None of us is above being triggered. Even the most evolved person in the room—someone with a healthy, trained mindset—will struggle from time to time. We all have moments when we’re tired, we’re drained, and our batteries are running low. And it’s at times like these when we’re most open to being triggered.
Everything goes wrong one day, and suddenly we can fall victim to our situations. Someone says something that doesn’t sit right with us and we get defensive, or vice versa. When we’re triggered, we tend to react as if everything we’re feeling in that moment is the unequivocal truth. In actuality, it’s usually just our one-sided perception of the story, and it’s driven by past hurts.
And so begins our downfall.
Adding fuel to the fire
The second someone feels triggered, their defenses go up. And the reaction will often create an equally defensive reaction in whoever else is involved. It’s like a chain reaction.
When somebody feels like they’ve been made into the bad guy in a situation, they’ll naturally want to defend themselves and justify their actions. During tense moments, those reasons are often at each other’s expense. We say, “You made me so mad,” pushing that discomfort onto them. But they fight back with “Well, I wouldn’t have said that if…,” getting defensive themselves. It’s a deflection of guilt or upset, and we begin the blame and justification dance that has no winners and often leaves all parties feeling sore.
When both parties are triggered and defensive, neither is dealing with the truth of the moment. Neither is accepting the role they may or may not have played. Perhaps nobody did anything wrong, but defensiveness has certainly escalated matters. And now both sides are fighting completely different fights based on differing views of the same situation, and no one is dealing with what’s going on at the moment. Which is that both sides are dealing with some past sore point.
We react like the complaint now is the truth—when we’re just triggered by an emotional echo. Whether one person feels triggered or both people do, we fall victim to our reactions, focusing on the often minor current issue. Both add fuel to the fire, and nobody wins. Before we know it, two people who love each other have just fallen out over something utterly trivial.
Everything links back
In these instances, the exact details of why we became triggered in the first place are largely irrelevant. The point is that, even though a real comment or action might have triggered us, our reaction isn’t about the actual situation at hand.
We’re only ever triggered by the past, and our triggers will always stem back to something from our childhood. For the first 20 years of our life, life happens to us. Then, we spend the rest of it dealing with what happened to us.
But if we’re not aware of this—and neither is the other party—how can we find a resolution? We aren’t walking in each other’s shoes. We can’t know exactly where they’re coming from. We’re two people with different pain points and perspectives. It’s like a conversation where both parties are speaking different languages and wondering why no one is making any sense.
Learning to let go
What has us stuck in these triggered moments is running over things again and again. We’re trapped trying to make sense of truth in the present moment that simply doesn’t exist there but in our past.
So, to move past this, we need to work on our awareness and try to catch ourselves. If someone is consistently talking over us or not listening and it triggers us, we should ask ourselves, who first did this to us? Was it a parent? Or a sibling? When did we first not feel heard or respected in conversations? If we can look back and grow our awareness of what we need at the moment, we can explain to someone what triggers us now, what our sore point is, and what we need to help us feel heard and understood.
Also, it’s worth knowing we will often put ourselves around people who will repeat behaviors we didn’t like when we were younger, so we can continue working out how to handle it and grow past it. This is a subconscious choice, but one we all make. Ever noticed someone dealing with the same things again and again, like repeating the type of significant other they go for? The more we engage with the tense, defensive moments today, the more we are buying into them being real and about us now. They aren’t about now.
Instead, we want to notice the moments when we’re triggered. Or when we might be triggering someone else. It’s no easy feat. It’s an ongoing exercise in strengthening our awareness and ability to detach from what is here, to see what is going on there in our minds and our past. And the more we practice this, the more evolved we become, the more we strengthen this muscle, and the quicker we will let these moments go when they arise.