Five Steps to Navigating Emotional Landmines

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Doctor Neha: Welcome to Talk Rx with Doctor Neha. We’re filming in Bali this week, and I have a special guest, Cassie, who actually lives here. I had the pleasure of meeting her recently at an ecstatic dance experience. Welcome, Cassie

Cassie: Thank you, Neha.

Doctor Neha: Tell me what are you thinking about. Why did you show up to talk about communication?

Cassie: Well, something has popped into my life, into my awareness recently. I’ve worked a lot on learning to clearly communicate. It seems to be going well, but recently I’ve come across a little roadblock where it feels like no matter how clearly you communicate, the other person is internalizing and interpreting based on their insecurities or their history. Regardless of how well you’re communicating, especially if it’s a new friendship, new relationship, you don’t know what their internal triggers are. It creates a lot of misunderstandings.

How do you maneuver that situation with all the love and kindness? At the same time, you don’t always know that you’ve triggered someone, or you don’t really know if this is about something that you’re saying, because maybe they have an insecurity that you’re completely unaware of.

Doctor Neha: That’s right.

Cassie: This issue is just coming to my surface now, but I’m reflecting on all my relationships and wondering, “How many times does this happen?” Now that the other communication stuff is cleared, this seems like, “Ah, I didn’t even see this point.” Maybe this happens more often than I realize. When you think of it logically, of course it happens more often than you realize.

Doctor Neha: First, I’m going to go really big and tell you my philosophical belief is that we are souls in these bodies on this playground we call earth. We actually come together specifically for that healing. These interactions are not by mistake or a problem; they’re actually opportunities for each one of us to grow even more. This is part of our soul’s growth.

Cassie: Beautiful. That resonates with me. Thank you.

Doctor Neha: You’re welcome. The second thing is that what I heard you saying is that you’ve spent some time in communication

Cassie: Yes, yes.

Doctor Neha: You’ve taken some classes. You’ve learned how you communicate and listen well. Despite that, you’re asking about what happens when you run into these emotional landmines?

Cassie: Yes.

Doctor Neha: And now that you’re reflecting on it, you’re saying, “Oh, actually this isn’t the only place that this happens. It has happened frequently.”

Cassie: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: Even in other relationships. It’s going to happen a little more in new relationships.

Cassie: Naturally.

Doctor Neha: Right, because you’re more unaware of what would trigger someone or not. In romantic relationships, it actually happens just after that honeymoon phase starts wearing off, and then situations start coming up when we realize, “I didn’t know that you were like this.”

Now the first thing I want to help you with is when you’re speaking about yourself, use the pronoun I. Let me tell you why I said that. As you began to say, “When you communicate clearly and you do a really good job, how then do people still…?” Really, what you were saying is, “When I communicate clearly … ”

Cassie: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so the first way that you take accountability in separating yourself from someone else in a situation that might get sticky, is by making sure when you mean I, you say I. When you mean you, you say you. If I were talking to you and said, “You know, Cassie, when you communicate clearly, how hard is it that emotional landmines and these things happen?” Meanwhile, you may not have had that experience, so you may be thinking, Why are you saying you? Nothing is happening for me. And that can separate us. Does that make sense?

Cassie: Absolutely.

Doctor Neha: So shift your pronoun use: make sure you say I when you mean I. The next point is about emotional landmines, which is when our souls are healing. It’s that moment when the other person probably didn’t even know that something was going to trigger them so much.

Cassie: That’s when it becomes a surprise on both sides.

Doctor Neha: Right. If your wish is not to have those surprises, you’re not going to be able to explore a relationship on a deeper level.

Cassie: Having those landmines come up is absolutely fine. But how do you maneuver tricky situations. And it’s not just in relationships. It can be when you’re speaking to someone important in a business meeting or something else.

Doctor Neha: Right, and they might interpret something you said or did (e.g., looking away or getting up and leaving because you need to get a glass of water). Let’s say that in a business meeting you experience some acid reflux inside of you. You know the one thing that could take care of it is to have a sip of water. Now your body starts getting really uncomfortable. You know if you could just excuse yourself and grab that glass of water, everything would be just fine. So you gently excuse yourself and walk out. Now, tell me a story someone in the room might make up about your exit.

Cassie: “This is not that important to her”; “she doesn’t care”; or “she’s distracted.”

Doctor Neha: Yeah. They may think, This is not a priority for her. How could she leave the room? She just missed the most important sentences that we said.

Cassie: Absolutely.

Doctor Neha: The principle to remember is that you can’t want something for another person. You can’t want them to interpret that the way that you meant it. All you can do is show up with integrity as who you are and then meet them with curiosity. It’s about trusting yourself that you can handle what comes next. If you needed to get that glass of water, you left and you came back. The story could also be that no one minded?

Cassie: Absolutely.

Doctor Neha: So you might not have to do anything. That’s self-trust. Knowing that if someone says something or gives you an off look or isn’t talking to you or gives you a cold shoulder, you would trust yourself enough to ask about it. For example, “Hey, Neha, I noticed we said we were going to wrap up at the end of the meeting, and we didn’t,” or, “I noticed you looking away. Did something happen?” It becomes your job to trust yourself. And if your intuition picks up on something being off, keep clarifying and keep clarifying.

Cassie: Okay.

Doctor Neha: Now with another person as well, your biggest tool is going to be curiosity and believing that many stories can come from some certain data. For example, maybe you didn’t call someone back. You said you’d do it in an hour, and you didn’t call back for four hours, or you didn’t call back until the next day. The story that this person is going to make up about what that means, about whether you care about them or whether they’re important to you, you can’t control that. Don’t waste your time, right?

Cassie: Absolutely.

Doctor Neha: Every one of us makes up stories that lead us to our healing. The real question is, are you willing to be gentle and curious enough and to engage in sometimes the pain that comes with sorting this out so you can become stronger together?

Cassie: I think it’s also using discernment of whom do you want to go through this with?

Doctor Neha: Yes.

Cassie: There are situations in which I don’t have the capacity or the bandwidth.

Doctor Neha: Yeah, and you don’t want to.

Cassie: You don’t want to. So sometimes what you’re saying might have been misunderstood…

Doctor Neha: Shift to saying I.

Cassie: What I’m saying may have been misunderstood.

Doctor Neha: Do you feel that in your body more?

Cassie: Absolutely.

Doctor Neha: It’s stronger.

Cassie: I have to have the discernment to say, “You know what? This is a situation where I know I may be misunderstood by some, but I don’t have the bandwidth to go clarify for every person.”

Doctor Neha: Yes.

Cassie: Choosing what are the most meaningful relationship situations and investing in clarifying and nurturing those situations. That’s something I struggle with. How do you pay mind to that? I’m realizing you can’t. I have to be as clear as I can be and trust myself.

Doctor Neha: Trust yourself, and just be curious when something arises. You’ll figure it out. How you feeling?

Cassie: Great, thank you.

Doctor Neha: Awesome

Cassie: That was easy.

Doctor Neha: For those of you at home, Cassie brings up an important point. Have you ever noticed that somebody has an out-of-proportion reaction to something that you didn’t even think was a big deal? I call this an amygdala hijack. Cassie, will you grab that book for me?

Cassie: Sure.

Doctor Neha: In my book TalkRx, it’s in chapter 12. The amygdala hijack is a biological phenomenon that happens. What Cassie was talking about is emotional landmines that blow up when you didn’t even know they were there. The most important piece of this is that you trust yourself, first and foremost. Then that you communicate with accountability, and say I when you mean I, and you when you mean you. And be deeply curious about the version that somebody may have made up based on some exchange or data that they gathered. Stay profoundly curious, and all will be well. If you’re interested on reading more, it’s called an amygdala hijack, and my book is called TalkRx. Thank you for joining us in Bali.

Awareness Prescription

  1. Trust yourself —first slow down and take a deep breath to better manage your own reaction and emotions (e.g., surprise, defensiveness, shock).
  2. Communicate with accountability: saying “I” when you mean “I” and “you” when you mean “you.”
  3. Get curious about what’s happening for the other person.
  4. Listen deeply, allowing them to discover what just occurred. (They may not even know!)
  5. Trust that you can handle what comes next.

To learn more about amygdala hijacks, see chapter 12 “A Family of Emotions” in TalkRx.

This time it’s not you; it’s them!

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