Put The Safety On Your Triggers
Unlike the babyproof-ed house you grew up in, the world does not have a metaphorical stair guard or cabinet latch to protect you from the things that threaten you. The best we have are self-regulation and the ‘Unfollow’ button, through which we manage our anxiety and avoidance of the things that scare the living daylights out of us. Among the list - our triggers. Triggers, the people and scenarios that fucked us up in life that we can’t seem to shake. The things that still give us knots in our stomach when we think about them, and transform us back into stuttering, angry children when face to face with them. They are the big, bad wolves that send us back into fight or flight mode.
Most of my triggers have to do (unsurprisingly) with my relationships and my Mother, and I suspect this is true for many of us. Many of us are triggered by:
Confronting a negative thought or memory like, failing a class, getting in trouble, being abused.
Confronting a person or group of persons, like an ex, an attacker, a feared social or racial group.
Confronting our own imperfections like, not being who we thought we were, hypocrisy, or internalized phobias.
Whatever it is, a trigger is something that we give the power to destroy us. It is something that materializes through experience and, like a gun, when pulled it causes an explosive chain reaction that almost always ends in tears (and excessive quantities of Doritos). Every time I sit down to write - every time I think it’s stupid and want to give up, I always have the urge to load up on snacks. I will literally run to the Metro for handfuls of Cadbury Eggs because thinking about what to do next is ‘too hard’. THE METRO IS 2KM AWAY AND I HATE RUNNING...So, what do we do about our triggers? Is it reasonable to tiptoe around life hoping to never encounter these scenarios? Or do we face the music and hope for the best?
I used to be the tiptoeing type. A literal fucking ostrich. Hoping to forget my super sinful gay thoughts, my exes, my childhood phobias, and all the bad things I ever did. I never wanted to look reality - my reality - in the face. As a result, I was scared of sharing any thought I had with the world, threatened by the judgement of others and blame that I always took on. The story I reinforced for several years was that I was responsible for everything that went wrong - every little thing at home, in school, in relationships, and in life in general. I thought I was a fuck up that needed to work much harder to make up for my fucked up-ness. I was triggered in any situation where my performance was in question, which is pretty much every situation ever. GOOD TIMES.
It was not good times. I have been prone to over-drinking and workaholism in search of good times, and to fade my triggers. Turns out, this is the polar opposite of what one should do to sort out one’s triggers, as the numbing effect is only temporary, and then you are left with wicked burnout and hangover anxiety plus your problems, compounded by time. It’s simple math, people. And while these times were still really good, instructive years where I met several lifelong allies, my great times truly started when I started to look at myself objectively and lovingly. Taking an interest in improving myself from the inside this time, rather than starting with outside achievements. Rather than striving for that next new job, or that next title, or the next raise, or the next certification, or the next relationship, or the next trend...rather than searching outside for something to anchor to, I felt I had to learn to anchor to the only constant thing in my life - myself.
Our triggers are only as powerful as we make them. We make them bigger with the reinforcing stories we tell ourselves, as well as the effort we put into pretending they aren’t there. These strategies don’t work, because it builds the explosiveness of the trigger. It fills the gun with the bullets, the gunpowder, the energy it needs to combust when the trigger is pulled. It is naive to think that we could ever entirely rid ourselves of our triggers, but there are measures we can take to protect ourselves.
Fill It With Blanks - Be conscious of the trigger and it’s likeliness to recur. When the thought pops up sit with it, instead of feeding into it with emotions like panic, worry, grief, anger. Breath for a couple of minutes and practice accepting that right now, things are as they are and it’s okay. And remember ‘practice’ means sometimes you will fail, but with each failure comes a lesson on how to do it better.
Make Yourself Bulletproof - Invest in anchoring yourself by developing your confidence, self-esteem, and belief system. Begin to explore what it means to be you, without your labels or achievements. Develop your sense of faith, trusting in the way things naturally just are.
Over the next week, make a note of the topics that make you feel most uncomfortable. When you shut down conversations, when you feel nervous and unsettled.
Try letting go of those negative emotions in the moment, by stating: “I am good, despite this unwanted feeling. I accept it and I’m working on myself. In time, this will be a distant memory.”