1. Pleasing or giving too much is a hindrance to compassion, it does not serve us or those we are in relationship with. It does not serve the growth of our business or the resourcefulness’ of our team. Pleasing, while it is done to avoid disharmony, is manipulation and inauthentic so in some ways, every time we please another at the expense of our authenticity, we are chipping away at our self-esteem. Now, there will be times when it’s just easier to say you’ll take the Caesar salad even though you’d rather have the turkey sandwich and that’s no big deal. It just doesn’t matter that much. But when communication is at stake or expressing an opinion where we have wisdom and insight, it is vital that we all learn to be okay with some degree of healthy discomfort, disagreement, or conflict. When we are coming from a mindset of pleasing our motivation is to gain, appease, ensure others will like us, or to stay comfortable.
Compassionate communication is never a form of lip service. For those of us who tend to be pleasers, often, we will feel fear, anxiety, and resistance when we think we may be disappointing another person in order to follow through with our truth. Our job is to do our best to deliver the information in a kind, clear, and direct way and let go of the rest. It does become easier as we practice and experience the benefits of developing co-equal relationships that come with honest and open communication.
If you have the tendency to say no to most things that feel uncomfortable or if you don’t like deviating one bit, from your set schedule, it may be a good practice to say yes when others ask for help even if it seems like a bother or an inconvenience. If you have the tendency to please others and never say no because you feel obligated, it is probably a good practice to say no more often. Pay attention to your inner needs and feelings when you do this practice. What story are you telling yourself…is it true?
2. Pity disguises itself as kindness; it is kindness from an up position which is superiority. When one receives pity from another, often resentment and anger are the result. The person who receives pity may feel her anger and resentment are misguided because she sees the charity and is grateful for the assistance, yet the superior mindset of her benefactor feels yucky and unexplainable. As Pema Chodron writes, “Compassion is a relationship between equals.” It happens on the same playing field. It is not me reaching down to help some poor, unfortunate being below me. It is me reaching down to lift another human being up because I know what it’s like to be hurting and stumble. Pity is often mistaken for compassion.
Do you see how reaching down to help the unfortunate being below me, has a superior feeling, but it’s wrapped around the act of giving so it’s masked with kindness and therefor hard to see? Many of us slip into pity some of the time. The more self-aware we become the more conscious we are of our inner needs and drives, giving us the tools to re-direct misguided, fear-based thinking that causes us to think we are better than.
Pity is usually stimulated by the need to be important—the savior, the helper, the person with the answers. Like many shadow side states, pity usually comes from an underlying feeling of inadequacy, not being worthy, or the need to prove we are enough. With pity we are reinforcing the misguided thinking that “I am better than, because I have the means and ability to help.” And it is often followed up with, “Hey look at what I just did; look at how kind and compassionate I am.” Pity does not build intimacy or safety and it hinders connection. Empathy and compassion are qualities that foster connection, safety, vulnerability, intimacy, and love.
3. Changing or fixing is very common, these traits dismiss the person’s pain and experience—this is not compassion. Compassion is being with the pain no matter how uncomfortable. Statements such as, “It will be okay,” or “At least it is not as bad as…,” are attempts to change. Offering solutions before we have validated the person’s experience is fixing. We quickly rush to change or fix in order to bypass the profound discomfort that comes as we sit with difficult information and circumstances. If we quickly find a solution to their pain, we avoid dealing with the unbearable discomfort of sitting with. When we change or fix the person that we are seeking to comfort, she most likely will feel dismissed, not heard or seen, and often isolated and lonely.
Receiving the compassionate and empathetic endowment of another offers validation to the person sharing, enabling the person to feel understood, heard, and valued. It is difficult to walk with someone in their pain—to really be there. There is often nothing to do but cry, hold hands, or just sit with them as you both grieve the loss. There are often no words that help. Compassion is sometimes just being with. The goal of Compassion is not to take away the pain but to walk with the person through the pain. It’s a courageous act, to allow what is, to be exactly what it is.
4. Judgement can slip into our thinking so easy and hinder our ability to see clearly. Judgement often feels like fact rather than a story we are telling ourselves. So often these stories are unconscious, so they feel like part of who we are. Sometimes these stories are passed down for generations and we never question the validity; we just buy into this so-called truth. Often these stories become outdated or no longer serve us; it takes courage to question them and see a larger perspective. Judgement keeps us small; and is usually based in fear. Judgement is a grave hindrance to compassion because when we judge we make other human beings into objects. Their needs, desires, and dreams become less important or less righteous than our own.
