I recently attended a workshop entitled “Making Friends with Jealousy” being taught by Dossie Easton at Poly Living West. As usual, Dossie led an excellent workshop; even though a lot of the ground she was covering was material I already knew, it’s always good to get a new perspective on it, and to reexamine it in light of one’s current life situation.
One of the really cool things she mentioned, however, was related to the technique of taking a “timeout” before jumping into a confrontation with a partner. Let’s say you hit a sudden landmine in your relationship (either due to jealousy or some other triggering event), and at least one of you is ready to explode with grief, anger, panic, or another strong emotion. Instead of attacking, you each go and spend at least fifteen minutes on your own, doing whatever works to calm you down. Exactly what is best differs from person to person; she mentioned activities varying from dancing out the feeling to sitting calmly working on a crossword puzzle.
She then discussed some of the physiological basis behind it. The basic idea (massively simplified) is that whatever super strong emotion you are feeling is coming from an earlier trauma in your life, to which your amygdala has developed this response. When it is triggered, a massive dose of adrenalin and stress hormones is released, preparing your body for fight or flight. This is entirely below your conscious level, and happens faster then you can consciously notice what is going on. If you take a timeout, you are letting these hormones drain from your system, and allowing your system to return to normal, and then you can take a more intellectual approach to that discussion with your partner.
The really exciting thing that she brought up, however, was that every time you successfully do this, you slightly retrain your amygdala, and in theory, over time, can end up with less severe reactions to the same triggers. It might not be easy, in fact it might be extremely difficult, but the notion that eventual progress is possible is amazing. Wouldn’t it be great not to explode to full alert for those situations that don’t warrant it?
More information available here.