When It Serves You to Override Your Fear Mechanism


Doctor Neha: Welcome to Talk Rx with Doctor Neha. We are filming in Costa Rica. I have a special guest today, Becca, who is a brave soul willing to ask her communication questions so that all of you can learn. Welcome, Becca.

Becca: Thank you for having me.

Doctor Neha: We’re so lucky to be here.

Becca: Yay. Yes, we are. It’s amazing.

Doctor Neha: What are you thinking about? What communication question are you thinking about?

Becca: My communication question centers around how I shut down or lose my voice. When I’m confronted by somebody intimidating or coming at me in anger, I tend to either shut down or get defensive. My question is “How do I stay in my power and speak my truth, or speak compassionately like the way I normally do, or just not to lose my voice completely? I completely shut down if there’s any kind of anger or aggressiveness.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so you were doing this [pointing toward her mouth and throat] as a gesture. Tell me what that feels like in your body. What is that?

Becca: It feels like anxiety. I feel like [my throat and mouth] closes off and the rest of me feels tense, anxious and scared. The words just don’t come, and I end up feeling small. Everything gets tight, chest tight, throat tight.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so this is where you speak from, right? I’m just going to throw this out there: I don’t know if any of this is related, but do you have any thyroid stuff going on as well?

Becca: No.

Doctor Neha: OK, because sometimes that can be connected to not being able to speak your truth. So tell me what happens right before the shutdown happens. How do you know that someone’s coming at you with aggressiveness or whatever it is? What’s changing in your environment?

Becca: Body language.

Doctor Neha: Such as?

Becca: The other person’s huffy, puffy, kind of getting annoyed, or making kind of faster movements. You can tell their body language is frustrated because they get tense.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so they’re getting tense and maybe they’re moving faster. Picking up the pace. Maybe the volume is going up.

Becca: Yes.

Doctor Neha: I’m going through that because I want you to know the signals right before your response of shutting down is going to happen. You sound like you are well versed in the shutdown.

Becca: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: The first place we want to go is to thank your body for that, because that’s just protection.

Becca: Right.

Doctor Neha: Thank goodness somewhere you learned that when something comes at you or that you feel threatened by, your biological system now goes into safety, right?

Becca: Mm-hmm.

Doctor Neha: Now what it sounds like is you’ve grown out of that response being enough.

Becca: Yeah. Yeah.

Doctor Neha: Tell me how it protected you. Growing up, how did this protect you?

Becca: The shutting down?

Doctor Neha: Yes.

Becca: It protected me, because I didn’t cause any further hostility, anger, or disruption. I just shut it down, so then everything would calm down.

Doctor Neha: You learned that if you shut down inside, outside you calms down.

Becca: Yes.

Doctor Neha: Now you used the word power, right?

Becca: Mm-hmm..

Doctor Neha: Would you say that in those moments, you feel powerless?

Becca: Definitely.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so I want you to just take a moment and tap into that sensation. You’re protecting yourself, and now at the same time, you feel powerless. Right?

Becca: Right.

Doctor Neha: There was a time where it gave you power and protection. What changed?

Becca: What changed…The situations in which this has happened in the last couple months are usually when another person is getting huffy and aggressive and frustrated and angry. It’s directed at me. The communication from them ends up being is that I’m not communicating well and or they manipulate what I said. They change what I said, and that has frustrated them or made them angry. It’s coming at me with this forceful, fiery, threatening kind of feeling. I shut down more, and I feel more powerless, because then I start thinking, Oh, did I not communicate well enough before and that’s why they’re angry? Then I just feel lost.

Doctor Neha: Okay, good.

Becca: In those moments, I want to stand up for myself, because often what they’re saying isn’t actually true. I want to stand up for myself without getting defensive. I feel like it’s this catch-22. Instead, I get quiet and soft and stop talking.

Doctor Neha: Okay, now, are these close relationships to you? Because these types of interactions sound like family. This sounds like relationship. This sounds like our inner circle.

Becca: It is.

Doctor Neha: Because when you have that response and someone says, “You’re just getting defensive,” that’s usually family. Strangers or acquaintances don’t usually do that.

Becca: Right.

Doctor Neha: The important thing here is these are relationships in which at one point protection of yourself was enough. Now it sounds like you’re growing into this place of figuring out “Where do I end and they begin?” as you emerge in your own voice and power?

Becca: Right.

Doctor Neha: Once you have gratitude for how that kind of response served you and you now recognize the signals coming from the other person—turning up the volume, a quicker pace, maybe swearing, whatever it is that triggers you—did somebody have a temper in your family?

Becca: My mom.

Doctor Neha: Some people have better access to their anger than others. Because one thing I know is growing up I didn’t have access to my anger. I was more like you. That protected me, and there came a time where I had to learn to access my anger, because sometimes anger’s good.
In the face of your mother, you were little and she was big. Now you’re about the same size.

