• Vanessa Anstee

Emotions, triggers and right relationship

Whilst working from home can make staying in right relationship tricky, it also provides a unique opportunity to look at our reactive patterns. It’s inevitable that at some point we will get triggered and react to each other. Let's face it we're all human. But we always have choice, even when we think we don’t. We can react in familiar ways or we can act and practice a new response.

When I first trained to use the Bar-on Emotional Quotient Inventory, I learnt that I had low impulse control. I found it hard to “delay an urge to act driven by my emotions,” particularly when I felt frustrated or angry. Someone would say something that would trigger me, and I would react. Depending on whether I was at work or home I would react differently. At work I would feel angry and withdraw from the situation and vent to someone outside the situation; at home I would let rip. These responses would be followed by a significant amount of self-criticism which would exacerbate the whole thing and have me feeling awful.

The cool thing about emotional intelligence is that unlike our IQ we can continue to develop it. Knowing that has enabled me to choose to consciously develop my skills in this area. Impulse control involves having control over when we allow our expressions to be expressed in our behaviour. Good control means that we can pause before we respond and choose consciously how we want to act. This pause helps to prevent acting out the emotion without thinking through the consequences.

Sound simple? It is but simple isn’t always easy to practice. I had to learn a few other skills along the way and then commit to a different practice.

I. Take responsibility for my emotional reactions

For a while I wanted to deny the part of me that reacted. I shoved her down into the shadows and pretended that she was justified in her reactions. I started to notice that I would use phrases like “they made me feel” and saw that in that response I had no power, I was at the mercy of others.

2. Breathe to find the pause

Heartmath training helped me to appreciate how often I reacted and responded from fight, flight or freeze. I learnt that by working with my breath I could calm my nervous system and get my physiology into a coherent state instead of feeling like I would burst from holding in all this pent-up frustration. Creating a new habit with my breath has helped me create a new automatic response and guess what, people tell me I am calm!

3. Name the emotion to own it

When I was caught in a reaction, I would be in the story of what happened. I wanted to be the protagonist but often was the victim. Learning to name the emotion I was feeling gave me the power to consider what that feeling wanted. I had a pattern around not asserting myself in situations where people had positional power over me e.g. a boss. I had a deference threshold that was causing me to avoid emotional honesty. That avoidance added to the frustration. Naming the emotion – fear helped me to see that I needed to walk towards it.

4. Discover the request behind the complaint

Having named the emotion, e.g. anger, I could see what the invitation was in the emotion. I learnt that often with anger there would be a boundary violation e.g. someone would tell me what I should do or give unsolicited opinion. I had been conditioned to respect those in authority and so I felt I had to accept the situation. Learning to see that I had a choice: complain about them and keep the frustration inside or share my feelings and needs, any unintended impact they may have had and make a powerful request. Non-violent communication skills helped me navigate these conversations. It felt clunky and awkward to start with but this eased with time.

5. Redirect the energy from impulsive reactions

I started to see my instinctive nature and be able to distinguish that from reaction. I realised that the energy that fuels impulsive behaviour is the same energy that motivates me towards high performance. Harnessing that energy meant that I didn’t have these huge energy leaks and periods of downtime where I withdrew into my sensitivity.

All of these skills, like yoga are a practice. I notice that if I am tired, haven’t been sleeping well or exercised regularly that they are harder to apply.

It’s a practice that I choose every day. Sometimes emails trigger me and when I’m low, it’s in those moments that I reach to a colleague and say, “I’m choosing to ignore this and not respond” and they affirm my choice. They know how to respond because we’ve agreed that we’re accountability partners on this journey.

Practicing staying in my well being is key. Yes, right now I can binge watch Netflix or comfort eat but I’m choosing healthy practices. I am running, doing yoga, breath-work, taking regular breaks and talking to myself compassionately in my head.

If you recognise that you have a pattern around emotional drama or you are struggling to be assertive in one particular area of your work or life, why not practice these steps. Right now, we've definitely got the opportunity to respond differently when we are triggered!