“It is untenable to go through life as an exposed wound.”
― Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist
I still remember the time when I couldn’t listen to anyone I disagreed with, especially politically.
It was either team blue or team red, and I wasn’t going to listen to the other side.
One of my goals this year was to push myself to listen to people I had nothing in common with.
Different ideas, different ways of thinking, in some cases, the complete opposite of everything I stand for.
Anyone who would usually trigger me to feel angry or defensive was invited to permeate my mind with their viewpoints.
This exercise has also led me to examine other things that trigger me and work to heal myself.
What is an emotional trigger?
A trigger is anything that incites a reactive, often intense, emotional response within you.
It could be something someone said, an event, or an article you read.
It could be a smell, sound, or thought that reminds you of a past experience.
It could even be seeing someone you dislike or hearing a statement you strongly disagree with.
What causes these reactions?
This part of our brain also controls our “fight-or-flight” response, which is useful when in danger, but can be difficult to manage when faced with situations that incite strong emotions in our daily lives.
These intense responses can lead us to react without thinking clearly, feeling out of control, and in immense emotional pain.
Learning to engage with your triggers and the underlying causes can help heal you, improving your quality of life.
The following are five reasons why you should face your triggers, head-on, rather than ignore them.
1. Avoidance makes it worse.
“True emotional healing doesn’t happen without feeling. The only way out is through.” — Jessica Moore
When you avoid facing your triggers, you are training your mind to let your emotions take over. You are ceding control of your reactions.
This means living life based on how you feel, rather than on how you act or what you do, which is quite a precarious state to be in.
I spent years living a life based on my emotions. If I woke up sad, then the entire day would entail me moping around the house.
“Look for the why behind your feelings of hurt and pain because they signal where we should make some changes.” ― Nanette Mathews
If I woke up angry, then everything that followed would anger me. I remember once getting irrationally angry because I couldn’t find any hair scrunchies!
Eventually, I realized that I had to get to the root of my triggers, rather than just ignore them.
Here’s how I did it:
Start by thinking of something that triggered you recently. What happened that incited a strong emotional response from you? Write the answer down.
Then ask yourself,
- What could be the underlying cause of how you responded in this instance?
- What were you actually annoyed about? Could it have been something that happened earlier in the day?
- How would you have preferred to react? What could you do better next time?
A lot of the time, my answers would speak for themselves. I would realize that I was carrying around some heavy emotions (guilt, fear, jealousy) from another event that I am just projecting again, in a different instance.
Working through your emotions and understanding your reactions is the first step towards having fewer trigger events.
If you avoid dealing with your triggers, you may turn to certain coping mechanisms to ease your emotional trauma.
Unfortunately, many turn to substance abuse to numb their pain, which can cause further complications.
In my case, I would shut down and turn inwards to protect myself from further discomfort, wallowing in my sorrow rather than attempting to heal.
“By healing the parts of ourselves that are frozen in the past, we are able to bring them back into the present — and each time we do this we become less fragmented, and more whole.”
― Jessica Moore
Resorting to coping mechanisms means staying in your comfort zone, which keeps you from growing and improving.
I worked on easing away from my coping mechanisms by first forcing myself to sit with my pain and understand it, then write out how I was feeling, in detail, which helped me come to terms with my emotions.
These exercises helped me learn to embrace, rather than fight, what I was feeling, a key aspect of building emotional intelligence.
When you don’t work on your current triggers, you risk finding even more things to trigger you.
This leads to increased emotional sensitivity that can make life a living hell in some cases.
When I was still struggling with my emotional triggers, I went through a period of such intense sensitivity that I couldn’t listen to anyone I disagreed with or hear any negative news.
My heart would beat so fast and my mood would suddenly deteriorate with the slightest self-imposed “assault” on my sensitivities.
Already being a highly sensitive person didn’t help matters either, but I worked through my sensitivities by exposing myself to them on purpose.
Felt intense anger when discussing feminism with my mom? I delved into this topic, amongst the long list of others we disagreed on, regularly.
Eventually, I could discuss these matters calmly and deal with push-back a lot better.
Defensive when someone criticized my weight? I started talking about my weight more and asking those who criticized me for tips, allowing them to voice their views.
