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Sometimes I feel that life was much easier in high school and college.
You fall in love, you fight, you call each other names, you cry it out at home, and voila. You’re spanking new.
But love gets more complicated as we grow up—because we get more complicated.
Not only do we fight—we also make sure to blame, get our way, bring out past hurts, not take responsibility, attack, criticize, and stonewall.
And crying it out doesn’t do it anymore. There’s no tissue big enough to wipe away the thoughts that swamp our minds for years to come.
Sooner or later, we learn about emotional triggers. What we thought was a heart attack at the age of 15 turns out to be an involuntary emotional reaction in our bodies controlled by our brains.
We all have emotional triggers. Most of them come from past painful experiences and are most likely dormant in our minds. Then something happens at work or at home, and ta-da, our bodies release the responsible chemicals, and we feel…(say it with me) triggered.
Why? Because we didn’t tend to the hurt that we had experienced in our past painful experiences. That said, emotional triggers are the dormant pain’s way of waving its hand to say, “Hello. I’m here. Heal me. I need some attention.”
What’s interesting, though, is that most of the time, we have no idea where the trigger is coming from. (If we know where it’s coming from, we would have healed it by now. Well, duh!)
What’s more interesting is that most of our triggers happen in our romantic relationships. Almost on a daily basis, we are triggering our partner or our partner is triggering us.
Oftentimes, these emotional triggers become the silent killers of our relationships.
We put the blame on our partner and add on to our already existing traumas. Not because we’re bad people—because we don’t know any better. Because blaming and pointing fingers has always been the easiest road. Looking inward just wasn’t instilled in our culture.
Maybe if we start looking inward, we could save our drowning relationships.
Maybe if we face our emotional triggers head-on, we might have a better chance at succeeding in love.
First, know that any kind of behavior, no matter how foolish, can be a trigger. Unavailability, judgment, being critical, rejection, and so on, are all behaviors that occur in any relationship (the intensity and how often they happen vary from one relationship to another).
Usually, triggering behaviors give birth to conflicts and disagreements. What I’m offering today is slightly different than what we have always known.
Instead of diving headfirst into the conflict, pause.
Instead of asking, “Why is he/she doing this?” ask yourself, “Why am I bothered?”
Even when we trigger our partner, instead of repeating our same toxic behaviors, we can ask ourselves, “Why am I being needy?” “Why am I being controlling?” “Why am I blaming her/him?”
Once we ask those questions, we will notice that our pain somewhat diminishes because we just gave our dormant past memories the attention they’ve been craving.
Finding the answers to these questions is no easy feat. But recognizing the emotional trigger as it takes place in our bodies is the first step toward a promising journey.
Even if it feels harsh or intolerable, try to go back to your past, without any judgment, and identify the source. Is there a memory that triggers you? Any event you can relate to your current situation?
Once you identify the link, keep asking yourself questions. Why does it bother you? What do you wish was different? What was what you needed? Was it attention, validation, presence, availability?
This might take time, but once you make the link, you can choose a different reaction.
When you notice there’s an emotional reaction in your body building up, choose what to think and how to see the situation. This is how we can transform our triggers from a hindrance to a bridge. Then we cross over from the shore of emotional reactions to the river of emotional actions, which is filled with lessons, realizations, and comfort.
If we manage our emotional triggers, understand where they’re coming from, and choose different outcomes, maybe then we can start saving our relationships.