Surviving in Captivity: Living well with others while practicing "social distancing"

Getting Off of Your Last Nerve

"The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: If there is any reaction, both are transformed."

― Carl Gustav Jung

Sometimes the chemical combustion of two personalities makes something wonderful. Sometimes it makes something volatile. And sometimes… it can do both. The consequent transformation can be life-changing. This is often the case in relationships. If you've ever had a conflict, meaning, if you are normal, then you know how uncomfortable and difficult it can feel, physically, emotionally and psychologically. You might find yourself saying things you don't really mean or having a hard time thinking straight. You thought the conversation was going one place and then you find yourself yanked into something completely different, dazed and confused about how and why you got there. Most importantly, you want to stop the pain and wonder if there is a better way. There certainly is. Keep reading.

Ama and Jo

Ama and Jo had been together for eight years when they first came for counseling. They had started together with all kinds of passion and excitement. As is typical, over time the very things they once loved in one another had become the bane of their existence together.

Both partners had been deeply hurt in the past as they had been coupled with people who avoided conflict.

They watched those relationships painfully transform into lukewarm, co-parenting friends. Ama and Jo both recognized that they wanted more in this current relationship. They needed more if it was going to work for both of them.

After many exhausting explosive conflicts, they finally decided that some conflict coaching might be a good idea

“I just don’t understand why you always have to ‘take it there’,” pleaded Jo, fighting back tears. “We start out talking about something stupid like the dishes and before I know it, you start attacking me personally.

I start out calm, but then I just can’t take it anymore and we end up yelling. Honestly, Ama, sometimes you get on my last d@&! nerve with that!”

The other person is not on your last nerve: You are!


Have you ever felt like Jo? The physiological truth is thatyouare on your last nerve; your vagus nerve, to be more specific. It’s the nerve that runs from the base of your brain all the way down your spine.

It ends in the sling of muscles that hold up your internal organs, below your intestines, in what’s called your “pelvic floor.”

Whenever we feel a sense of threat, our bodies react to protect us.

We tighten our pelvic floors and squeeze our vagus nerves which then send a signal to the body to engage our reactive Sympathetic Nervous System (or SNS).

The SNS floods the body with cortisol and adrenaline because it can’t tell the difference between the threat that lives in harsh words and a bear trying to tear off your arm. It responds pretty much the same way in both instances. When we flood with those hormones, the neocortex — the part of our brain that can process reason — goes offline like a transit bus that’s gone out of service. All we can really do at that point is fight, flee or freeze. Not surprisingly, none of these options are very helpful in resolving a conflict.

The good news is, if
are on your last nerve, then
can get off of it!

In order to do our conflicts differently, we need to get very good at “self-regulating.” This means practicing turning this unhelpful response off on command before the part of the brain that remembers how to do it, (your neocortex,) checks out and becomes useless. If we practice self-regulation when we don’t need it, we literally cut neural paths in our brains making it easier to do when we do need it.

Flag on the Play

I taught Jo and Ama the six self-regulation exercises from my Taking Your Body Back video series.

(If you are unfamiliar, please go to Together, they agreed that whenever things seemed to be going off into “pain for no reason land” in their conflicts, whoever noticed first would signal to the other and they would stop talking, use one of the techniques, and try again from the more centered and calmer place.

Because they were both big football fans, Ama and Jo agreed to pantomime throwing an invisible “flag on the play,” indicating that the action should stop due to an infraction. They agreed that even if they thought the other person was being unfair, they had nothing to lose by getting their brains back online before they continued.

This different way of working through conflict was understandably rocky for Jo and Ama at first, but with persistence, they did it! They now report they stop the action and re-regulate more often than not when they need to.

They appreciate that having their whole minds at their disposal makes it much easier for them connect, even when the content is volatile.

Younger people

I have taught many of the

Taking Your Body Back

techniques to kids as young as 3 years old. When children in a family learn to self-regulate and the adults in their lives model it, they grow up much better able to do relationships as grown people. I have worked with families who have made some version of “Flag on the Play” their norm.

They report much greater satisfaction and success with each person of the family feeling better heard and better able to hear the others –

even the teenagers.

Working Toward Success!

When we all become skilled at putting our bodies in neutral, conflictual conversations are much more constructive and much less painful. When we hear things that hurt, anger or otherwise upset us, we can be engaged enough to fact check what we heard, and to express our response to it in a much more effective, less reactive way. Your blood pressure won’t mind a bit!

Stay tuned to this space for: Fact Checking, Assumptions and Expectations!

(It’s better than playing Candy Crush for the 3000thtime.)