This always led to a productive conversation about health and I came away having learned something new, rather than feeling down. The critics also stopped criticizing because they could see I was working on getting healthier.
Sometimes the best way to conquer what hurts you is to feel it more and get used to it, rather than hide from it.
2. Victim mentality is hindering you.
“How would your life be different if…You stopped validating your victim mentality? Let today be the day…You shake off your self-defeating drama and embrace your innate ability to recover and achieve.”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
Not facing your triggers and taking responsibility for them can lead to you cultivating a victim mentality, constantly blaming others for your negative emotions.
Taking responsibility for yourself, your emotions, reactions, and everything you do is a core element of being a healthy, well-adjusted adult.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with feeling down and victimized for a short period, just don’t let it get out of hand.
By thinking that the world is out to get you, you are giving up your autonomy to choose how you lead your life. You are also giving up your ability to see life in a more positive light when things are bad.
When you feel victimized, you’re engaging in self-deception, deceiving yourself that others are at fault for how you feel.
However, this means you are ignoring the real reason: You aren’t facing your deep-seated emotions and triggers.
3. You need to build resilience.
“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.”
― Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven
By not facing your triggers, you are also avoiding becoming stronger emotionally and mentally.
Strong enough to deal with the curveballs life is bound to throw at you.
Let’s use the example of someone’s words bringing out an emotional reaction.
If one person’s words hurt you, then how will you deal with multiple people saying multiple hurtful things?
As a highly sensitive person, I had to fight the urge to find something to feel sad or annoyed about in every sentence someone uttered.
And some days are still harder than others, but I managed to build up my resilience to people's off-the-cuff remarks by realizing the following:
- Sometimes people say things they don’t actually mean.
- You’re just reading too deeply into their words and misconstruing things.
- Maybe they’re just having a bad day.
And if the person actually wanted to hurt me, so what?!
What other people think, in the grand scheme of things, really doesn’t matter.
The more you face what bothers you, the stronger you will become and the biggest challenges won’t topple you. Rather, they’ll help you grow.
4. You’ll get to know yourself better.
“People say where you hurt the most is where your spirit is.” — Mustafa, The Gift (Season 1, Episode 6)
By understanding your triggers, what hurts you the most, you are also learning more about yourself.
You begin to cultivate the ability to see behind your negative emotions, building emotional awareness, which encourages self-reflection.
The better you can handle your emotions, the more confident you will be, which will, in turn, help you handle whatever bothers you a lot better.
Feeling confident within yourself will also give you the strength to better deal with people who might want to put you down.
When you know yourself, life becomes less of a struggle. You make choices more easily and handle crises calmly.
5. Your relationships will improve.
“Being in a relationship with some people is like pushing a boat through sand. I used to have the time and energy for that kind of nonsense, but not anymore.
Relationships should be a wonderful journey of exploration and love; not grinding resistance.” ― Steve Maraboli
A good relationship isn’t just about the other person. It’s also about you.
If you love yourself, are confident, and don’t let what is outside of you shake you or bring you down, then your relationships will thrive.
You’ll take all that goodness within and share it with those you love and care for the most.
I’ve always believed in the power of giving to myself before giving to others.
Before expecting more of others, go within and look at what you’re offering.
An insecure person who is sensitive about everything and blames anyone but themselves for their problems can’t love others.
You must love and understand yourself first. This can only be accomplished by doing the hard work and feeling the pain you’ve been ignoring.
To grow, you must face and understand your triggers. When you are triggered by the slightest discomfort, it is a sign that your emotional reactions are off-balance.
The first step towards facing your triggers is to question yourself and get to the root cause.
Then, you have to feel the pain. You won’t know why you feel what you feel unless you put yourself in situations that cause you discomfort.
Victim mentality, lack of resilience, and not knowing yourself are holding you back from realizing your true potential.
Not only will facing your triggers improve your relationship with yourself, but it will also improve your relationships with others.
Give to yourself first, before giving to others, and watch your world transform.
Note: The above advice has helped me, but it may not work for you. If you require mental health support, please seek the help of a licensed medical professional.
Hey there! I’m Razane. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to read my story! I really appreciate it.
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