As parliament and the country continue to be in a stalemate and divided about how to resolve the question of Brexit, the views of most of the parliamentarians and us citizens around the country become more fixed and polarized.
Polarization is the act of dividing, especially something that contains different people or opinions. The polarization of society between the rich and poor, belonging to the EU or not, giving equal rights to minority groups or not causes greater problems in resolving conflict and we lose the relatedness of being human. Human beings are tribal and we all want to belong and to have relationships which are healthy and robust. Debates and arguments can be healthy and can bring relationships, families, couples, communities and countries together for the betterment of the relationship. However to have these discussions there must be an environment of respect, a mindfulness of the language we use which is courteous, a willingness to listen to the other and an intent to compromise our views and position. In other words it is important to keep the relationship as the most important goal and our views and wishes as secondary.
Most of us have difficulty in being emotionally reactive at times. Reactivity causes problems in relationships and is a “relationship showstopper.” Reactivity can show up as being easily triggered into feeling overwhelmed, angry out of control or shut down. If someone says something you don’t like you may get wounded, defensive or angry very quickly. One of the difficulties of social media is that some people don’t stop to think about how their words will impact on the other and are highly reactive and feel justified in their position.
Highly reactive people struggle in their relationships. Their reactivity becomes like a minefield for others to try to manage and they often pretend that life is fine. Everyday conflict seems impossible to manage and issues go underground and unresolved. The reactive person is often talking about, complaining or yelling about their issues and no-one else in the family is given the space or safety to discuss their own upsets.
This dynamic sets up disaster for families. It teaches children to either avoid conflict or become so reactive to it that they learn to force others to duck from it. Marriages are often in turmoil and in essence the most volatile and unstable person in the home is running the home. The reactive person runs the show because no-one else dares to challenge in case the reactive behaviour escalates. Being emotionally volatile does not feel good to the person who is out of control any more than it does for the spouse or other family members.
Reactivity is an automatic response controlled by the subconscious mind – a part of the brain that controls all of the autonomic functions of the brain and body that does no real or original thinking. When our unconscious mind perceives a threat it automatically triggers a “fight or flight” reaction. This means that an event or action has shaken our self-esteem, sense of worth or value in relation to our partner and our body has responded almost automatically. This is a protective system to lower the anxious feelings and restore balance and a sense of security and safety. In other words our defensiveness means that our personal lives and relationships are overall under the direction of fear which turns on the not-real thinking part of our brain. Even a well meaning defensive response can quickly escalate into an intense battle in which the only “shared” experience is a compulsion to compete over who’s right or who’s wrong which of course creates more distance in the relationship.
At any one moment when you do not feel safe in relation to the other automatically our body’s primary goal is to restore our sense of safety and security. Defensiveness indicates we are using blame-patterns of thinking that neutralizes your brain’s abilities for thinking positively. Blame patterns are predictable and make you powerless. This can cause us to think that our happiness and need to feel loved are dependent on someone or something outside us
As it is impossible to control others, even children, blame thought patterns produce feelings of powerlessness accompanied by a host of many other emotions related to unfulfilled expectations such as helplessness, inadequacy, depression rage, retribution and perhaps even hatred and bitterness
Defensiveness is a power struggle that is triggered by early childhood wounds and protective patterns. In other words we learnt these ways to defend ourselves and cope with the stress of getting our needs met for love, recognition and acceptance. These behaviours helped us survive when we were most vulnerable. However, these strategies are now blocking us from having an intimate, loving relationship in which we feel loved and safe.
Change and re-learning
The good news is that our wiring in the brain can be re-wired as a result of the brain’s built-in plasticity and defensive relationships can be transformed into enriching ones built on safety, love and connection so that our survival fears are diminished. Essentially life is all about relationships and we are hardwired to survive and thrive which depend upon our ability to navigate the stormy seas of emotional vulnerability, an important aspect of intimacy in relationships.
The greater our capacity and willingness to be vulnerable the greater the likelihood we will be able to create deep relationships of love, respect and safety.