Transform Your Triggers—Respond Rather Than React

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Doctor Neha: Welcome to Talk Rx with Doctor Neha. This week I have a special guest, Cori, who is a friend as well as a brave soul who’s going to ask her communication question. We’re going to have a dialogue while all of you get to learn. Sit back and relax. Welcome, Cori.

Cori: Thanks, Neha. My husband hasn’t read it all the way through yet, but I read your book and I applied it to some communication that I have with my mother. I just moved her out to Colorado.

Doctor Neha: Bonus points.

Cori: She and I have always had difficulty communicating certain subjects. We got into one of those difficult situations. I took the tools out of your book and used some of the communication that you and I have had, and I applied it. It worked, yay! I was like, “Wow, this is working really good.”

My mom and I came to a point where I said, “Hey Mom, do you know what just happened here?” She says, “Well, yeah, you’re being mean to me.” I said, “Well, that’s because you were being mean to me.” She goes, “No, I’m not. I just said…” So I said, “I would like to move past this. Let’s take responsibility for what each one of us says. If you don’t recognize it in you, then I’ll say ‘ooh’ or ‘ow.’” Then she replied, “Well, what should I say if I don’t like something you say?” I said, “Well, come up with your word.” So she decides, “Well, I’m just going to bark at you. I’m just going to ‘aarf.’”

So where we are at right now and where I need your help is past this point. Now my mom will say something and then she says “aarf” to herself. She’ll say something kind of rotten and then she’ll say “aarf.” So she now knows when she’s said something wrong or mean.

Now how do we go from that [each of taking accountability for our words] to the two of us working through…

Doctor Neha: To communicate.

Cori: Right.

Doctor Neha: Wow, okay. Many things, the first one you’re talking about is one of the more challenging relationships in your life, and you just said you moved your mom to Colorado. Now you moved the most challenging relationship. Those are two huge areas of conflict coming together. When you physically move, whether it’s a job, a relationship, or physically move a house, it stirs up emotions. People think it’s packing boxes and moving things, but it physically stirs you up? Did you experience that?

Cori: A little bit, yes.

Doctor Neha: Then you’re pretty advanced in communication, because what you did is figure out ways to have signals for each other when something negative is happening. The interesting piece about that is I would change it to something loving and connecting that reminds you of your connection. That’s the first thing I’d do, because if I’m with you and I go, “Ow,” or, “Aarf,” it’s startling. It’s about how I’ve done something wrong or you did something wrong. You guys already have a challenging connection. So what you need to remind yourselves of is, “Oh my God, this is my mom. Oh my goodness, this is my daughter.” It needs to be more about love.

I would do something along the lines of something funny that reminds you of feeling connected to her. Can you think of a way that you feel connected to her?

Cori: Let’s see. Something that I would say to her and feel connected with… Maybe a word, because she was going to name me Corky. I don’t know if I would just say, “Corky,” or are you saying, “Hey Mom, remember when we went to the zoo?”

Doctor Neha: Okay, if it’s, “Remember when we went to the zoo,” you would then say something loving like “zebra” or “zoo,” something that reminds you of that connection.

Cori: Okay.

Doctor Neha: Because that’s what you’re trying to create. What you did that was so great was you both have started to become aware of your triggers. Now she’s using the “aarf” on herself.

Cori: Right.

Doctor Neha: She’s actually calling herself out—which is amazing!

Cori: We’ve laughed about it. She knows it.

Doctor Neha: As soon as she does it, she realizes, which is huge progress. Without awareness, nothing can change. I love that. So now change the signal. Both of you come up with something that really has you feeling tender and connected.

Cori: Okay.

Doctor Neha: It wouldn’t be a whole story. You don’t have to say, “Remember when we went to the zoo?” No, no, no. It’ll be like “zebra,” or “elephants.” The other thing that helps me when I’m around family or something challenging is to check into my body and remind myself of what it feels like to be in the presence of someone who grounds me. Can you bring a person to mind who, in their presence, you feel grounded?

Cori: My husband, Tom.

Doctor Neha: Okay, great. When Tom is near you, if he was right here sitting with us, how would you feel in your body?

Cori: Very comfortable, very relaxed, very loving.

Doctor Neha: Open, loving, comfortable, relaxed. When you go into that space with your mom—whatever she says—I want you to become resourceful within yourself by imagining Tom next to you.

Cori: Okay.

Doctor Neha: It’ll allow you to start breathing and ground yourself. You can repeat back to her, “Wow, Mom, when I said, ‘Move that table over here,’ it seemed like I was being rude or upsetting or disrespectful.” While you’re saying that to her, you’re actually breathing now because you’re calming yourself. Then you shift into curiosity, “What happened? Help me understand,” because now you’re resourceful.

That’s the next step for both of you, which is, “Now we recognize triggers. We know we have it. We’ve called it out. We’ve had the honest conversation.” Create a loving way that you let each other know. Bring resourcefulness to you, breathe, and then repeat back what she just said and get curious.

Doctor Neha: Make sense?

Cori: Yes.

Doctor Neha: Tell me your takeaways.

Cori: Instead of pushing away where we already have that conflict, it’s more to bring in, more to connect and bond. Bring in a word that connects us, maybe like her car Chrysler or snowmobiling or Dad.

Doctor Neha: Yeah.

Cori: Or any of those things. Then check in with her to repeat what I just said. Apologize.

Doctor Neha: If there’s an apology that needs to be there, or just get curious.

Cori: “Sorry I was rude or if that sounded rude. How did that make you feel?” Check in with her.

Doctor Neha: You know what you can say there? Instead of, “Sorry I was rude,” you can actually say, “How did that come across? It sounds like I said something that upset you. What happened?” Otherwise, you’re saying something based on a story in your head. All you want to do is ask, “Oh, I just moved the table. I heard you say elephant. What happened?” It’s profound curiosity.

Cori: Getting curious and just asking her a question, letting her describe what happened. Then go from there.

Doctor Neha: Yes.

Doctor Neha: You work on your half of this. Your mom’s going to pick up pretty quickly.

Cori: Yeah, she has already.

Doctor Neha: For all of you at home, if there’s a challenging personality in your life, the first thing I’ll tell you is that there are no challenging personalities. There are actually only people with whom I am not able to easily connect. It’s always an opportunity for you to become more resourceful, because other people in the world that think that person is easy to get along with, but for some reason, it brings up new emotions and an opportunity for you to learn and grow in a new arena.

In my book, Talk Rx, you can look this up in chapter one. It’s called The Curiosity Tool, where you name what just happened, “Oh, I moved the table. I heard you say “aarf.” What happened?” It’s that simple, but normally people don’t know how to word it, so, instead, they avoid the conversation or they get upset or they shut down and physically leave. I don’t want that to be you. Thanks again, Cori.

Cori: Thank you, this was wonderful.

Send me your questions — drop me a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha or write your question and comments down below.

Awareness Prescription

  1. State what you observed (heard or saw).
  2. Ask a question (curiosity).
  3. Collaborate to come up with a gesture, word or symbol that can help you both pause and remind you of your connection.

You have the power to break the cycle,

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