Six Seconds

Six seconds.

Less time than it takes to prepare your morning cup of coffee. 

Less time than it takes to sort through your daily mail. 

Less time than it takes to wash your face before bed. 

Six seconds. 

That’s how long it takes for our brains to process an emotion. 

That’s how much time we have to plan for our response to someone else’s emotion. 

Six seconds. 

For our most regulated kids, six seconds might seem like a perfectly acceptable amount of time to digest that nasty social media post, that college acceptance letter, that playground incident. They can apply the applicable emotion in the appropriate way and move on with their day. 

The same goes for regulated grown ups. Our ability to cycle through the rolodex of emotions available to us is precise, seamless, and imperceptible. 

But what about when we pepper in some dysregulation, some trauma?

That six seconds quickens, the brain’s access to appropriate emotions is shut off, the response is disparate and unsettling. 

The thing is it’s not what the affected person is feeling in those six seconds because we can’t control how that person feels. How we respond in the wake of those six seconds matters most. 

Look at the difference between these two responses. 

What is wrong with you

What happened to you?

The former speaks to blame, to a Scarlet Letter, earned or branded, that puts the onus of responsibility firmly on the affected person. 

The latter shifts that narrative in such a way that the affected person no longer bears the weight of both cause and effect. Instead, he sees his reaction after those six seconds as a result of something out of his control. 

So those six seconds are no more random than they are orchestrated. They are prescribed as part of being a particular human with particular experiences, some of which we haven’t learned to process. 

In those six seconds is a lifetime. 

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