The Change Triangle
Source: Hilary Jacobs Hendel
The Change Triangle is a map — a guide to carry you from a place of disconnection back to your true self. Working the Change Triangle is the step-by-step process at the heart of accelerated experiential dynamic psychotherapy (AEDP), a therapeutic method that teaches patients to identify the defenses and inhibitory emotions that prevent them from being in touch with their core emotions of joy, anger, sadness, fear, disgust, excitement, and sexual excitement. In allowing ourselves to fully experience core emotions, we move toward our authentic openhearted state where we feel less depressed, less anxious, more confident, secure, and vital.
Table of Contents
When we first incorporate the Change Triangle into our daily lives, we have instant benefits. Here are my top 5:
1. Imparts immediate distance and perspective from our distress.
Just remembering to think about where we are on the Change Triangle can stop a downward emotional spiral. Next time you notice feeling upset, tense, rigid, depressed, or you realize you're having an emotion, look at out the Change Triangle and take your best guess as to which corner captures your experience.
2. Brings awareness of the way our mind is working.
Once we see the Change Triangle on a piece of paper or in our mind’s eye, we understand what’s happening to us emotionally. Our current state can be identified as avoiding emotions, inhibiting emotions, experiencing emotions, or in a calm open-hearted state. The openhearted state of the authentic self is the place we all want to spend more time. It feels great. Working the Change Triangle over our lifetime helps us spend more time in an authentic and open-hearted state.
3. Helps us figure out what to do to feel better.
Knowing which corner of the Change Triangle we’re on is important. It’s the knowledge that tells us what needs to be done to feel better. For example, if we recognize we are anxious, the Change Triangle tells us we have core emotions that need naming and honoring. Or, if we recognize we are in a defended state, we have the choice to stay there or reflect on the emotions we are avoiding.
Source: Hilary Jacobs Hendel
Even though emotions are uncomfortable and sometimes painful, they are made more bearable when we understand them.
Understanding emotions make them much tolerable. For example, when I learned that emotions were survival programs whose purpose is to make our bodies move, that made sense to me. Knowing that emotions were wave-like in nature, and don't last more than a few minutes in their pure form made me feel less afraid of my emotions. The more I learned about emotions, the more manageable they became.
When we start to get reacquainted with our emotions after years of avoiding them, we can expect anxiety to come up. Anticipating the anxiety helps. It’s still uncomfortable but less surprising and destabilizing. Once we notice anxiety, we can quickly shift gears and start using anxiety calming techniques like breathing and grounding.
4. Reminds us to name our core emotions
The brain calms down when we put language on our experiences. By taking the time to slow down, scan our body for emotions, and put language on what we are experiencing, there is an immediate calming effect. Knowing the heavy feeling in our chest and pressure behind our eyes is sadness helps. Even saying to ourself, “It’s ok, I’m just feeling sad” helps calms the brain and regulates the body so it’s easier to release the sadness with a good cry.
5. Gives us direction in our healing journey.
Noticing the places we get stuck helps us know what we need to further our healing journey. For example, if I find it impossible to slow down and notice what I am feeling in the moment, I know I need help getting beyond my defenses and anxiety. If I feel scared to even try to name my emotions, I know I need help getting comfortable with the way emotions feel physically.
I write about the Change Triangle because of how helpful it truly is for everyone who learns it. Personally and professionally, I cannot imagine life without this tool. Well, really I can because until I was 39 years old, I didn’t know it existed. Since then, I feel much more organized and less overwhelmed by my mind and feelings. I also feel much less self-conscious and just more me!
Having had this education, I understand that anxiety and symptoms like depression, addictions, social anxiety, and more, are symptoms of buried and blocked core emotions. The Change Triangle provides hope that there is always something we can work on to feel better. I am so thrilled to pay this knowledge forward to you.