When we get into an argument or confrontation, we sometimes retrieve into ourselves, feeling our pain, seeing only our perspective, and shutting out the bigger picture. The reason for that is that when we are triggered emotionally the amygdala part of the brain gets activated, which is where all our emotions get stored. In reality a lot of the times the intensity of the pain we experience is really not present time. It is often an emotion (or trauma) that we experienced many years ago, yet once it gets triggered the brain does not know how to differentiate present time and past.
One of the ways in which you can test yourself to see if it’s actually present time only, is to gage your reaction after an argument. Was it super intense? What emotions came up for you? Was it just an emotion you experienced during this argument or has this been felt in the past intensely?
A few months ago, I was on the phone with my sister and got upset. By the time I hung up the phone I was really triggered. I stopped and asked myself the million-dollar question: “what is this feeling really about?”. After breathing my way into calmness, I realized that the reaction I had was tied to feeling of abandonment and neglect and had little to do with the present moment. I stepped into a place of honesty and gave those old wounds some attention. It helped me shift my perception of how I felt towards my sister…. I called her back… talked about it and moved on… Felt so much better.
It is a process that took me some time to learn, but once I made it a habit to stop, think and reflect, it kind of became second nature. This might be new for you and a little overwhelming at first, but once you become more aware of your emotions, where they come from, and how to separate past from present, you will be able to have healthier relationships, as well as learn to express your feelings more eloquently.
Here are three steps you should take the next time you feel triggered:
Breathe: feel your pain and physical response in your body. Acknowledge it with no judgement. Don’t fight the feeling. Notice it, feel it, process it. It helps to close your eyes, put one hand on your heart and one on your stomach and just breathe and notice.
Ask yourself: what am I feeling? Get very clear on the emotion you are experiencing. Ex: I feel unloved, I feel abandoned, I feel unheard. Acknowledge it without ANY judgement at all. Remember you have a RIGHT to your feelings.
Think of your new response: when we are triggered we respond from our inner child and attach to a story that is no longer true or valid in this present moment (an emotional story). Once you become more aware of your trigger, your physical response and your emotions, you will have more clarity and be able to better choose your responses. Perhaps you will adapt a breathing method to first calm yourself, understand what your truly feeling, why and what it is associated to, and only than be able to respond with a new attitude and perception.