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Imagine the last time you were in a situation, or a conversation, in which you suddenly realized you were angry, or anxious, and wanted to either rant and rave, or totally escape. We all have these moments, and most of the time, we’re able to ignore the intensity of the feeling, soothe the beast inside with reasoning, or pack it away for the moment and come back to it later when we’re not so triggered.

For people with a history of trauma, it’s not so easy. We might KNOW what we’re “supposed to do” when that happens, but our emotions are running the show at that moment, and we can’t find our way to the City of Reason.

Most of us have already developed a specific routine when faced with conflict: we shut up, shut down, and move on. Then later, when we’re in a quiet place, we start mulling over what happened, and we start the rumbling. “I should have said ________! I should have told them that they ______!”

We start thinking about all the zingers we could have snapped back with but were to gob smacked in the moment to think clearly. Been there, done that! As I am sure you have been part of that same scenario many times. This is when we must be prepared in advance, so that we know what to do in an emergency. The way we do that is by practicing mindfulness.

This is where the lesson from the firefighters in our grade school years comes in handy. They taught us that if our clothing catches fire, we should never run, because the air would fan the flames. Instead, we should Stop, Drop, and Roll! They were teaching us how to rescue ourselves in the moment. Lucky for us, this works when we are suddenly on fire inside as well.

What happens when it’s not a physical emergency, but rather an emotional trigger that grabs us? If you are engaged in a conversation with a survivor of traumatic brain injury, that person may have been behaving in a way that challenged every patient nerve you own. And then what? Do you lash out at them? Do you walk away? No, you practice mindfulness.

How do we practice mindfulness in an explosive situation?

First, you notice you are triggered, and an emotional fire is building within you and you stop to get a handle on what was happening. Your brain does that for you in a nanosecond. Its number one job, remember, is to keep you safe: to keep you alive! So, without even consciously thinking of it, you instinctively know that you’re in danger, and your body’s response is automatic and instantaneous.

Second, you look at your options; do you stay on fire, or do you do something about it? But in this instance, you must know on the spot what options are available to you. Do you engage or disengage? Do you fight or flight? Do you want to engage in the conversation in a calm and rational manner?

Third, you get action. again, in the event of a true emergency with clothing on fire, you would then drop to the ground, and roll to douse the flames by depriving them of oxygen. But when dealing with your loved one, you must figure out different options, so you know how to use them in different situations. Assert yourself, with kindness and non-judgement, explain your feelings and how the current situation is affecting you. You need to help them become more aware of how their actions adversely affect you to help prevent them from happening over and over again in the future.

Fourth, pause to hold space for nurturing self-care. Know that you are upset, own that you are wounded. Learn from it. That takes practice, and self-possession - In. The. Moment. And how do we do that? Three words: Practice. Practice, Practice.

We never get to Perfection, but we CAN get to Proficient. You become capable of being in the moment with your challenges because you have been building a mental habit. And THAT is the core skill in all our interactions – having the mindful presence to make the right choice in the moment. It’s not easy, but it is something you can learn, and with intention and practice, your brain will get the message, and develop new connections. I can tell you from experience – my own and my clients – that it works. Try it. You’ll love yourself for it.

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