We all know how certain dates, music, and aromas may trigger memories. Likewise, particular topics of conversation may elicit not only memories, but strong emotions. So what happens when innocent words catch you off-guard and trigger an emotional flare-up?
Running an errand this morning, I found myself chatting with a man I’ve known casually for years. We exchanged the usual hellos at his place of business, and in asking a simple question, he inadvertently hit one of my hot buttons. And a painful one, at that.
I could feel myself growing anxious and agitated. I needed to back away from the ledge so to speak, and not embarrass myself.
But what had just happened? And how could I prevent a potentially toxic spill?
When an emotion is triggered in your brain, your nervous systems responds by creating feelings in your body (what many people refer to as a “gut feeling”) and certain thoughts in your mind…
You can be disrupted by your anxiety or you can take a look at it: Does the other person remind your emotional brain of someone in the past who took advantage of you? Is this person doing the same thing or is it just a particular mannerism he has that triggered your anxious response? Is your anxious response a reaction to the other person or to yourself…
Everyone has their issues to deal with – the legacy of trying times and less than ideal circumstances. As for me, I know what sets me off and why. Some of my triggers trace back to childhood. Others have to do with the complexities of post-divorce life.
In some instances, I navigate around the issues. Sometimes there’s nothing to do but experience the emotions – sadness being one of them, on the occasion of an anniversary of loss.
Anger and irritation are more troublesome, as was the case for me this morning. But I quickly saw that I wasn’t reacting to the person I was talking to. Rather, what he said triggered a response that had absolutely nothing to do with him.
We all have noise in our heads – the scolding, diminishing voices of parents, teachers, bosses, spouses, co-workers – and yes, even our own kids who sometimes say spiteful things they later apologize for. Some days it seems as though we carry a chorus of naysayers singing their tune in surround sound.
When I’m tired, I’m more vulnerable to negative triggers – a gesture, a tone of voice, a random remark – any of which may set me off – inappropriately.
But over the years, I’ve learned to see what’s happening.I’ve learned to counteract the effects through surround sound of a different sort – positive voices I try to draw out, to listen to, not to mention telling myself to stop, breathe, and literally – to change the conversation.
When I felt myself approaching the danger zone in this morning’s conversation, I called on mechanisms that work for me: I visualized the brilliant blue of the sky as I walked from my car to the store, I conjured the warmth of the spring sunshine on my shoulders, and I told myself “It’s a gorgeous day, take a breath, everything is fine.”
This calming technique doesn’t always do the trick, but more often than not, it does. I offset the negative triggers with positive ones. I nudge myself into a better emotional space.
As for this morning, I regained my composure, maneuvered the discussion in another direction, and bid the store owner a wonderful day.
- What do you do when someone inadvertently sets you off?
- Do you know what triggers negative emotions?
- How effectively do you manage misplaced anger?
- Do you and your spouse push each others’ hot buttons?
- Do you conjure positive triggers when you’re in a so-so mood?
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