Diffusing Your Emotional Triggers

When I think of negative emotional triggers a vision of land mines appears in my head. I am sure you know what I mean but if not imagine a war movie. Soldiers marching across a field and one poor fella steps on a mine…BOOM! Or, if gore is not your flavor, a soldier notices he is against a trip wire and if he moves it will explode…

Emotional triggers: a person, event, or circumstance that sets off an emotional reaction. The person moves from the thinking (intellectual/control) part of the brain to the emotional (feelings/unregulated) part of the brain.

Negative emotional triggers are very much like a trip wire. Everything is ok until one is set off. Then hell breaks loose and there are casualties. The casualties of our emotional triggers are the trust in our relationships. Every time a trigger is set off we break trust with those around us. Even when our reaction feels justified we are damaging our relationships.

Everyone I know has emotional triggers. I myself have a few that come to mind. But what are emotional triggers really? In my experience, negative emotional triggers stem from a wound that has not been healed from our past. Generally speaking all wounds stem from a part of us that has been unseen or unheard. All of us have been wounded in our life at some point or another. The emotional trigger that is created is our defense to protect the wound so we do not have to go through the pain again. Note: the trigger does not heal the wound, it just protects the wound from getting further hurt. The wound remains intact with our defenses around it.

In an attempt to paint a clearer picture, this is an example of how the wound and emotional trigger play out. I am using my own childhood example here:

Growing up I had a learning disability due to my hearing. I was constantly behind in reading and writing. So for most of my childhood I felt I was not as smart as all of my friends. When picked on, or made to feel inferior, I would be triggered into anger (always a secondary emotion). Then I would want to fight or show some sort of dominance over the person that triggered me. I did this to prove my worth so I would not have to feel the pain of being inferior.

So with this being said how can we get underneath the trigger to heal the wound? This is a great question and the answer starts with becoming aware of the root cause of why you feel hurt or unseen. Once you have awareness of root cause, create a space where you can feel the emotions associated with it. For me, creating a space means to sit with the emotion. Sit with it and be with it as you would hold your child who is upset. Feel the painful emotion in its entirety. Allow it to be felt and be seen. Stay with the emotion until it leaves of its own volition.

Another example I just went through where I diffused a buried trigger:

Recently I came across a picture of an old flame that I had not thought about in years. Upon seeing this picture I was filled with mixed up sadness because I was really hurt when it ended. Even though I am married with kids and have found my match this wound was still alive inside. I sat there and held the part of myself that still hurt. I allowed it to be present and I reassured myself internally that I loved that old immature version of me when this old flame did not. After about a half hour the emotion left and I felt liberated. Since that time, I have seen this picture one other time and I smiled…no more pain.

The hardest thing about this process is allowing the emotion to be felt without taking action. That’s right….take no action to change, fix, solve, overcome, or to hide it. FEEL IT FULLY AND ALLOW IT TO BE. That is all that needs to be done.

There are two main pitfalls to watch out for in doing this:

  1. We avoid the emotion. As soon as we feel the wound we instantly distract ourselves to cover it back up. (Soldier avoids the field altogether and as such the mines remain)
  2. We try to overcome the emotion. This comes by way of trying to control external circumstances not to be triggered again. (Soldier points out mines and directs others not to trigger them…and as such, the mines remain)

The crazy thing here is nothing needs to be fixed. There is nothing right or wrong about feelings and the wounds we have. It takes some deep work to pull these band-aids off and heal the wounds. But let me assure you…it is well worth it! It may take a few attempts but don’t get too discouraged. Each time you work through the feelings the trigger becomes less powerful.

Imagine how awesome life would be if we eliminated all of our negative triggers? How cool would it be to be the person who is unshakable when emotions are running high? It’s a great goal to aim at. It does take some deep reflection but we can all get there.

Remember, don’t justify your triggers- just work to diffuse them. Your triggers are your responsibility to handle and not the worlds to avoid.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by RKTKN via Unsplash

The 5 Contagious Traits of Champion Dads

You know a Champion Dad (person) when you see one. They walk with a certain methodical confidence. When they speak everyone listens and they have a magical charisma about them. They seem unshakable yet completely happy and flexible in the moment. No matter the circumstance, they are grateful for the moment and emit a humbleness that is infectious.

