In Western culture, we have a lot of idioms for becoming defensive. We get our buttons pushed, triggered, lit up, activated, plugged in, wound up, our chains yanked, bent out of shape, torqued, and more. Unlike the Eskimo or Sami whose many words for snow describe differences that are crucial for their everyday life, our various idioms mean the same thing and are interchangeable.
Why is it that we have so many ways of saying we're becoming defensive, but so little awareness of what is going on inside us that is creating the negative reaction?
It is generally understood that when we get triggered (or any other descriptors for this reactive state), it is due to unconscious fears we have about ourselves. A metaphor that I like uses velcro and teflon.
When something sticks to me and I get reactive, that's the velcro effect. It happens when I am not even aware of a particular fear I have about myself.
When something slips off of me and I am able to respond easily as if I'm saying, “please pass the salt,” that is the teflon effect. Nothing sticks if I don't have the unconscious fear inside me.
An example of this might be that you tell me that I'm lazy. If I fear, even unconsciously, that you may be accurate, I quickly defend myself and say, “No, I'm not. I'm very industrious. How could you say such a thing!”
However, if I know that sometimes I feel and act lazy, then I might say, “I know that sometimes I feel lazy and am lazy. What did I do or not do that leads you to believe I'm lazy?”
Certainly, the teflon effect feels better for both of us and creates greater ease in relationships. To respond with the teflon effect, we must become aware of and understand the beliefs and fears inside us that create the triggers. A friend and colleague passed on a phrase that goes to the heart of this issue: “I may have pushed your buttons but I didn't install them.”
This activity focuses on the aspects of the self-concept that are usually unconscious reactions.
When you notice yourself beginning to get reactive, immediately experiment with the following:
Here are the steps from the FID to think through when you notice yourself becoming triggered:
As you engage in this practice, it is most important to open yourself to whatever emerges. If judgment arises, notice it and let it go, imagining that it takes wing and flies away.
To get a deeper understanding of how your particular self-concept fear or fears came about (and the button was installed), allow yourself to reflect on past experiences in which you felt similarly. Go back as far in your childhood as you can remember.
Though next month focuses on acceptance, we will start it now. Think of a statement that is something like the examples below and write it down:
Enjoy, and please write about anything that is of interest to you in the blog or send me a private email.
Give yourself an internal pat on the back for looking at your triggers using a FID (FIRO Internal Dig). Next month, we will introduce a variety of activities and practices to gain internal acceptance.
If you feel so inclined, go to the blog and write about something that was important to you about engaging in this activity. If you would prefer to send a private message or ask for feedback, feel free to contact me at [email protected].