I am not retired. I am a sole practitioner in my coaching business, therefore the CEO, CFO and service provider. I also control my calendar so I can ensure time for my writing, volunteering, adventures in nature, and other pastimes that I deem critical to living wholeheartedly – a term borrowed from Brene Brown. The lifestyle I have curated has the potential to keep me peaceful and balanced. Until my humanness and fallibility get in the way.
Years ago, while attending a course on neuroscience and transformational coaching, I was introduced to the term amygdala hijack. My antiquated science degree dusted off, reminded me that this almond-shaped structure lies in the middle of the brain. Small and eternally powerful, this cluster of neurons alerts us to danger. A near miss on the highway which has your heart racing and knuckles white on the steering wheel as you swerve to safety is the gift of the amygdala. The loud crashing sound outside your tent which alerts you to grab your flashlight and hush your gasping breath is the amygdala on guard. As a primitive portion of our brain, it is the protector and guardian of our survival – triggering our fight–or–flight response.
The hijack happens when this portion signals to us that we are in danger or under attack, and the threat is invisible. A word uttered. A text or email. A non-response or no-show. The brain shuts down and the physical survival instincts take over. In a boardroom, at the dinner table, on a walk. There are breathing strategies, disciplined pauses, and other techniques recommended to save us from the spiral to the emotional reactivity of the take-over of our nervous system. Sometimes I can retrieve a measure of rationality. Sometimes I can’t. Or don’t. Sometimes it ignites out of nowhere – a flying spark. Other times it rears up from a simmering stew of disquiet; the heat just enough to boil up a bubble.
When it happens, the physical responses in my body override my brain. They are the first indicators of impending peril. My normal breathing, regular and unnoticeable, hastens and becomes so loud that it’s all I can hear as it resounds in my ears. I imagine that my heart and lungs are so enlarged that they are constricting my throat so that my voice is strained and either very loud or hardly audible. My upper lip always twitches. And my ears get hot, burning hot. I might remember words, or a line spoken. Though not so much as the part of my brain that would process with some reason and logic is not available. Afterward there is an emotional hangover. And endless revisits and ruminations as I piece together the story. Searching for some fragment that will bring me to stillness and understanding.
So far, after the latest episode, I am in a place of humble sadness and relief. It’s happened to me before. A relationship unravels as I try desperately to retrieve it. I nurture the belief that they’re worth it, that I’m worth it. I hold on too tight. Despite numerous advisories of loving detachment, I am still an attacher. A connector. It’s my superpower and my nemesis.
I am also an eternal optimist, plagued with what seems to be fantastical thinking. It enables me to create interesting and happy internal dialogue. While it harbours the risk of becoming a set-up for shock and disappointment.
In counseling about grief and trauma, I am told that only when we see our pain in the other person’s face, will we heal and find forgiveness. More than ever, I believe that to be true and accurate. If that is not available, then I know that it’s time to let go. Detach. Disconnect. Without stories of right, wrong or blame.
Then I have the space to forgive myself.
At least, that is my experience.