Becca: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: Except typically what happens in those situations when those same triggers start happening, all of a sudden you become little again and she becomes big.

Becca: Right.

Doctor Neha: What you’re saying is I’m ready to be her equal. Yeah?

Becca: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so the first way you know what’s happening is your body starts giving you those signals. They’re usually physical signals. Yours is throat constriction. You also said you feel anxiety, heart racing.

Becca: In my chest, my heart racing for sure.

Doctor Neha: When that happens, it’s time for you to hit your pause button. Just like videos and music have pause buttons, so do we. That’s the moment when you notice it happening outside of you; unhook from that what I call an amygdala hijack from when you were little. It’s like a little bit of a shock response that your body goes into to protect you, because it recognizes some old patterns and tells your body to contract physically. So you’re going to pause and expand through a few deep breaths.

Whatever they’re saying, “You’re just defensive. You this. You that,” what you do is you repeat back what they said—for two reasons. One is to make sure that you heard it correctly, because you might think you heard something and that wasn’t what they said. Then they feel heard, because you say something like, “Oh, it sounds like I’m coming across as defensive. Is that right?” First, you get to breathe and expand yourself instead of contract. It gives a pause so that now you can unhook from reacting and move into responding. Then you repeat back what they said so you can have a breath and you can double-check that they know they’re heard. Now you have a moment to respond.

Becca: Okay.

Doctor Neha: If you didn’t think some of this was true, it wouldn’t stick to you. Is that true?

Becca: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so there might be some defensiveness. There might be some reactivity.

Becca: Definitely.

Doctor Neha: Now you’re shifting into a new way of being, and that’s okay. In that space, how do you want to show up with them?

Becca: I want to show up calm, in control of myself, and also with grace, but not backing down. I often just back down to appease.

Doctor Neha: Okay, so how about this? You said grace and controlled. You know what? You want to show up authentically. If you raise your voice a little bit, is that okay?

Becca: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: It’s okay, because you’re learning a new way of being. If you do it a little messy, guess what? It’s okay. Because this is family. Maybe sit down at a time when this isn’t happening and say, “Hey, I have finally started to find my voice, and I want to show up. There’s a way that I haven’t shown anger. There’s a way that I’ve just shut down. I’m going to try this a new way. [This] is what I’ve learned. Could I ask for grace from all of you as I try to grow into this new way of being?”

Becca: Mm-hmm..

Doctor Neha: Instead of just hoping that you can suddenly—

Becca: Get along.

Doctor Neha: you can be controlled and calm. That’s not going to happen, because that’s not human. You’re rewiring your brain, your heart, and the way you show up, and you’re integrating this orchestra into a conversation. It’s going to be a little messy at first, so give yourself a little grace and allow yourself to be a little messy. But have that conversation with the other people in your life so the first time you’re showing up differently is not in the middle of a triggering conversation. Was that helpful?

Becca: I loved that. Thank you so much.

Doctor Neha: You’re welcome. For any of you at home who know that when you’re with family, they can sometimes trigger you. I’m wondering, how do you show up when you get triggered? Do you shut down? Do you blow up? Whichever way you go, there’s something to learn there if you want to stay connected to family. Tell me, Becca, any takeaways?

Becca: The thing that struck home the most was that I want to show up authentically. I want to show up myself in a way that feels good, and it will feel good when it feels like me.

Doctor Neha: Yes. It might be messy until you get there. It’s like getting comfortable in your skin.

Becca: Also paying attention to the signs that happen in my body physically, taking the pause, the breath, and repeating back what someone said, just so I have a moment to calm myself down so that I don’t become reactive.

Doctor Neha: Curiosity is another key too. When someone says you’re defensive or whatever it is, just ask them, “It sounds like I came across as defensive. That wasn’t my intention. Help me understand. Was it my tone? Was it my body language? What was it?” Because all of a sudden, when you’re curious, they’ll tell you more, “Oh, it was this; it was that.” You get the specifics.

Becca: Right.

Doctor Neha: For all of you at home, if there are times when you feel powerless, as you learn to stand in your power, it might get a little messy—and that’s okay. If you’d like to ask your question, I’d be happy to answer it. Tweet me at #askdoctorneha. Thank you, Becca.

Becca: Thank you.

Awareness Prescription in the Face of Anger*

  1. Be aware of the physical changes that trigger your awareness of anger (tone change, swearing, finger-pointing, loud voice)

  2. Hit your body’s pause button through slow deep breathing.

  3. Choose how you ideally want to show up (connected, curious, open).

  4. Keep your heart open (rather than shutting down).

  5. Get curious, not furious!

*Note: If you are in the face of physical danger or you feel unsafe, definitely DO listen to your body’s biological response and remove yourself from the situation.

Leaving the drama to Hollywood,


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