I think there is an unfortunate misconception that has come up for us in modern culture where we think that uncomfortable feelings are bad. We think that feeling anxious or depressed or confused or overwhelmed means there is something wrong. Or, means that we are wrong.
Specifically, in healing communities and modalities we have reached this place of prioritizing safety which is a good thing. I am not against safety and environments that promote healing. This is really the foundation of the polyvagal theory and other modalities like somatic experiencing that seek to bring a measure of regulation online to the body and brain through creating safe experiences of connection. And these modalities work.
However, there is a fine line here. And, I am noticing a real fear of triggers in the air.
We fear things that bring up reminders of bad feelings or bad memories, or feeling as though we are at the mercy of what other people do and what other people say, and other people’s opinions because we are in a state of high-sensitivity or stress or at a particularly vulnerable stage in trauma recovery.
But, here’s the thing. The goal in trauma recovery is increased resilience. A feeling of increased ability to handle and cope with life. We want to encourage the brain and the nervous system and to grow and to connect in new ways.
We don’t want to regress in functioning. We don’t want to create a bubble around us in which people are constantly walking on egg-shells to avoid triggering us.
And I see this happening. It’s almost like a collective codependency that is emerging and I think it’s dangerous and I don’t think it truly serves us and truly helps us grow.
Now - what I am not advocating is complete recklessness and callousness and insensitivity. In life there are paradoxes and there are sweet spots. And so with this concept I want to aim to hit and explain the sweet spot between trigger-fear (being AFRAID of triggers and afraid of life and other people) and being completely offensive and “triggering” on purpose. We can find balance and build true resilience and really heal and recover when we stop fearing triggers, learn to embrace difficult emotion/sensation, and live authentically from a place of truth and love.
There is a concept called stress-sensitivity which I learned from Dr. Bruce Perry’s book: The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog which I highly recommend. Stress-sensitivity is the idea that stress is good for us in measured doses. Stress is what helps our muscles grow and it’s what helps our brains grow (think weight-lifting, muscles become stronger as they are stressed and repaired).
BUT when we are exposed to stressors that are too big or too much for us too soon, we develop stress-sensitivity (think beginner weight-lifters trying to life 200lbs). In this case, we are actually weakened by the stressor because the dose of stress was too much too soon. Too much stress chronically over time is traumatic. This is really where we are when we are looking to recover from childhood trauma. We have become sensitive to stressors to the point that we feel like we can’t handle any stress at all due to growing up in chaotic/abusive/stressful/neglectful environments.
Even though we are stress-sensitive, the concept still stands that SOME stress is good because it helps us to grow. It helps us to build resiliency.
And so - as an adult YOU are responsible for managing YOUR OWN TRIGGERS.
As an adult, you are responsible for managing your own triggers.
You are responsible for knowing what you can and cannot handle. You are responsible for taking the actions you need to take when you are faced with a trigger. You cannot control or manage how other people behave and think and act. And the more you try to do that, the less resilient you will become, the less capable you will become of handling stressors and triggers, and the more you will sell yourself short of healing.
You absolutely cannot control what other people do, say, think, and act. You can only know yourself deeply, and work on yourself.
So, this means that - you can’t force your family to behave in a way that is mindful of your triggers. You can’t control your friends and how they act or what they say. You can’t control your boss and how they run a meeting or speak to you.
What you can do is monitor yourself.
How do YOU feel during the interaction?
How do YOU think during the interaction?
And what YOU want to do about it?
And this doesn’t even have to involve anyone else but you.
if you are afraid of triggers it does not mean anything is wrong with you.
But, what it does mean is that you have fallen into a belief that you can’t handle it.
That you must control other people in order to avoid feeling uncomfortable feelings.
And this is not helpful.
What we WANT to do is - we want to become capable of KNOWING ourselves. And we want to reach a place of knowing that we can handle life. And we can respond to life how we feel we need or want to at any given moment at any given time. This is resilience.
As adults, we have this power. We have this choice. And sometimes, we have an urge to give that choice and power away to someone else to try to get them to do the things we want them to do so we don’t have to feel ways we don’t want to feel. But it doesn’t work.
And so if you’re reading this and you’re thinking: “but I really don’t feel that I can handle life. I really don’t feel like I can handle any emotions or sensations. I really feel like I can’t.”
I want to tell you that you CAN. You CAN decide to leave a situation that doesn’t serve you. You CAN turn off a show that is triggering and do something loving toward yourself. You CAN fiercely stand in solidarity with, and protection of yourself.
And you do not need anyone else’s behaviour to change in order for you to do that. You really can be responsible for yourself.
When we live in fear of triggers our lives shrink. When we live in fear of triggers we try to control other people’s behaviour. When we live in fear of triggers we abdicate responsibility for ourselves and our own emotions, our own recovery, and our own healing.