Snip your Amygdala Before you Snipe Back

Did you know that emotions survive after memories vanish? Or do you wonder what moods and behavior heads or hearts control?

Yesterday,  on a walk in the woods with a gifted young leader, I once again saw his ethics, openness and willingness to become vulnerable in order to learn new skills. Without notice a mountain biker appeared on our winding path and startled my friend’s dog Jack, who in return snapped at the bikers feet. The 20 minutes that followed taught me again about the value of snipping an amygdala before you snipe back like Jack did.

Snip your amygdala

Moods Trigger Cool Choices

As the biker diminished my friend, it was obvious the man’s favorite spot to walk his dog had suddenly lost its magic. From their daily wonderland – the woods became a dreaded encounter with a biker who indicated he planned to ride there daily, and did not expect to encounter the dog. Did you know that in such cases your amygdala reacts from stored responses?

What’s around your next corner that could hurt, or disappoint, or leave you feeling sad or guilty and in mental ruts for days? Any person who reaches out to others vulnerably, like my friend does, also opens pathways to cynics who reject, belittle, or ignore you because they disapprove of who you are or what you represent. Sometimes it’s merely a matter of forgiving a guy who ruined your walk with a dog – to regain good moods.

Snip Amygdala Before you Snipe Back

Even today, you might feel the sting of words spoken by a trusted colleague, open a card from a family member and find any affection obvious from its absence, or encounter a person you care for who makes plans that deliberately exclude you. Each encounter that stings, rejects, criticizes, or diminishes you also locks steel jaws onto your amygdala.  Luckily though, jaws that create intense emotional pain,  can also become a trigger to snip your amygdala before you snipe back and intensify the damage. How so?

Rather than judge a culprit’s motives, regret your own weaknesses, or focus on deciphering what that person could be saying in meta-messages spoken, simply snip away.  Sure, use good tone,  and name the problem honestly rather than deny it exists, but then take mental scissors to snip your well being from any tethers to maligning words or thoughtless acts. The snipping leaves you mentally in a place to grow from the experience, or even offer an olive branch in response – rather than in a place of depression.

Refuse to Replay Personal Hurt Narratives

Refuse even to argue with yourself about the fact that a hurtful  person may be trying to improve, and instead snip your amygdala from all actions that add sadness or worry. Remember, it’s not about another person, whom you cannot change. It’s not even about the horrors of a toxic workplace.  Instead it’s about replenishing your deep pool of inner wellness, so that you can speak and act with respect even to those who disagree.

Finally focus on alternative activities that offer you challenge, fun or adventure, rather than replay hurtful acts mentally, and increase inner wounds. That divergence offers your brain a gentle place to build new neuron pathways to a healthier you. Through your focus on an activity you value, you’ll also reclaim your sense of wonder about life.  You’ll welcome back that fleeing inner joy.

Have you been confronted with a shattering experience, yet remained calm on your own winding roads of adventure like my young friend? How will you snip your amygdala?

Let it Go!

You can truly let go – and break from inner pain or confusion to prepare your brain for a confident and courageous response. Yes, even when you confront a bully’s taunt’s or golf a round that disappoints. Have you seen it happen?

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31 Comments

  1. I’m finding that I like this paragraph of yours as a comment to Mark Silver’s (Twitter @MarkHeartofBiz) post here on responding to client complaints: http://www.heartofbusiness.com/slammed-by-client/

    “Rather than judge a culprit’s motives, regret your own weaknesses, or focus on deciphering what that person could be saying in meta-messages spoken, simply snip away. Sure, name the problem thoughtfully, rather than deny it exists, but then take mental scissors to snip your core well being from its attachment to the person’s maligning words or acts. The snipping leaves you in a place to grow from the experience, or even offer an olive branch in response – rather than in a place of depression.”

  2. Ellen, this is beautifully written, thank you. Right now, it seems, people’s nerves are on edge more than ever. This is a great reminder, in these times, for us to “snip our amygdala before sniping”. I love the old saying, “Turn the other cheek” and you’ve captured it well – and with the twist that it’s healthier for us to do so – with this post.

  3. eweber says:

    Wow, Mary you are so right and your thoughtful comment reminds me that we need to reflect ahead on these “snip the amygdala” skills to ensure we can use them effectively to walk forward in tough times!

  4. eweber says:

    Mary Jo – thanks for your kind words. I wish I had know more about how brains really work in tough times when I was much younger!

    Luckily, we also know the aging brain can rewire to remain agile far beyond our senior years though — so I still have a few years to try ‘em out in difficult situations!

  5. Ellen, while I might not snipe back I sometimes revert back to my old way of doing things and take an incident like this right in my tummy. I hold in my emotions, but that is even worse if I can’t let go, since I would get ulcers, stress and high blood pressure to boot. Even when you tend to eat the arrogance and try to swallow it in your tummy, just snip it off instead. The affects to your body just aren’t worth it!

  6. eweber says:

    Yikes — you speak for many of us. We hold hurtful situations inside and crumble under the weight of their intensity! You are spot on Robyn, because you are speaking to ways the brains works for and not against us! The snipping actually prevents all the inner toxins you described here better than I did!

    One could have named this blog – SNIP FOR THE STOMACH’S SAKE TOO!

    Thanks for your exampoles and added wisdom, Robyn.

  7. Wally Bock says:

    This is a stunningly good post, Ellen. It also addresses something that is fiendishly hard to do, stay calm in a crisis and, even harder, recover from an “attack.” There’s no numbered instruction sheet for this. Everyone has to work out their own way.

    It helps to remember and repeat that we’re not responsible for anyone’s actions but our own. It helps to talk (especially soon) with people who care about us. It helps to be wrapped in a social web of friendship and love.

  8. eweber says:

    Wally, thanks for your encouragement and your reminder of how hard this amygdala thing can be. It also reminds me of the value of knowing that we all face similar dilemmas. That thought alone, can become an encouragement when the amygdala flares and refuses to calm.

    How true that we cannot change others – or even explain their behaviors. Love the notion of a social web of love and care!

    There are times when it seems impossible to some people to openly chat about these issue with loved ones, and at these times – people are especially vulnerable as they attempt to snip the amygdala away from the problem – and free the mind for another look!

  9. Wied says:

    I was sexually assaulted when I was younger, and now believe that it has made it hard for me to think. I had it well under control for years, although I did not remember most of my child hood. Then when I was deployed in 06-07 to iraq, I witnessed a lot of death. Iraq was in the middle of a civil war, and America had chosen it’s side. People, woman, kid’s, all fighting each other, and I couldn’t help but see the pleading eye’s staring, just begging for help. They were kid’s just playing in the street when a bomb went off, or family’s with different religions shooting one another, people drinking coffee in a store. I couldn’t run from them, or my past. This unlocked a dark past emotion of felling helpless, something I thought was buried. I only wish I know how to snip away at it, but it is very over whelming. I have been trying since Dec. 07 to unlock the misters of the past, and put it all behind me. I have had little to no luck, even with the help of a shrink, and my wife’s support, and understanding. I still find hope, that is when I read something like your article, so thank you.

  10. eweber says:

    Without question, the longer back emotional scars go, the harder it is to snip an amygdala. While the same principles are involved the person’s work is harder and help is often needed from experts so you are doing the right thing and good luck.

    That raises a good point alos about snipping as soon after emotional injuries as possible, and before the injury becomes your mental focus. It differs from denial, in that it admits to the injury and yet it differs from emotional pain because it moves forward through channeling mental energy in healthy places. Thanks for your comments and all the best as you find ways to snip the amygdala from hurts, and find that can help others in your community to avoid similar tragedies.

    You stories about war, for instance, show why so many of us work hard to illustrate ways of using robust peace plans to secure cooperation and understanding among those who differ. It takes people like you to help make peace a reality, for instance.

  11. Joe Williams says:

    Powerful post, Ellen. It’s an excellent reminder for me – and for all of us – to use our higher brain functions in situations that may drive lower ones. It brings to mind some feedback I received on Friday from one of the team members who said that there was one time where I grew outwardly frustrated with him. He asked for patience, and such a request falls right in line with your post. Thanks!

  12. eweber says:

    Joe, thanks for your encouraging and kind words. You are so right – what a good reminder to all of us. We are hit with about 22 stressors per day the research shows and when we snipe back we all lose.

    Yet we do at times, and then we snip – move forward – and remember the joy of having other leaders on similar paths – so that we find supports! Have a wonderful weekend Joe!

