Understanding what is happening in your brain when you get triggered will help you to develop and sustain healthier relationships. If you can observe yourself getting triggered, then you are no longer engulfed by the experience, which gives you some space to make better choices about how to respond.
The Observer Self
Witnessing as observer permits you to keep one foot in calm. Remember, no one can make you angry. Your past associations and current beliefs create fertile ground for you to get angry. But being triggered isn’t just about anger, which is indicative of “fight.” Triggered can also mean “flight,” or running away from the situation when it would serve you best to stay. Or “freeze” which means you check out. Nothing gets resolved or accomplished when any of those reactions are occurring.
The Essential Three
There are three requirements for healthier relationships with self and others:
- Brain Awareness
- Emotional Regulation, and
- Healthy Communication.
Ideally, you will, first, observe what is happening and identify the agitation as your brain going into protection mode. Secondly, you can do compassionate self-talk and a calming tool, and, finally, you will be more likely to communicate from the heart, or love, rather than from fear. As a result, you may notice your whole life improving.
One: Brain Awareness
I have written about this extensively. Read whatever you can about fight, flight or freeze responses, particularly The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk. When you’re reacting from the more primal brain regions, you are seeing through the lens of all or nothing, right or wrong, life or death – which is not helpful to what is actually occurring in present time.
Two: Emotional Regulation
If you can learn to feel and process emotion without guilt, then when the going gets rough you will be able to avoid personalizing what the other person is doing and see it for what it is. My course is a great way to gather skills. I believe in its benefits, and that’s why I’m promoting it. Click HERE to learn more about that.
Or buy my friend and colleague Dee Marie’s book, Finding Calm in a Moment. Click HERE to check that out. I am happy to send you my tool list PDF that explains exercises that help in the moment for free. You can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, read Languages of Emotion by Karla McLaren.
Three: Healthy Communication
Fighting fire with fire never helps and creates opponents out of the people whom we most love. This isn’t about being run over by intimidators, but it’s about being truthful to who you are. If the other person is willing to do the work as well, you can both be more vulnerable, which allows you to connect more deeply and to care about your impact on the other person. Also, if you feel victimized or triggered, odds are you can suspect your inner nasty voice AND the primal brain.
Finally, life is not black and white, life or death, good or bad. You as a person are certainly not good or bad, but when you are thrust into the primal brain, then everything looks more dangerous and dire. You judge yourself and others more harshly. If you can do work with all three of the above, you will experience dramatic results.
* The End *
On a side note…
The Corrected Cherokee Tale
According to a reader, it turns out that the Cherokee tale I related in my last post is the most common version told, but not the authentic ending to the tale. Here is the corrected Cherokee Tale for anyone interested:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life: “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.” It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”
According to Dan Herr, the authentic story ends this way:
The old Cherokee simply replied, “If you feed them right, they both win. You see, if I only choose to feed the white wolf, the black one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and always fighting the white wolf. But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the white wolf is happy and we all win. For the black wolf has many qualities – tenacity, courage, fearlessness, strong-willed and great strategic thinking – that I have need of at times and that the white wolf lacks. But the white wolf has compassion, caring, strength and the ability to recognize what is in the best interest of all.
“You see, son, the white wolf needs the black wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life. Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowing that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance. Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing.
“How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.”