What if Kanye Knew That Grace is in the Space?
Maintaining Integrity When Emotions Are High Someone needs to let Kanye West in on a little secret. I so want to judge him for jumping on the Grammy stage and ranting, but I also know that he, like all of us, is a victim of that pesky hormone adrenaline. The one that starts pumping through our blood stream when we feel threatened, intimidated, wronged or any other emotion that triggers fight or flight symptoms.
I know you maybe saying, “Come on. He wasn’t really threatened”. (Or perhaps you are saying, “Who’s Kanye?”). Either way, the point is we are so genetically wired to protect what is important to us with fight or flight energy that even when it only feels similar to a threatening situation, we get triggered and the adrenaline begins pumping. As a result, less oxygen is delivered to the reasoning part of the brain, more oxygen is delivered to the “take physical action” large muscles and next thing we know, we are on stage ranting at Taylor Swift or Beck. And everyone around us are looking at us like “what is your problem?”
Have you ever had your Kanye moment? I know I have. I’ve had it in the workplace, in relationship, with my daughters and in a crowded parking lot when someone took my space. It is the moment when someone does or says something and, if you are paying attention, you feel a physical reaction in your body. For me, my face gets warm, my shoulders tighten and my jaws clench. Instead of wanting to attack however, I want to shut down and flee (the flight part of fight or flight). I’ve heard others describe it like a knot in their stomach. Or a ball in their throat. One woman I work with describes it as a pain in the arch of her foot. Knowing your unique symptoms is your best friend to avoid going all Kanye (#goingallkanye). These physical symptoms are the early indicators that you’ve been triggered. Those feelings in your body tell you your fight or flight self-preservation system is ready for lift off…and that in the next few moments, if you don’t respond and dissipate, you will be reacting in ways you may not feel good about. Especially if there is no snaggletooth tiger trying to get your baby. Especially if the situation is simply a disagreement over which font to use in the PowerPoint or wedding invitation. But because getting your way may be tied to emotions that feel similar to another emotional trigger, your body chemistry doesn’t recognize the difference. That’s why self-awareness is key.
So what are you to do?
The first thing is to acknowledge that there is a space between the trigger and what you do. And you get to manage that space instead of the trigger managing you. The size of the space is up to you. For Kanye, I bet the size of that space is non existent. He heard something he didn’t like (Beck won the Grammy) and was inappropriately on that stage ranting his objection in an instant. If instead, he was in touch with what he feels in his body, he could have chosen to say, “Oh…warning! Here comes that trigger feeling again. I think I’ll breathe into it and dissipate it. Because when I get this feeling I tend to charge up into other people’s moment and then hundreds of thousands of people bash me on Twitter”. That would be a choice for him. Along with breathing, which would be reducing his heart rate, he could also feel into his heart space for gratitude for all he has (maybe his own achievements, his beautiful child, his wife, his gift of creativity, oh yeah and 21 Grammy’s). Through these two actions alone, he would significantly increase the space between trigger and his reaction. He would also be reducing the drama, stress and potential shame that happens as a result of our actions in the fight or flight place. And he would be reducing the impact of future triggers! He would in essence be responding to what is triggering him (self-awareness) instead of lashing out at Beck. The trigger gets dissipated where it began, inside his own emotional baggage.
Don't get me wrong! There are times that it is critical to listen to triggers. We’ve all heard about people getting into an elevator and feeling unsafe, but instead of listening to the pounding in their chest or the feeling in their stomach, they push through and get mugged. The bottom line is that we all get triggered. Nature set that up as a device for protection…to keep us alive. But today we have significantly less life or death situations than our Paleolithic brothers and sisters. Most of our interactions, while emotionally charged and high stakes, don’t involve running from or fighting attacking animals. But because we feel threatened or anxious, our body gets triggered the same way and gives us the fight or flight cue. When you react to a disagreement with a co-worker as if a grizzly in the backcountry is charging you, there's all kinds of fall out for you, the other person and all those who witness your behavior. And generally following that is a lot of clean up. And heart ache.
You have the choice to be in that space with integrity and grace. And the benefits are great. The same tools that I teach to expand the space between what happens and how we respond are also responsible for clearer thinking, easier problem solving, improved communication and reduced drama.
Grace is in the space between what happens and how we respond. Curious? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. Kanye, if you are reading this, I think I have an appointment open next week!