Divorce and Transitions: Mardi Winder-Adams
It is normal to be angry at people in your life as a part of the human experience.
It is also normal to be angry at situations, events, objects, or other things, such as our beloved pets. Driving can create anger, and dealing with telemarketers or feeling angry over broken promises or things that occur in everyday situations is natural. A dog chewing up your chair (true story), finding out the only ATM, in town or for 20 miles, doesn’t work (another true story), and feeling let down when you finally make it to Friday and want to enjoy your favorite movie on Netflix only to find out it is no longer available (yep, also true), are all times you may reasonably be angry.
“The brain’s threat detection system controls our behaviors when we are threatened.”
What is Anger?
Anger is an emotion, but it is driven by a primitive survival mode. Within the brain, in the hippocampus, is a small neural hub known as the amygdala. The amygdala is the center of emotions, specializing in processing and responding to threatening or fearful situations or stimuli.
The brain’s threat detection system controls our behaviors when we are threatened. In early man, the amygdala is why they ran from the saber tooth tiger or immediately took shelter in a storm. This is the part of the brain that stores memories of emotional events and looks for patterns in real time that match those stored memories. This shortens the time to “think through” a life-threatening situation and allows us to operate immediately on instinct. Unfortunately, it does the same for minor threats and issues that are not dangerous or threatening, which is why anger is such as common emotion in stressful times.
When we are angry, our brains are focused on the messages, which are the neurochemicals the amygdala is pumping into the brain. This stimulates the motor and action areas of the brain while limiting the function of others, especially the frontal lobes. The frontal lobes are the areas of the brain that control executive functions such as responses, planning, self-monitoring, and even organizing thoughts and options.
The amygdala is also responsible for reward processing, decision-making, and sorting through sensory information. It is a significant part of why we can respond inappropriately or in unhelpful ways when we are angry, stressed, or fearful.
The Problem Of Thinking Through Anger:
Researchers have shown that those chemicals produced by the amygdala tend to hang around for some time. This is often called residual anger, which can continue to impact decision-making and reactions for an extended period.
“Your brain on anger is not making healthy, helpful, or good decisions.”
In situations like a divorce, where anger may be a frequent emotion, the amygdala responds to the perceived threat, fear, or stress at the moment, but the residual effects can last much longer. In other words, your brain is still angry long after the conversation, situation, or event is over.
Anyone angry tends to:
- Discard or fail to consider facts and instead makes decisions based on perceptions, assumptions, and emotions.
- Completely lack the capacity to be empathetic.
- See the issue as completely the fault of another person, group, entity, or thing.
- See themselves as victims with no control or responsibility for the situation.
Being angry tends to result in seeing only the worst-case scenario in any situation, which causes us to take extreme action, often entirely out of balance with the situation. This can damage the relationship with the other person, resulting in poor outcomes, and further feed the perception that you are the victim and blameless in the situation.
There are ways to help get out of the angry state before making decisions. These include:
- Mindfulness exercises
- Yoga, running, swimming, or other physical exercises that are moderate to high intensity
- Walking outdoors
- Talking to a therapist, counselor, or coach
Your brain on anger is not making healthy, helpful, or good decisions. Find ways to offset this by creating positive experiences, enjoying yourself, and connecting with others who are positive, uplifting, and honestly care about your well-being.
About the Author:
Mardi Winder-Adams is an Executive and Leadership Coach, Certified Divorce Transition Coach, and a Credentialed Distinguished Mediator in Texas. She has experienced her own divorce, moved to a new country and started her own business, and worked through the challenges of being a caregiver and managing the loss of a spouse.
Handling life transitions and pivots is her specialty! In her professional role as a divorce coach, Mardi has helped hundreds of women before, during, and after divorce to reduce the emotional and financial costs of the process. She is the founder of Positive Communication Systems, LLC.