Putting the Emotional Brakes On.

Have you have ever had an experience where someone says something mean to you or something negative happens to you and then something in you gets stressed and emotionally you get worked up? The Tibetans call this feeling shenpa. While it is literally translated as the word “attachment,” that does not capture essence of this feeling of the effect that it has on us.

Shenpa is this area deep inside us that gets triggered and irritated by the words and actions of others. When someone says or does something that touches your shenpa, it hooks you, draws you in, and starts this emotional spiral. Before we know it, we can find ourselves blaming ourselves, blaming them, getting angry with them or putting ourselves down. For some people, they might try to control their shenpa by drinking, eating, or some other form of self-medicating.

Everybody has a shenpa somewhere in their lives. For each of us it is different. A friend of mine talks about how somebody just got on her last nerves. It is that feeling you get when you go from being in this great space to suddenly feeling stressed and ready to pounce on yourself or somebody else. And the more you think about this shenpa, the worse it becomes. And before you know it, it is like this car speeding down the highway uncontrollably.

Like anybody else, I have my shenpa’s, and no, I am not going to tell you what they are. It is not whether or not we have them, but about learning how to control them. As I was sharing with somebody the other day, controlling your shenpa is like driving a car. If you put on the emotional brake when your shenpa gets triggered, you can keep it from picking up speed and it taking over your day. On the other hand, if you don’t and you let it build, it will become like that speeding car on the highway and it will consume more and more of your emotional time and energy. Some of us respond to our shenpa by shutting down and isolating. While it might not be as obvious physically as lashing out, internalized responses to our shenpa also increase in intensity.

Think about if for a moment, what did you do the last time somebody did or said something that touched a sore point with you? Got on your last nerve? Maybe there was just something about them that made you feel uncomfortable?

The shenpa is not just what got pressed emotionally for us, but it is also our reaction to it. It’s that situation where I say something and you say something back and before you know it, we are having a knock down drag out fight over something, which probably could have been easily resolved, but for whatever reason, that particular thing just got on my last nerve. Or have you ever been talking to somebody and all of a sudden, you realize that you have inadvertently said something to hurt their feelings. They might not have said a word, but all of a sudden, you see their body language change and you know something just happened, but you’re not quite sure what. Or maybe that has happened to you, you are having this great conversation with someone and then all of a sudden your whole response changes because of something they said. It’s not so much about what they said, but what they triggered in us.

The easiest thing to do to slow down your shenpa is to breathe. Breathing, pausing for a few minutes to just breathe, can put the emotional brakes on your shenpa. Sometimes, I have to take a number of breathing breaks when my shenpa gets triggered. 

Sometimes it is the most innocent of things that can trigger your shenpa. For example, recently someone played a song that triggered my shenpa. All of a sudden, I could feel this change in my body. Had it been any other song, I would have been fine, but this song just triggered something for me and I could feel myself going from relaxed and goofy to wanting to shut down and isolate. Instead, I stopped and breathed for a few minutes and every time I would feel the feelings begin to swell up, I would just stop, breathe, and be in the moment. I have come to realize that it is far more important to stay present and be in control, then to let my shenpa control me.