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The depths of your emotional triggers


As a MindBodySpirit Coach, I realize the foundation of self-improvement is self-understanding. One activity I take my clients through is called Patterns, Triggers, and Tendencies. A trigger is your emotional reaction to an event; a tendency is how you behaviorally respond to the trigger, and the whole experience is referred to as your pattern. A client recently shared a story where her fiance triggered her when he questioned her judgment about what she was wearing to a party. She immediately went on to say, now that I'm repeating the story, I can see how I overreacted, and I shouldn't have. I told her I disagreed and that she reacted correctly to the situation based on her Identity (who she thinks she is). I mentioned this experience serves as a perfect opportunity to understand why she reacted the way she did. It's worth understanding that any time an experience triggers us, whether it's an under or overreaction, there's always a reality deep to it. Meaning, all emotional reactions are contextually relevant if you care enough to understand the story behind them. It just so happened, this client grew up with a very controlling mother, one who never trusted her judgment. This was the source of her trigger! At that moment, he unknowingly validated her painful experiences, activating the neural circuits that reminded her of a life without freedom, and unintentionally threw salt in her emotional wounds. When I brought this to my client's attention, she took a deep breath and breathed a sigh of relief, saying: "WOW, so I really didn't overreact, I just didn't understand why I was so hurt." BOOM--mic drop! I went on to inquire about how she behaved in response to this situation. Here's what she said: 1. I became annoyed 2. I started breathing hard to hold in how I was feeling 3. I started developing resentment 4. I thought about what I should say, but I didn't so I could avoid confrontation 5. I started angrily, emotionally eating 6. I called my friend to complain (BTW rehashing the situation only amplifies the emotional reaction) 7. It continued lingering, and it eventually fell off my radar, but only until I was triggered again 8. I became passive-aggressive 9. I felt wiped out, and I ended up becoming sick The detail of her response floored me! I asked her how it felt to see how much emotional energy she expended in response to her trigger. "I'm thinking there's a better way of responding," she exclaimed. I then asked: "Now that you know what you know, how might you address a situation like this next time?" To which she replied: "Tell him upfront that when he questions my judgment, it makes me feel insignificant. Then I can tell him why I made the decision I made and be OK with him not liking it." Talk about a transformation?!?! The takeaway here is we are rarely reacting entirely to the situation in front of us, but are also responding from our unresolved emotional wounds. Ultimately, this level of self-understanding is also a practice of self-compassion, which is a catalyst for the healing of our wounds.

"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves." Carl Jung

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