Ever watch the movie Inside Out?  It is so good!  I particularly love how the movie beautifully illustrates the concept of “getting triggered”.  We get triggered when someone or something “triggers” an old insecurity, emotion, fear or what have you.  Once triggered we often over-react to the triggering stimuli AS IF it were connected to the old memory.  This usually results in whoever we are in the experience with getting very confused (or worse) by our reaction.  

It can really complicate conflict resolution.  I listened as a couple described a repetitive triggering event in their marriage.  Everyone was A-OK with the idea that the issue was not the issue.  But when the husband “triggered” the wife, her response was so over the top that he was starting to get twitchy.  He was backing up rather than leaning into the relationship.

She felt judged by his response.  Until the day he said this, “I feel like I keep getting beat up for the ghosts of your past and I have decided that it is not just hurtful but destructive and unfair.”  Ghosts.  The image worked for her.  She was living in a dream and fighting against shadowy ghosts but hitting her flesh and blood beloved in the process.  

To work through this both spouses had to take responsibility for their side of the street.  It was hard but they found some fun ways to hold each accountable for reactions that were making the situation more difficult than necessary.  It took a while but today she has coping strategies in place to manage her triggered moments and he has new skills in place for addressing times when his wife trips over one of those traumatic memory wires.  

Whatever side of the equation we are on - triggered or triggering - we can work on improving our response!

Breathing (and other recommendations)

So what does all this have to do with our own work?  Well, quite a lot.  Here are a few ways to apply these principles:


  1.  We are more than the worst problem we face today; there are small and wonderful ways we can love others, receive love, do good, find joy  EVEN as we suffer and struggle with our issues. 
  2. We have more relationships than just our troubling ones.  We must tend to those loving relationships that bring us joy and give us a way to express joy with as much intention as we give our problem relationships.
  3. It is common, easy even, to resort to obsessive worry, blaming others, distractibility.  Breathe. 
  4. Take time to explore more than just the presenting issue.  It’s easy to notice that we our binge eating has resulted in a failure to fit into skinny jeans.  It’s obvious that if we want to get back in shape we will have to deal with the issue of creating a caloric deficit.  But WHY are we bingeing?  Binge eating is a problem and it is worthy work to deal with it.  But what lies underneath the eating will also need to be addressed if sustainable change is one’s desired result.


As you consider your own stage of change, how can you find support to help you clarify your readiness, the primary issue, clarify your core values and implement a plan?

Emotional Sobriety

There is a temptation, I suspect, in any work of self-reflection, to get to a moment when we believe we must overcome our inclination and push forward.  I think of this as courage, and certainly it is a necessary tool for transformation.



But we can mess this up terribly when we push aside our feelings simply because we are afraid they will lead us astray.  Our feelings count.  They aren’t the ONLY thing we count, but to repress them, suppress them or try to deny them is futile work and we can end up sick as a result.


Where do feelings come into play in our work?  We start with recognizing and owning them.  This allows us to start the journey of handling our feelings in ways that are healthy and appropriate.  


In my family of origin, anxious people expressed anxiety and fear as anger.  This was the norm.  I was a grown up with children of my own before I was able to recognize that what I had called rage and anger and frustration all my life were thin veils for a ton of anxiety and fear.  


Much of our work, if we want to grow and change, will require us to come to grips with our own unawareness of our true feelings, learn how to develop healthy and appropriate emotions, and deal responsibly with those that are destructive in ourselves or others.


I hear people in meetings talk about emotional sobriety.  This is no small thing.  


How have your own emotions hindered your relationships?  Have others ever given you feedback about yourself that startled you as it relates to your emotional expressiveness?


Dealing with our emotions may require a supportive team.  Perhaps finding one will be part of many of our “to do” lists as well….