How to Cool Down a Heated Conversation (Nancy Levin)


Doctor Neha: Welcome to TalkRx with Doctor Neha. This week I have a special friend and Hay House author Nancy Levin joining me.

Nancy: Thanks for having me.

Doctor Neha: What I do every week is have people ask questions. Did you come up with one?

Nancy: I did.

Doctor Neha: All right, let’s hear it.

Nancy: I would love your advice for staying in connection when both parties are triggered.

Doctor Neha: So how do you connect—when you’re having your own reaction and someone’s having their own reaction at the same time—or what do you do in that moment?

Nancy: Yes.

Doctor Neha: What is something thatconsistently triggers you?

Nancy: Being told what to do.

Doctor Neha: So feeling like someone else is the boss of you?

Nancy: Yes.

Doctor Neha: When that happens, what’s going on for you in that moment?

Nancy: I actually begin to shut down.

Doctor Neha: So it feels like you don’t have any choices and you’re going to shut down to protect yourself?When in your life did somebody tell you what to do and you felt like you were trapped?

Nancy: That’s interesting. What I immediately go to is the way in which I entrap myself.The way that I have created my own restriction and entrapment.

Doctor Neha: Okay. Interesting.

Nancy:Versus it being pushed on me externally.

Doctor Neha: I’m thinking when you were young that’s when you felt like you did it to yourself.

Nancy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doctor Neha: How would you do that?

Nancy: First, I would do it because my parents were very lenient, so to feel safe, I needed to create a container or boundaries for myself that I felt safe inside of.

Doctor Neha: As you’re speaking about this can you feel any physical sensations in your body?

Nancy: I actually can; I can sort of feel like a bit of a fire [moves her hand up and down from her neck to her stomach]

Doctor Neha: Like running through the core of you.

Nancy: Yes.

Doctor Neha: So this is a way you created your own safety. You had all the freedom in the world, but this was how you kept things safe. Now when somebody else comes in and does it, there’s this huge reaction in you, which is like “Don’t do that, that’s my job, and I’m doing it really well.”

When you have that experience of shutting down, how would you describe that? Is there an emotion that comes to mind with that shutting down?

Nancy: It’s almost despair and the negative aspect of surrender, as opposed to the positive aspect of surrender.

Doctor Neha: Like powerless and helpless.

Nancy: Yeah, powerless and helpless

Doctor Neha: So powerless, helpless and despair. This is interesting because this one is a little bit complicated.It wasn’t that someone else put this upon you, which is normally how it works.As a child, you longed for some structure.

Nancy: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: And then you got really good at giving that to yourself.Now it’s like if anybody else starts to impose something on you, even just their own way they want to be in relationship with you, you think, Oh no. Those aren’t the rules. That’s not how it works anymore. When you go into that space of despair and powerlessness, what do you want?

Nancy: More than anything I want freedom. I want to feel that I can say or do anything that I want to do, that I can be uncensored and unguarded.

Doctor Neha: Here’s what is so interesting—as long as you want to be alone, that’s going to work really well, right?

Nancy: That’s exactly it.

Doctor Neha: It’s not a bad thing that you want to be free. But what I’m thinking is that what you’re wanting now is to move into a different level of intimacy and connection.In that space, you’re saying, “You have to give me the amount of freedom my parents did,” but you’re actually seeking something much more intimate and connected.

Nancy: This is resonating for me. Because I had spent a chunk of time by myself out of relationship. Then going back into relationship I noticed that there’s still the kneejerk reaction of “It’s so much easier to be alone.” But by being alone I’m not rubbing against anything, so of course it’s easy to be alone.

Doctor Neha: You’re missing connection, touch, that intimacy that some part of you is craving. Right?

Nancy: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: [So let’s talk about] what do you do when you’re both triggered.The first thing you want to know is what physical sensations are telling you that a shutdown is happening.You called it like a little bit of a fire through here [points to her core]. Do you know where you physically feel yourself shutting down? Do you feel constricted anywhere? Your breathing, your heart racing, your stomach turning, tight muscles?

Nancy: It’s actually like a brain fog—like a shutdown of information in or out.

Doctor Neha: So it’s like you can’t even think clearly.

Nancy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doctor Neha: Okay. Going to confusion or brain fog can actually be a way that you protect yourself. So when that happens, what you’re going to say is “I can’t talk about this right now.” Then you can physically remove yourself from whatever’s happening. Soft-belly breathingis a simple tool [that will help].Instead of tightening up and constricting, what you do you is let your shoulders down, take a nice deep breath, let your abdomen be soft, take a nice deep breath and actually breathe into that feeling [of brain fog] because that sensation in your body is telling you something that you need that you’re not able to say.

The coolest part is then when you actually have that conversation—not in the moment that you’re both triggered, but after that break—you only talk about the physical changes that are indisputable. For instance,

“Hey, I notice that your voice is escalating” or “I heard you swear”—whatever happens for the other person.

“I notice that my tone is changing.”

