When you think about someone who has hurt you deeply, your sympathetic nervous system springs into action.
The sympathetic nervous system is the branch of the autonomic nervous system whose goal is to rev up our body to protect us from danger.
The autonomic nervous system controls inner organs such as our heart, smooth muscles, and breathing.
Our autonomic nervous system has another branch called the parasympathetic system, which calms us down after the danger is past. Both of these systems are operating all the time.
When a danger comes into view, our sympathetic system gears up and controls the action in the â€œfight-or-flightâ€ response.
When the danger has passed or we are relaxed, our parasympathetic system controls the action and we calm down. the sympathetic nervous system is quick and predictable.
The problem is that it gives us only two choices: fighting back or getting away. We may want to pay back the person who hurt us. We may want that person to suffer the way we have suffered. This is the prelude to blame and the grief that comes along with not wanting to forgive them.
When we think about a hurt, our body reacts as if it is in danger and activates what is known as the fight-or-flight response. The body releases chemicals whose purpose is to prepare us to respond to danger through fighting back or running away.
The chemicals released are known as stress chemicals. They are designed to make us uncomfortable so that we will do something to get ourselves out of danger.
These stress chemicals get our attention by causing physical changes. They cause the heart to speed up and blood vessels to constrict. This raises blood pressure.
Our liver dumps cholesterol into our bloodstream so that it can gum up our heart in case we lose too much blood. The stress chemicals alter our digestion and cause our muscles to tighten.
Our breathing becomes shallower, and our senses are heightened to cope with the problem at hand. Digestion ceases, and blood flow is diverted to the center of the body. We feel jumpy and uncomfortable.
To make matters worse, the fight-or-flight response alters our ability to think. The stress chemicals do part of their work of protecting us from danger by limiting the amount of electrical activity available to the thinking part of the brain.
The stress chemicals also play a part in diverting blood flow from the brain’s thinking center toward more primitive parts of the brain.
The body is so exquisitely designed to protect us from danger that it won’t allow us to waste our precious resources planning things out or thinking of new ideas. Our biology says survival is most important.
Our body is willing to stand guard each of the 100 times we remember the horrible way our boss yelled at us or the 200 times we describe in bitter detail the day our mother walked out on the family.
Reasons for These Uncomfortable Physical Feelings
Most of us blame this unpleasant body response on the person who we are playing the blame game in a way that can keep us trapped and helpless for a long time. The physical stress we feel when we mull over an abandonment or deception is the cause many of us struggle so hard to give up our grievances.
For instance, for years my wife felt tense every time she thought about her mother, whom she had problems with growing up. Every time she imagined her unloving parent she felt her stomach tighten and would often get a headache.
And each time she felt a physical symptom, she experienced another wave of anger toward her mother for ruining her life. She blamed her mother for her current discomfort, for activating her fight-or-flight response.
This normal physical response, and the blame you have for the person who hurt you, cements the grievance that began when you took too personally something you did not like.
Alternatively, we may never again want to see the person who hurt us. We may try never to think of them again. While these responses to taking something too personally are common, they are mostly the result of the stress chemicals running through our body. They are primitive responses and generally not the result of careful or productive thinking.
Our problem is the choices these stress chemicals offer us are inadequate in helping to regain control of our emotional life. Simply put, these are poor choices.
They do not help us face charged emotional situations with people close to us or come to grips with painful life experiences or deal with the subtleties of intimate relationship.
Think About This…
How else could our bodies limit us to only two choices? Our bodies are trying to save our life by diverting some electrical energy from the thinking part of the brain to the more primitive and reactive parts. Your body will try to save your life when you face a saber-toothed tiger.
Your body will try to save your life if the car in front of you swerves and you have to jam on your brakes. You will need every ounce of concentration on the task at hand to survive these challenges.
Your body has no need to save your life when you are remembering how unkind your mother was ten years ago. You do not need fight or flight when you tell your spouse that your best friend yelled at you.
You do not need sympathetic nervous system arousal to explain for the thirty-fifth time how unfair it was that your father loved your sister more than you. You must learn to distinguish real from imagined danger to function effectively.
You cannot learn this critical life lesson when you are busy blaming others for how bad you feel or how poorly your life has unfolded. Playing the blame game, you are trapped in a vicious cycle of hurt and physical discomfort.