Triggered and Defensive?
How was your Thanksgiving gathering? Was there a hint of dread when thinking about that family member/s whose values don’t align with yours or the colliding of others who always seem to have a conflict and words. How were the discussions as you gathered; Was there talk that got heated surrounding political views, social issues, or lifestyle differences? Did you feel triggered by any comments or conversations? In reflection, were you defensive in your behaviors or your exchanges at any point?
As members of the body of Christ, we need to be increasing in self- awareness and emotional intelligence to aid in decreasing anxiety, frustration, and negative behaviors that interfere with our ability to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit like patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5: 22). Holidays are stressful enough, right? Paul writes about putting off the old man and old conduct and to “be renewed in the spirit of you mind” (Eph 4: 23). Having emotional intelligence will assist you when trying to manage negative symptoms like defensiveness that is triggered when navigating relationships. Paul goes on to encourage us to put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking” and to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another…” (Eph 4: 31-32). To do this, we are wise to understand our emotions, grow in our emotional intelligence to activate more appropriate responsiveness.
DEFENSIVENESS is triggered when we feel our character, achievements or values are under assault or are perceived as being attacked (Ottum, 2018). Examples are when we feel as though we are being criticized, judged, or we don’t feel understood. When gathering with family or in any relationship we can become triggered. As a result, “complex decision-making disappears, as does our access to multiple perspectives. As our attention narrows, we find ourselves trapped in the one perspective that makes us feel the most safe: “I’m right and you’re wrong,” even though we ordinarily see more perspectives (Hamilton, 2015). So, the behaviors that follow
are not necessarily what we’ll reflect on afterwards as complementary to someone who seeks to be a Christ like. Once “triggered,” we may find ourselves responding with sarcasm, giving someone the silent treatment, sounding off criticisms, or affording an insult in return. But why?? And why does your jaw clinch, or your shoulders get tight, and your heart rate spike? Hint, TAKE A DEEP SLOW BREATH!!
Defensiveness has a purpose. There is a part of our brain that takes over to influence our reaction and response called the amygdala which is responsible for our “fight, flight, or surrender” and it seeks to protect us by releasing adrenaline and other stress hormones. When signaled by our amygdala as part of our protective instincts, our body responds which is why our chest hurts, our shoulders tense up, our jaw tightens, and our heart rate escalates. In the relational instances like family gatherings, our defensiveness seeks to thwart negative feelings within self like feeling inadequate, vulnerable, or misunderstood to name a few. There is so much wisdom in scripture such as when Solomon wrote, “The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.” Proverb 15:2. If we can grow in our self-awareness and emotional intelligence, then our responses will be more appropriate.
Once your defensive armor has come down, you’ll be able to enjoy your gathering with less anxiety and dread. There will be more peace and more opportunities to exhibit the qualities we, as Christian, are called to demonstrate. So here are some journal prompts for reflection to increase emotional intelligence and self-awareness.
Defensiveness = being offended
Instructions: Choose which journal prompt feels most appropriate for the situation at hand. It is possible for there to be a blend of 2.
1. Ask why did I feel triggered?
1.1 Do I feel judged or criticized?
1.2 Is it that I don’t like this opinion or view of myself?
1.3 Ask self – Why do I need this person to see me in a different way (or to see me a certain way)?
2. Ask, am I wanting to feel understood? Are they not understanding me or my point?
2.1 Do I need others approval to be ok? If so, why and in what areas of my life does this destabilize.
2.2 Am I seeking validation? If so, why do need this validation?
3. Do I have to be right? They are wrong! This is ego based.
3.1 Is being right helpful to this situation?
3.2 Do I NEED to be right? If so, why?
Hamilton, D. (2015, December 22). Calming Your Brain During Conflict. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2015/12/calming-your-brain-during-conflict
Ottum, K. (2018, July 20). Overcoming Defensivness in Our Relationships. Retrieved from Christian Family Solutions: https://christianfamilysolutions.org/2018/07/20/overcoming-defensiveness-in-our-relationships/