I recently read an article by a self-professed personal development coach who promised to help you “deal with people who trigger you” so that when you see them, you no longer respond to them emotionally.
I was so disturbed by what was written that I had to write a blog post about it. The term, “being triggered” seems to be a fashionable way of referring to the negative emotional state you find yourself in when you encounter a certain person and / or their behaviour. There’s something that they have said or done that makes you angry, irritated or upset. This is apparently frowned upon because these emotions are “bad” and people should not have that effect on you if you are an evolved human being. I’m paraphrasing, this is most certainly not my belief.
Why “being triggered” is the wrong phrase
This phrase is associated with traumatic disorders like PTSD, and other mental health conditions such as extreme anxiety or stress. Somebody who had a very distressing experience on a train for example, may have a panic attack when hearing the sound of one because it triggers the disturbing emotional experience they initially felt. In other words, when trauma is not processed and remains unhealed, we can respond irrationally to certain events, people or things in the present because they remind us of the pain we felt in the past. When I use the word “irrationally” what I mean is that an emotional response is disproportionate to the event from an external and objective perspective but not to the person having it.
Responses to traumatic events are a perfectly normal, human experience that just need support and healing.
When you are in conflict with somebody, in general, you may feel a range of volatile emotions. If you didn’t experience an emotional response to conflict, whatever that may be, I would assume that you had difficulties experiencing any kind of emotion. Let’s also remember that conflict is always present in any human relationship.
Emotions are not positive or negative
They just are. We are conditioned to believe that emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety are experienced by ‘weak’ people or that to feel them indicates some kind of internal defect. Emotions are just complex responses to our experience that indicate to us things that serve us and what in our hearts and minds needs some care and attention. I recently had a conversation with a colleague because I felt angry that she had bypassed my authority and spoken about a minor communication issue with the director of the team in a very public manor. I felt undermined and humiliated but most of all, I felt furious because I perceived that she didn’t believe I was important. It sounds quite egotistical but I kept going over and over the event in my head, creating stories about it, and allowing it to escalate emotionally but that is when I realised that my reaction is asking me to examine what is going on for me. Why exactly was it important for me to feel important because of my authority. Having found the answer, my anger calmed after I had welcomed it into my experience and examined it closely. Had I pushed it away, repressed it or rationalised it, I wouldn’t have learned the lessons our emotions are here to teach us.
Having said this, it’s important to moderate how you express those emotions that have a powerful grip on us. We all know that feeling angry may be expressed by harming somebody either with words or with actions. This makes conflict worse.
Being Triggered and Conflict
If you feel jealous about another person’s life, this is normal. If you feel angry because you have been treated badly, it would be strange if you didn’t feel that way. If your boundaries have been trampled on, of course you would feel disrespected. I don’t believe in the concept of “highly evolved beings” or “deeply spiritual people” as it implies some kind of status elevation . However, I do believe that people who wish to live in harmony with others recognise that we all feel emotions (unless you have a serious emotional disorder) and it is not compassionate to berate others because of what they feel about you. It’s as if you are saying to them, “I take no responsibility for my behaviour or the harm I have caused to you, the real cause of our disagreement is your inability of switch off your emotions.” It’s not only lacking in empathy but it also destroys self-esteem, it attacks the other person’s value and it’s totally unrealistic. This approach to another person will escalate conflict or even more worrying, create it.
As always, I am not asking you to take my word as Gospel but what I am asking you to think about is how you have felt when somebody disapproved of your feelings. If you disagree with me and believe that people should not feel what they feel, I am asking you to question why you have that belief and how does that play out in your life.
High emotions don’t necessarily lead to destructive conflict and I advocate conflict resolution which involves expressing to yourself and to the other person how you feel in a kind and compassionate manner. Allowing others to understand your emotional response gives them a glimpse of how you see the world and your suffering which is a powerful tool for building bridges. If we cannot recognise the humanity in others, we cannot see it in ourselves and crucially, resolving conflict fully and finally doesn’t work.
What do you think about my view? I’d love to hear from you!