Create Your Own Safety
Stopped at the light, waiting for it to turn green. Suddenly, there was a bump and my body moved forward and rebounded. My brain was confused. Then realization dawned… someone just hit rear ended me. Approaching the gentleman, he said, “well, are we good?” I replied, “there is some damage and this is a rental.” He said, “well then we are good.”
I looked at him and said, “well I am going to have to report it.”
“Well you pulled in front of me. I was coming along here and you pulled in front of me. This is your fault.”
Immediately I could feel my heart begin to pound harder in my chest. My thinking started to race faster. What do I need? What do I do now?
As Brene Brown says, we are hard wired for connection and that connection depends on acceptance and perceived value from those in our lives. Problem is everyone views the conversation you are having from the lens of whether they are being accepted and valued. Just as I was hoping this gentleman would take responsibility for rear ending my vehicle, he was wanting me to see him as not to blame.
Why should he care what I think and why should I care what he thinks? Because we depend on the sense of safety from others.
When we feel disconnected from those around us, it can lead to behaviour choices that are more reactionary, than coming from a place of discernment. In my reaction to the accident, my physiology was going into fight or flight. My amygdala was online and my frontal lobe was no longer processing skillfully. I was looking for safety… a way out of this situation. As I am sure the gentleman was too.
So how do we create our own safety and not allow the physiology to disrupt our ability to stay calm enough to make choices, rather than react?
- Close the eyes and focus your attention on the flow of the breath. Now if your sympathetic system is active because you are confronted by a wild and dangerous animal… DON’T do this. But if you are in an argument, try to shift your attention to how you are breathing or the question what is this person feeling. You may find it easier if the eyes are closed to tune into something other than the sense of feeling threatened.
- Breathe deeply. Yes, you hear it all the time, but here is why. When we go into fight or flight, the sympathetic system of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) becomes active. This increases heart rate, meaning more blood is being pumped through the circulatory system. Blood picks up oxygen as it moves through the lungs, thus we increase the inhale in order to have more oxygen available. If you pay attention, you will also notice that we breath more into the chest and upper back when the sympathetic system is more active. To turn on the parasympathetic system and create more calming of the physiology, breathe into the abdomen and take longer, slower breaths. Even to just focus on taking 5–10 breaths that are longer and slower will create more internal calmness.
- Get curious and redirect the focus to gaining understanding where you can. Is it true? Did I pull in front of this gentleman? Is there a way for me to put myself in his shoes? When I considered this, I could see that I had changed into his lane, though it had happened well before he hit my car. But I can see why he is jumping to that accusation. Further, I could see that given his age, he probably has concerns about being deemed an unsafe driver, perhaps losing his license if this was reported.
- Take care of yourself afterward. One of my thoughts shortly after this happened was, “God, I could use a drink.” Fortunately, I was also aware enough to question that thought and realize a drink is not going to resolve this problem. Truth is nothing but going through was going to resolve this problem. The better question was, what will help me through? Within 10 minutes of the accident, I came across a person I hadn’t seen in years. As we caught up on our lives, I was laughing and connecting. I felt safe again.
- As I walked away, my perspective on this situation had completely changed. In five years, none of this would matter. Probably in fact a lot less time than this. Truth is many of the experiences that drive us into fight or flight do not have the lasting impact that we think they will. It is helpful to recognize this and keep the suffering limited to the impact it does have.
In a world of ongoing wins and losses, it is important to reduce our attachment to theses wins and losses as much as we can. Better to focus on what we bring to the world, rather than what comes from it. That is truly the only control we have.