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?

 

Stressed to Impress

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‘How focusing saved me when I met a person whom I terribly wanted to impress’

Guest article by Professional Coach Lenka Grackova. Lenka was one of my first clients and has also followed 3.5 days training in Whole Body Focusing

I sit down in my living room and look at the clock on the wall. Good, I still have enough time to get ready before I leave my home. For an unknown reason, I feel stressed. I have this strange feeling in my belly, telling me that I am anxious. I do not understand why. I am going out to meet a person whom I did not see for 9 years. I am looking forward to meeting him again. I am curious how he has changed. I really liked him at that time.

I am still sitting on the sofa and feel frozen. I do not feel like standing up and get myself moving. I look at the clock again. I still have some time, and I can not leave in such a state. I need to take some time to figure out what is happening.

I tune in and get aware of each part of my body. I notice my breath, my feelings, my appartment, my whole being. I ask my body to reveal what is happening.

The first idea that flashes in my head: „I am going to be late!“. My logical side totally disagrees and tries to push the idea out of the away. I focus again on my belly. I wish I could run away from that tense feeling. Instead I open up. I tune into the nervousness inside of me. I relax and focus on what is happening right now in my body. I feel weak. My arms and legs are without any power. I open up to that feeling as well.

I feel powerless. Suddenly I get a flash in my head. I feel I am not good enough. I would like the other person to enjoy being with me. I want him to be impressed. But I am worried that I might not be good enough. An emotional flood open up and I let the feeling pour out. I stay with my feelings of insufficiency. Another part of me starts calming me down or maybe complaining again that I do not feel confident. I open up to both parts. I give them as much space as possible. Until they can make peace. They become friends and my tense feeling in my belly goes away.

I thank my body for all that it revealed to me. I feel very much alive and energized. I look at the clock. Damn. Now I need to hurry up!

On the way to the restaurant, I start looking forward to the meeting. The curiousity takes over. I feel light.  When I arrive to the place, I am almost on time (only 5 mins late). But finding a parking place seems impossible. I start stressing a little bit. Sending him a couple of messages that I am not able to find a parking place. After turning in circles for 15 more mins, I find a convenient place. I arrive to the restaurant 25 mins late. That’s a bit of a world record for me.  I feel a little bit guilty, but the guy is extremely understanding.

I celebrate inside of me that I did my focusing session earlier on. If not, I would be feeling uncomfortable with such a bad start to the evening, and  I would not be able to be myself. Instead we  have a great evening together.

Before leaving the restaurant, I check myself in the mirror and smile. Oh no! A big piece of parsley is stuck in my teeth. I do a quick calculation, it has probably  been there for at least an hour. I regret I was laughing that much. Then we go out from the restaurant and my friend offers to walk me to the car. Oh my goodness. Where did I park it? After being confused for a couple of minutes, I finally find my way.

After we say good bye and I go off in my car, I have to laugh. I am so happy that I did my focusing session. In the past with such „bad“ impressions, I would probably be driving back home devastated. Now I just think: What a funny story to tell! I need to share it with my focusing guide and teacher, Ruth Friedman.  My body was right again. I was terribly late and I surely impressed the guy!

About Lenka: She creates motivation and passion at work by individual coaching. and she works to help people bring the passion back to their job. Thanks to her international experience in multinationals, she learned that the problem was not to be different, the problem was to be different while trying to do the things the same way like the others.   More about Lenka www.challenging-goals.com

 

 

Do You make mistakes?

I know that I do make mistakes and sometimes they are big ones – ones that I really wished I hadn’t made.

Sometimes when you make a mistake you can do real damage. You can hurt yourself, or other people. For example, if you do a bad mistake whilst driving you might cause an accident and people will get hurt or worse. If you make a mistake when you are talking to a friend or colleague, you can say something that you didn’t mean to. The other person might feel hurt by what you said and you might have caused damage in the relationship. In the long run it means you have hurt yourself as well. Point being, it matters when you make a mistake, but we all do it as we are all human beings. Sometimes the impact of the mistake can be much greater than the thing we did itself.

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Recently I made a bunch of mistakes, so I’ve been thinking about mistakes and how we treat ourselves. I do not want to diminish the wrong action, but to find a way to come back to learn from the mistakes and so to  move on.

I was observing how I treated myself afterwards. Perhaps the mistake I made was foolish or ignorant but it was too late to change the outcome. In England there is an expression  ‘There is no use crying over spilled milk’. It means after you spilled the milk, its too late to be complaining that your milk is gone.

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In my case I was doing something for the first time, and if I am honest with myself, I wasn’t thinking straight. It happens even to the best of us! I didn’t realise it at the time, so I made the mistakes and I didn’t get what I wanted. Then I was gutted!!

That was when I got really hard on myself…. I kept trying to tell myself that it was a mistake, mistakes happen, everyone makes mistake sometimes!! But I was still hard on myself! Later I realised that I was so very hard on myself because I was also disappointed in the outcome. I hadn’t realised how much I really wanted it. 20:20 hindsight is a marvelous thing!

Once I recognised that the hardness came from my disappointment, and not from anything harsher, it was easier to have compassion for myself! I could give myself a break. The harshness came because I felt I had let myself down, and that was painful for me, but it was nothing worse. That was a relief!

Somehow, even after that realisation, I still wasn’t done with this. – I fell into a dark and unhappy state that I haven’t seen for a while.  It was odd to see it, but I realised that this part of me doesn’t actually want me to be happy, right now. It was a surprise to recognise that this part of me actually wants me to wallow in misery!  Maybe other people have that place as well…. its not an easy place to admit to and for me it was a startling realisation!

So I asked myself ‘Is this a place I actually want to live from ?’ The answer came back, NO!  That was when I remembered my first antidote to all this darkness is to remember to stop complaining and to get grateful…. there is always, always so much to be grateful for!
Gratitude, and choosing to feel grateful is like taking a medicine for your brain. That’s true, even when it doesn’t feel natural or obvious. Its even true when it feels like the last thing on earth you want to do. Gratitude changes something in the chemistry of your brain. They say that joy and gratitude go together. Its not that joyful people have more to feel grateful for, it is that grateful people experience more joy.! If you don’t want to take my word for it, you can check out Brene Brown on this topic over here.   You really can resource yourself with gratitude, and it works!

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Now that I had resourced myself, I could see that it was not surprising that I made that mistake. I was doing something new and I had been anxious about it.

Then I remembered to looked back on the last few months. I recognised that globally, I feel more lightness and more openness. And yes I do have a a lot to be grateful for. Simple things like having good food to eat – a nice apartment, things that nourish me, people who care about me and so on.

It reminds me that being happy is a choice. Sometimes I need to re-choose it over and over again. Old habits sometimes take hold and they can be hard to break. The thing is though there really are times when being happy is just not it, at least for me. In those moments, if I am honest, I don’t choose happiness. The challenge I have then is to be kind to myself, in the face of choosing ‘not happiness’. So that I can be a friend to myself no matter what.

As soon as I can find kindness for myself in the face of choosing ‘not happiness’ , then something shifts inside me. Its amazing! There is more space for me to be myself and I find my centre again. Once I find my gratitude for life, happiness, calm, being centred, is never far away.

It has been an interesting journey these last days and not an easy one…. I felt pulled in many different directions, and not easy to find the distance I needed inside me. I am deeply grateful for the tool of Focusing which has helped me find my way.

What happens for you when you make mistakes?

 

 

By the way upcoming I have 2 workshops one on Self Compassion on March 12 2017 where we can really dive into methods to find kindness for yourself. Details here

And on April 23rd an Introduction to Whole Body Focusing in which we will learn the basics of Focusing.

 

 

 

Wiggle your toes

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This first blog post entry I share an experience of grounded presence, the foundation stone focusing, and how it is helping me in my life.

What does it mean to be really PRESENT – alive and awake and aware of the ground beneath my feet, the sky above me, aware of the sounds coming in from out side, aware of the thoughts that whizz thru’ my brain.

I am watching the tirade of thoughts spilling out of me now as a I write.  I notice them, not really caught in them, just acknowledging them, putting them gently aside – one by one as they come up.  Then I come back to my thought-process as I write – I notice the self-judgements that come in thick and fast.  In me, these voices, and similar ones, are cajoling around, too much of the time.

It was certainly  like that for the longest time. In the past little things would trigger huge reactions, that afterwords left me feeling embarrassed and a bit hopeless – how did that situation repeat – again?

One day, midway through yet another challenging situation,  something different happened. A new friend invited me quite simply just to feel my toes, and to feel the contact between my toes and the ground, and from there slowly to bring in to awareness all the parts of my body  one by one.  By the end of it I felt calmer, more present, more alive and simply aware of my energy and everything that had been triggered by this challenging situation

You can always wiggle your toes!   It might sound silly, but its remarkable what a huge difference this simple step can make.  Here am I, standing here, sitting here, and whatever else is going on. I can feel my toes, I am in contact with the earth through the soles of my feet. Gravity is acting downwards and, sure enough the gentle reaction from the floor pushing back.  I can feel my own presence more strongly, I am more alive and awake and it all starts with the simple step of wiggling my toes!

Check it out and experiment!