When you get in a fight with someone, a brutal, self-perpetuating logic takes hold. If things escalate, within minutes the fight is no longer about whatever substantive issue sparked it; rather, everything snowballs in a way that can be disheartening, if not downright scary. In Harvard Business Review, the facilitator and mediator Diane Musho Hamilton has a nice, mindfulness-informed guide to what happens to your body and brain when you’re angry — and some tips to slow things down. She explains that anger taps into deep evolutionary roots, and has a uniquely distorting effect on how we process information.
As a result of the various physiological and neurological processes that automatically take hold when we’re engaged in conflict with someone, Hamilton writes, “Complex decision-making disappears, as does our access to multiple perspectives. As our attention narrows, we find ourselves trapped in the one perspective that makes us feel the most safe: ‘I’m right and you’re wrong,’ even though we ordinarily see more perspectives.”
Which is bad. But there are ways around it. Hamilton lays out a simple three-step process for mitigating the worst effects of conflict-brain, for lack of a better term. They’re centered around stuff you might be familiar with if you’ve dabbled in mindfulness meditation: breathing, examining how your body is reacting to the present moment, and so on. The article is well worth a read, especially if you worry you might be in for a family squabble or two during the holidays ahead.