A few weeks ago a new friend triggered the bejaysus out of me, fist-to-the-gut style in a bar in Richmond.
Over beers, he asked me if I could read over his new business bio.
I told him I’d get to it once I’d gotten settled in Spain. My inbox was already overflowing and unfinished work tasks were piling up in the lead up to going overseas for a month.
He wasn’t having a bar of it. “Read it now while I go get you another beer” he laughed.
“What, am I just here to be your business coach?!” I laughed.
To which he replied with a straight face, “Yea, pretty much.”
I knew he was joking, but the knife sliced through me anyway.
Naturally, I became stubborn, and told him to fuck off with his bio.
In the end he pressed me til I gave in and read the bloody thing while he went to the bar.
A few weeks later while chatting about business again, I decided to practice my vulnerability skills with him, à la Brené Brown. I told him that his comment had hurt, even though I knew he was joking.
And then, 5 minutes later, out of nowhere, I started crying. And then I laughed at myself for such an unexpected bout of crying.
Then I grinned despite still crying, because I knew I’d unearthed a new trigger.
I was alone in Spain at the time, and it suddenly hit me that my mate had helped me find an old splinter that was there lurking, barely disguised beneath the surface.
One of the most beautiful things I’ve learnt through the work I do is how good it feels to welcome unexpected emotions as a symptom of an old splinter that’s finally worked its way to the surface, ready to be brought into the light and removed.
I know that discovering and processing it will allow me to let go of yet another small burden that I didn’t know that I was carrying.
It’s weird to think, but I now genuinely enjoy finding triggers, even when they feel like a stab. Granted, I’ll sometimes still become reactive in the moment, but it’s usually not long til I welcome whatever lesson I’m about to learn about myself.
This time, I’d found a very old fear that people will only ever love me for my skills or for the value I offer them, not just for me.
I knew that my new friend was partly keen to be mates because of my business and mindfulness knowledge, since he’s also working on something similar. In fact it was how we met; he came up to chat after I ran a corporate mindfulness workshop at his workplace.
When I was younger, people never seemed to want to be mates with me of their own accord.
I was an awkward, socially inept, try-hard sort of ninja, and predictably, people did not flock to befriend me.
Even one of my English teachers once said to me at school camp, as I studiously put the finishing touches on a mermaid sandcastle,
“Do you think maybe you take life a bit seriously, Andrea?”
“No.” I answered seriously. I had no idea what she was talking about.
Way to pile on the insecurity, Mrs Nelson!
Like so very many of us, I rapidly developed some pretty solid insecurity about my lack of loveability.
Very early on I began a highly strategic campaign to find ways to “make” people like me.
Since I’m a very practical brained person (a “thinking” type rather than a “feeling” type), I went about this in a very mathematical way. Which of course is not very effective for making friends with females, who were far more empathetically and socially attuned than I was.
I started out by trying to be the best at athletics and sport using my competitive nature. Unfortunately it turned out that beating other kids in races didn’t make them love me that much.
Next I tried out being cool.
I knew that strategy had failed the day my Mum made the mistake of letting me dress myself for school one day.
I proudly rocked up to primary school with a tight baby-blue velvet t-shirt, lycra shorts, and running shoes.
My neighbour/ best friend looked at me with embarrassment in her eyes. She was cool, fashionable, and smoked, which made her double cool.
Cool was never going to work for me, but I persevered for the next couple of decades, always choosing the cooler option in everything I did.
Slumping on the school mat instead of sitting up straight, photography over statistics, architecture over engineering, snowboarding over skiing, Berlin and Nicaragua over Paris, Spice Girls over horses.
I used to love horses, but squashed that shit right down as soon as I realised that horsey people were NOT cool.
More recently I’ve used my business knowledge, my coaching skills, and my ability to listen non-judgmentally and give unbiased advice (when asked) to “secure” the friendship of my current mates.
Even though a more rational part of me knows that surely not ALL my friends are using me, Neville is pretttty sure that’s complete bollocks and I really am just a glorified business and mindfulness coach for everyone I know.
It’s true that a lot of people I come across are inspired by my business and the freedom I’ve created, and so these days it’s not uncommon for people to be keen to hang out with me.
It’s what I always wanted – yet it just proves Neville’s point –
I’m not loveable on my own merit.
Minds are such crafty buggers, I thought it was worth writing about this particular trigger discovery, because I’m certain there are thousands of you who share a similar trigger.
As always, it’s my hope that my personal stories will help you find and work to release your own triggers, even if they’re not exactly the same as mine.
Next time I notice myself feeling uncomfortable when a conversation with a mate veers into business/ mindfulness/ coaching territory, I’ll be more aware of Neville’s “I’m being used” fear.
I might even continue the Brené-style vulnerability with friends I feel safe with so we can laugh about it how silly minds can be.
The cool thing is, no matter how old we get, there are always more triggers to be unearthed.
Which means that any “stabby-in-the-chest” feelings can be welcomed with curiosity rather than fearfully avoided.
Because a trigger discovered is a trigger halved.
And a trigger shared is a trigger shattered.
Or a splinter removed. Or something.
I’ll let you know, next time Neville stabs me.