Below are the five traits that we should all aspire to. They will be listed soon on our Vision page. I have posted them here to bring awareness to the traits that a Champion Dad embodies. These are the most common traits that I have found with many of the strong, cool, hardworking dads that I have encountered. These are not listed by importance as they all carry the same weight.

(A special shout out to three individuals who boosted my inspiration for this post: Jeanine Fitzgerald, Kyle Cease, and Chase Hughes)

Leadership: A Champion Dad sets an example for his children (and everyone) to follow in such a way that it spreads to all those who he comes in contact with. As such, he makes everyone feel significant and important in every interaction. He looks for the best in others and his communication inspires trust. Humility, honesty, and integrity is his normal mode of operation.

Confidence: A Champion Dad is able to take action without hesitation and will do what needs to be done in the moment. His confidence naturally rubs off on others as he is able to diffuse negativity around him. Criticism and feedback is seen as information only and not as an attack on character. His confidence is unshakable even in times of uncertainty. He owns who he is and has a strong positive self image.

Gratitude: A Champion Dad says thank you. They are able to express sincere appreciation of others and is able to count their blessings often. As such, they create an environment where others become grateful. When things don’t seem to go their way they remain open minded and try to see the larger story being told.

Regulation: A Champion Dad exercises control over self. They priotize the needs of the family over personal enjoyment, especially when the greater good is involved. They are able to create new habits for the expansion of self and others. They manage time effectively while balancing life’s many priorities. They manage finances and budgets responsibly. They naturally create a desire for self-discipline in others.

Joy: Through their encouragement of others they have a positive impact on everyone they meet. They tend to be happy go lucky by nature and are willing to try new things to experience life fully. They are the rock, or the person called when things go wrong. They are able to endure hardships with a sense of playfulness. Their actions speak to a win, win, win (expansion of self, expansion of others, expansion of community).

For me, I am strong in some of these but am working on others. Which ones resonate within you? Which ones are you working on? Remember, life is not a game of being perfect. This list is about awareness and to give a some goals to aspire to.

Be well

-MJ

Photo provided by Champion Mom Meaghan Arnold

Influential Matters: The Tale of Two Dads

Recently, I was on vacation with my family up in Old Orchard Maine. Our hotel of choice has a really nice swimming pool between our room and the ocean. This is really neat since our kids like to jump between swimming in the ocean and the pool throughout the day.

During our second afternoon, I was walking out to meet my family by the pool. Halfway there I walked by a dad who was lighting up his children for showing too much excitement. The kids couldn’t wait to get to the beach and were acting up a little bit (from what I can tell). The dad, clearly at his wits end, blew up at them with the typical lawnmower stuff: “STOP IT RIGHT NOW!……KNOCK IT OFF OR WE ARE NOT GOING TO GO!!!”

I took the safe route and gave this gentleman plenty of space as he tore into them. Yet, even a few minutes later while I was picking a place to sit, I could still hear the dad barking at his kids. However, the kids never stopped being happy and excited as they had clearly tuned him out (good for them…funny how I take the kids side unless it is me yelling).

Twenty minutes later, I witnessed another dad act exactly the opposite. He had two boys rough housing in the shallow end, making noise, and splashing other pool users (not on purpose but through their play). Once things escalated to where he needed to take action, this man was unfazed. He looked up at his boys and slowly closed the book he was reading. He looked over again, stood up, and deliberately (yet unhurried) walked across the pool to where his boys could hear him. He knelt down and started talking to his boys. Mid way through the conversation one boy giggled, said something fresh, and turned to swim away. He simply placed his hand on the boys head for emphasis letting him know he was to be taken seriously. The child stopped. He then stood up smiled at them and walked methodically back to his book and chair. The kids cooled down and were now echoing how calm their dad was. No one was embarrassed, no one was angry, and no fun was lost on the kids behalf.

WOW! If there was ever a Jedi mind trick at play this was the guy who could do it. I was amazed by how cool, calm, and collected he was. He meant business and was in complete control of his movements and words he used. What an influential way he had!

