NOTE: Knowing how to recognize emotional attacks, manage our personal triggers, and protect our feelings are powerful personal safety skills. This article is from the Fullpower Relationship Safety Handbook for Teens and Adults and the Kidpower Skills for Child Protection Advocates Workbook.
The following techniques from Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International have prepared hundreds of thousands of teens and adults worldwide to take charge of their emotional and physical safety when others are acting in unkind, hurtful, unsafe ways.
What Are Triggers?
Triggers are thoughts, words, gestures, or actions that cause someone to explode with feelings. When our minds and bodies are exploding with feelings, it is hard to think clearly and hard to make wise choices.
Triggers can be positive – like being so delighted to see a small child that you fail to see or respect the child’s boundaries – or wanting to please someone you care about so much that you fail to set appropriate boundaries for yourself with that person or do something to please that person that is against your values.
Negative triggers lead to these common reactions.
- Being Hurt – OUCH! – wince and become sad.
- Getting Angry- HEY! –glare and become angry.
- Going on Automatic pilot – Gotta Do Something RIGHT NOW! – arms and legs go quickly nowhere.
- Disconnecting – Whatever! – shrug.
- Shutting Down – Gasp! – freeze.
What are Emotional Attacks?
Most of us have triggered others, often our dearest and dearest, with our behavior. And, most of us have been triggered by others.
Often, people trigger each other accidentally because they are not aware of what kinds of things might be upsetting. Sometimes people use emotional attacks because they are upset and don’t have safer communication tools. And, some people will deliberately try to trigger you to get you to lower your boundaries.
Here are three common types of emotional attacks:
- “You are Worthless!” attacks are rude words or behavior that insult you, your values, or people important to you. These include attacks on your character; sexist remarks; prejudice against someone’s race, sexual orientation or identity, class, income, martial status, etc.; and foul language.
- “You are helpless!” attacks are physical, financial, and relationship threats to the well-being of you and anyone important to you.
- “Take care of me!” attacks come from deliberate emotional coercion to cause you to feel pressured to feel sorry for or responsible for someone and take care of their needs at the expense of your own. Feeling emotional pressure from the inside to help and making a choice about what you do is different than deliberate emotional coercion to go against your wishes, values, or well being.
8 Kidpower Emotional Safety Techniques for All Ages
These Kidpower techniques can be very helpful in managing our emotional triggers that can get in the way of healthy and respectful communications in all your relationships. They have worked for people as young as two and as old as 102 from many different cultures, all over the world.
1) Getting Centered or ‘Calm Down Power’. Push your palms together. Take a breath. Straighten Your Back. Feel where your feet are. Focus on something peaceful.
2) Personal Trash Can. Take one hand and put it on your hip. The hole your arm makes is your Kidpower Trash Can. Use your other hand to catch hurting words before they get into your heart or your head, where they can stay stuck for a really long time. Next, throw the hurting words into your Trash Can. Finally, put your hand on your heart and say something nice to yourself. You can do this in your imagination or with a real trash can. You can do this with hurtful words others say or that you say to yourself.
3) The Screen. Criss-Cross your finger. Imagine they make a screen to protect you from insulting or threatening behavior while letting in useful information – like the screen on a window keeps out the bugs and lets in fresh air. A more sophisticated version of this idea is the Semi-Permeable membrane that protects every cell in your body by keeping out the toxins, pushing out the waste, and taking in the nutrients. Imagine having this Semi-Permeable Membrane around your entire being.
4) Take the Power Out of Emotional Triggers. Write them down. Say them out loud over and over, alternating with your favorite food, activity or vacation spot. Eg. “Creep – Hawaii!” “Bitch- Pizza!”
5) The Emotional Raincoat. If someone is storming and you cannot just leave, imagine that you are in a real storm, wearing a warm, waterproof raincoat. You can be silent or make non-escalatory statements like, “I am sorry you feel that way. I care about you a lot. We see this differently. We can agree to disagree. You are important to me. I love you.”
6) ‘That’s Not True’ Technique. Sometimes people say something about you that is true and mix it with something that is not. For example, someone might say, “You’re awful because you’re different.” Even if it is true that you are different than others, this does not mean you are awful. Make a fence by putting your hands in front of your heart a little away from your body, palms facing outwards. Practice by having someone combine false and true statements. Use your fence to block the hurting words. Say out loud, “That’s not true!”
7) Adjust Your Emotional Distance. For dealing with important people who go back and forth between being great to being rude, you can Adjust Your Emotional Distance. This is a useful tool for enjoying the good in the relationship while protecting yourself from what is upsetting. You can be close when someone’s behavior is safe and respectful and imagine yourself moving away when the behavior becomes upsetting. Practice this by doing it physically. Start close to a partner who is at first friendly and then becomes rude. Move back as the behavior gets ruder and then walk away once it becomes unacceptable.
8) Leaving With Love. If someone is starting to become upset or has been drinking and is likely to become emotionally and/or physically abusive, one choice is to disengage from the conflict and leave with love by saying, “I care about you. You are important to me. I would never do the awful things you are saying. We’ll talk later after we’ve both had a chance to calm down.” In an unsafe situation, you might lie and say whatever the person wants as you leave to go to a safer place. “Leaving With Love” in workplace setting might mean changing jobs in a positive way.
Once you are emotionally in balance rather than triggered, you can then make a realistic assessment of your options and make the best possible decisions for yourself and those important to you.
Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International provides training, consultation, and educational resources to organizations, corporations, educational institutions, domestic violence shelters, and other programs in positive communication, leadership development, and personal security for all ages and abilities.
For more information about Kidpower’s resources for teaching these People Safety Skills and concepts, please visit our online Library (free community membership) and our RelationSafe™ Bookstore.