Emotional Triggers

How to stop blaming your internal experience on an external situation.

Posted Jul 03, 2019

There is nothing that bothers me more than when I feel as though I’m being spoken down to, patronized, or belittled.

As a 28-year-old therapist, I get this often.

This can happen in a professional environment such as a networking event, among my peers, and even and especially my own family.

What I’ve realized, though, is that most of my interpretation of this condescension exists solely in my head. It exists from my deep-seated fears of not being good enough, of being too young to excel at what I do, and of never adding up to my own expectations.

When I was in a training about non-reactivity, the facilitator asked us what our emotional “triggers” are. I have seldom looked inward at my own triggers unless they pertain to drugs and alcohol, although I’m not quite sure I even believe in triggers anymore. (Rather, I believe that people, places, or situations can trigger an emotional response in us that we may not know how to deal with, and ultimately end up drinking or using drugs as our primary coping skill).

Emotional triggers are very similar. If you’ve ever thought, "that person puts me in a really bad mood,” or even, “this situation just ruined my day,” this is for you.

People, places, and situations don’t ruin our day. They don’t actually do anything to us. Our reaction to these factors are what sets us off. Our reaction is the only thing we have control over.

For years, it was much easier for me to accept my own lack of control over drugs and alcohol than it was to accept my lack of control over other people and their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

I would consistently blame external elements for my state of mind or mood. But why am I giving all of my power away to someone or something that is objectively neutral?

I subscribe to certain Buddhist beliefs, especially the notion that of everything being innately neutral and that we as humans bring meaning to these things.

I realized in this training that my emotional trigger is not feeling good enough. My emotional trigger doesn’t have to do with anyone else “making me feel” not good enough, because no one and nothing can make me feel anything.

In the wake of admitting powerlessness over other people, I have regained power over myself, my thoughts, feelings, and ultimately, my reaction to life.

We are not passive recipients of our own lives.

We need not be swayed by the weather, toxic people, traffic, condescension, or intolerance.

What you think of me does not make me who I am.

What happens to me on a daily basis does not alter my state of mind.

My reaction to it is what makes me, me.

We need to be aware of our own emotional triggers before we can even begin to alter our reaction to them.

For me, when I feel as though I’m being patronized, I need to look inward. Why is this conversation triggering my insecurity? What, in me, do I need to work on so I can release this anger and anxiety that’s welling up inside of my chest right now? Is it about the person, or is it about what they remind me of? Is there a person in my life who this person is triggering a memory of? And ultimately, do I feel  as though I am not good enough?

If not, there is absolutely no reason for me to internalize anyone else’s negativity.

We get to free ourselves from the bondage of other people’s perception of us.

If control is your trigger, think about that next time you’re stuck in traffic and feeling yourself get more and more stressed by the minute.

Stop blaming your internal experience on an external situation. Look inward, and dive in. There’s always more room for growth.

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