How Your Conditioned Emotional Responses Impact Your Everyday
You’re minding your business, going about your day, and then BAM. Some situation or event comes up that completely overwhelms you. It could be something as minor as a line at the grocery store or as significant as the death of a loved one. At that moment, your conditioned emotional responses kick in.
Maybe you feel overwhelmed and panicked, or maybe you get sad and withdrawn. We all have these go-to reactions to certain situations, but most of the time we’re not even conscious of them. You might have heard about this as ‘conditioning’.
If we’re not aware of our emotional responses, we can’t do anything to change them. In this article, we’ll explore the subconscious behavior that often dictates our reactions in overwhelming situations. We’ll also discuss how to start conditioning yourself for a different response.
What Are Conditioned Emotional Responses?
Conditioned emotional responses (CERs) are habitual reactions that we develop in response to certain stimuli. Usually, these reactions are subconscious and we’re not even aware of them.
For example, let’s say that you grew up in a household where your parents were always fighting. As a result, you may have developed the habit of feeling anxious and overwhelmed in situations where there is conflict or noise. This would be an example of a CER.
CERs can be helpful or harmful, depending on the situation. For example, if your CER is to feel scared in overwhelming situations, that may help you stay safe in dangerous situations. However, if your CER is to become angry when you’re stressed out, that may not be so helpful!
Another example of a CER is if you grew up being praised for being smart. As a result, you may have developed the habit of seeking validation from others and feeling insecure when you don’t receive it. This CER would likely be harmful, as it could lead to you feeling anxious and down on yourself.
CERs are often the result of our environment and the people we interact with. However, they can also be the result of our own thoughts and beliefs. For example, if you grew up being told you’re not good enough, you may have developed the CER of feeling unworthy.
CERs can have a big impact on our lives and the way we interact with the world. If you have a CER that is harmful, it may be helpful to seek out therapy or counseling to help you change it.
How Your Experiences in Life Cause Conditioned Behavior
You’ve probably heard the saying that life is what you make it. Well, that’s definitely true when it comes to your conditioned emotional responses. The situations you find yourself in on a daily basis and the emotions you experience as a result are all things you’ve conditioned yourself to feel.
For example, if you’ve had a bad experience with money in the past, you may find yourself feeling anxious or stressed every time you have to deal with finances. That’s because your brain has linked those negative emotions with money, and so they get triggered every time you encounter something related to it.
It’s kind of like Pavlov’s dogs. If you ring a bell every time you give them food, eventually they’ll start salivating at the sound of the bell even if there’s no food there. Your brain does something similar with conditioned emotional responses. It learns which situations trigger certain emotions, and then it sends out those signals automatically whenever it encounters similar situations in the future.
Examples of Conditioned Emotional Responses in Our Everyday Life
Think about a time when you were feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you had too much on your plate at work, or your family was going through a tough time. Chances are, your first instinct was to react emotionally. You might have felt panicked, frustrated, or even helpless.
Your emotional response was likely the result of conditioned behavior. Over time, we learn to associate certain situations with certain emotions. This is our subconscious behavior at work. And while this kind of response can be helpful in some situations, it’s not always ideal.
For example, let’s say you’re at work and you get an email from your boss that needs to be answered right away. If you’ve conditioned yourself to feel panicked in this type of situation, you might start to feel overwhelmed and stressed out. This could lead to poor decision-making or even burnout.
But here’s the thing: You have the power to change this kind of reaction. It starts with being aware of your conditioned emotional responses and then consciously choosing a different response for the situation. Maybe for the email from your boss, you choose to feel calm and collected. It might take a little practice, but eventually, it will become second nature.
Navigating Overwhelming Situations
The first step in breaking free from these conditioned emotional responses is to become aware of what they are. Start by observing yourself in different situations and take note of how you react.
- Do you tend to get defensive when someone criticizes you?
- Do you find yourself getting easily triggered by certain people or situations?
- Do you sometimes shut down or withdraw when things get too overwhelming?
Try to be as objective as possible in your observations and be gentle with yourself. Remember that these patterns are deep-rooted and it will take time and patience to change them.
The next step is to begin working on changing your reactions. This will require you to get out of your comfort zone and motivate yourself to respond in a different way than you’re used to.
It might be scary at first, but trust that you have the strength to handle whatever comes up. Lean into the discomfort and remember that you are capable of so much more than you realize.
How to Identify and Address Conditioned Emotional Responses
The first step is to be more aware of when these reactions happen. Start by increasing your awareness of your emotions throughout the day. Notice when you feel triggered or defensive and ask yourself what happened just before that. Pay attention to your thoughts, bodily sensations, and emotions in those moments.
From there, you can begin to explore the emotions that are coming up for you. What are you really feeling? What needs are not being met? What beliefs or stories are you telling yourself about the situation?
