Science, Relationships, and Spirituality: This is Your Brain in Anger

AngerOn Sunday we took a look at the surprising connections between science, the Bible, and our relationships. We looked specifically at what happens when we get angry or enter into conflict and how while our physical systems are amazingly designed to avoid physical danger, they sometimes increase our emotional danger.

Here’s what we learned. That when we encounter or perceive danger we enter into a flight or fight response. This response does a few things: it short-circuits our higher level thinking and shuts it down, it dumps a bunch of chemicals into our system to fight or flight, and it reacts sometimes instantly.

And now this system is amazing for us to respond to physical threats: like a snake that we jump away from, or a falling rock we instantly respond to. This system though is not as amazing when it comes to social threats such as criticism, emotional hurt, or intense arguments.

Our fight or flight response can “hijack” our higher level thinking in these moments and we can end up either shutting down or becoming very aggressive. We talked about the different physiological responses, but asked a very simple question: how do we overcome this? Because we all have probably been in fights and in that state where we’ve said things we regretted (fight), or not said the things we should have (flight). So what do we do?

Well we looked at three concrete biblical steps, that amazingly correspond to science as well. The first is something we can do to help prevent being “hijacked” by our emotional response, and that this: to let heaven fill your thoughts. The truth is what we fill our minds with leave traces and predispositions. So if your mind is filled with negativity, junk, anger, and rehearsing of hurts, we are actually encouraging those very things. So Paul gives some very practical advice, “Let heaven fill your thoughts”. Focus on the things that are good, healthy, true, and life-giving. Focus on the truth of the gospel, and let that fill our minds more than the normal stress, anger, and hurt we carry.

The second thing we noticed is that when we feel that “fight or flight” response coming on, we can shut it down. Sometimes it builds, and it is possible to actually exercise self-control. We talked about how the Holy Spirit can give us self-control and how to pray for it, and practice it.

And last but not least, we talked about what to do when we’ve had a really in-depth hurtful argument. Solomon gives this really wise advice. He says this: Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back (Proverbs 29:11). And what he means here is not to deny your anger or your hurt, but not to actually vent it all around.

Venting your anger all around doesn’t actually lessen, but encourages it. When we have difficult conversations our tendency is to share and spread it, rather than dealing with it. And when we do that, we get angry and in the flight or fight response…again. So Solomon gives this wise advice: don’t spread it, deal with it. Don’t put it on Facebook, process it. Don’t keep repeating it, own it.

So those are some of the connections we looked at, and ended with a simple challenge: deal with and prevent anger and conflict. Take these steps and try to put them into practice to not only seek to prevent extra anger and conflict, but to deal with it when it happens.

 

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Our brains and bodies are complex and amazing

Teaching Points:

  • The amygdala perceives and responds to danger around us
  • The amygdala is incredibly fast but it’s actually not all that discerning
  • Two reactions: fight or flight.
  • Hijacking is when our emotional state shuts down our higher reasoning.
  • Let heaven fills your thoughts…
  • Pray for Self-Control and Practice Self-Control
  • Deal with anger, don’t vent it.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Which type of response do you most often do – fight or flight? Can you relate to any of the examples shared? Have you ever seen how venting anger can make things worse? When and how? Is there anger that you need to deal with? Who can help you with that?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Today use our learning to help with your kids. If they get upset remember it can take a while for them to re-centre. Give them space and encourage them even when things get angry and hard.

Challenge for the Week: Deal with and prevent anger.

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