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What are you telling yourself?

When you notice you are reacting (suddenly angry, withdrawn, or defensive) the first question you can ask yourself is "what just happened?" Play back the events preceding your reaction to discover what triggered you.

By identifying what triggered your reaction, you get the chance to respond from a place of connection rather than reaction.

The trick is identifying both the internal and external triggers of your reaction. There is the external event, for example, something someone said. Then there is the internal event, what you made it mean.

Let's take Don's experience. In our counseling session I suggest that he and his partner, Sue, take time each week for a focused check-in about feelings and needs. Sue says that she doesn't want to commit to take time for a focused check-in on Friday because she has a standing date with her close friends. This is the external observation – what Sue said. If Don tells his partner that just after hearing this is when he reacted, they are half way there. Next he needs to identify what he told himself about that. He says:

"When I heard you say "not Friday", I told myself that I am not number one in your life, that I am not important."

Hearing what Don is telling himself, Sue has the impulse to jump in and tell Don how wrong he is for thinking that. She wants to tell him how important he really is. Luckily, she knows the NVC axiom "empathy before education" and resists her impulse to educate Don.

The first thing Don needs is empathy, because whether what he tells himself is true or not a part of him believes it. This brings up feelings of hurt and fear and needs for connection and love.

Sue offers empathy,

"Yea, I am guessing when you tell yourself that, it really hurts because you want to know you are loved and important. Is that right?"

Don nods and looks relieved. A part of Don felt ashamed because he tells himself he shouldn't be trigger by this. Sue's offering of empathy helps him dissolve that shame jackal*. Now Don can continue to take responsibility for his reaction, feelings, and needs. He says:

"The truth is I have been triggered before around this. I feel frustrated because I want to feel connected even on Fridays. I am wondering if this next Friday after your dinner date you would be willing to spend 20 minutes or so with me cuddling or just talking about us?"

What you tell yourself about the meaning of people's words and actions, often arises from a belief filter that got established early in your life. You can begin to dissolve those filters by clearly naming them. Getting them outside your own mind by journaling or verbalizing takes some of their power away. This frees you to find the truth of the situation and respond in a way that brings you back to your heart.

*jackals refer to any language or thoughts that disconnect us from life.

**giraffe refers to shifting into an interest in connecting to the feelings and needs in yourself and others.

***click here for a list of feelings and universal needs

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