How is it that we come to know that we need to attend to our emotional reactions? Initially, we find that we are repetitively reactive in certain situations. We begin to take notice of patterns in our relationships with our friends and loved ones. Circumstances arise where we feel insulted, offended, or we get immediately defensive, as if in protection of our very own existence! It happens without warning. We are protecting the mask of our identity. We take it personally because the mask symbolizes our lives, our story, and all that we have been taught or told to believe in until now.
“I think that the mask IS me!!”
We think, “My sense of self is the mask I am wearing and I will protect it at all cost. ” In actuality, it is a FALSE sense of self that leads to a REAL sense of feeling wounded.
How can something that is basically an idealized label or a stamp placed on us have such a profound effect on our feelings? The answer lies in the level of attachment to said label. When we identify with labels: boy, ugly, athletic, smart, Christian, loud, intense, angry, moody, middle child, etc we attach to these labels at varying degrees. We attach and assume the labels are us, or the essence/energy of us. We then proceed to take it personally if someone threatens our attachments or even questions them. We form beliefs about something because we were once exposed to it at a young age and then we accept it as the truth. Later in life: especially at ages two or three, and then again as a teenager, we begin to ask ourselves if we believe these labels and beliefs at all. We are usually met with resistance to the audacity to even question the status quo. Automatic reactions to emotional triggers and the questions regarding them begin to pop up. “Why am I acting this way?” “I didn’t mean to do that!” We over react in a situation and then do it over and over until the light bulb turns on. We begin to see ourselves from a different place. We realize that this reaction is on automatic. We simply were not aware of it before. Like the labels and beliefs of our youth we accepted it as true without question. Questions now arise and we need answers.
We may have an ‘ah ha’ and realize that we have not chosen our response, but instead, like robot we just did what the coder programmed into us. So what now? Can these emotional triggers even be transformed? We are now aware that we have lost the personal power to choose when the automatic button pushing conditioned response repeats every time the same set of conditions are presented. We feel powerless.
John Barnes says, “Without awareness there is no choice.”
Now that we are aware we get to choose a different response other than an automatic response. We get to take our power back. We get to ask ourselves some questions. What does this emotion that was brought into my awareness by a trigger, bring up in my remembrance? I felt this feeling of rage, anger, rejection, abandonment, embarrassment the first time when… An event may come to mind that is linked to that feeling. Perhaps this occurred at a time when you could not, or were not allowed to express fully or safely your anger or embarrassment. What happened? MORE PROGRAMMING!!! “It is not ok for boys to cry!” “It is not ok to pout or feel deeply, you HAVE to tell me what is wrong.” Knowing full well if you express what you truly feel, validation is NOT in store for you. Rather, “Don’t cry or I will give you something to cry about!” So we stuff down our feelings, dry our eyes, and move on. Then something happens. We do it EVERY time we are angry or embarrassed. We neglect our feelings and cover them, abandon them, or simply check out and do not allow ourselves to feel them at all.
Fast forward 25 years. Enter personal dynamics of a relationship with a spouse, partner, child, boss, or even the same parent who programmed you. BAM…Button pressed, REACTION!!! Except now, we may be over reacting because we have the stored potential energy of ALL OF THOSE TIMES we shut it down. We feel confused, then later, perhaps guilty for our reaction. After repeating this pattern for years or even decades, it occurs to us that we need to change. BUT HOW?
- Awareness of the unwanted repetitive pattern
- Desire to change it
- Willingness to accept your participation in it
- Allow yourself to feel without judging or labeling the feeling
- Validate that your feelings are real and serve a purpose
- Courage to question your beliefs
- Bravery to detach from a long held belief without blame of self or others or fear of backlash or lack of acceptance
- Let go of any residual by product of the belief that is no longer serving you
- Replace the belief with a more healthy way to act and think
How will you know when the original wound is healed and automatic response is NOT the only option? Your button will look and feel more like this!
Experience has taught me that the original emotion will not come up to the surface in the same way. You will notice that something has shifted and is different. Moving along without incident or practicing new beliefs and appropriately responding with your full power and free will intact will be the new norm. You will feel a sense of accomplishment. I like to call these milestones. We can measure the amount of our own personal growth when we see more green arrows and feel less offended or confused. The little white figure that is always triggering us becomes a distant memory! We don’t take things personally because we have learned to modify our attachments and adjust our beliefs. Healing is possible and it is a journey. Enjoy yours!
Helpful links to my personally recommend reading list. I have enjoyed putting these principles into use on my own healing journey regarding this subject: