Getting “triggered”

You hear the phrase “triggered” more often than ever before. What does it mean to you? When I hear the term, I tend to roll my eyes at least a little bit. Sometimes you hear the term as people use it as a defense for their emotions. They say something like: “you saying this thing or doing this thing TRIGGERED ME.” The capitalization here emphasizes the tone—people get MAD, angry, and frustrated when they are triggered (or at minimum, that is the set of emotions they present via body language). It is easy to write this and make a mockery of sorts of the people getting (or at least claiming) to be triggered.

But the reality is that I, too, profess to be triggered at things. I find myself BLAMING the world or external factors for my conditions. Sometimes I do this LOUDLY, like I play the (all too short term enticing) victim card in particular circumstances. And then I vocalize it—I complain to my friends or make jokes even blaming the world around me for my circumstances. But sometimes this is an internal monologue—someone says something to me and I FEEL MYSELF, even somatically, reacting. Reacting to something some other human being is doing. You probably are familiar with this.

Have you ever been really angry at someone? Like really really angry? Or scared? Or nervous? I would say that, before this year, I would struggle to answer this question with a ton of confidence (like sure I have been angry but how often have I registered the fight or flight, primal set of my emotions). This year, and perhaps for another story or book worth of essays, I definitely experienced the MOST INTENSE version of my emotions. And in experiencing those, I got intimately familiar with the SOMATIC side of emotions. The bodily response to feeling nervous and angry is not just mental. It is physical. Your heart starts beating faster. Your breath is faster. You get hot. You start shaking. It’s NOT fun. And a lot of the time, not all the time but a lot of the time, you start doing these things as a RESPONSE to the world around you.

It is getting triggered, just with different language.

So why then can I roll my eyes at others saying the words: “oh this triggers me” and yet I am getting explicitly or implicitly triggered ~all the time. That does not seem logically fair.

I roll my eyes—or at least inside of my own head I do—because I remember a thing I learned many years ago but only “crystallized” over the past few months, which is that THE WORLD IS NOT STIMULUS.

You get to choose how to respond to the world around you. I have written about this in different forms, at length, so I will not repeat everything here but the main idea is that once you accept that the world is going to THROW DARTS AT YOU IN DIFFERENT CAPACITIES, you can also accept that, no matter the circumstance, YOU GET TO CHOOSE HOW TO RESPOND (you do not get to choose whether or not you are responsible for the consequences of said actions, but you do get to choose how and when and if you respond. Note that sometimes the response is no response, and that is still a choice.

But once you move to a version of the world where you are choosing how to respond—you realize how different things can be. You realize that you can take control of your emotions. You realize that yes you can live presently and allow yourself to feel things, but how you EXTERNALIZE THEM is totally up to you.

So yes, you may FEEL AN EMOTION as a response to a thing someone else said or does.

But how you respond. That is up to you.

The trigger is not forcing you to do anything. You are an adult. You are a human being who can handle yourself and you get to choose how to respond.

Someone could do something really bad to you. Really really bad. And you can feel really hurt. And that will be scary and lonely and you will experience feelings of anger and frustration and sadness.

But what you do with said emotions—that is up to you. 100% up to you. You are responsible. Fun, but scary, but the truth.

You could imagine people handle their emotions differently. Children and adults, in theory, have different abilities here, but as you get older you could imagine being able to hone your ability to channel your emotions in a productive rather than destructive manner.

You have probably met adults who channel their emotions as you would think a child would.

They and you may experience similar feelings of ANXIETY, in a particular circumstance. But what you do with the emotions may be a lot different.

Imagine the following extremely scary scenario (at least to me). Imagine you are at a school and there is an active shooting situation.

You could imagine everyone has at least some amount of fear.

But what you do with the fear…that is what separates the person who panics from the person who rises the occasion to save the day.

There are certain professions where this instinct—the ability to channel fear into action rather than panic, is actually the job to be done. I would argue that this ability to channel emotions (rather than blame getting triggered) is extremely important to being effective as a leader, at organizations of nearly any size.

So just remember, that, in any circumstance, you get to choose how to respond. The trigger is not forcing you to do anything. It can be scary. It can be lonely.

If you are anything like me, you may have sheltered many of these emotions for years. You built a castle around your heart. And then it got broken through and you realized these emotions could kill your defenses and kill your pulse. You can try to rebuild the wall. It will get broken again and you will miss out.

Miss out because if you can tame the emotions coming through the wall. Befriend them. Get to know them.

You can REALLY change your life.


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