We hear a lot these days about letting go of fears or other unfortunate conditioned patterns. In the coaching that I do, I help people see fears and unconscious patterns as a portal to deeper self-compassion, self-awareness, healing, and intimacy.
In my workshops and lectures, I often ask people to identify their unconscious triggers, aka their FAVORITE FEARS. I am gratified to see that audiences full of strangers seem eager to confess such things. This tells me that our culture is at a higher level of self-awareness then we were when I first started asking this question 35 years ago. It didn't use to be this way. People used to be more defensive about such things. Yeah for us!
So here is a very brief version of the exercise I do with audiences. I find that if you can identify and be mindful of the fact that you do at times get triggered, you're in a much better position to do the inner work necessary to explore your fears, get to know them, and bring loving attention to the parts of yourself that are afraid of emotional pain. When we know how to embrace our fears of experiencing painful emotions, and give ourselves some tender attention around these fears and unprocessed pains, we have what we need to heal our fears (vs bypassing them).
Which of the following fears have you felt in your most significant adult relationships? What reactive behaviors (blow up, shut down, judge, try to talk the other out of her/his feelings, complain, etc.) do you fall into when this fear is triggered?
FEAR OF ABANDONMENT. So you notice the smallest cues that someone is moving away from you; you may even develop a pattern of withdrawing or moving away first, as a protection.
FEAR OF BEING CONTROLLED. So any time anyone tells you to do something, you instinctively resist—something in you will drag its heels.
FEAR OF BEING IGNORED/INVISIBLE. If you do not get the attention you wish for, you react by pouting, withdrawing, over-talking, or some way of demanding attention.
FEAR OF REJECTION. So if you are told no, you imagine you are in danger of being rejected or not liked; you may stop yourself from asking for what you want or need due to this fear.
FEAR OF CRITICISM. So you are vigilant for any signs of disapproval or criticism; you interpret the other’s complaints to mean that you are not accepted or valued.
FEAR OF BEING INADEQUATE/A FAILURE. So you expand any negative feedback to mean your partner sees you as a not good enough or unlovable.
FEAR OF BEING TRAPPED. So you resist being too close, expecting to lose yourself, be suffocated, or consumed by the needs of your partner.
As I said, your triggers are portals showing where you need healing. Anytime you recognize one of the early warning signs that you are triggered, signs such as body tension or judgmental self-talk, this is a signal to pause, to stop talking, and to start feeling. Become present to your body sensations and feelings. Stay with what you feel or notice, giving yourself time to "be with" your experience. Don't look for reasons why you're feeling this way. Don't tell yourself you shouldn't be upset. Let yourself have your experience (without acting out on others). Once you know what is really going on and what you really want, then it's great to reveal this to an intimate, trusted other.
Being with yourself is a lot like tending to a hurt child who has come to you for loving support. Imagine you are "holding" or "making space" for this hurting part of you to be just as it is. Allow past memories or associations to emerge as you do this. By being curious and openly exploring your fear, you come into a compassionate relationship to a lost or rejected part of yourself. You become more whole. Thus, you will learn to benefit from the fact that you sometimes get triggered.
(This is an edited excerpt from my new book, Five-Minute Relationship Repair, published in February 2015 by New World Library.)