Understanding and Managing Our Emotional Triggers
Understanding how we can help ourselves when we’re feeling stressed, anxious or experiencing low mood is one of the greatest gifts that we can give ourselves as it empowers us to be able to take back control of our minds and our bodies when so much else can seem out of our control. Understanding how we can choose to experience our emotions is both liberating and empowering as we no longer see ourselves leaves in the wind being blown around by external events and circumstances out of our control, we able to see ourselves as pilots of our own lives. While we may not be able to control the outside weather conditions we can control our internal worlds and choose the path that we will fly.
Often we feel alone and isolated when we are experiencing unwanted or uncomfortable emotions. This is understandable as we live in a society that tells us that some emotions are “bad” such as anger, frustration, sadness and loneliness while other emotions such as happiness, joy, excitement, love and compassion are “good”. While most of us would choose to spend more time experiencing the second set of emotions there really is no such thing as good and bad when it comes to emotions. We all experience all emotions at different times, this is helpful and beneficial when it comes to keeping us safe and helping us to make sense of our world.
Different ways to experience the same event:
An example of a time when experiencing fear would be beneficial could be if you’re walking a lone late at night in a dark street and someone starts to follow you. Experiencing fear at this time would make you more alert, fear release adrenaline into your system, which would help you to run faster if you need to, the fear emotion would also encourage you to seek safety. Experiencing anger helps us to see that someone else’s actions violate our main values, this might encourage us to avoid this person or this situation in future or take appropriate action to care for yourself. In these situations fear and anger serve a very useful purpose.
On the flip side there are times when our emotions do not serve us well, public speaking is something that causes many of us to experience anxiety and fear, yet unless we are in a country of the world that does not have freedom of speech and we are speaking out against the government our speeches are unlikely to put us in danger. Road rage is becoming a bigger problem on Australian roads, this is a time when people are experiencing anger in a way that is not only not serving them but is also putting themselves and others in danger.
We know that not everyone reacts the same way, some people have mastered the art of public speaking, they might experience excitement and elation rather than fear and anxiety before a speech. Professional speakers who do still experience uncomfortable feelings before speech might experience a few nerves rather than anxiety. Two people caught in the same traffic jam will experience it very differently, one person will see it as an opportunity to relax, put on the heater and listen to some music or an audio while someone else will be panicking about being later for a meeting, another person will experience frustration and someone else could experience anger which results in road rage. The external circumstances are the same the difference is the way the person chooses to react to them. What they make it mean.
What is it that triggers these emotions in us?
Our experience of the world is dictated by our internal world. As we saw above with the examples of public speaking and traffic jams two people can be a part of the same event at the same time and make it mean two very different things and as a result their experience of the event will be different.
We experience events in our lives through our internal filters of beliefs, values, language, memories, attitudes and our Meta Programs (a construct of NLP). As we decode our external world though these filters we make an event mean something to us, for example, I’m about to get on stage and give a speech could be an exciting opportunity to share new ideas that will create change for the audience or it could be perceived to be threatening and scary as the audience might reject me and my ideas. Our internal filters help us to make meaning of an event and the meaning that we assign it determines our experience of it.
Emotional triggers are different for everyone:
We often think we know where these emotions have come from, someone at work was unpleasant and we feel uncomfortable, or a character in a story that we’re reading dies and we feel sad (despite the fact that it’s a fiction story). Yet, it’s not the person at work or the story it’s how we interpret the situation based on our internal filters. The person a work being unpleasant could mean that they’re having a really tough time fitting into their new role and they’re having some difficulties at home as well, now our interpretation shifts from feeling uncomfortable to compassion.
These emotions are often triggered by things external to us, perhaps something that someone said or did, perhaps something on the news was disturbing, or a song on the radio reminds us of a loved one. Whatever the external trigger it sets off a domino effect in our internal processing system, which triggers an emotion.
Some emotions that are triggered are happy ones, the sound of birds in the morning always reminds me of sleepovers at my Grandma’s house as a child and with out consciously thinking about it, without even being fully awake I begin to smile. On the other had the song “We Are Sailing” reminds me of my father who passed away 9 years ago now and it still brings tears of sadness to my eyes.
