This is a super link that describes how we react with the flight or fight response. This explains why it is so hard for us to change a response – say in a marriage. The amygdala (or limbic system, which is part of the amygdala) stores emotionally charged memories – really great or really horrible ones. These are memories tagged as important to us. It does this to save us from scary things, and this is how we lived to see the next day thousand’s of years ago. It remembers every nuance of a situation – sound, sight, smell, touch, taste, words, mannerisms, environment,etc., so it can sound the alarm for us to run away or fight. It is such an old protective mechanism in us, that it is very slow to amend its memory bank, and bring down the walls that protect.
So, how would this apply in a marriage? I used to work with men charged with criminal domestic violence and court ordered to treatment. Some of them worked very hard to change their thinking and behaviors, because they realized it was not getting them the love they truly wanted. They would get very upset when, months later, their spouses would recoil in terror when there was a disagreement. They knew they were working hard and their spouse knew this, logically. However, their spouse’s amygdala, the old brain, was not up to speed (remember, it is very slow to amend the file) and was reacting to any small thing that reminded it of the past hurts, and it reacted by screaming, “RUN!” The spouse would then cringe, recoil, or actually run away. Sometimes, the fight response was initiated, and the wife would start yelling. This article helped them to understand why their wives were acting the way they did.
The great news is the bad behavior file can be reprogrammed; the bad news is it takes awhile, and if there is another bout of violence, it will take twice as long the next time, if that is even granted. So, when working on past bad behavior, do not get upset that others don’t believe or trust that you won’t do that again. They need time. Also, weigh carefully all you say and do so as not to reinforce the fear. Patience is key.