When You're Triggered in Your Relationships and Your Mind Spins Out of Control
10 relational reminders to nurture your relationships.
Posted August 9, 2022 | Reviewed by Michelle Quirk
- When triggered in our relationships, it can feel as if we're spinning out of control because we become activated and remote from our values.
- Our triggers are treasures and direct vessels facilitating our self-awareness.
- Our intense reactions may be indicative of unprocessed thoughts and feelings stemming from childhood or a coping mechanism getting enacted.
We all collectively spin out of control. The process manifests itself differently from person to person. We get triggered, viscerally impacted, and have the tendency to spontaneously react, and often overact. We lose sight of our relationship and turn narrowly into our thoughts and feelings. Many of us become defensive, self-protective, and closed off. Because we’re all so unique in our thoughts and feelings, the same circumstance can occur, and two people can react and process it very differently.
Understanding Our Triggers
We naturally present with our narrative and presubscribed thoughts and ideas about ourselves, others, and the world in general. This often leads us to judge, criticize, and draw false conclusions, which inevitably evoke uncomfortable thoughts and feelings about ourselves, another person, or sometimes both. How often do we have an argument and before we know it, we've lost sight of what we were arguing about, or we find ourselves in an abyss of exasperation because we’re so hyperfocused on getting our point across that we’ve stopped listening and trying to understand the person we’re speaking to?
Our triggers are a direct vessel facilitating our self-awareness. When we’re triggered and experience that sharp pang, we’re connecting to our values, what’s meaningful to us, and what direction we want our life to take. When our mind spins out of control, we are able to seize the opportunity to grow from the process.
Through these reminders, you can learn to hone in on what’s truly important to you and act in a way that will fortify your compassion and self-confidence, rather than thwart them.
10 Relational Reminders When Your Mind Is Spinning Out of Control
- A trigger from my past relationship(s) may be spilling over into my present relationship. Relationship triggers are often derived from our family of origin and formative relationships. You have preconceived notions about what makes you feel noticed, validated, safe, and appreciated, among many other relational variables. Your current reactions may stem from unprocessed thoughts and feelings, your automatic responses that are enactments of the coping skills that served to "protect you" or your sympathetic nervous system from becoming activated. Understanding your triggers better helps you to avoid getting locked into your narrative and forgetting that there are other possibilities beyond your current thoughts and feelings.
- No one can read my mind. We expect that others will automatically understand us or will seek to, but no one will be able to read your mind, as much as you would like them to. Expressing how you feel, rather than acting out on thoughts and feelings, is critical in any relationship.
- Be open and curious rather than closed off and shut down. Ask yourself whether you’re in a state of connection or protection. That helps to focus your awareness on your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations and assess how open you are to listening, healing, and repairing.
- Ask yourself, "What’s my part in this, and can I accept it, face it, and work with it?" It’s in our nature to deflect and blame, rather than share responsibility for what didn’t go right. We would then have to face our imperfections and unwanted parts, and it may force us to put intentional effort into promoting personal change or decide to distance from or leave a relationship. Our propensity is to avoid the discomfort; our challenge is to feel that way but to remain engaged despite the feelings.
- Don’t let your insecurities drive your behaviors. We all have personal insecurities that sometimes get the best of us. In regard to relationships, they tend to corral us into making broad generalizations about who and how we are. You may sometimes find yourself thinking, “I hope they don’t really find out what I’m like,” or, “They only like me because...” These thoughts can eventually result in a self-fulfilling prophecy and off-putting behaviors.
- I can be aware of and reserve my judgments because not everything is what it seems. When you have an intense emotional reaction to someone, recognize that it often activates a judgment about their behavior and who they are. Intentionally label the judgment and metaphorically put it on reserve. Recognize that not all is what it seems. Think about how many times you have misjudged, falsely accused, or were convinced about something or someone, only to find out that you had been mistaken. We’ve all been there.
- Acting out behaviors are not a reflection of who you or others fundamentally are. People can act badly and not be bad. We often make broad-stroke judgments and generalizations about our and others’ behaviors rather than recognize that it’s just a moment in time and part of, not all of, who you or they are.
- Assess if you’re “shoulding” and going down the blaming, shaming, or condemning path. Attaching to our absolutes of they "should," "ought to," or "must" breeds demanding and controlling thoughts and behaviors. No one is expected to think, feel, and behave like you. Try to remain curious and flexible, and understand yourself or others, rather than demanding and enforcing sometimes unrealistically stringent expectations and rules.
- Another person doesn’t need to validate my thoughts, feelings, or experience. Validation is an inside job. I often hear individuals saying that unless the other person feels and expresses remorse or sorrow that they’ve been hurtful, then they won’t fully feel vindicated and validated. But growth happens internally, not externally. Another person may not think and feel the way you do—otherwise, why would they do what they did? Your validation comes from having insight into what was counter to your values and having self-compassion for how that might have negatively impacted you. Self-validation can be, “I feel sad that I was mistreated, and my values dictate that everyone deserves to be treated with respect, including me.”
- Try focusing on the values underlying behavior. When you or someone you’re interacting with has a strong reaction, try to think about or extrapolate what value is intrinsically important and motivating your or their behavior. Some values that may be pushed up against are connection, trust, responsibility, thoughtfulness, etc. When you gain this understanding, you can segue from the content to a deeper and more meaningful conversation about what’s truly important.
Because of our reactions, dictated by our neurocognition, our histories, the way in which we’re socialized, etc., it makes it nearly impossible to be mindful in our actions at every moment. We still have a personal responsibility to ourselves and others to be in conscious awareness and reflect, be introspective, and react calmly and mindfully. Let these relational reminders help you to promote more mature, nurturing, and fulfilling relationships.
Here is a Joyfulness Guided Meditation lead by me.