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The Change Triangle

The Change Triangle

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How Does The Change Triangle Work?

The Change Triangle is a tool and a guide to carry a person from a place of disconnection back to their true Self. It works by getting people reacquainted with core emotions like joy, anger, sadness, fear, and excitement.

The concepts underlying the Change Triangle tool were first described by Dr. David Malan in the 1970s and later by Diana Fosha, Ph.D. in her pioneering text The Transforming Power of Affect.


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What Are Core Emotions And Which Are They?

Core emotions are largely physical sensations that we come to recognize and name as a particular emotion. Core emotions inform us about our environment. Am I safe or in danger? What do I need/want and don’t want? Am I sad? Am I hurt? What brings me pleasure? What disgusts me? What excites me? The core emotions are: sadness, fear, anger, joy, excitement, sexual excitement and disgust.


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Core Emotions Are Hard- And Pre-Wired

Core emotions are hard-wired in the middle part of our brains, meaning they are not subject to conscious control. Triggered by the environment, each core emotion is pre-wired to set off a host of physiological reactions that prime us for an action that is meant to be adaptive, like running from danger.

Core emotions are brilliant: if we don’t block them, their innate programming tells us important information to help us thrive.


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What Are Inhibitory Emotions And Which Are They?

Inhibitory emotions block core emotions. Shame, anxiety and guilt, the inhibitory emotions, block core emotions when: 1) they are in conflict with what pleases others whom we need like parents, peers, and partners; 2) core emotions become too intense and our brain wants to shut them down to protect us from the emotional overwhelm


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What Are Defenses And Which Are They?

Defenses are anything we do to avoid feeling either core or inhibitory emotions. Depression is a defense because in that state we are out of touch with our core emotions. There are an infinite number of defenses but some of the other common ones in our culture are: joking, sarcasm, too much “screen time,” criticizing, spacing out, procrastination, preoccupation, negative thinking, misguided aggression, working too much, over-exercising, over-eating, under-eating, cutting, sex, obsession, addiction, etc.


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How The Change Triangle Tool Works

When an event or situation causes us distress or to be off-balance we must:

  1. Determine where we are on The Change Triangle: defense, inhibitory, core
  2. Determine where we want to go, moving clockwise around The Change Triangle towards and through core emotions, which inherently provide guidance to peace, perspective, or solution.


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The Gift Of Distance And Direction

The Change Triangle is a place to turn to in that immediate moment when something within us, or someone or something in our environment causes you to experience emotional struggle. Just by figuring out “where we are on the Triangle”, we can 1) gain some distance and perspective from our immediate feeling, and 2) have some direction of what to do to help ourselves feel better.


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The Final Destination: Below The Triangle

The Final Destination: Below The Triangle

The state below The Triangle is a calm state of peace and openheartedness - where we all hope to spend much more time. It is accessed by “listening” to what the core emotion of the moment is telling us, by honoring what it says and by letting the associated body sensations move through freely until they naturally subside. Core emotions are wavelike in nature: rising then ebbing.


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“An idea is something that won’t work unless you do.” - Thomas A. Edison


The Change Triangle is a tool, a map and a guide that we can turn to to manage upsetting moments, or when we are in conflict with ourselves or those we love, or when we’re looking to understand ourselves more deeply. Practiced often enough, it can become practice. And with practice, comes change; hopefully, a change towards emotional resilience and stability.

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