August 9, 2017

Avoid those Primal, Angry Reactions when you’re Triggered.

It never fails.

I hover a few feet above the ground offering kisses of well-wishes until someone takes aim at my heart and gut (intentionally or unintentionally) with their adverse behavior, negativity, or worst of the worst…judgement.

Suddenly, I am triggered and no longer the angelic being of good tidings; I am a demonic she-devil raging in self-defense.

Let’s face it; we’ve all been there. The off-handed criticism of a friend or family member, the scrutiny of our bosses, the annoying driver who cut us off—it strikes at our core, and our gut compels us to react.

However, it’s not just others’ behavior that affects us; we can trigger ourselves. Yes. It’s true. It is the stinging twinge of jealousy we try to hide when we see someone else succeed or come into good fortune. It is feeling marginalized when others give us slighted attention. In these cases, the shot through the heart is ours, we’re to blame, and as Jon Bon Jovi would sing, “We give love a bad name!”

Regardless of how we’re triggered, our reactions are primal. Blood rushes to our extremities and we fall into fight, flight, or freeze mode.

Me, I’m a fighter—and not so much in a physical way. I push back with biting sarcasm. I know, shocking, right? Even when self-triggered, I battle myself. “How dare I be jealous? What kind of person isn’t happy for another’s success?”

It’s truly self-defeating.

Others may tend to take flight when triggered. They just can’t deal, so they retreat to their shell and hide until it’s safe to reemerge. And then there is the “deer in headlights” syndrome: freezing until the conflict is over.

All of the above are natural human behaviors; we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s a saber-toothed tiger, our boss, or our mother-in-law, our instinct is to react in modes of self-protection when feeling threatened—physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually.

Our world may not be as physically dangerous as when wild beasts and raging bandits roamed the earth. Physically, we are safer than ever, but there are still those online trolls and bullies, bad drivers, bosses, mother-in-laws, and those fab friends who seem to have perfect lives. So, how can we curb these primal reactions?

The opposite of fight or flight mode is rest and digest.

During this period, our blood circulates in our brains and abdomen, which aids our bodily functions—thinking, breathing, and digesting. In fight or flight mode, we aren’t thinking, our breath becomes short and rapid, and it’s not just our food we’re not digesting—we’re not properly addressing the situation.

Our reactive actions may not be very bright, and in fact, may be downright stupid. Flipping off a bad driver who cuts us off? Not smart. Telling off our bosses? Yeah, probably not a good thing. Ignoring our mother-in-laws…look out! Dissing a good friend because they landed their dream job? Lame.

In rest and digest mode, we have more reaction time. When we’re triggered, we can breathe through a situation and assess it to find the best way to handle it. The bad driver who cut us off? Who cares? We can only hope they arrive at their destination safely. Our bosses’ criticisms may be helpful, and we may come to realize our mother-in-laws really do have our best interests at heart.

Even with our self-induced triggers, we may see others’ successes as a pathway for our own. They may have keys to their good fortune that they could share with us.

This may all sound Pollyanna-positive, but what choice do we have? We can continue to combat negativity that flies our way, or learn to breathe through it and find better ways to deal. For a Libra who doesn’t like conflict, I prefer the latter.

The question then becomes, how do we find ourselves in rest and digest mode?

While there are several means to help defuse our triggers, the simple tool I suggest is empathy. 

When we realize that life doesn’t revolve around us (I know, heretical talk), and we put ourselves in others’ shoes, we will learn that those triggering us have issues of their own they are dealing with. The saber-toothed tiger is hungry, the angry driver is late picking their child up from school, our bosses are getting hounded by their bosses, and our mother-in-laws just desire to be needed and loved.

My mother always said to me, “You can’t change the actions of others, but you can change how you react to them.”

All those self-help experts making millions of dollars on speaking tours and book deals, when all we have to do is listen to our mothers. But I digress.

Part of how we react has to do with how we feel about others, but mostly, it’s about how we feel. If we can acknowledge our feelings of inadequacy or lack of self-worth when we feel someone slights us, we understand it’s our feelings getting the way, not another’s actions. When we own our sh*t, we have the power to control our reactions to others’ actions. It’s f*cking amazing.

It’s only human to be triggered, so we should try to forgive our momentary weaknesses. What is most important is understanding why someone else’s actions upset us. Do they make us feel unworthy, judged, not good enough, or unloved? As we begin to realize these thoughts are bullpucky, our feelings of being triggered are much more manageable.

Let that sh*t go and move the f*ck on.

Author: Jennifer Ott
Image: distelfliege/Flickr 
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Danielle Beutell

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