Before we comb out some gems here, I only know what I witnessed about the two families. I don’t know how rough of a day the first family had compared to the second. I have been both dads over time. I think it is safe to say that we all have been both at one time or another.

However, lets analyze their influence on their children.

First thing, we cannot give our children what we ourselves do not have. Our children are not motivated by words alone. At least 90% of what we pass on to our children is by how we behave and model for them to see. When it comes to communication, up to 80% of what is communicated is non-verbal. So, if we yell and scream in disapproval (or adult tantrum), they take this as how to do business in life. Words mean little to them. What is more important (always) is how we are delivering the words. Delivery method has the most impact.

The second thing, when our kids become unregulated it is not an open invitation for us to become unregulated. No matter how bad their behavior may be, it does not justify the parent to act the same way and blow up. When we do we are only reinforcing their behavior to continue. They do as we do.

A third thing, we empower what we emotionally react to. The divide between these two dads is wide. The first man caved and was triggered by his children whereas the second man remained calm and in control. It is our job as parents to continually work on ourselves to disengage our personal triggers. It is not the job of the child, or society, to change their behavior so we do not become triggered. Let me repeat that once again: Work on yourself everyday. Do not try to make the world act in a way that does not set you off. Controlling the external world does not work. Our work should be done internally. Take time and diffuse the emotional charge of your triggers (I will have a post on how to do this soon). This is how the battle is won long term.

This post was fun and painful to write all at the same time. I had to internally forgive myself every time I recognized where I was the first dad. I also was able to feel good for the times where I was a Jedi like dad number two. The point really is to bring awareness to our actions. The more we can become aware of our triggers and behaviors the more we can take steps to change. When we change our kids will naturally follow suit.

Be well

-MJ

Photo by Andrew Seaman via Unsplash

Catch’em in the act! Turn clashes into small victories…

I had only what I can call a huge victory recently with my son. No, we did not win a major event or anything like that. It was much simpler. We avoided a heated standoff and then we followed up with some positive reinforcement.

“Wow! Epic story Mike!”

Go ahead and laugh at how ordinary that may seem. But to any parent with a super strong willed child it is heaven.

This just wasn’t one event…four big things happen that really stood out to me:

  1. My son and I butted heads where it seemed like a complete melt down was about to happen (they last for a long time once triggered).
  2. I kept my composure and did not yell. I then asked for his help and let him know what would happen if he did not listen (or kept being fresh), all while being calm.
  3. I proceeded to walk away allowing him to make the decision on his own (which his temperament needs).
  4. Later on in the day, when no one was around, I pulled him aside, recalled the moment, and told him how proud I was that he did the right thing. I then followed it up with acknowledging how strong he is and how happy I was that he handled his big emotions without yelling. He hugged me and said “I love you dad”.

(I think I learned more by this process than he and it was a good reminder that it is easier to pull a rope than push it)

With my strong willed child I typically come unhinged right around #2. I typically clash hard in the struggle for power (WHO IS THE BOSS HERE?). However, for the strong willed child, the worst thing you can do show show them your dominance. My son resents me when I take full control and lay down the law. It doesn’t work for him and pushes him to dig in and lash out harder.

Strong willed children cannot be bossed around when they are feeling the big emotions. To make matters more difficult, this will only heighten if the struggle is happening in front of others or friends.

The best thing we can do is keep calm, provide them their options/outcomes, and walk away. This does a few things for the strong willed child. First, they can still feel in control because they are making the decision (instead of being told). Second, they get to save face in front of whoever they are with. Third, since we are playing to their strengths (not fighting against them), the child will most likely choose the right path as they are naturally geared to please.

Bonus on #4 above. This works great in every other area of your life! I work in corporate America and often times the work is a thankless job. It is expected that you do a good job so gratitude isn’t always present. So more recently I started to acknowledge my peers in calm moments well after they might have forgotten about the situation. Oh how they light up! Talk about breathing life into another person’s soul. Try it out!

It is so easy to catch problems and things that we do not like. I propose that we should all try to catch and acknowledge the great acts of others. I find it is better to fill someone up with appreciation than it is to point out perceived issues. I mean it is really simple: Love works better than anger.

Be well!

-MJ

Photo by Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash