A mother screams at her ex-husband near their child, who sits quietly with her hands covering her ears.

Emotions are contagious! The stronger the emotions, the more likely we are to catch them – good and bad. As human beings, we’re hard wired to be influenced by each other’s emotions. The closer the relationship, the more easily we absorb what each other is feeling – mostly without even realizing it. Recent brain research has discovered how this seems to happen.

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The Amygdala

The amygdala in our brain is like a smoke detector. What we see, hear and feel is always being immediately checked for signs of danger by the amygdala, much faster than we can consciously think. Once the amygdala senses danger, it can instantly shift all of our attention to protecting ourselves by setting off the “fight, flight or freeze response” in our brains – within a fraction of a second!

You actually have two of these almond-shaped amygdala – one in the mid- brain area of your brain’s left hemisphere and one in the midbrain area of your right hemisphere. Remember, the right brain is the side that is more responsive to non-verbal information (facial expressions, tone of voice, hand gestures) and more active with negative emotions.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that research shows the right amygdala is extremely sensitive to other people’s facial expressions of fear and anger – more so than any other emotions. When someone else’s face looks extremely angry or extremely scared, it instantly sets off your amygdala and your brain drops whatever you were thinking about.

It then focuses all of your attention on whether you need to fight or flee the situation – unless your brain is used to the threat and used to overriding it with its higher functioning prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that’s just behind your forehead and includes more complex thinking, and which can overrule the amygdala.

But the brain remembers! When you face a new event that reminds the amygdala of a previous fearful event, the amygdala triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response. It primarily remembers the emotions associated with the prior experience – especially if fear was part of the memory.

This information explains why it is so important to keep on track for leading your lives as coParents as child-centric. This means no fighting in front of the child.

Excerpt from Don’t Alienate the Kids! Raising Resilient Children While Avoiding High-Conflict Divorce. By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. Published by HCI Press.


About Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq

Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, mediator and the President of High Conflict Institute. He developed the "High Conflict Personality" theory (HCP Theory) and has become an international expert on managing disputes involving high conflict personalities and personality disorders. He provides training on this subject to lawyers, judges, mediators, managers, human resource professionals, businesspersons, healthcare administrators, college administrators, homeowners’ association managers, ombudspersons, law enforcement, therapists and others. He has been a speaker and trainer in over 25 states, several provinces in Canada, Australia, France and Sweden.

As an attorney, Bill is a Certified Family Law Specialist in California and the Senior Family Mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego. Prior to becoming an attorney in 1992, he was a Licensed Clinical Social worker with twelve years’ experience providing therapy to children, adults, couples and families in psychiatric hospitals and outpatient clinics. He has taught Negotiation and Mediation at the University of San Diego School of Law for six years and he is on the part-time faculty of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at the Pepperdine University School of Law and the National Judicial College.

He is the author of numerous articles and several books.

Areas of Expertise: Mediation, Family Law, Workplace, Judicial Officers, Court Systems, Governmental Entities, Mental Health Professionals, New Ways for Families.


To view his book, “BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People,” visit this link:

To view his book, “Don’t Alienate the Kids!” Visit this site: