“It was going so perfect until one day when he told me I was not a good driver. I was taken aback, I was angry, frustrated and I immediately shouted at him” These were the exact words of one of my clients. Now, this doesn’t sound like a huge deal. Why would someone get so offensive at something so trivial?
Here’s why! Her father was overly critical of everything she did and never praised her for it. Now, every time someone critiques her, she doesn’t automatically think of her father but her brain automatically follows the pattern and emotion she grew up with. This is how emotional triggers trick us. Most of the emotions we experience in our daily lives are shaped by our past experiences and understanding them is the first step towards dealing with emotional triggers in an efficient way.
Here’s how you can do it:
- Rephrase how you feel: Instead of saying “I am sad”, try saying “ Something in me is feeling sad”. You have to understand that whatever you are feeling at this moment doesn’t define you in general. When you start separating yourself from your feelings, you can observe it in a much better way.
- Acknowledge It: The second step is to acknowledge whatever you are feeling. Recognize the physical changes in your body like pumping of heartbeat, sweating, constriction in your gut. Make sure you understand that it is there with you, in you and you have complete power to decide the course it takes.
- Determine what triggered the emotion: Once you have acknowledged that it’s there, try understanding the cause behind it. Don’t judge it as right or wrong. In most cases, we feel triggered when we feel someone is taking away “value” from us. Try to find out the value which caused the trigger and is it any way related to your unmet emotional needs?
- Work on an alternative emotional reaction: With practice, the reaction to your emotional triggers could subside, but they may never go away. The best you can do is to quickly identify when an emotion is triggered and then choose what to do next. For example, the next time you feel angry when someone critiques you, you can shift your emotional reaction from shouting to understanding their perception and talking to them about it.
- Just Breathe: Every time you feel triggered, instead of immediately reacting to it, take a deep breath, in and out. This gives you enough time to think logically about the event, accept the trigger as your own and then make a rational alternative reaction to it.