Flight…The other quiet emotional trigger response (and how to get out of it)

“Being human is not about being any one particular way; it is about being as life creates you—with your own particular strengths and weaknesses, gifts and challenges, quirks and oddities.”―Kristin Neff

I have a problem which I bet a lot of you also suffer from. I get caught in a loop of self-pity from time to time. It is not all the time, mind you, but when it happens, I hear my inner voice say things like:

“What is wrong with you?”

“Why can’t I ever get this, right?”

“I am worthless.”

I know that seems I bit dramatic, but when things go wrong or “off the rails” in your life, what is your mind telling you?

People tend to have one of two responses to these situations. I have both, and my response is generally based on the circumstance in which I fall down. Each stems from past trauma. Everyone has some past trauma as no one gets out of childhood without things to work on.

  1. Fight: Push and fight back and defend their actions at all costs. By trying to overcome or achieve through the situation, they can feel right and justified.
  2. Flight: Flee the situation and try to escape. By running from the situation, they avoid it and then quietly beat themselves upon the failure.

In both cases, the lesson of the moment is lost. In the first one, we are defending our actions to the world. The trauma/wound does not heal. I wrote about this in some detail in Diffusing your Emotional Triggers. In the second one, we run and hide. We hide from the lesson, and the trauma/wound is ignored….only waiting for the next time to be triggered…and emerge bigger while further deepen our self-pity.

In this post, we will focus on the flight response and quickly nip this in the bud before we become downtrodden with inadequacy feelings.

The following 3-step method in dealing with self-pity I picked up from Gabby Bernstein.

  1. Notice the feeling of self-pity and flight. When you pause, ask yourself, “how does this thought make me feel?”. Becoming aware of the trigger and identifying the emotions behind it will put the breaks on the situation. This will stop the emotional slide.
  2. Immediately forgive yourself for the thought. Remember: you are not your thoughts, so don’t identify completely with them. They are just like clouds that pass through the sky…always coming and going. Forgiveness further allows you to gain positive mental traction.
  3. Choose another thought to focus on. Pick the next best thought in your mind. Pick a thought to think about what you believe in and are passionate about.

Let’s work this out in an example. You have a meeting with your boss, and he tears into you for not meeting expectations. Instead of fighting, you hear him out and head back to work. Your day is ruined as you start to identify with his perceptions of you. Driving home, you start to have wave after wave of self-pity feelings. You feel worthless…but then you remember: YOUR VALUE IS NOT DEFINED BY THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS…so you stop and acknowledge the thought “Here is the self-pity thought again, and how does it make me feel? Wow, I feel like crap, and this is not fun. It’s ok that I have these thoughts, but I refuse to be owned by them. Instead, I will focus on how I have great work habits and a great family to come home to. Tomorrow is another day and a new beginning.”

By becoming aware and acknowledging the pity spiral, you have now given yourself space and freedom to heal and grow. Following these three steps will allow you to build stronger habits around self-compassion. As the habits build, you will become more resilient and have greater compassion for yourself and others.


Be well


Photo by Allie Smith via Unsplash

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