Handling Emotional Reactions

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Are you someone who ever gets emotionally triggered or reactive when things don’t go your way and you then do or say something you later regret?

It can happens to all of us, especially when we are stressed.

So what can you actually do about it?

This might sound obvious, but the first thing you need to do is to notice when it happens. You probably won’t catch the moment right away. It might only be afterwards, and at the beginning it may only be a long time afterwards. The more you pay attention, the closer to the moment you will catch what happened, but it may take some practice to get there.

Now that you are paying attention, instead of beating up on yourself, let’s try something different. You can try being kind to yourself, in the face of having been caught out, once again. Not to excuse whatever it was you did or said that you are now regretting, but to recognise that this kind of thing happens to anyone when they get triggered. You can give yourself a break. You are not a bad person but you did something in the heat of the moment, that you didn’t intend. That’s all.

Let’s look at what happens in the midst of a triggering.

We all have needs, it’s healthy, and knowing your needs helps you to survive. Sometimes other people help us meet our needs, and sometimes we need to meet them in other ways, instead of relying on others. The problem is, we tend to have expectations that certain others should meet our needs – like the need for care and acceptance, for example. However, sometimes that favourite person is just not available in the way that we want in that moment. That’s one of the moments that a lot of people get reactive, and that’s perfectly normal.

Inside the brain, there is a lot going on in such moments… The emotional part of the brain takes over, which means it activates the Freeze-Fight-Flight response system. The problem is, that the emotional brain does not do a reality checking. This part of the brain jumps into action – or reaction. It doesn’t check to see if this thing it’s reacting to is actually happening now, in the present moment, or if it is reacting to something that happened a long time ago. For the emotional brain – there is no difference.  The fact that the emotional part of the brain can step in so fast is also a life-saver – for example it fuels your impulse to run into the road and to pull your child back from an approaching car.   It’s the same mechanism.

The problem is that this part of the brain doesn’t know the difference between a challenging situation that happened a long time ago and something that is happening right now.

Often when we get triggered into an emotional reaction its because the emotional brain is responding to a situation that happened a long time ago,and it’s behaving as if it were happening now. Here is an example: You are having a talk with someone and they appear not to hear you, they are just saying other things and not acknowledging you. Perhaps in the past, when you were a young child, this kind of thing happened a lot and now when it happens you get upset about it.  But you are not only upset for what is happening no but also for all the other times it happened before. Then if you don’t catch it in time, you end up being inappropriately angry with the person in front of you – but they are not responsible for all the other times before. That’s why its so important to catch these moments – as more awareness always brings more choice.

So what to do about it?

There’s a lot of information out there that tells us all you need to do is to Stop, notice what’s going on, calm yourself down, take some deep breaths and carry on. As the saying goes ‘Keep Calm and Carry on’. It works ……up to a point.

However as Besel van de Kolk points out in his books ‘ The Body Keeps the Score’ it isn’t that simple.https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18693771-the-body-keeps-the-score

‘When the alarm bell of the emotional brain keeps signalling that you are in danger, no amount of insight will silence it’.

In fact when the emotions and reason are in conflict – we can have a very visceral experience, and its worth paying attention to it, even though the natural inclination can be to run away or ignore it all.   It can feel like World War 3 breaking out in the gut, the heart, lungs and so on. It creates havoc to our system – all the long term projects of the body go on hold,  that’s things like building the immune system, growth, healing etc . And lets face it no-one enjoys being triggered.

This is when its important to turn towards the body and take note of the information held in the body. One of the methods that helps is Whole Body Focusing. This is a body centred enquiry process that helps you to learn from the body – when you can connect with the raw feelings in the trigger they can lead you back to the root cause of the problem.  Now that you are in contact with the root cause of the trigger, you can deal with it – by welcoming and accepting whatever you find there – and then you won’t get as reactive with people in the present.

I am giving a workshop on the subject on April 12th

More details over here https://www.meetup.com/Personal-Development-in-Brussels/events/247877792/

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In the meantime here are some tips to get you started:

  • Start paying attention to your triggers and get curious about them, as an investigative journalist trying to make sense of a situation.
  • Keep a trigger journal and write about the situation, to reflect on the trigger and what is causing it. It will get you pretty far just by noticing what is triggering you and how you are reacting.
  • When you catch it in the moment, try and bring yourself really present – notice your feet on the ground, the sounds around you, your breathing etc, and be aware of whatever bodily sensations you are experiencing. Feel your own sense of being a person who is bigger than this thing that is triggering you – it is a part of you that is triggered – you are so much bigger than that !

And be kind to yourself for having to deal with this challenging situation.

Have a Happy Easter, Spring, Passover and whatever else you are celebrating!

 

Please post your thoughts in the comments below – what gets you triggered and how do you handle it?

 

Shift your mood and find your gratitude

I had gotten off a call with a friend. I felt so much warmth between us on the call that it was almost palpable. He told me that he had seen this photo of me, as it had been posted on FaceBook. He mentioned it as he was speaking about history – my history and his, the history we have together. He is a colleague on a training program we have been following together these last 18 months. He spoke about how we are both growing and healing – even in the time that we have known each other. It was good to hear all that.  Our call had gone deep and I was aware that somewhere inside me, I also felt a bit sad. It felt like a good kind of sadness.
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This photo holds a lot for me – it was taken right after a particularly challenging time in my life . A few weeks before I had a had a nasty cycling accident, that had left me shaken up and depressed.

That weekend of the photo was itself very memorable. For one thing we were on the beautiful Gower coast in Pembrokeshire on an August Bank Holiday. We had great company, fantastic weather and amazing nature. What more can you ask for!

 

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After the call, I remembered what had been going on right before that weekend, many many years before. I remembered how I had stumbled into a nightly gratitude practice after my accident. This turned out to be the perfect antidote to dealing with the shock and depression of my accident. Looking back, it seems strange that I was so depressed. After all, the accident could easily have been much worse. I was definitely still alive and without any major injury. I realize now, that the depression was probably the way I dealt with the shock of the accident.
I feel lucky that I found this practice from ‘first principles’. It was a long time ago and not much energy was put into positive psychology in those days.  At the time it made sense to see how many positive things had happened in the day, and there were always a lot ! It gave me the grace to get things back into perspective. Life was good and I was indeed lucky to be alive.
As I got off the call and had these reflections, I noticed that my energy changed radically. I wasn’t pushing anything away. I hadn’t changed anything. I hadn’t pushed away the sad feelings, but my energy was different now.
What struck me the most is how easy it was to shift my awareness to something positive. I was still feeling tired but the darker mood had definitely moved on. I also realised that this type of mood-shifter is a useful tool that I had never thought of before.
I am wondering if you have used this kind of mood shifter? What works for you when something has just brought you down?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Is Happiness an Inside Job?

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege and the honour to speak at the first ever Serious Waffle Session. If you haven’t heard about them you might be wondering what on earth is a Serious Waffle Session? Whilst the TED talks https://www.ted.com/ seek to inspire Serious Waffle Sessions seek to educate. I was invited to give 3 key learning points on my talk on happiness. Why Waffle Session? Whilst Brussels is well-known for its waffles, there is also a pun involved here. In the UK to ‘waffle on’ about something means to talk at great length on a subject – often in a boring and roundabout way. A Serious Waffle is not a long and boring talk, but a short one and to the point – I had 15 minutes. There are two more Serious Waffle Sessions in the coming series. You may like to join me as part of the audience. I am sure the next round of speakers will be excellent and thought provoking. Serious Waffle Talks

I had agreed to give this speech because I believe I have something of value to say about happiness, and it was also a good opportunity to raise my profile. As one of three speakers for the evening, we addressed the topic of happiness. Sascha Siegmund kicked us off, by talking about some of the myths about happiness. Andy Whittle followed with some principles to follow.  You can check out what he said over here   Andy Whittle’s principles of happiness

For my own talk I wanted to give some tools that can be useful in everyday life. Keeping my talk practical and hands-on idea was a key motivator for me in giving this talk. After I had said YES a few months ago, there were quite a few moments when I had serious second thoughts. What did I know, really? What made me think I had something useful to say on the subject? I noticed the barrage of negative thoughts, but I kept reminding myself why I wanted to give this talk. What it meant for me, was a big motivator.

As a trainer and facilitator, I am used to standing up and talking to people . But I had never given a proper speech before!! Truth be told, I was terrified! We met as a group a couple of months before, to review the planned event. I wasn’t liking it – it was feeling too formal, too real even. I was very much in contact with my own fears of about giving this kind of speech.  But I felt committed.  I wanted to do this even though I felt scared about it.

Agreeing to give this talk was challenging me in more ways than I had bargained for. I had forgotten that I had spent much of my earlier life perfecting the art of invisibility. When I look back at my childhood, it seems that being visible almost always got me in to trouble. Even when I had done something good. A memory is standing out, of me at about 8 years old.  I was given a  certificate  for some good work I had done. I was called out in school assembly and congratulated, for my hard work and endeavors. It should have been a nice happy moment for me. Unfortunately for me, my elder siblings were also present and they found it hilarious. They didn’t rate my youthful hard work as they were not as studious as me. They laughed at me, as only elder siblings can. I was young enough and sensitive enough to take it to heart and it was painful! I ended up feeling that I had done something wrong , when I was just being a good conscientious student!