As we gain more psychological wholeness our perceptions become more inclusive allowing us to see more of the similarities rather than being threatened by our differences. It’s as if these differences are put here to test us, to see if we are worthy of being human. To truly become human, we must see everyone as a person worthy of respect and dignity. Believing our perspective is “right for all” is a hinderance to respect, dignity, and compassion. Compassion respects and honors the dignity of all human beings. When we seek to control, we are seeking to make others fit into our ideals, this is not respect, dignity, or compassion. This does not mean we allow others to cause harm, actions create consequences and compassion does not tolerate abuse in any form. Compassion is very tolerant of differences because differences do not cause harm, they are simply a way of expressing that which lives inside. There is room for everyone.
A few very helpful self-awareness questions to open-up our perception when we find ourselves in a state of judgment:
- Is this true? Is this completely true?
- What happens if I don’t believe this?
- What am I afraid of?
- What do my judgements stop me from seeing?
5. Reactivity or up regulated emotions can blind us from the choice to act with compassion. There is no doubt that we will all feel triggered and upregulated throughout our lives. As we practice mindfulness and self-awareness, we notice the clues our bodies give that tell us things aren’t quite right. Giving us the awareness that a change needs to take place soon, if we do not tend to the cues our body gives, we may become overwhelmed with emotion. As we practice mindfulness and self-awareness, we are also developing tools that give us space between the zing of the upregulated emotion and the choice to react or not. According to the latest research, the chemical reaction of anger coursing through our body is said to take 90 second from its trigger point to run its course through our body. After 90 seconds it’s the stories we tell ourselves that keep it alive or not. Mindfulness and self-awareness are tools that help to redirect the misguided stories and find more effective and resilient solutions to our triggers and challenges.
When we listen to our body, we are tending our needs, practicing self-compassion—when we ignore our body or do not have the awareness to know what we need, trouble arises, and it usually seems like it comes out of nowhere. Yet the trouble has been brewing in the unconscious for some time—its lack of awareness that makes it seem explosive and new. When we practice self-awareness, we become more conscious of what is brewing in the depths of our being.
Self-awareness Questions: Can you be with uncomfortable ideas or processes long enough to allow an unfolding to happen? Do you tend to be a pleaser or a person who is not usually willing to be uncomfortable to help others? Can you think of a time when you were the recipient of someone’s pity or is there a time where you felt pity towards another? Can you think of a time when it was too uncomfortable to stay with a friend’s pain and it was easier to change or fix?
These ideas can be a little tricky because it’s not black and white—there is not one right answer. If you have additional input or clarifying experiences, please start a conversation in the comment section below.
Sending all good things.
1. Be a ware of your intake with Television, the news feeds our fear instinct and many prime-time shows are feeding violence and discord. I am not saying never watch TV, just be aware of how much you watch, and which shows you choose. Television is one source of food that we feed our psyche.
Suggestion: Work on nourishing your mind with passion projects at least 2 nights a week instead of watching TV.2.
2. Practice mindfulness meditation. Meditation is easy, you can’t do it wrong, there is nothing weird, hocus-pocus, or new age about it. Mindfulness meditation is based in psychology and science, it is not a religious practice. With mindfulness the goal is self-understanding. In meditation we quiet the thinking mind so that we can see beneath the constant, unconscious chatter, that fills our minds. We go to the gym to work out our bodies which helps us stay physically healthy. Mindfulness is the gym for our brains. Meditation helps our minds to stay healthy and it integrates all aspects of our being, so we are functioning as a whole human, rather than having some fragmented or disjointed parts in our psyche.
For ease, I will describe a basic mindfulness meditation for you to explore. Pick an amount of time that works for you. I suggest 5 to 20 minutes to start. Find a comfortable upright posture, straight back but not rigid. If your comfortable closing your eyes, close them; if not, leave your eyes open with a soft downward gaze. When you are sitting, first notice your body and any feelings and sensations that may come up. Just feel them with curious awareness—tingles in my feet, warmth in my hands, stiffness in my leg, etc. After you settle in begin to look at your breath. Some people follow the breath right where the air comes into their nose. Others following the breath at the back of the throat, and some use the rise and fall of their belly—choose wherever the breath is most predominant for you, and let this point be your anchor, your home base. While you are concentrating on your breath you will notice that your mind will start to wander. It’s no big deal, that’s what minds do, when you realize you’re lost in thought, gently remind yourself to come back to your breath. Mindfulness takes effort but it’s a gentle effort; realizing that you are lost in thought or story and coming back to you breathe. It’s that simple.
