Updated: May 17
Notice Your Emotions Choose Your Response
A heated Discussion: One day while hiking with a close girlfriend out of curiosity I posed a question about a recent political/social problem in S. California. The topic can be a touchy one since it involves the safety and quality of life for many people. Soon after I initiated the conversation it became clear that my friend and I had opposing viewpoints on some aspects of the topic and due to our strong feelings it did not take long for emotions to rise.
Becoming aware of body signals: As the conversation continued I began to notice tension in my lower abdomen which was the first clue that I was having strong feelings. What was helpful about this awareness is that it gave me an advanced signal alerting me to slow down and choose my responses carefully and not to be controlled by a fight/flight/freeze reaction which happens automatically as a protection mechanism.
In the anger management coaching work that I do with clients this practice is referred to as learning to “respond instead of react.” As I became aware of the early warning within my body it gave me pause to think about the intent of the conversation. Was it to prove a point? Did I need my friend to agree with me? Did I need to be right?
The ability to choose: As I took a step back and checked in with myself I answered “no” to these questions since my true intent was to learn about my friend’s opinions and clarify my own thoughts on the subject. With the self-inquiry, asking myself helpful questions, I was able to stay on track with my intent and remain calm, focused, and in control of my responses. It was good practice to notice, feel, and acknowledge emotions such as anger or threat and simply notice without reacting. Had I let myself get out of control surely I would have felt disappointed later on. Instead I was able to choose responses which made me feel good about our conversation and myself. Becoming angry does not mean we have to react to the anger like we have in the past, in fact with some practice we can retrain ourselves to do it differently.
As I reflected on the conversation I thought about situations when it is most difficult to respond instead of react such as within our intimate partnerships. How many of you are experiencing this type of challenge in your relationships?
Your comments are welcomed, let's start the conversation. When are you feeling most challenged to stay calm, what are your body signals that tell you to slow down and choose responses carefully?