At the start of the year, I’ve been on a bit of a mission to learn about the things that give me a negative emotional reaction. We all have these uncomfortable emotions of anger or sadness, but our inclination is to avoid them. We lock them up in a vault to later be exposed by another triggering event. There’s a lot of knowledge to be gained by these triggers though. They tell us about the aspects of life that we find frustrating or unsatisfactory. These tells are, of course, unique to an individual’s experience.
The Shame that Envelopes the Trigger
The problem with triggers is not that we are angry or sad. It’s associated with the shame that comes with having these emotions. The shame is what keeps us bottling our emotions and not really working through the events that trigger us. We feel this shame because we live in a culture that doesn’t allow us to express emotion, yet emotion is as natural as the water we drink. Yet, when we are furious or tears fall down our faces, we are not meeting the “rational” expectation of other people. The antidote for me is to remove the shame and try to figure out what about this event has me in such a vulnerable position.
It’s the Falling in Love
The idea is to fall in love with our triggers. By love, I mean the definition of understanding. We have to know our triggers intimately rather than avoiding them altogether. The reason being is that there are going to be situations in which we have no control over. Sure, there are things we can avoid, but for the most part, life is unavoidable. I would venture to say that avoidance is probably the worst solution. We do, however, have control over how we react. If we dismiss our reactions to what disturbs us, we’ll never recognize what our reactions are and respond accordingly.
Acknowledging and understanding our triggers can help us better have compassion around the situation. We dismiss the situation as a whole because we know where our discomfort comes from. We feel shame because the event isn’t how it should be, but in truth, we don’t know come to grips with its alternatives. If we see things as only positive, and something negative happens, we can only see the event through the lens of our expectations.
Traffic can be triggering to someone who was expecting a smooth commute, but traffic means nothing to a person who lives in a metropolitan city like Los Angeles. Traffic for these commuters is just a way of life, thus there’s no reason to be mad at it. The event is only triggering because we don’t have any other option. When we begin to understand the other side of the coin and start to accept the unexpected, we start to have a choice in the way we’d like to respond rather than reacting unconsciously.