Oh boy, I’m melting! Here in the East Anglia region of England, we’ve reached temperatures of just over 38 celcius in beautiful Cambridge. It’s been a touch cooler where I live, on the Suffolk coast but, as I sit and reflect over recent weeks of summer, the heat has been building.
From a business perspective, this glorious summer weather has in impact upon my psychotherapy business in that this is always the quietest time for new referrals. That’s okay, though; it’s nice to think that people are happier and perhaps some of the stresses of life seem further away in the summer sunshine. Indeed, the increase in referrals in the autumn, each year, signifies the onset, for many, of Seasonal Affective Disorder. That the sun brings many people a reprieve from depressive feelings has got to be a relief for many families.
I am fortunate in that well over 90% of my new referrals come via word of mouth recommendations from former clients. There is nothing more satisfying than creating a business that serves people well enough that they recommend me and that is also self-sustaining, as a result. I am grateful.
The heat, at this very unusually high level, can also be the trigger for people to enter into more stress. Over the weekend, I saw a very aggressive, and public, slanging match between two young women. They were very heated and local people were looking on, stunned, while the two young women came close to physically fighting. Fortunately, they had some slightly older people with them; perhaps parents, and so their fight was intervened in and prevented from escalating to what seemed an inevitable brawl. I did not see what triggered them into their amplified reactions but I could hear that fighting was not necessary. They could have instead talked it out and worked together to find a solution.
It’s important, I believe, to consider what triggers us into our reactions. Typically, we tend to say “She made me feel like this.” when, in fact, that is not the case. Another person’s behaviour will trigger a response in us, but the nature of the response will be caused by what we hold in our head. If we can change what their behaviour means to us, we can then potentially achieve a more pleasant reaction.
For example, if someone says to you:
“Your outfit doesn’t suit you and your hair does not look good.”, you might react by feeling hurt or upset and you may cry. Yet, somebody else being told the same about them, may react by laughing, or by saying “Whatever.” and giving it no further thought or care. In fact, the types of possible reactions are too many to list. So many possible responses exist.
This evidences that it is not what the person has said to, and about, us that has caused our reaction. We can see that they have caused a reaction, but the nature of the reaction is based upon “What it means to me.”
If I believe myself to be unworthy if my outfit and hair did not look acceptable, then my reaction to being given negative feedback is potentially going to be painful and unpleasant. I may develop a feeling of self-loathing and inadequacy. Once I feel such a negative reaction, that will then influence how I behave next or what I do next. A negative reaction will more than likely then cause me to behave less well and to think badly of myself. Do you see? Behaving less well will likely then have negative consequences.
If someone is rude enough to make a judgement about how I look, then I could instead think to myself, “Well, that is your opinion. You are entitled to it but I do not agree.” or I might think “How dare they? I look fabulous!”. This would be changing what it means to me, to something positive.
This is where I have just achieved a cognitive change. I have replaced a belief or value that was negative, with something positive and this leaves me feeling better than I otherwise might feel.
Things that trigger us include:
- A person.
If we start to recognise that the triggers, which are the things we experience, do not cause the specific emotions and feelings we feel, we can then step away from focusing on the trigger and what to do with/about it and, instead, use all of our energy on focusing on how to change ‘what it means to me’ and then the nature of our reaction.
We could become mindful that the type of reaction we have, to the things that trigger us, may have significant unhelpful or unhealthy consequences. We could, therefore, handle ourselves well, to avoid further difficulty arising.
Think of it this way:
- I experience something.
- It causes me to have an emotional reaction.
- The type of reaction is caused by what the trigger means to me. That is mine.
- If I change what the trigger means to me for something nicer or less problematic, I will feel better and so my reactions will be less unhelpful or unhealthy.
- The consequences of my reactions can therefore be minimised.
- Life gets better. I feel better.
Next time you find yourself watching tv or observing a friend or family member who is reacting negatively to ‘something’ (the trigger), see if you can identify what triggered them to have a reaction? Then, look at the trigger and consider whether it could have meant something different to the person reacting; something less troubling?
The task is then to explain to the person that what and how they are feeling is ‘theirs’ and that it is something they can change. Remind the person not to focus their energy on the trigger; for the trigger has already happened and so it is futile to seek to undo it. Instead, use that energy to question what the trigger means to you and see whether you can replace that value with something else; something that would not push you into a heightened state of distress or upset. Maybe even something nice?
This type of exercise comes from Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. This type of therapy is particularly helpful for use when revisiting our values and beliefs. It tells us that we can reclaim control but that, to do so, we need to step away from painful reactions. It tells us that, instead, by changing the ‘what it means to me’ part, we may do well in overcoming responses and reactions that can bring yet further stress into the family or into our lives.
Do give this a go and email me if you struggle with it. Getting this right can be utterly life-changing. Imagine…no more will you say “He makes me feel like this.”, or “It makes me feel like this.” How you feel, in response to a trigger, is for you to choose. The trigger does not cause that. It simply makes you have a reaction.
If you try this, come back and leave a comment to say how changing your ‘what it means to me’ enabled you to change the type of reaction you had to what triggered you. How were consequences improved, as a result?
(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.