Imagine you are gearing up for a really long road trip. You have spent past one month planning the trip. You have distributed some planning work among your friends. Planning is really a crucial job. You are Monica. Today is the day when you set for the journey with your friends. You arrive at the railway station. Your train is scheduled to depart in half an hour from now. You have told one of your friends to carry the print out of the tickets (tickets are not booked online). You are waiting for that one friend to arrive while your other friends are already here. You see your friend coming. She is right in front of you. You hug her. You are really excited about the trip.
You see the expressions on your friend’s face changing from happy to tense in a flash.
It seems she has forgotten the tickets at home. Are you the person who would say “What a careless person you are! I gave you one task and you fucked it!” or are you the person who would say “Shit, you could have set reminder for it, or anyway you should have not forgotten it in the first place! I just didn’t like you being careless at this one”?
There is a difference between the two statements. the first argument directly attacks the person and sets a general tag of “Careless person” to her. But the second argument shows a complete disappointment towards an act of carelessness (Whether it was carelessness or not, we don’t know, we can say hypothetically).
If you think that’s not so different, then let’s try to understand first how the friend of yours would have processed two arguments very differently in her brain. For that you need to understand different components in human brain and their role in deciding our thoughts, actions and physical changes in the body.
Many times we say that we have two minds, many times they conflict with each other. We say that “मेरा दिल एक बात कहता है, और दिमाग अलग”. You get confused to whom should you listen, heart or brain. Well even the heart sends out signals to the body some times, without interference of the brain, but the heart you are referring to here is the “Amygdala” and brain you are referring to is primarily your “Neocortex” which works with few other components. Amygdala is the center of emotions and Neocortex is responsible of rational thinking. The current human brain is the one which has evolved over thousands of years and back then, it was really very necessary to give decision powers to Amygdala because it saved human lives in life and death situations, where humans didn’t have enough time for rational thinking and quick decisions were necessary, like running away at hearing the slightest of threatening sounds. All the emotions, anger (to fight), sadness (to thrive), and many more were necessary for the existence of life. Although in current scenario it’s not that necessary for your Amygdala to be so powerful, we can’t really do anything about it. Before I go deep into the topic, let’s come out of this and move to Neocortex. Neocortex is responsible for rational thinking and requires much more time to take in the data, process it and then take the decision. This is way more than what Amygdala takes to take a decision. Neocortex can control your anger after some time, but your Amygdala can tell your body to become angry, increase blood pressure (note the importance of it in evolution) before even you become aware of it.
Whenever a life threatening situation comes (in today’s times, this can translate to a situation where your self esteem or image is being ruined, or hampered in some or the other way), Amygdala sends signals to prepare the body to fight or to run before Neocortex assesses the exact situation at hand.
The impact of the first argument here, tagging your friend as careless directly, activates her Amygdala because here self esteem or ego is at the stake. That can make her really angry before even she knows she has become angry, and uttered a few words in response that could hurt you and in turn activate your Amygdala! Cycle is on and situation has worsened.
But let’s take second argument. It tells your friend that a particular act of her has made you sad or angry and she should have avoided the mistake. This is not as bad as the first one. Her Neocortex will play an important role here to asses the situation and she would take a bit longer to reply because her words in that situation would be the result of rational thinking done by Neocortex. Even if amygdala is activated, Neocortex has controlled it to lessen the damage.
Situation is not ruined, neither your relationship. You will be pleased to see readiness of your friend to go back home and bring the tickets as fast as she can without starting a fight with you and even an apology later.
Many times we do this mistake. When we get hurt by someone, we say the things which tag the person with bad adjectives, but in reality you are disappointed by an act of her. So what you should say is “a particular act of yours has hurt me/ I don’t like you doing this particular thing, it irritates me” rather than “you are an asshole”. I hope this article saves your future relations from damage.