If you prefer to listen to a guided meditation, there are many resources on-line or use one of the guided meditations available on my web site. http://www.jacquelynrinaldi.com/guided-meditation/
Suggestion: Try committing to mindfulness every day for 30 days without judging your progress or the outcome. Sit for whatever amount of time works for you but try to do the same amount of time every day. If you decide 15 minutes is your number, commit to sitting for 15 minutes every day, for 30 days.
3. Write a gratitude journal. Every day write down four or five things you are feeling grateful for, or if you’re up for it, write one whole page of gratitude in your journal. Try not to be automatic, don’t list the same things every day. The practice of gratitude is to get into the feeling of your gratitude, so each thing you are writing down feels alive or moves you in some way.
4. Take time to walk or enjoy nature. It could be as simple as noticing the flowers as you walk to the mail box. Maybe you decide to go for a walk around the block, maybe a hike, or a bike ride. Notice what it feels like to step or peddle your bike. Notice what it feels like to breath the fresh air. Notice the flowers and the plants. Notice the sounds, the birds, the dogs, the cars, whatever comes. Just make time for this moment and use nature to slow your attention down by connecting with the simple beauty that lives all around us.
5. Make it a practice to do one compassionate act every day. It doesn’t have to be big; it can be as simple as holding the door open for the person walking in behind you. Just be conscious and intentional as you offer your act of compassion for the day—set out with the intent to find an opportunity where compassion is needed.
Suggestion: Commit to doing all 5 of these things for next 30 days without judging your progress or outcome. After 30 days check-in with yourself to see how you feel. Journal about the differences you feel, lessons you have learned, insight you have gained.
Do you have other ideas or practices that you use for cultivating a peaceful life? I’d love to hear them! Please email me or reply to this blog.
May you feel peace and ease in life. May light shine on your path. May you become all you are intended to be.
Many of us have brutal self-talk when we do something less than perfect. That inner voice can be very harsh, even downright mean. Sometimes the shame demons, as Brené Brown calls them, are relentless as they pounce—from the inside—at the slightest misstep. When the shame demons or the inner critic lines up the firing squad, self-compassion steps in, as if to says, “I’m here. You’re ok. You are safe. You are loved. We’ll make it through this together.”
Self-compassion is recognizing you need a hug and being able to give that hug to yourself. When we act with Self-compassion, we treat our inner workings as if we’re holding our two-year-old little self—gentle and loving. Self-compassion is feeling empathy for our own pain and having gentle self-talk and willingness to relieve some of that suffering by accepting our own imperfect humanness with a loving embrace.
Self-compassion understands our humanity, there are times when we are awesome and times we’re not. There are times we remember and times we don’t. There are times when we get the right answer and times we don’t.
Self-compassion is a self-care tool—it tends our soul. When we act out of self-compassion, we value our own needs and we understand the only way to be able to show up fully is to tend our inner garden first. Tending our inner garden does not mean we adopt a narcissistic thinking pattern and only participate in things that feel good, fun, or pleasurable but it does mean we say no when we need to say no in order to protect our time and energy.
For me, feeding my soul means that I spend time everyday meditating, reading, reflecting, and writing. When I do these things, my inner life is nourished, and I can meet the world with a whole heart. Sometimes when we are not tending our inner garden first, we show up for the world out of pleasing or obligation rather than from a compassionate heart.
Self-compassion is gentile; when we yell at our spouse because we are feeling fearful about our finances. Self-compassion might say, “Oh yes…I understand why I reacted that way. It’s easy to be reactive with this level of financial stress.” And then compassion kicks in and propels us to take responsibility for our part of the misguided communication with our spouse because we care about his experience as well. Self-compassion is kindness to our inner being, especially when our outer being is showing its humanity—imperfection.
