Back Away - I Do Every Day - September 6

Back away

By Janel Breitenstein

It happened when I was cleaning for a (very clean) guest’s arrival. 

It had been one of those weeks: A recipe involving attempts to work from home with four kids, a  birthday party with tie-dye, two clogged toilets, a sick child, etc. 

I came down the morning of the guest’s arrival to the overflowing sink full of dishes my teens had ignored, despite my request. That’s when I saw my husband’s snacks left out from the night before.

Stick a fork in me. I was done. 

You’ve been there. When suddenly you’re so angry you lose it. I was feverishly scrubbing the bathroom floor in my PJ’s before my coffee, crying and livid. 

Now, allow me to insert just a tiny amount of brain science here to make it work for both of us. 

Some scientists have dubbed this phenomenon an “amygdala hijack.” It’s a way of saying that the emotional, animal-like part of our brains—the amygdala—takes over for that classic fight, flight, or freeze response. 

Because speed becomes important in the face of a threat (even an emotional one), the amygdala bypasses the part of the brain in charge of cognitive control, decision-making, and reasoning. Incoming information from our senses goes straight to the amygdala—kind of like your unplanned reaction to stubbing your toe.

We’re in survival mode, right? So things tend to follow a pattern of “Ready! FIRE! Aim!” 

Because we’re reactionary, we fire off things we regret later (like the few words I allowed myself before my husband left for work). 

Before I knew this, when my husband “wanted space” in an argument, I chalked it up to passive-aggression or conflict avoidance. 

But he was faithful to circle back around and tie up loose ends between us. By that time, both of our amygdalae had backed down beneath the control of the Holy Spirit and our rational brains. 

The Brain-Maker commands us, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). 

As long as you’re not leaving conflict unresolved, backing away can be a way to regain godly control of your brain.

Listen to Dave and Ann Wilson talk about how unresolved conflict builds walls in marriage. 

The good stuff: The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:17)

Action points: Before your next conflict, explain to your spouse your desire to have more control over your reactionary responses. When conflict hits, be aware of the moments your survival-brain starts to take over. Calmly ask if you can take a few moments away—and then, a while later, address the conflict in a way that compassionately addresses both your desires.

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