What Causes You to Flinch
By Kevin A. Thompson
Ten dogs are housed at the animal shelter. You go to pick out a new pet, and one by one the dogs are allowed to meet you. With each one, you do the same thing: you kneel down, the dog runs to you, and you reach out to pet it. Nine out of ten times, the dogs love the attention. But one of the dogs flinches as your hand raises to pet it.
The dog can’t help but flinch. While it’s not in danger, it has associated a raised human hand with pain. Until trust is built, the dog will always react the same way.
The flinch is a tell.
Our past pains are revealed in very telling ways. Whatever makes us flinch shows an old wound that still isn’t fully healed. It reveals a soft spot we naturally seek to protect, so we don’t experience a repeat of former pain.
We all have them. Everyone flinches from something. For some, the flinch is obvious. Family, friends, and co-workers can all tell what makes some people flinch. For others, it’s not apparent. No one would ever know, but with a little consideration the signs are there.
Why do some flinch at the idea of:
going out on a date?
seeing a counselor for the struggling marriage?
having a tough conversation with their boss?
saying how they actually feel?
telling their mother no?
applying for the promotion?
The flinch is a tell. It reveals something deeper.
People flinch in a variety of ways. They hesitate to do something they should. They assume ill-intent from another person. They feel attacked. They take comments about an issue personally. To another person, it can feel as though they are being self-centered, frustrated, angry, or a host of other emotions. But in truth, they are simply afraid of being hurt.
As a beaten puppy flinches to prepare for pain, so:
a scared husband might raise his voice to scare off the difficult conversation.
a paranoid employee might accuse a co-worker hoping to pass the buck.
a teenager might lie about where they were.
a tired wife might accept blame assuming everything is her fault.
They flinch. We flinch. And the flinch reveals a soft spot within our emotional lives.
Because we all flinch, we should:
Be sensitive toward the soft spots of others. We should recognize the issues which frighten them. If we know their story, we should have compassion on difficult issues.
If your wife’s first husband left her, you should be very aware she might fear you leaving too.
If your husband’s father was an alcoholic, you might consider never having a drink. While we should never be punished for the mistakes of others, we should have a deep sensitivity toward others and adjust our actions accordingly.
Be introspective toward our own soft spots.
We should regularly reflect on why we respond the way we do. Many of our responses are not the logical replies to a circumstance. They are our natural defense mechanisms based on past experiences.
When your wife asks you a question, you might be responding to your wife and to your mother who always hovered over you.
When your boss desires more information, you might hear his request but you might also hear a former teacher who was passive aggressive.
Understanding how our past influences our present is vital to living a healthy emotional life. Only when we discover our soft spots can we begin to understand why we make the decisions we do.
Everybody flinches. In some aspect (or many aspects) of life, we respond in a way that does not fit the situation. Our response is logical to us because of our past experience, but it is a sign we are reading more into a situation than is there. It’s a symptom of past pain.
While the flinch is a negative aftershock of past trauma, it can also be a wonderful gift. It can reveal to us unresolved issues. The revelation becomes an invitation to discover why we are still influenced by what happened in the past.
What causes you to flinch?