  13. […] to tap into better tone skills in difficult settings, and find I still have a  distance to go to snip that amygdala before it snipes back. […]

  14. […] would agree that human minds are capable of increasing peace and warding off war. Far fewer though, are aware that it takes daily rewiring. It starts where we […]

  15. […] If online success is your goal, you’ll want to toss talents into the ring in ways that win more for the entire virtual circle. People often start online groups only to find that a few people with weaker tone skills, set up polarities rather than engage opposing views with respect. We see it most pronounced when controversial topics arise and one person snipes back, rather than snip their amygdala. […]

  16. […] you ever wondered why you blurt out responses that create problems for you later? Or did you know that your experiences are carried first to the […]

  17. […] reactions to difficult situations, stored by snipping your amygdala before it snipes back under pressure, also lead to resolutions that help win, even around those who […]

  18. […] Respond to confrontations by snipping your amygdala before you snipe back too soon and regret what you […]

  19. […] before you speak and snip your amygdala so that  words can build better friendship and goodwill, and you’ve upped your own and […]

  20. […] Have emotional lightening strikes held you back, or do you snip your amygdala before you snipe back? […]

  21. […] people who differ or disagree. When conflict strikes war and peace vie for solutions. Politicians rarely tame their amygdalas and so it’s no surprise that they frequently choose war to resolve differences. Which do you […]

  22. […] ways to tame an amygdala before it snipes back, and gather examples from fellow workers to illustrate how tone adds tonic or […]

  23. […] brilliant people, promote racism, and even ignite wars? Tone is the brain’s best approach to tame an amygdala in ways that harness innovative energy. Rather than take potshots at people, consider disagreements […]

  24. Andrew Mowat says:

    Great article Ellen. It also brings to consideration the issue that emotions are contagious. Calm is contagious, just as panic is contagious. Of all of the emotional contagions, amygdala-driven (in my language Red Zone) responses are the easiest to catch. Further, leaders are more contagious than peers.

    Critical, then, if you need people to remain calm, collaborative, creative and optimistic, to manage down the intrusion of your own leadership amygdala.

    Cheers and thanks…

  25. getfit says:

    I would love to read more about bullies in the workplace, and how you shut your brain down to that, in particular when your boss is a bully.

    Most of what is written on that subject that I’ve found barely touches the surface. What do you when your boss is a bully, and spends all his time belittling people, telling them their degree is worthless, they are sarcastic, egotistical and I would go so far as saying psychopathic without the killer side of it?

    When you stand up for your staff or yourself you get told your defensive and then you get nailed in your review for being defensive and emotional. From what I can tell there’s no amount of snipping, or remaining calm, or a response of any kind that works when someone is in charge, that is narcissistic, egotistical, and a bully.

    You have to either take it quietly as your confidence is stripped away, not only from you but your department, or quit. You can’t go to HR because they will just go tell the bully and you’ll get it even worse than before.

    You know, don’t burn your bridges kind of thing so you are screwed. Bottom line, snipping and being calm sound like great ideas on the surface but in reality it’s just like in school. Bullies gets away with whatever they want because if you stand up or even try to get personnel to help you just get beat down even more. Anyone who bullies and uses intimidation as the way to lead is worthless, but society is jam packed full of them.

  26. eweber says:

    You speak for many people here – and many have quit their job because of bullies at work. There are many choices though – and here are 11 blogs about bullying and responding http://twurl.nl/ea7a2y – to show a few options you may not have considered.

    It’s also very useful to look at how to lead others in this situation – since we cannot change others ultimately – but we can change ourselves and out situations by the brain based strategies we use in the face of bullying.

    Let us know how these posts help OK? All the best as you help others past this difficult place. Many in this brain based community support you!!

  27. […] – that one person, because of harmful chemicals such as cortisol that trigger reactions and store these in the amygdala, the human brain can destroy any hope of innovative solutions in an entire group. The opposite is […]

  28. diah says:

    Hi Ellen. I found your site from googling “amygdala”. I never heard of it before till recently I took my children to a doctor who can see colors of things. For my youngest one, the doctor said she has bright red color on her amygdala compare to pinkish color for average children. Doctor said she’s emotionally explossive, which is true. Do you have any suggestion regarding this? It is very difficult to reason with her once she’s triggered.
    Other thing I want to ask is about midbrain activation. It’s becoming a booming things here in Indonesia. Lots of benefits listed. I am curious about its side effect. You have experiences in this field, you ming be able to explain. Thanks for your help.

  29. […] do you tame your amygdala, and rewire your brain to respond to emergencies quickly but without fear, regrets or anger of the […]

  30. […] Respond to confrontations by stepping back and tossing goodwill into words and action. Brain experts would say you are snipping your brain’s amygdala. […]

  31. […] before you speak and snip your amygdala so that  words can build better friendship and goodwill, and you’ve upped your own and other’s […]

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