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Exploring Emotional Triggers

It was lovely to welcome (back), three familiar faces, Julie, Gretchen and Debi, and a new lady, Bridget, to our monthly July get together.

Winter has definitely arrived here in the Highlands, so delicious soup, curries, and all manner of other nourishing delicacies went down a treat, before we retired to the lounge to discuss Emotional Triggers, and the effects they can have, both in, and on our lives.

Before commencing, Tisiola (Tisi) explained, that in order to free her up a little whilst completing her doctorate in Organisational Leadership, she has relinquished some of the facilitating, and research work that goes into our monthly meetings, to an existing member, Ricci.

Whilst this is not a permanent appointment, Tisi went on to explain, that this kind of mentoring work, is very much part of the overall plan she envisages her EWP movement developing, to encourage women in their quest, to reach their full potential.

This generosity of Tisi’s, is to be lauded, and it is very much part and parcel of who she is, and what her movement is all about.

Now, Emotional Triggers!

Ricci, opened the discussion by showing us a series of what she described as, Universal Triggers. Some were audio only, some visual only, some both, but for the most part they all triggered a response from us all. Nearly all. Things like: John F. Kennedy’s assignation; Twin Towers 9/11 attack; Vietcong man being shot; Lady Di’s death; Australia winning the Americas Cup (Bob Hawkes announcement); Whitlam’s dismissal speech etc. We almost all, knew exactly where we were, what we were doing, and how we felt at the time.

An interesting thing happened though: a couple of ladies were too young to remember some of the things, so naturally those triggers were not there for those events. Likewise, one lady who still lived in England at the time of the Australian events, did not recognise the captions, so there was no Emotional Trigger for her either.

These three exceptions, clearly showed the relationship of Emotional Triggers, and how it is vital to have the memory, and associated emotion, in order to be triggered by an event.

This was precisely what Ricci wanted to illustrate, and we all got the message. She then went on to discuss the mechanics at work when we are triggered, and effective ways to either counter those triggers, or at the very least, have more control over our responses to them.

There are of course, many wonderful triggers that cast our whole being back in time to some of our fondest and happiest memories.

Music, smell, and taste are all capable of transporting us back to cherished bygone shores. Instantly. Such is the speed and power of Emotional Triggers.

Flip the coin, however, and we all have other memories, with attached emotions, that are not so sweet, and totally unwelcome.

In fact, a lot of us, just try to bury them. Back there. Don’t think about them, and they’ll disappear. Mmmmm, not a good strategy we were told. A bit like trying to ignore your dark side, rather than shining the light on it. Sooner or later, something is going to trigger us, and if we have not thought about how to manage our triggers, they will just manage us. Unfortunately, this is when we can display some of our worst behaviours.

Some people just put their unacceptable behaviours down to their personality, or even their star sign. But more than likely, if they take the required time to study why they behave in a certain manner, and why it arouses the emotion that it does, they would probably find it comes from somewhere back in their past. Often their childhood. Unexamined, and unchecked, it just becomes habit to react in a certain way, until they decide to take responsibility for their behaviours.

This was when we were introduced to Louise Evans and her video entitled, Owning Our Behaviours, which displayed beautifully the way we can re-act, to a situation, or with more control, act, in a far more loving and healthy way, in our daily lives; but the choice is ours alone. As Victor Frank said, “Everything can be taken from man, but one thing. The last of Human Freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances”.

Briefly explained, our choice of behaviours was represented in the video by Louise Evans – Five Chairs Five Choices:

1. The Attack, Judgement Chair

2. The Self-Doubt Chair

3. The W.A.I.T What Am I Thinking Chair

4. The Detect Self-Awareness Chair

5. The Connect Chair

You can imagine which chair we all too often occupy, and which the preferred choice is. But like most things, it is a process, and just realising that we do have a choice as to how we behave, is a big step in the correct direction.

In fact, the first step towards managing Emotional Triggers, is to know what triggers you, and why it is doing so. Having established this much, we then have three ways to assist us handling the situation:-

· Adapt the situation, so that the emotional trigger no longer occurs

· Adapt our thinking/behaviour to mitigate the emotional response

· Remove ourselves from the situation

Given that our Emotional Triggers have probably been in place for a period of time, we should be prepared to be patient with ourselves when it comes to changing long held patterns, and habits. As unpleasant as they often are, they have a purpose. Because our experience of feeling capable in the world, of feeling emotional strength, is directly tied to our capacity to ride the wave of unpleasant experiences, and move through them.

Dr Joan Rosenberg, who has studied Unpleasant, Uncomfortable emotions for the greater part of her life, has come up with a formula, she calls; 1 Choice, 8 Feelings, and 90 seconds, to assist people to cope.

Her theory is, if you can stay Aware, and Present to what is happening, there are only 8 feelings – Sadness, Shame, Helplessness, Anger, Vulnerability, Embarrassment, Disappointment - and you’ll only experience one or maybe two at the same time, then if you can just pause, for 90 seconds, while the feeling comes, rests, and goes, you can withstand almost anything.

So how do we get to the stage, where we can over-ride the Re-action button to start with? Well, Mindfulness training, in the form of Tai Chi or Meditation, is a great way of slowing your mind down, long enough to stay Aware and Present to what is happening in the moment. Of course, it is not going to happen immediately, but with persistence, you will get to the stage where you will actually become a spectator to what is unfolding. You will no longer be in the clothes-dryer, you’ll just be watching it tumble, around and around.

Then one day, eventually, the trigger will go off, you’ll hear it, see it, or feel it, smile to yourself; a Big, Big smile, and just go “Nah, not today” to the dryer, then walk outdoors and hang the washing out to dry.

I’m still working on it, so Tootle-pip, I’ve got some meditating to do.


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