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Understanding Today’s Divisiveness

Everyone is speaking about how divisive our country is right now. But why? And how do we reverse course to find common ground? I suggest looking more closely at our own emotions and how we are behaving towards each other. 

You see, there is a pattern that we can zoom in on. Every day we see chaos around us. We watch it on TV. We see it on our social media. We see just about everything in our society being politically used. 

To really understand the ‘why’ behind the intense divisiveness, we really must stop and look at brain function (stay with me now!). We know that when our fight or flight system (the part of our brain that triggers a stress response that prepares the body to fight, flee, or freeze) is triggered, all logical brain functioning is lost. In other words, our logical brain has now been flooded with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones shut down logical brain functioning. Now you may ask, what happens when our logical brain is offline? What takes over?  My simple answer is fear-based emotions. 

When fear-based emotions take the reins, there is now a slim chance of finding common ground. Because at the root, you have now become a threat to that person’s system. When a person is met with a perceived threat, emotions take control (think anxiety, anger/rage) and that person is going to vehemently defend their position, belief, opinion. It is no longer about what is logical, but what creates safety and survival for that person. Imagine getting chased by a bear, the same bodily reaction occurs; logical brain functioning ceases and fear-based emotions take over to help you survive. 

Can you start to see the ‘why’ now? Can you see that the constant stimulation of news and media create the environment for just about everyone’s fight or flight system to engage? It doesn’t have to be from the media either, it could be from difficult family members, bosses that criticize, community members that believe differently from you. There is a constant flow of perceived threats in every direction. 

We all react this way, no one is immune. But how do we gain more control over our fight or flight system? I have 5 steps that I share with my clients that have helped many to slow down their reactions, become more in tune with themselves and their emotions. 

  • The first thing we need to notice is that something is off. Are you irritated? Is there an underlying feeling of being uncomfortable? Maybe disappointed? Noticing this is a cue for you to take notice. 
  • The second step is to check in with your body. Notice any physical sensations you may be having. Do you feel a knot in your stomach? Tightness in your chest? Tense shoulders? Basically, any physical sensation that is connected to that ‘off’ feeling. 
  • The third step, I want you to connect that physical sensation to an emotion. Does it feel unheard? What about scared? Maybe it’s connected to feeling alone or powerless? Try to stay away from the angry emotions here. Angry emotions are secondary emotions, meaning, there’s typically a feeling under your anger. (Picture an iceberg.)
  • The fourth step in this process is to think about other times you may have felt this in your life. Often, I have found that many people can remember times when they were younger that they felt these physical sensations and emotions. Sometimes a lightbulb turns on, sometimes anger comes up, maybe there are tears; all the emotions here are valid and honored. 
  • The last step is twofold. Here we validate our emotions and experience. We also seek to give ourselves self-compassion. Validation and self-compassion in this process is really the sweet spot in gaining more control over our fight or flight system. That’s because we no longer need to seek out validation and compassion from others. We can find it within ourselves.

When we are disconnected from ourselves it disconnects us from each other and that is the true place of where the divisiveness comes from.

At our core, I believe, that we are open, loving, and compassionate humans. When we finally can start to reconnect to our emotions, we can start to reconnect to others. I hope that as we find space for honoring our emotions and feelings, we can honor those of others because it no longer becomes a threat to our existence. 

Book recommendations to learn more:

-The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk

-Self-Compassion, Kristin Neff

-How To Do the Work, Nicole LePera