Are You Aware When Your “Emotional Hot Button” Has Been Pushed?

We can’t constructively deal with our emotions unless we recognize and pay attention to them.

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A wooden box of explosives attached to a old style detonator

“Awareness is like the sun.
When it shines on things, they are transformed.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Our need for a secure connection with a loved one is innate, wired in by millions of years of evolution. Any sign of a potential loss of connection with a romantic partner can stir fear in us. If we sense that something is awry in our relationship, our attachment system gets activated – our needs for safe connection come on line and we’re inclined to reach out and makes things better. That’s how we’re wired.

Those of us with a secure attachment style experience such moments as if they’re just bumps in the road that we’re able to navigate, and then get back on track with our partners. We feel our feelings and respond in a healthy way. But, for those of us with an insecure attachment style, our early experiences in life mucked with our emotional wiring. Consequently, we’re not only hypersensitive to emotional cues in our relationships; we have a sort of phobic response to the feelings that they engender in us. We react to them as though they’re dangerous. Emotions begin to stir in us and, without us knowing it, our nervous system gets activated and, for better or worse, we respond to our feelings and their associated needs and desires as our early history conditioned us to respond.

We don’t recognize when we’ve been internally triggered. We get so swept up in our reaction that we can’t see what’s actually going on. We don’t notice or understand the underlying dynamics that are driving our emotional experience. We don’t get that the activation of our nervous system is a blast from the past and, as such, has little to do with what we’re facing in the present moment. And when something happens that disconfirms our assumption, we disregard it.

We can’t constructively deal with our emotions unless we recognize and pay attention to them.

If we’re going to be able to turn things around, we need to slow ourselves down and start paying attention to what’s going on inside of us. We need to become intimately acquainted with and adept at recognizing and handling the forces inside of us. In short, we need to develop our capacity for emotional mindfulness. To do this, the first step is to Recognize and Name which involves cultivating our awareness and ability to observe our present-moment experience. The main goal in this step is to become mindful of when an emotional hot button gets pushed and our old programming takes over. In order to be able to do things differently, we need to see what’s happening for us emotionally when it’s occurring. After all, you can’t change something you’re not aware of. We need to be able to recognize when we’ve been triggered and label it as such. We need to name it so that we can tame it.

In my next blog, How mindfulness helps strengthen our emotional “circuitry,” we’ll continue to develop our understanding of what’s going on under the hood when we get triggered. I’ll also share the next 3 steps for growing our capacity for emotional mindfulness.

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