A recent example where I needed to show self-compassion happened just after I returned to the US from China. I hadn’t slept more than 2 or 3 hours a night for a week. I was on low reserves and my normally very high tolerance was non-existent. I was in middle of the intersection waiting for a man to walk across the crosswalk in front of me before I turned. Out of the blue, the guy in the car behind me lays into his horn. It wasn’t a light tap on the horn. It was a full blown obnoxious, loud, elongated, HONK – HONK – HONK and then another HONK – HONK – HONK. I immediately felt fire coursing through my body—I remember how strange it was to feel that triggered but before I knew it my fist was in the air and my mouth was saying, “What’s wrong with you…are you blind? There is a pedestrian! Stop honking, moron!” Clearly the man honking didn’t see the pedestrian in front of me. Thankfully he only saw me mouth the words since all my windows were closed.
I have never yelled at another driver in my life before this moment. But today was the perfect storm and I had zero tolerance. This situation for me, was a breeding ground for shame because I failed in an area where I am supposed to be an expert.
If I would have gone down the shame road it would have looked something like this, “And you call yourself a meditation teacher? Really! You teach compassion…that was really compassionate (big eye roll)—you just yelled at a total stranger because he honked his horn! What kind of compassion teacher are you? You’re a joke!” But instead of starting the shame tapes (how cool I did this), I looked at myself in the rearview mirror and I started to laugh, like a deep belly laugh. I thought, “Wow that was super intense! What if you were going to teach a meditation class and the guy you yelled at pulled into the parking lot behind you to attend your class?” I started to laugh even harder. I did not laugh out of disrespect for the man or wishing harm or discomfort to him in any way—I was laughing at the absurdity of my reaction to the situation.
In the moment when I was reacting towards the guy in the car, I was not acting as my best self, I was not a model meditation teacher or model teacher of compassion—but in that moment I was fully human. Clearly my lack of sleep contributed to my extremely low tolerance. Next time, of course I hope to have the insight to act with more tolerance and compassion, but I do not need to let this story play any longer than it already has in my mind. My self-compassion allows me to see through that “unwanted” behavior to the beautiful human being that lies beneath. My humanity, like all of ours, reflects both light and dark; in times of darkness self-compassion shines brightly from the inside out.
Does this article resonate for you? Is there a recent experience where it would have served you to show yourself more self-compassion? Please email me or reply to this blog.
May you feel peace and ease in life. May we all act from the wisdom of our best selves.
Is it possible to feel such deep love for a human being or an animal, to the point that if they were harmed, we would wish to seek vengeance on the perpetrator? The easy answer is yes. The more complex answer is no. Let me explain…on the surface it seems as though our love is propelling us to avenge our beloved who has been harmed but is it really love? Chris Hedges writes, “The initial selflessness of war mirrors that of love, the chief emotion war destroys. And this is what war often looks and feels like, at its inception: love” (War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning 159).
It feels like we are acting out of love because we are motivated by our need to protect those whom we love but the underlying emotion propelling us is fear—fear of losing our beloved, fear that our beloved with never be the same after this pain and trauma (it may resonate more clearly to use the word anger in place of fear). If we are destroying anything we are not acting from love. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. teaches, “If one is in search of a better job, it does not help to burn down the factory. If one needs more adequate education, shooting the principal will not help, or if housing is the goal, only building and construction will produce that end. To destroy anything, person or property, can’t bring us closer to the goal that we seek” (A Testament of Hope 58).
This doesn’t mean we let the perpetrator off the hook by discounting the consequences of the harmful action. It means we free ourselves from the chains that come from resentment, anger, and revenge. Love is about healing. An act of love focuses our attention on our beloved, and their process of healing, not on the perpetrator and the need for righting the wrong.
Emotions become very complex when we are pushed beyond our capacity, especially situations where we are experiencing trauma cause by violent crimes. My guess is, most of us would contemplate taking vengeance on a predator who harmed our child or spouse. Many of us would contemplate taking vengeance on a predator who harmed any child or innocent human being. These strong emotional reactions are not bad or something to change or push away—these reactions are part of being human. It’s what we do with them that makes them toxic or not. When we can accept these dark or deeply charged emotions fueled by anger or rage, they lose power because they are made conscious. With acceptance comes a deeper self-awareness which gives rise to that space between our anger or fear and our need to react. Over time, as we seek deeper self-awareness, the pause or space between our pain and our reactions becomes the instrument which allows us to choose our most congruent response.