“I’m not showing up in the way that I want to create connection here.”

“I need to go for a run and then I’d love to talk to you about this after dinner.”

Don’t ever break from someone in that moment and not tell him or her when you’ll reconnect. Because then what often happens is people feel abandoned. Even if just one person is feeling triggered, name what you’re observing and then ask, “How can I best support you?” But when you’re both triggered, you’re not supporting anyone in that moment.Your job is to manage yourself before you engage.

In relationship, it’s a great pact to make when this kind of triggering isn’t going on.Let’s say it was me and you as friends or as sisters, or something like that. What I’d say is, “Hey, Nancy, you know at dinner sometimes when we talk about X topic, I get really triggered. I noticed that then I say something and then you’re really triggered. What’s a fun way that we can remember that we are so lucky to be sisters and this is part of our growth and learning?” Then we would come up with our own signal that we both agree to. I might pick something like a timeout sign, and maybe you pick something like a peace sign. No one else needs to know, but we know. It’s playful, loving and reminds you of your connection.

Nancy: That’s helpful.

I love what you said about don’t leave someone hanging. Let them know when I’m coming back to resume this conversation. I do think that often, we plug into each other’s core wounds.Given my background, I’m always going to be plugging into someone who has abandonment issues because I don’t. So it’s helpful to know that I can safely port them in that way by saying this is unresolvable right now but I’m coming back to you.

Doctor Neha: How about this, not “this is unresolvable right now,” but “I feel stuck right now”?

Nancy: OK, I feel stuck right now.

Doctor Neha: Then all you’re doing is taking responsibility for yourself. Then you can say “I want to meet you in a way that supports our relationship and I’m not leaving you. I’m just trying to restore me.”

Nancy: Thank you.

Doctor Neha: Absolutely. For any of you listening or reading who are struggling with getting triggered, whether it’s in a romantic relationship, your family life, around the dinner table, at work with colleagues or bosses, it’s time to get curious about the physical sensations that are happening in your body. What thoughts you’re creating about them and what emotions they’re bringing up in you? Get clear about what you want and need in that moment, so you can tell other people how to signal you if you’re reacting or your tone is changing. Just make sure that you make a pact at a time when neither one of you are triggered.

Also in TalkRx, I address this topic of strong or out-of-proportion reactions that happen so often in conversations. See chapter 12: “A Family of Emotions.”

Your Awareness Prescription When Two People Are Triggered

  1. Manage yourself first by recognizing noticing your physical signals and taking three soft-belly breaths.
  2. State the physical observations that have changed both inside yourself and in the conversation (feeling tense, change in tone, words that were said).
  3. Ask for what you need (e.g., time, space, support)
  4. Tell this person when you’re going to reconnect with them.
  5. When you are no longer reacting, come up with a playful signal (peace sign, time-out sign, hang loose sign, fist to heart sign, etc.) together that indicates you’ve been triggered and can’t focus on a healthy conversation right now.The most important part of this is that it has significance to the two of you!

Example:“When you said [we are cancelling our vacation], I had a strong reaction and got quiet.I don’t think I’m being a good listener right now.I need time to process [or I need to go for a run]. We can talk about this again after dinner. Does that work?”

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

Stay cool. Be cool.



4 Responses

  1. Thank you both for this. You have helped me a lot by labeling the feeling “like a fire.” I have been wanting to reframe the feeling I’ve been having in my solar plexus from “fear” and “anxiety” to something neutral and wasn’t having any luck. But as soon as I heard Nancy say “fire” I knew that that was the reframe. This is a huge gift. Thanks again so much.

  2. Two authors I love 🙂 Nancy’s trigger is exactly mine: being told what to do. It makes me feel angry and unrespected.

    Stems from feeling controlled and unsupported in my individuality growing up.

    I noticed I get triggered when I am making a vulnerable change or further expression of myself in my sacred work. I share with my husband and he has an editors
    mind and loves to make situations better. His questions trigger me into feeling like it’s not safe to not have it perfect. There is no celebration for the journey/progress. I get that’s my own internal way I judge myself
    and am embracing more self-acceptance.

    Many times- I want to share just to share without feedback but my hubby says then it’s just a monologue and he feels like he has to be on eggshells with me.

    He is very tonal and I think it’s the way I say it “I just want to share”
    In a very protective tone instead of softly vulnerable.

    We have made progress and have identified that when I escalate my voice it’s because I don’t feel seen and he shuts down because he feels attacked.

    So now we know it’s our own protective mechanism not a way to disrespect one another.

    Our last argument we were able to calm Down after escalation because he created a boundary for me by saying – I feel abused by the way you React when you are triggered.

    That helped me to have compassion and express my vulnerability and needs.

    I’m grateful for the progress and would like to even better our communication.

    I’m a type 2 on the enneagram and my hardest challenge is knowing my needs and communicating them.

    I have been doing regular body check-ins to get better at identifying my feelings and needs.

    Any feedback on Improving our communication even more?

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