain. This ancient, early brain houses our instincts — those innate, automatic responses that kept us alive during the ages when our greatest threats were hairy beasts who could literally tear us limb from limb; when fight, flight, freeze, attack, submit were possibly our only options apart from violent death.

Although today our daily threats mostly exclude being chased by a bear, when the reptilian brain is activated, every threat can be experienced in our body as if it is potentially fatal.

How does this pertain to our brain on divorce? Our divorce-brain feels stalked. And not just in a creepy way by an unwanted admirer — but stalked as if by a predator.

Because divorce is filled with such a variety of threats to our lifestyle, identity, financial security, social status, and protection of offspring, it is no wonder our primal instincts awaken to hyper-alert and ultra-vigilant status.

The threatened brain is not the best governor to lead. We would not cast this brain as the CEO of ourselves.

It’s invariably better to have the more evolved, sophisticated, integrated brain in play when formulating major decisions. This requires settling the excited, fearful brain enough so that the whole brain is available.

3 Steps to Return to Balanced Brain

  1. Take a break from the situation that is causing fear or distress. Literally excuse yourself from the room to give yourself the opportunity and permission to reclaim your inner space. This need not be dramatic or extreme. Even giving yourself a few minutes away is helpful.

  2. Change positions physically — move around, sit in a different chair, take a walk and get a drink of water. Get the blood moving and literally bring more aspects of yourself back “online” by moving the body. Bring awareness into the arms, legs, or feet. Make this as simple as possible. Remember to breathe.

  3. Check if you can notice anywhere in your body that feels even a little bit good. Just survey the body very gently for any space that is experiencing something other than fear/anger/threat. Even if it is just a tiny, peaceful place between two toes. Maybe you can find a calm place on the tip of the nose or back of the hand. Maybe your lower lip feels a little at ease. Once you find a spot, spend a minute or so there. See if you can breathe from it and allow it to take up a bit more real estate on your body.

Slow down, friend. It’s much harder to downshift into neutral when you are racing down the emotional highway, so feel free to repeat these steps early and often.

Perhaps you can acknowledge that both your primordial and more developed brain are in your service — both working hard to safeguard you from harm.