Self-awareness, in part, is being aware of the emotions that arise inside us. Really getting to know what’s going on inside and what pushes and pulls on our triggers. What is going on for me? What do I feel? Where am I feeling this in my body—is my neck hot, is my face flush, are my hands shaking, is my tummy in knots? Why, do I feel this? What do I want to do with this feeling? Am I uncomfortable? Why am I uncomfortable? Am I afraid to feel this? What else am I afraid of?
When we are able accurately detect what emotions are brewing in our body, we gain clues about our emotional state and that gives us the space, the pause, to tend our inner-being with care so that we can still act as our best-selves even amidst very challenging situations. When we work to develop this pause, we create space for choosing differently, choosing consciously, and choosing more effective responses that promote healing and connection.
Does this article resonate for you? What are your thoughts? Please email me or reply to this blog.
May you feel peace and ease in life. May we all act from the wisdom of our best selves.
Hedges, Chris. War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. New York: Public Affairs, 2002. Print.
King Jr., Martin Luther. A Testament of Hope, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1986. Print.
The key to knowing we are acting with authentic compassion is that after we finish with our compassionate act, no matter how small, we feel energized, inspired, or fed from the inside. Often authentic compassion feels like a spiritual experience. For me, I feel energized and excited to the point where I immediately beginning looking for another meaningful encounter to experience. Authentic compassion brings a reflective perspective to our own lives and often puts our problems and self-pity in check—it gets us out of our own way. It doesn’t diminish our problems as if they do not exist, but it does give us some depth to see the grave challenges and difficulties that others face.
When we give our time or energy out of obligation, guilt, or the need to please others we are often left feeling taxed, tired, or overwhelmed. We must take care of ourselves by resting when we need rest, meditating when we need to meditate, exercise when we need exercise, or getting a massage when we need a massage. Remember, compassion is a circle and the first part of the circle is self-compassion—feeding our physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being. If we do not take care of ourselves the cycle of giving is not sustainable. Practicing self-compassion gives us the reserves to give compassion to others. When we run on empty or when we live in emergency mode for prolonged periods of time we are depleted in some ways and have much less to offer others. This is when we show up out of obligation and feel taxed or overwhelmed. In these situations, it would serve us and others better if we honored our bodies by recharging. Taking care of ourselves or practicing self-compassion can be very difficult. It is easy to buy into the guilt or the “shoulds” the world dishes out. The way out of buying into the “shoulds” is to further develop our self-esteem so that we value our needs enough to put them first when it is important.
Often, I see people who feel they are taxed by giving too much yet this giving too much is often coming from a place of disproportionately pleasing others, not authentic compassion. When we feel we are pleasing another, it is important to become conscious of our intentions and why we feel more ok from pleasing than being authentic. For example: Why am I feeling pressed to please Jay? I do not want to go to the party with him because I have so much work to do on my proposal for work. A lot of people on my team are counting on me to do a thorough job. I am feeling like it is difficult for me to disappoint Jay because he does not want to go to the party alone. Jay is a likeable guy, he will meet new friends at the party and most importantly it is not my responsibility to make sure Jay is ok.
Pleasing another is when we give up a part of who we are or what we want to make another person ok. For example, if I go to the party with Jay I am jeopardizing my proposal at work and my name as a competent, committed, employee and team member—that’s a high price to pay. My life is best served by staying home and taking care of me which in this case is spending a few hours tightening up my proposal. If I didn’t choose to work on my proposal I would be, in some ways, betraying myself. These small betrayals slowly diminish our self-esteem—at some point it becomes more important and more comfortable to please others, than it is to do what is best for ourselves. This is where co-dependency arises, and it is a very dangerous place to live. We may be left wondering why we never create the life we really want, blind to our own disease of disproportionate giving.
This is a very simple representation of what can happen when we are blinded by the need to please. Being a non-pleaser, doesn’t mean that we always do what we want and never sacrifice for those we love. We will give often, we will do things that are uncomfortable, there will be times when it is the best thing to rearrange our schedule to help someone we love, and these are good things. The key to remember is that it’s ok to stretch beyond our normal comfort zone (in fact that is a growth mindset) but it is not ok to agree to things that come at our expense or the detriment of our job, our well-being, or our family’s well-being. When we are acting out of authentic compassion, a sense of peace usually follows shortly after the commitment has been made—even if it’s a difficult or cumbersome task.
