Last week someone triggered the living nightlights out of me with a passive aggressive response to something I retrospectively realised I’d been a far too blunt about. (NB: Pissing people off with my bluntness = story of my life!)
After being triggered, it took me a good couple of days before I even acknowledged that
my cold walls of “fucked offness” had been activated in defence.
I’ve shut down on and walked away from many friendships in the past because it all felt too hard. I always felt like I was in the right, and it was them causing the problem, not me, naturally.
I used to think that triggers and emotional conflict in relationships and friendships were a problem to be avoided like the plague. I thought conflict was a sign that we weren’t compatible.
What I didn’t realise back then was that “This is too hard” / ”I can’t be bothered with this” was actually Neville’s code for “I can’t deal with my own emotions.” So back then my only option was to push anyone away that made me feel any emotional discomfort.
AKA my cold walls of defence.
My defences are so strong and so ingrained, that when I’m really triggered – often without my conscious awareness – my psyche leaps onto our high horse, and off we gallop up into our cold, isolated tower, with concrete walls blocking anyone from getting to us.
Then, feeling safe and eerily calm up high in my concrete tower, I peer down at the person who’s triggered me, and give them the finger, safe in the knowledge that I am right, and they are wrong.
In these moments I feel so cold and so shut down, that I’m not even aware of the fact that I do actually care, deep down, and that somewhere under that angry ice queen defence, I’m actually feeling hurt, or shame, or guilt, or rejection, or disappointment, or a toxic cocktail of all five.
All this can happen in a matter of seconds, long before my higher mind comes back online and realises that things have gone awry.
Luckily, as I’ve started to learn skills to regulate my emotions rather than avoiding them, I’ve come to realise that triggers and emotions are an inevitable and completely unavoidable part of all good relationships.
And that when we’re not being an emotionally-avoidant knob, triggers are actually not that big a deal at all.
Whether we recognise it or not, we are ALL riddled with irrational triggers.
What matters most in any relationship is how effectively we can communicate, repair and move on from difficulty. How openly and kindly we can work to see each others’ perspectives, listen non-judgmentally (even when we disagree), and take responsibility for our 50% of any conflict.
Even when we feel completely justified in our behaviour, we can still acknowledge that our actions impact others. Sometimes negatively, despite our best efforts.
Defensive behaviour (when we go to war trying to “prove” why our behaviour is justified), is no different than a child having a tantrum.
If you end the argument feeling superior, righteous and justified, as I often have, I guarantee you are still interacting with the childish version of your mind.
When we can zoom out and see that nothing is black or white, and that multiple perspectives are at play in any situation, only then are we truly interacting using our wise mind – the wise guy.
In Japan there is an art form called Kintsugi.
It is the art of repairing broken pottery with gold, or other precious metals.
They believe that the “gold” is in the repair; that cracks and imperfections add a richness and depth of character to the pottery.
I believe the same applies to any good relationship.
Triggers are where the gold is.
When we can be in friendships and relationships where our triggers are able to be brought to the surface and healed by a safe, non-judgemental relationship, the relationship thrives, and so do both the individuals in it.
I believe this is why we’re often drawn to the people who will trigger us the most. Especially in romantic relationships.
Like everything in nature, I reckon the human psyche just wants to keep growing, evolving and becoming more conscious.
Little did I know that all those people who triggered me in the past – who I shut down and pushed away – they were actually my greatest teachers, not problems to be avoided.
Like pretty much everyone ever, I was never taught to value emotional conflict as an opportunity for growth.
We continue to exist in a society that promotes positivity and perfection at all costs, while sweeping difficult emotions, negativity, and imperfections under the carpet.
If we can stop expecting relationships to be free of negative emotions and triggers, we could all use our relationships for what they’re meant for: growth, safety, and healing.
We all know the basics of how to repair physical wounds, but we could all get better at understanding how to repair relationship wounds.
We don’t get angry at a friend if they trip over and accidentally hurt us – we know they didn’t mean to.
Yes it hurt, but we’re not going to get all passive aggressive and punish them.
So when someone “trips” into trigger mode, and accidentally hurts us, couldn’t we try to show the same level of compassion and understanding?
We know that to get stronger muscles, it requires a bit of pain – our muscles need to break apart a bit in order to repair and grow back stronger.
Why not welcome emotional difficulty in relationships as an opportunity to strengthen our connections?
Let’s start not only expecting our friends and partners to trigger the bejaysus out of us – let’s start welcoming the triggers when they come!
Next time someone triggers the crap out of you, see if you can observe your own defensive reaction.
Instead of walking away, or fuming about it behind their back, try to zoom out and see it as an opportunity for growth.
And instead, strengthen your relationships by repairing them with gold.