How can knowing how our brains work help us during an argument? What are some things we can do based on neuroscience that can help us get through a disagreement? One of the biggest suggestions? Take a break!
Parts of the brain you want off/on during an argument
The limbic brain is your fight/flight/freeze center. You don’t want this to be on when you’re trying to discuss or understand something. Your Prefrontal Cortex is the part of your brain responsible for problem-solving, empathy, goals, patience, perspectives, etc. This is definitely the part you want to be operating in in a discussion or argument.
The important thing about these two parts of the brain is that they cannot both be on at the same time! Nothing is going to get done from your solution/goal/perspective brain if you are in a limbic state – at least nothing socially productive. It’s best to take a break so you can focus on these 2 steps.
How to Quiet Your Fight/Flight/Freeze Response
Know what your brain needs to switch out of limbic and into your PFC. The limbic brain needs to know that you’re safe enough to disengage protection mode. So focus on very predictable things to calm your limbic center into feeling safe, like your breathing.
Your breath is natural, effortless, totally predictable, and it even continues when you aren’t thinking about it. That’s one of the reasons why the first step is to focus on your breathing in any stress counseling (why they have you count to 10 in anger management). As you notice a few rounds of your own natural breathing, maybe gently breathing in a little deeper with each breath, remind yourself that your breathing is very predictable, consistent, and effortless.
Another option to focus on is gravity. There is arguably no sensation more predictable and familiar than gravity. So bring its consistent presence to mind- you can even allow your muscles to gently release as you are reminded that gravity is supporting you. If applicable, you can notice the ways in which you are safe enough, nourished enough, sheltered enough, etc. to be exploring this issue right now.
How to Activate Your Social Brain
Now that the limbic brain is relaxed (which is a necessary first step before the next one), you can turn on your PFC, which is what you want to be on in these situations. Only after step 1 can you give the PFC what it needs: novelty. Anything slightly interesting, but not so unfamiliar that your limbic turns back on. Watch a weird-looking bug outside, feel the ground intently, or the temperature of the air, intertwine your fingers in a weird way, play with an object with your non-dominant hand, try to invent a completely new color. None of this is threatening, but it’s just unusual enough to make your PFC go “huh?” and activate.
This is all something you can do on a break outside. Then, you can go back in with a new brain dynamic of non-threatened, social perspective that might actually help get you somewhere productive.
Danielle Rachlin, CNSF
Danielle Rachlin, CNSF received her Neurosculpting® Facilitator Certification in the original round of NSI graduates in 2013. Since then, she has taken an academic approach to teaching and has brought Neurosculpting® into the world of college campuses with her recurring quarter-long series at Colorado Mesa University. Danielle has also produced an educational ghostwriting collection in her position in Communications for the Neurosculpting® Institute during the completion of her Master’s degree in Public Administration for Environmental Policy, Management, and Law.
Danielle is passionate about introducing these concepts to people that do not necessarily already know they are interested in the subject and in making the information accessible to all kinds of people. She is motivated to spread the content of Neurosculpting® as widely as she can because she wants everyone to understand the natural systems of their brain so personal development is not an uphill battle. She has been meditating since childhood and was originally drawn deeply to Neurosculpting® due to its solid and digestible foundation in science.