There is not a set prescription as to what defines and eliminates pleasing or disproportionate giving, only you will know your truth. The course to becoming more effective is through the daily practice of developing a more whole self-esteem. As we do this we will learn to question our intentions and listen more acutely to our intuition and our body which, if we are quiet, tells us when we are acting with authentic compassion or not.
If you are interested in developing your self-esteem, please check out our guided journal. Do you feel like you live more often from a compassionate state or a state of giving too much? Please email me or comment below.
May you feel peace and ease in life. May your path be brightened with light. May you become all you are intended to be.
Anger is not wrong, it’s a valid and healthy emotion. Feeling anger is a normal part of being human. The positive power of anger is often seen when we are propelled into action because we or someone we love is gravely wronged—righting wrongs by changing world views.
What we do with our anger is what can cause harm or be toxic to both ourselves and those around us. Our actions, resulting from our anger, or any emotional state, mirror our inner capacity. Our actions reflect the state of our inner well-being; if we treat others cruelly because we are angry we are lacking empathy in this moment.
Empathy does not mean we always say what we think the other person wants to hear—this is inauthentic. Empathy does not mean we are soft or a push over. Assertive speech or clear and direct communication is healthy and compassionate. Empathy has to do with how we deliver the information that needs to be said. Empathy is about ensuring that we have self-checks in place to determine our emotional state so that we can stay in-line and in control even though we are feeling up regulated or angered. We are all capable, if we learn effective tools, to communicate difficult content with kind word choices and gentle deliveries. Our goal is to be authentic in speaking our truth and at the same time consider what it feels like to receive what we are saying.
If we are reacting with anger and hurting others because of it, in these moments we are most likely choosing to be ineffective and un-empathetic towards the person whom our anger is directed. These reactions usually do not feel like a choice—more like an overpowering command from inside. This type of reactive behavior is harmful, it may end some relationships, and stifle the growth and opportunity for more depth in other’s, but it is not abusive. If you are crossing the line to physical or verbal abuse, it is paramount to seek professional help from a therapist or similar professional. If your partner or loved one crosses the line and hurts you with physical or verbal abuse it is imperative for you to take care of yourself and seek counsel from a professional therapist whether your partner chooses to seek help or not. There is never a situation where abuse is warranted or ok.
Questions to ask ourselves as we gauge if we are in the reactive zone with our anger: Did I cause harm to anyone? Did I lose my control with my speech or actions? Did I raise my voice? Did I interrupt the person I was speaking with? Did I listen to them at the appropriate time? Did I speak my truth with direct and clear communication? Does it seem like I was I understood? Do I also understand their experience and/or needs? Was my speech reactive or did I wait until I calmed down to communicate my needs? Do I feel badly for my behavior or for what I said? Was a resolution decided on; do we feel the air has been cleared? We are not looking for, “I did not interrupt Jessica ever.” We are looking for gentle improvement, “I did listen well. It seems like I interrupted Jessica a couple times. One time I caught myself and apologized and asked her to continue with her point. That is better than it’s been in the past.”
Anger is a secondary emotion, which means there is another emotion underneath. Often the primary emotion or the emotion propelling the anger is fear. If we are experiencing reactions to our emotions, it is helpful to gain some awareness of what is triggering the anger; what is the underlying cause that creates a strong reaction in you.
During the process of growing and learning new tools it is important to be gentile with ourselves as we test them out. It’s important to focus on our improvement rather than striving to be perfect. A gauge that works well for some, is using the personal excellence approach—I am a better version of myself this week than I was last week. I listed better this week to my partner than I did last time we had this conversation.
There are many tools to help calm our reactions and gain deeper self-awareness. Two very effective tools that have worked for many are pairing meditation and writing in a self-reflective journal. Meditation, over time, help us to slow down our mind so we have time to see that fork in the road where we can either react like we normal do or choose a different more effective response. Meditation also helps to increase the activity in the left prefrontal cortex which is where compassion and empathy fire in our brains. If you are up for the challenge, I invite you to find a meditation technique that works for you or choose from the guided meditations on my web site and practice every day for 30 days. Do this with the self-reflection journal. At the end of the 30 days evaluate how you feel incorporating this practice into your life.
