Have you ever had an emotional reaction that seemed more intense than the circumstance demanded?
Someone cuts you off in traffic and you lay on the horn and begin screaming obscenities.
You receive an unexpected bill in the mail and you feel a deep despair about your financial situation.
Someone in your life is rude to you and you shut down completely.
You get fired from your job and you begin drinking uncontrollably.
When this happens, the reaction is not necessarily coming from the unpleasant event but the unpleasant event has triggered a deeper, unresolved issue that carries with it a lot of emotion.
We all have legitimate emotional needs. We need to feel accepted, respected, needed, valued and loved. Unfortunately for most people, the voices and circumstances of the past create a core belief that we are not accepted, respected, needed, valued or loved. Negative self-talk develops in our mind and negative emotions develop in our soul. Whenever something happens in our lives that communicates that we are not accepted, respected, valued or loved, all of those negative emotions come rushing out.
We also all have developed a need for things that are not necessarily realistic or legitimate; we need to be in control, to have things always go our way, to be successful, for things to always be fair. These illegitimate needs are also fueled by the voices and circumstances of our past. We develop a system of internal “rules” that must be kept in order for us to be okay.
I have to be in control
Life must be fair
Failure is not an option, I must always succeed
I must always have my way
Our emotional state becomes tied to how well we are living by these rules. When something happens that violates these rules, all of those negative emotions come rushing out.
When these negative emotions come rushing out, we can find ourselves cussing someone out, getting into a fight, withdrawing into isolation, turning to an addiction or self-medication, wallowing in self-pity or taking it out on those who are closest to us. At some point these behaviors are so much of a problem for us that we become convinced that we need to deal with these negative emotional outbursts. This will mean going to the root of the problem.
First we must dig down to find the root of the problem. Start by identifying which underlying need seems to be triggered. Is this circumstance making me feel unloved, unaccepted, out of control? Then identify what lie or rule is driving that feeling. Do I think I need to be in control, do I feel unacceptable or unloved? Now trace that lie back to its source. What circumstance or voice from the past implanted that in you? This is not for the purpose of blaming someone else for your problem but to help you understand what is going on inside of you.
Having dug down to the root, now it’s time to pull this problem out by the roots. Begin by forgiving the person(s) or circumstance(s) that implanted the lie or rule. As long as you are tied to them in unforgiveness, you are tied to the message they implanted in you. Now find truth from God’s Word that counters the false belief. Remember, Jesus said, “The truth will set you free!”. Meditate on this truth and make it a part of your thought process.
Next learn how to recognize when you are being triggered. Usually our emotional response has a connected physical response. We tense up our neck or jaw, our heart rate increases, we get flush, we clench our teeth, whatever it is that your body does when it is emotionally triggered can actually be used as a trigger to choose a different reaction. Once you have identified the physical reaction, make a plan for the next time you notice it happening. Choose to slow down your breathing, relax your neck or jaw, etc., while at the same time reciting the truth that attacks the lie or rule. This combination of mind, body and emotion is a powerful way to change the way you react. Consider the example below and then apply it to your own situation!
Someone cuts me off in traffic
My heart rate increases, I tighten my grip on the steering wheel
I recognize that I am feeling disrespected
I acknowledge the deeper wound of being disrespected when I was bullied as a child
I make a choice to slow down my breathing and loosen my grip on the steering wheel
I claim the truth that I am chosen by God (Eph 1:4) and am a child of God (Jn 1:12)
My hand stays off of the horn, no expletives escape my lips and a heart attack is averted J.