money health weekly


Dealing With the Stress of Talking About Money

emotional flooding causes mistakes when we communicate
A peculiar thing often happens in conflict situations: people just stop listening to each other.❞ -William Miller

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You and your partner are having a conversation and then, out of nowhere, you're voices are raised and you are saying things you don't mean. When we're in this kind of state we end up saying and doing things that hurt others, often when we don't mean to and wish we didn't. I call these mistakes, and too much stress makes it more likely we'll make these kinds of mistakes.

There is a name for this. It's called emotional flooding. Overcoming and preventing it can save us from ourselves and strengthen our relationships.

Characters of Your Brain

To understand why we tend to make mistakes when we are stressed out when talking about money, we have to learn some technical neuroscience. Below, you'll see a very detailed scan of a human brain that shows the animals that live inside our heads (okay, a little sarcasm may be detected).

The first part of your brain to develop is the lower brain and it came online at about six months. This is often referred to as the reptilian brain. The lizard is, among other things, responsible for your instants, including the all-important instinct of surviving. This is a dark place because everything is seen as a potential threat.

The next part of your brain to develop is the middle brain, or limbic system. This comes online at about seven years and is responsible primarily for feelings and emotions. This part of the brain is sometimes called the mammalian brain, or the monkey brain. The monkey tries to come up with strategies to get out of the threatening situations that lizard discovers. You may have heard these strategies called a stress-response or a fight-flight-freeze response.

The last part of the brain to develop is the neocortex, which includes the prefrontal cortex. This is unique to humans and is the part of the brain that makes you feel like "you." This is the rational part of the brain that is responsible for planning, logic, and reasoning. The rational brain acts as a "parent" to the animal parts of the brain ("the animal brain").

Because the rational part of the brain is the part of the brain that we associate with our sense of self, we tend to believe that "we" make most of our decisions. That's actually backward, though. The animals make about 95% of our decisions. Since the rational brain is monitoring, though, most of the time this is okay...most of the time.