Through that event, and others like, it I learnt not to stand out. It was never good news, so I became a master of being there without ever being noticed. So now, what on earth was I doing, thinking that I would stand up and make a speech?! I had never done anything like that before!! In  a sense, I was challenging myself to rewrite my history.  I needed to create a positive memory in the present to counter-balance the negative memories from the past that were still impacting me. Even after all this time.   Its only now after the fact that I recognise why this was so important for me, and so scary.

Before Christmas I had a vague notion of what I wanted to talk about. When I  was in the shower, or out for a walk, thoughts arrived that belonged in my talk on happiness. Most of all, I realised that I definitely did have something to say about this topic. I realised that I used to be invested in  being unhappy – without even knowing it. No longer!  My perspective had changed so much that I definitely wanted to share some of it. This was already building my confidence, as was my excitement about my topic.

Then I had the good fortune to go on holiday over the Christmas break. It turned out to be perfect opportunity to think about my talk. I went away with a group but I hadn’t bargained on being almost the only single amongst many couples. This not a topic that I think about much in daily life. But  I was on holiday now,  and some moments were excruciating!

I asked myself if I believed everything I said about happiness? What a perfect opportunity to find out! As I realised this, I remembered the practice I had received years before, from my then teacher Alan Lowen, from the Art of Being. This practice of ‘No complaining’. It took me a long time to learn that one, and now I can talk about it!! This practice of ‘no complaining’ pulled me out of the pity party I had fallen into. There is so much here and now to be grateful for, even if its not ideal. I am fortunate to have this opportunity, to go on this holiday. I am enjoying this glorious sunny weather in the middle of winter. The people were all friendly and inclusive, some of them were going out of their way for me.  Thats plenty to be grateful for.

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This was my first tip that I could speak about. And I had some good anecdotes from my holiday

By now my speech was writing itself, new memories and old ones kept coming. I even learnt my speech by heart, all 15 minutes of it.  I had not never imagined I could do that. The words were alive inside me. I am glad to report that my speech went super well. It has helped my confidence no end and I am looking forward to the next opportunity!

And here you can see me in action

Is happiness an inside job? No doubt about it now, I am sure of it. What about you? Please add your thoughts in the comments below.

A new way to deal with anger…

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Today, well  all week actually, I am in a bit of a spat with someone – they did something that really upset me, made me angry, that has consequences for me –I could go on, but I will spare you.  In any case, I am still pretty upset about the whole situation…

I am writing about it here because  I’d like to reflect on how my response to it today is so  different than how I’d deal with this type of situation in the past.  Previously I have not been known to do well with anger…… I have been reactive and  difficult to be around. In fact, I’d do anything other than just feel  the anger, so that I can move on to get life back on track – despite this irritating thing this other person did.

Through my work with focusing – I have learnt a new way to respond , to ground myself  and the results this morning were remarkable.

This morning before leaving home, I was triggered again by an email  I read. There I was fuming mad all over again!!   I had been planning to ride my bike to my office  – and I was suddenly was aware of an inner  voice saying ‘ be careful – you’re ungrounded ,  it ‘ll be a mess!’.  This voice knowing that I have a history of accidents happening when I’v e been ungrounded – and some of them have been pretty nasty over the years. It has been at my peril when I didn’t pay attention to this voice in the past!

Today though I heard an inner response ‘Hang on a minute, I want to ride my bike! – I just got it repaired yesterday and it’s no good just sitting in the shed’.  I took  another moment – and sat with these two voices, allowing them both to be there. Then I realised that I needed to ground myself and it would be fine!  So I did just that, I took the moment to feel my whole body – to feel the ground beneath my feet , to feel the energy and to feel everything that was going on for me right there in the moment.  I felt  the energy pulsating through me, as I sent it down into the ground.

Quite quickly I felt gratitude, for my life and for this practice, even as the anger was still present – but I felt alive in it, in a totally new way.  So I duly cycled to work,  and even as I was cycling along I could feel the ground through my feet,  through the pedals in fact – that was a bit of a weird experience I have to admit!!

I am glad to say I am now safely sitting in my office writing this blog!!

It never  ceases to amaze me how the simple act of grounding  and making space for everything thats there gives me more space and freedom in my life.