Forewarned is Forearmed

by Mark Sichel, LCSW

Many of us get into trouble by overreacting to certain people and certain situations. We all have "hot spots": people or situations that time and again cause us to react irrationally, with anger, or out of control. It's very difficult to effect healthy change in our lives if we succumb to our hot spots at the slightest provocation. Learning to identify your hot spots can enable you to avoid losing control.

Each of us has our own unique hot spots, as these danger zones are nasty side effects of each of our personal histories. We have found through our clinical experience that if people can become aware of their specific hot spots, they have an easier time staying out of trouble with themselves and with others.

"Trouble" can mean anything from inappropriate overreactions to plummeting self-esteem to depression to disorganization to anxiety to confusion. When our hot spot feelings, people, or situations cause us to run into trouble, we are left feeling powerless and ineffectual, victims of happenstance. If however, we learn to manage our hot spots, we gain tremendous personal power and strength.

Let's take Peter*, a client who came to talk with me because he had chronic problems at family celebrations and holidays. Peter is a successful professional, happily married with two children, yet found himself getting into fights with his family at almost every holiday event.

Peter reported that while he usually got along fine with his family, the holidays would get completely out of control. After we explored the history of these events, it became clear that everyone in Peter's family liked to have a few drinks before the holiday meal, and that was when the fights usually began.

When I pointed this fact out, Peter quickly reacted and said, "I'm not an alcoholic. This only happens around my family." He was surprised when I agreed with him and told him that while he is not an alcoholic, he is selectively a problem drinker around his family, particularly during holiday time. Peter's hot spots include alcohol, the holidays, his mother and his sister. The combination of all four was leading to the blow out fights at holiday time.

Encouraged, Peter explored additional hot spots in his life. He noted that he often had a hard time controlling what he said around female authority figures and made a conscious effort to abstain from alcohol at work events as a result. He reflected that he should have a similar policy around his family during the holidays.

Being aware of your hot spots can forearm you against problems, particularly during the holiday season when tensions run high in general.

Check off the people or situations that make YOU feel irrationally angry or out of control. Keep the list as your personal tool for empowerment and strength:

My mother
My father
My sister
My brother
My husband
My wife
My in-laws
My step-mother
My step-father
My aunt
My uncle
Feeling like I'm being controlled
Having unstructured time
Depressed people
Being bored
Being taken by surprise
People who are drunk
Male authority figures
Female authority figures
Wealthy people
Unsuccessful people
Sleep deprivation
Being criticized
Being praised
People who invade my boundaries and personal space
Silent, withholding people
Hysterical over-reactive people
Needy people
Dramatic people
People who don't work hard
Being asked for monetary loans
Being asked to lend things
Grandiose people
Self-effacing people
Careless people
Anal people
Religious People
Athiests and agnostics
Judgmental people

Click submit and print out your results. Keep your Hot Spots List in a safe and convenient place. Prevent emotional wear and tear by using this list to remind yourself what to avoid during critical times. Add to it if there are other hot spots you can think of that create problems in your life.

This is a great tool for personal empowerment and emotional strength. Use it freely and liberally.

*The names of all clients have been changed to protect their identities.


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