One of my clients was really surprised by how he felt the day after the US Presidential election last week. As he put it, his guy won, so he expected to feel elated the next day, but as he started seeing reactions posted online by people whose guy lost, he felt anxious, instead. When I looked at his Sensory Quotient, the personality tool I use in my work, I wasn’t surprised by his reaction at all.

His SQ pattern is one in which to survive, he feels that he needs to squelch what he wants and his desire to win, and instead, make sure that everyone around him is OK and that he gets their approval. So, if others around him aren’t happy about it, getting the result he wants paradoxically feels like it threatens his survival. And hence, his anxiety.

Adding to his anxiety, an attempt to reach across the political aisle to a friend and offer words of understanding was met with anger. This is pretty typical when someone is in his position—when someone who feels so uncomfortable with winning tries to make it better for the “losing” party. Since it’s not OK for people like my client win, the response they get back just confirms that even more. The part of them that only feels safe losing and making sure everyone else gets what they want says, “See? I told you that winning was a bad idea!”

None of this happens on a conscious level. It’s the automatic work of the energy stored in our sense of self, which was put into place by the time we were 2 1/2 years old. So, these patterns are deeply ingrained—this is just how it is to be human for each of us. The negative part of our pattern is what I call Learned Distress, the feeling that “there is something wrong with me,” which is what my client was feeling post-election. But our sense of self also has a core of what I call natural well-being, which allow us to feel good being the unique human beings that we are.

When we unlearn Learned Distress, well-being gets uncovered and can be the driving force in our lives. The shift in this arena that the election triggered for my client will be toward being able to openly express his own uniqueness and thoughts comfortably, and he will get positive feedback, as a result.

When someone tries to express their opinions in spite of this particular Learned Distress, they get the kind of backlash he got from his politically opposite friend. In essence, the energy he is putting out is, “It’s not safe to express my own opinion or to win,” so the energetic response he gets back when he is on the winning side is, “How dare you!” As well-being takes over, people like him get an entirely different response to expressing their opinions, even from the same people who have reacted negatively in the past. When Learned Distress is triggered as strongly as it was for my client last week, it’s usually because it is ready to be unlearned, so I’m looking forward to seeing a big shift soon for him.

How do you typically feel in a situation where you’ve either “won” or “lost”? If strong feelings are triggered for you, this can be a good clue to the Learned Distress your brain has stored since you were very young. And, these are the feelings that keep your uniqueness hidden from the world.

Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.