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Rewards And Triggers

Rewards and triggers

I made myself happy about the many reactions I received (via email, Messenger, Facebook and in person) to my recent writing about anger. I think that vital to our happiness is learning and talking about anger: How to recognize anger. How to express anger in a productive and effective way. And how to get over anger as a way to create connection, care and love.

How do I make this topic important? Because I judge we receive little education or support for expressing our emotions—particularly anger. I think emotional intelligence—how to express ourselves and all our emotions—should be taught in schools. And before that, I think children would benefit from it being shown and taught within their families.

I received several questions about what to do when we recognize that our anger might be driven by hunger or lack of sleep.

I think that depends. I judge it’s beneficial for one to verbalize things like: “I notice I’m hungry and I imagine due to that I’m making myself even angrier.” And then to keep noticing the sensations in your body and expressing any anger. Or if it seems more important—eating first and agreeing to check in with yourself and the other after you’ve eaten. That’s not to say suppress your anger or try to minimize it. Rather, rather own the fact that you are angry and that you choose to first attend to eating.

I also received questions about what to do when we recognize that our anger might be triggered by the other person based on events and people from our past.

That’s a bit different case. We are products of our past in many different ways. We get excited, angry, sad and happy based on past events. For example, if we are thanked many times in our childhood for our smartness and are told (either directly or indirectly) that being smart is important, we tend to internalize that as a truth. So often we are quite unaware of our attachment to those beliefs or reward mechanisms that we had created in our childhood. We just feel happy and light when we receive a complement for doing something well or having something interesting/wise/relevant/important to say.

Likewise, if someone is not appreciating what we say or disagreeing or saying something we interpret as judging us as stupid/slow/irrelevant we feel angry, grumpy, down or sad. We might, for example, feel tightness in our stomach or tension in our jaw.

These positive rewards drive us a lot: they get us to choose friends and partners who appreciate or admire our intellect. At the same time, they get us to dislike people who don’t acknowledge our intellect—or worse—who are smarter or who show off their knowledge.

For what things did you get rewarded when you were a child? How do you feel in your body thinking about them? For what things do you reward your kids, partner and friends?

So what do we do about these quick, irrational and other unconscious reactions and thoughts? Starting to notice our reward systems and reactions patterns is very useful. Reflecting on the things or qualities that we we received positive reward from our parents and adults around us in our childhood. You don’t need to change. You don’t need to be any different. And having more awareness of your triggers and patterns will help you to be happier, less driven by the triggers and rewards and more open to all kinds of people and their ways of being and behaving.

What are your biggest triggers? What are the qualities or behaviors you absolutely can’t stand in others? Are you willing to look to see if you recognize those same qualities or behaviors in yourself?

Maybe, slowly, we will also take ourselves less seriously. That’s a nice place to be. Being more allowing and loving towards ourselves and others around us.

What else do you want to know about anger? What kind of guidance would serve you the best?

Let me know!

Wishing you a very Happy Easter weekend!

Tuulia Syvänen

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