Building Mindfulness Against Emotional Triggers

How many times do you find yourself triggered by something someone does or says? Maybe someone says something and for some reason, you took it to mean something they never intended it to mean and then you find yourself hooked by these triggers.

Perhaps it happens more often than you’d really like.

What would it be like if, instead of allowing your reactive nature to take charge when your emotions are triggered, you create a new way to interact with the situation through mindfulness and awareness?

That’d be a great skill to have, wouldn’t it?

In his conversation with the Dalai Lama, psychologist Paul Ekman, whose groundbreaking research has helped to define the science of emotions, shares what he believes to be the three phases of emotions. In his book, “Emotional Awareness,” Paul and HHDalai Lama discuss how we might be able to go about making healthy changes.

First, it’s all about whether or not we have an awareness around our own reactions to certain events, people and situations. This, Paul refers to as the

EMBER STAGE – At this stage, we’ve perhaps heard someone say something we don’t like. We may even begin to feel our bodily sensations shift in response to our uneasiness. This stage can be a little tricky because whatever triggered our emotions might not be easily identified. Typically though, whatever emotions are triggered happens in a very fast mental process. So fast in fact, that consciousness cannot even enter.

Most of the time the emotions that we experience and when we experience them isn’t something we have an awareness of. They simply get triggered and then we find ourselves gripped by them, almost hostage to them. This moves us into second stage:

STORYLINE STAGE– This is the stage in between the spark and the flame. In this stage, we’ve taken the event or spoken words and begun to create a storyline around them. We add a dash of perception, a dash of our past experience that might relate, and perhaps even a whole host of other stories. In doing so, essentially, we’ve helped hook ourselves into reacting. The storyline is actually the fuel for the ember. Most of us, unless we engage in a lot of meditation practice, aren’t aware of what is happening in that space between being triggered and the reaction to the trigger. Ekman suggests that nature did not provide us with the tool to this fundamental part of our emotions. This would mean that unless we somehow find awareness that we’ve been triggered and then insert a little pause or a few breaths after we are hooked, we’ll likely automatically move into the third stage which is the

EXPLOSION STAGE – In this stage, as the name suggests, you’ve gone from the simple experience, added fuel to the fire with your storyline about it and what you made it mean and have taken the entire thing to a whole new level.

Each person’s reactivity has a lot to do with individual differences in how we each experience the very same emotions. Essentially, each of us has a different emotional profile.

While we certainly can’t predict our emotional response to any given situation, we can teach ourselves to build awareness of what triggered our emotions in the first place. If we can do so, we have a fighting chance to perhaps stop ourselves when we barely enter the ember stage.

One of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness is what I call “strengthening our noticing muscles.” We can’t change something if we don’t even know we’re doing it, right? A daily meditation practice will undoubtedly change your conscious awareness around how you react and interact with those around you. Of course then, this lays the foundation for happier and healthier relationships. Mindfulness is key.

As you work on building mindfulness, perhaps consider joining me for an Intro to Meditation where I will not only teach you the basics and benefits of meditation but also provide you with other simple practices you can try to strengthen your noticing muscles!

If you feel the pull to dive even deeper, let’s connect! Reserve your FREE 30-minute Spiritual, Life and Business Coaching Consultation and let’s get to know each other.