As you become more aware of your conditioned emotional responses, you can start to address them. This might mean exploring the emotions that are coming up for you, changing the stories you’re telling yourself, or finding new ways to meet your needs. It might also mean unlearning some of the conditioning that’s been passed down to you.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but the more aware you become of your reactions and what’s driving them, the more power you have to make changes.
Techniques for Managing Conditioned Emotional Responses
There are a few things you can do to help manage your conditioned emotional responses:
- First, try to become aware of when you’re feeling overwhelmed. This can be tricky because sometimes we’re not even aware that we’re feeling overwhelmed until we’re in the middle of a situation. But if you can catch yourself before you get too far into the reaction, it’ll be easier to manage.
- Second, try to understand what’s triggering the response. This can be difficult, but it’s important to try to identify the root cause of the response. Is it something in the situation? Is it a memory from the past? Once you know what’s triggering the response, you can begin to work on addressing that issue.
- Finally, once you’re aware of the trigger and the reaction, try to choose a different response. This is where self-awareness and mindfulness come in handy. If you can become aware of the reaction as it’s happening, you can choose to respond in a different way. Maybe instead of getting angry, you could take a deep breath and try to calm down. Or maybe instead of getting defensive, you could try to listen to what the other person is saying.
These are just a few techniques for managing your conditioned emotional responses. Remember, it takes time and practice to change long-standing patterns of behavior. But if you’re willing to put in the work, it’s possible to change your reactions and create more peace and balance in your life.
The Importance of Self-Awareness
The first step to breaking free from your conditioned emotional responses is to become aware of them. Once you’re aware of the patterns that are running in the background of your mind, you can start to question them. Then it’s about acknowledging them for what they are and how they’ve served us in the past. From here, we can start to work on changing our responses to the triggers that set off our conditioned emotional responses. This doesn’t happen overnight, but with time and effort, it is possible to break free from these patterns and create new, healthier ones.
Self-awareness is key in all of this because it’s only when we’re aware of our thoughts and emotions that we can start to change them. If you’re unaware of the patterns running in your mind, you can’t change them. So start paying attention to your thoughts and emotions today, and see what patterns you can start to identify.
Why do you react the way you do in certain situations? What’s the payoff for maintaining these patterns? When you explore your conditioned emotional responses, you may be surprised to find that they no longer serve you.
Self-awareness is a powerful tool for change. When you’re able to see your patterns clearly, you can start to make different choices — choices that are aligned with your highest self. If you’re not sure where to start, consider keeping a journal. Every time you find yourself in a triggering situation, take a moment to write down your thoughts and feelings.
What are you really afraid of? What are you really trying to avoid? When you start to get curious about your own mind, you’re on the path to freedom.
Steps for Reframing Your Subconscious Behavior for Lasting Change
If you’re interested in diving deeper and want to start reframing your subconscious behavior, here are some things that have worked for me.
- Breathe. Really, connect to your breath. Take a conscious, long deep breath.
- Take a step back and look at the situation objectively. What is really going on here? You can literally take a step back.
- Identify your go-to reaction and ask yourself if it’s serving you. Is this the best possible way to respond to the situation?
- Ask yourself: What do I need? How do I want to feel?
- Try out a different reaction and see how it feels. If it doesn’t feel good, go back to the beginning.
- Keep practicing until the new behavior becomes second nature.
It takes time and effort to change your subconscious behavior, but it’s so worth it when you see the positive impact it has on your life.
Examples of Mindful Replacements for Go-To-Reactions
In order to become more aware of your go-to reactions, it can be helpful to first specify what yours are. To do this, you can begin paying attention to how you feel in different situations. Do you tend to feel defensive when someone challenges you? Do you feel guilty when you say no to someone?
Once you’ve identified your go-to reactions, you can start working on mindful replacements for them. For example, if you tend to get defensive when someone challenges you, instead of getting defensive, you could try responding with curiosity. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with the person, but it does mean that you’re open to hearing them out and considering their perspective.
If your go-to reaction is to feel guilty when you say no to someone, a mindful replacement might be to simply explain your reasoning for saying no. This allows the other person to understand where you’re coming from and respect your decision. As you develop confidence in setting boundaries, you might not even feel like having to explain.
Another example of a mindful replacement for a go-to reaction is to take a few deep breaths before responding to a situation. This can help you to calm down and approach the situation from a more level-headed perspective.
Of course, there are endless possibilities for mindful replacements for go-to reactions. The key is to find something that works for you and that feels authentic. By replacing your go-to reactions with more mindful ones, you’ll be able to respond to challenging situations in a more constructive and positive way.
The takeaway is this: we all have a set of conditioned emotional responses that show up in various situations throughout life. And, while it’s not always possible to control the situation, we do have control over how we react to it.
In other words, we can choose our behavior, even in the face of challenging or overwhelming situations. It might take some practice, but by becoming more aware of our conditioned emotional responses, we can start to make more empowered choices about how we want to show up in the world.