Do you find yourself frequently feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed, but you’re not sure how you got there? Sometimes we’re going through the day feeling fine, and then something happens and we lose our peace, get anxious, get angry, or just feel like shutting down. Maybe you notice yourself overreacting, getting defensive, feeling uncomfortable, or wanting to check out of the situation – or out of life.
Let’s talk about how to begin making sense of what’s going on inside of you. I want to walk you through five steps that will increase your self awareness and bring you greater emotional stability. Make sure you are in a safe place to go through the steps.
First, what does emotional balance look like? I feel safe, in control, competent, and worthy. I can focus, make clear decisions, use wisdom, and connect with other people. I have enough energy in my body to show up for my day. I can feel love, happiness, peace, and be patient and kind towards other people. Let’s call this our optimal state where we are our best selves.
But then something happens – a trigger – and we lose that balance. What can this feel like? I don’t feel safe – I feel threatened or exposed. I feel nervous or insecure. It’s hard to concentrate and I feel restless. I suddenly want to shut down and pull away from you. I want to run. Or maybe, I feel anger rising inside of me that wants to explode.
Our first instinct as human beings is usually to do one of 3 things: react (fight), withdraw (flee), or turn towards something (food, TV, phone, sex, work, etc) to regain a sense of comfort and safety.
What happened? What could I do instead that would be healthier and help me grow?
STEP 1: The moment you feel emotional discomfort, slow down. Find your breath. Feel your feet on the ground. Something happened that triggered uncomfortable emotion, and in order to make sense of it, you first need to pause. When we don’t pause, we react or shut down – often in unhealthy ways that harm ourselves and others.
Acknowledge it: I was just triggered.
Ask: What triggered me? See if you can identify it. Was it someone’s words, facial reaction, tone of voice? Something about the environment? A sound, an image, a smell? A thought or memory that popped in your mind?
Ask: Is this a real threat to my safety? (If yes, stop the steps & find safety as first priority).
STEP 2: Ask yourself, what am I feeling right now? In general, there’s 6 core emotions we experience as human beings. Just about anything we feel will fall under these 6 categories (Johnson, 2019):
ANGER (includes frustration, annoyance, hatred, bitterness, jealousy, gossip, offense)
FEAR (includes anxiety, loss of control, uncertainty, giving up [fear of failure], worry, insecurity, fear of rejection)
SHAME (embarrassment, disgust, hiding, humiliation)
SADNESS (depressed, down, low energy, numb, grief)
JOY (contentment, pleasure, appreciation, gratitude, passion)
SURPRISE/EXCITEMENT (curiosity, awe, amazement, exploration)
STEP 3: What’s happening in my physical body? Notice your breathing – is it even? fast? shallow? Is there a pit in your stomach? Tension in your shoulders or jaw? Heat? Tingling? Is there an area of your body you are becoming most aware of? What’s it feeling?
STEP 4: Explore the meaning you gave the trigger. When ___ happened, what did I subconsciously tell myself? When they responded that way, what did I hear inside? When ____ happened, what did it remind me of from my past? You might be able to identify a basic statement such as “I’m not important” “They don’t care about me” “I am alone” “I’m not enough” “No one is safe” “I need to protect myself” “I’m too much” “I am bad” or some other belief.
STEP 5: Identify what you instinctively want to do in the moment. This is your survival instinct. You might want to run, curl up in a ball, cry, smash something, shout, take control, defend yourself, etc.
STEP 6: Be with it, process it – before reacting to it. Give yourself permission to feel whatever came up & stay with it for a few minutes (or more). We all fear being alone, being rejected, not being enough, being exposed, or not being worthy. Write about it, create art about it, talk about it with someone safe, talk to God about it, etc. If you’re not in a situation where you can deal with it right away, put it in an imagined container that you will revisit when it’s safer. Lean in to your emotion instead of dismissing it or covering it with false comforts. Questions to help you process:
Is this a familiar feeling or unfamiliar feeling? Why? When did I first remember feeling this way?
Does a memory or person come to mind?
What did I need when I first felt this way? Did I receive it?
Examples include affirmation, encouragement, touch, affection, control, respect, empowerment, validation, trust, safety, protection, belonging, nurture, appreciation, etc.
(if no) What did I do to cope with not getting what I needed? How did I comfort myself?
What do I need right now? How can I take a healthy step to meet that need?
Is there anyone I can choose to forgive and release?
Is there anyone I want to share this with to bring relief and connection?
As you begin to slow down when triggered and lean into your uncomfortable emotion, you will begin to understand yourself better and move towards more balance. You will be better able to express yourself and your needs in your closest relationships. For many of us, though, it can be really hard – if not impossible – to move through these steps on our own, and we need someone to help us get started. Give us a call, and we will journey together towards your emotional stability and growth.
Johnson, S. (2019). Attachment theory in practice: Emotionally focused therapy (EFT) with individuals, couples, and families. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.