When we write with the intention for self-reflection our goal is to gently uncover unconscious motives that may live in the darkness of our shadow. We want to shine light on this darkness, so we may, in part, unravel the unconscious pushes and pulls of our psyche (our reactions). We want to make the trigger points conscious, so we have awareness when it is happening, and we begin to understand what situations tend to set off those triggers. This slows down the process of our reactions; when we see it unfolding we learn to recognize the opportunity to choose a different more effective response. When we are unconscious of the process that goes on behind the scenes, in our unconscious mind, it feels as if the emotional reaction has a mind of its own and just happened to us without our choosing.
It is helpful to write about each experience where you feel upregulated, each situation is an opportunity to understand why. Remember, your journal is intended only for you. It is important for you to feel safe as you write which means your journal will not be read by anyone else. Begin by writing about the situation that triggered your reaction, relatively soon after it happens—who did what and who said what. Write about how you feel and how you feel wronged, hurt, or betrayed? Write about your anger: what does it feel like, what do you want to do with it? What is the action, word, or phrase that made the hair on the back of your neck stand on end or set you over the edge? Did their behavior remind you of your father, mother, a sibling, or some other person who hurt you deeply as a child? Did a phrase remind you of a parent or sibling? Did their behavior remind you of anyone who has betrayed or harmed you? Did a sound feel uncomfortably familiar?
When you can see where the conversation or situation took a turn and increased your reactivity pin point your trigger and ask yourself: What am I afraid of? How does it feel to be afraid of that? Are you afraid of being weak? Are you afraid of being vulnerable—can someone hurt you? Do you feel afraid of being abandoned? Do you feel unworthy? Do you feel afraid of being wrong or being a mistake? Are you afraid of being like the person who angered you? Are you triggered by their behavior so that you are distracted from needing to look at the same behavior in yourself? Do you feel afraid of being unworthy? Do you feel afraid of not having control of a situation, a future event, or your finances? Are you afraid of never being enough? Are you afraid of never being able to please your parents? If you feel like there is a deeper answer, keep digging, “What am I really afraid of?” These questions may bring up sadness, fear, or a cascade of other strong emotions. Do your best to stay with it.
Remember, we must feel it to heal it. Do your best to be gentile with yourself as fear or sadness or other emotions rise to the surface. Try to feel them for what they are without attaching a story or a meaning. It helps sometimes to look at your emotion with a curious and observing eye, “Oh look, sadness is back. I am feeling totally out of control about my finances. This is painful to face because I feel like a failure. I am afraid the world sees me as a middle-aged woman who hasn’t done anything with her life. I am afraid that the world sees me as pathetic, and I am very sad.”
Now we want to look at the truth in these statements, “Is my fear true?” Is it true that the world sees me as pathetic? I have a good job, I work hard, I have a handful of good friends. I have a partner who loves me. I have a family that supports me and expresses their excitement for my future career. Answer these questions or similar questions that come to mind as you think about the truth of your fear: Does my fear still serve me? Is this fear limiting me from accomplishing what I want out of life? Do I want to keep believing in this fear? What are two things that I can do right now to be the best version of me yet?
At this point it is helpful to restate the fear in more accurate terms. It might look something like, “Being pathetic is a victim role that no longer serves me. I am clearly taking responsibility for my career and I am a better version of me today than I was a year ago. I have a great job, while there is no room for upward movement, I am looking for new opportunities and I have applied for two other jobs. A year from now I expect I will be in position that has growth potential.”
Working through real life issues will be much more difficult than the simple example I have used here. This article is simply a brush stroke to help stimulate your move towards a more self-aware way of handling anger or heightened states of emotions and to begin considering options to provide more effective responses when we are triggered.
As we accept our darkness and the difficult emotions that come with being human we will begin to be less trapped by the triggers that anger us. It is difficult to stop our default behaviors, but it is very doable; it takes diligence and hard work. In time we will develop the tools that will help us self-check as we struggle with the inevitable upregulated states that come with being human and interacting in the world. Our goal is to speak our truth effectively after we have come back to center and reflect a more equanimous inner state even when conflict or anger arises.
If you are struggling or have experience with overcoming triggers due to anger or other strong emotions I would love to hear about your experiences. Please email me or reply to this blog.
May you feel peace and ease in life. May your path be brightened with light. May you become all you are intended to be.