We rely on our memories, our beliefs, our values, our attitudes, our language and our Meta Programs to make sense of the world ant to help us to decide how to react to an external event. This is where we get the opportunity to let our conscious mind to intervene and help us decide if our reaction is rational or if perhaps we can choose to see and experience the event in another way.
Our conscious mind finally has an opportunity to have a say:
Up until this point most of our interpretation has happened in a fraction of a second and on a subconscious level, too quick and with out conscious thought to enable our conscious mind to intervene, now we’re experiencing the event/ the emotion and we’re consciously aware of it, now we get the opportunity to decide if this is how we choose to experience this event or not. This is where we get to help ourselves.
Helping ourselves does not mean falling into the trap of expecting our selves to be happy all of the time. There are many articles written in social media and in recent magazines suggesting that we can control our emotions, that we can manage our triggers, that we can control how we feel and that we can all feel happy and good all of the time.
It is certainly true that we alone have the ability to control and manage our inner world and that external events only take on the meaning that we assign to them. However the idea that we can all feel happy all of the time is a myth created by popular culture and one that can be quite damaging if believed. The damage is done when someone believes that they should feel happy all of the time or when they fight what they perceive to be negative emotions such as worry, fear, anxiety, overwhelm, low mood, mild depression and sadness.
I have yet to find the person who, despite all the knowledge of positive psychology and coaching can manage to be happy all of the time. The reality is that throughout our lives we will face many challenges, it is in these times when we feel uncomfortable, when we feel hurt, scared, unsure that we experience the greatest opportunities for emotional and spiritual growth.
In a world where many of use, especially our young people, experience much of our social interaction though social media, the danger is that we wind up comparing our average day or even our worst day with everyone else’s best day.
Parents with a new baby will likely post lots and lots of adorable pictures of their new little person, they’ll put up status updates about where they’ve been today and the cute things their little bundle has done. We’ll be updated with every achievement and every milestone… What we often done see are the screaming tantrums, the endless sleepless nights, the exhaustion, the boredom of watching the same Pepper Pig episode for the 4,352 time, the mess, the food that never gets eaten… You get the picture. Most of us show only our best selves on social media and for the person who’s feeling that they should always be happy, this is even more evidence that they are alone.
It’s so important when we’re experiencing this to STOP!! Take a breath…
Remind ourselves that we are not alone…
Everyone experiences all emotions, even if we don’t see it…
That all emotions have a purpose, that all emotions are useful and that we get to decide if we will keep hold of this emotion and continue to experience this event/ situation in this way or if we will choose another way to experience this situation.
So, what can we do?
Being aware that how we experience an event is based on our own internal processing rather than dictated by external events is a great place to start.
Once we’re aware of this the next step is to ask ourselves if there is another way that this event can be seen or experienced, could the vent have meant something else and if it did how would that change my experience?
Asking ourselves why we’ve leapt to the conclusions that we have, was it because of something we experienced when we were younger? Was it because it violated our beliefs and values? Did it trigger a memory or make us feel unsafe? Taking the time to understand where our emotions and our triggers come form is something that so few people take the time to do and yet once we understand where our thoughts and feelings are coming from we can choose whether to keep them, if they are serving us or whether to let them go if they are not.
Most people experience the world like this:
Event = Experience = Action all before thought…
They believe that they are at the whim of the universe, that they are lucky or unlucky and that there is little or nothing they can do about it.
When we choose to take control of our lives and our emotions we change this
Event = Emotional Trigger (Conscious Awareness = Choosing
Experience = Choosing Emotion) = Action
With the help of a certified, qualified Meta Dynamics coach people are able to
Event = Chosen Trigger + Conscious Awareness = Chosen
Emotions and Chosen Experience = Action
It’s all about taking back control and choosing what we want for our lives.
Our emotional triggers serve an important function to help to protect us, to keep us safe, just as all emotions serve their purpose and in the right context also help to protect us. There are times though that emotional triggers are not serving us, they might be standing in the way of us achieving our goals or they might be causing unnecessary uncomfortable feeling in our lives. It’s when this happens that we need to use our conscious awareness to choose another meaning, to choose a different emotion and to create a new experience for ourselves.
“How To Take Charge Of Your Life”, Richard Bandler, 2014
“Awaken the Giant Within”, Anthony Robbins, 1991
“Positive Psychology Program”, Meta Dynamics, The Globe Success Institute, Kristy Ambrose, 2016