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Some of you aren’t going to like this article.
You might say I’m being insensitive. Callous. Even triggering.
As someone who’s dealt with her own fair share of triggers, I believe that this can also helpful—in spite of, or even because, it’s a little provocative.
To start, I’m talking about both:
1. our efforts to be self-aware of how we’re talking/writing/engaging with others so as not to trigger them
2. our own reactions to (potential) triggers that may recall previous traumas and/or distressing states
I’ll also start by saying that I get it about wanting to be more mindful of our interactions, of not being unkind, and of the conscious desire to heal, not hurt.
But in recent years, I’ve repeatedly come across people whose concern for not triggering anyone (or being triggered themselves) seems to have crossed over into straight-up fear that ultimately helps nobody.
It’s usually a fear of:
>> (unknowingly) hurting the other person, usually by reigniting a previous trauma for them
>> of upsetting/offending them (and consequently, of them no longer wanting to be connected to you)
(It’s more nuanced than that, I know, but most worries/fears come down to these two).
Of course, there’s nothing wrong in wanting to not hurt someone.
But it’s quite another thing to be petrified of how every single utterance will be read and received by every person we encounter (even strangers who might come across our posts online, or wherever).
This is not only counterproductive, it’s impossible.
There is literally no way we can know how people will react to, well, anything (not just us and what we say).
Taking responsibility for our own triggers
There was a time when the following things were extremely triggering to me and would bring up paralysing surges of fear and distress:
>> Someone asking me where I was and/or what I was doing (or checking up on me in any way)
>> The music to Candy Crush
>> The question, “Are you having fun?”
>> Several ringtones and notification alerts on Samsung phones
>> Someone very objectively pointing out any error in my work
>> Being addressed as “Miss Jamie”
I’m not going to go into the reasons behind why these things were triggering—that’s not the point.
I’m also aware of how ridiculous some of these things sound, and I want to be clear that I’m not making a mockery of triggers.
My point is that there are going to be things that will strike a particular nerve in a specifically painful way for some people that you will have absolutely no way of knowing or anticipating.
In many instances, I wouldn’t even realise that something was triggering until it happened. (I’d hear someone play Candy Crush, a friend would message to ask me what I was up to, and so on.)
It would have been an impossible ask of the people around me to know and preempt every trigger that would hurt me.
And it would also be an impossible ask of myself to live in this way, walking on eggshells around myself and terrified of being set off.
Triggers are intensely personal and intimate, and unless you physically, emotionally, mentally wrap yourself in bubble wrap 24/7, there is no way of completely avoiding them.
And what would that look like anyway? Me telling every friend I ever make to never ask me where I am or what I’m doing? To never listen to the radio for fear that they might play a Madonna song? To check that everyone around me in every situation doesn’t have a Samsung phone set to those ringtones?
At some point, I had to clarify for myself that if someone (accidentally) did or said something distressing and upsetting to me in that way, that this was not being done or said in the same context as before and that it certainly wasn’t done with the same intent.
At some point, I had to realise that, in many cases, the people around me whom I talk to and interact with are just living their damn lives.
And I had to live mine too.
This means two things:
1. Being mindful of how I was receiving things that were being said to me: understanding who the speaker is, the context, the true meaning and intent behind what they are saying.
2. And, similarly, being as careful and mindful as I can (and there’s the kicker) of my own intent as I spoke and interacted with others, understanding that I could not be expected to intricately know and manage the entire spectrum of someone else’s experiences and feelings.
Taking responsibility vs. drawing boundaries
Okay, so I know I probably sound like a selfish, inconsiderate, arsehole right about now. You’re probably writing me off as an entitled, insensitive, arrogant “…but what about freedom of speech?!” bigot.
Yeah, yeah, but before you do, please, please know that there is a world of difference between:
1. thoughtlessly and carelessly shooting your mouth off to further your own agenda/suppress others/be deliberately divisive and harmful
2. being as mindful as possible in your actions and speech, while drawing a boundary around how much responsibility you can practically take for how those actions and speech are read and received
Yes, we should take responsibility for:
>> not talking explicitly about distressing, harmful things without warning
>> being aware of whom we’re talking to and using the appropriate language/discourse
>> listening to and honouring people’s stories, traumas, and experiences, and caring enough to not be deliberately provocative
>> being open to feedback if people point out something harmful that we’ve just said and making the necessary adjustments
But folks, come on.
At some point, we also have to give the responsibility back to the other person to find the right healing for themselves, and to seek the help they need to safely and effectively manage their reactions, triggers, and feelings.
There is a point at which we cannot do this for them (and likewise, we cannot expect others to do this for us).
In most instances, we may not even be aware that someone has an experience they need to heal from nor what their triggers are. We certainly can’t know this for every person we come across.
So yes, be a f*cking decent human being. Be kind. Be mindful. Treat the person in front of you as another living, feeling, breathing human being like you.
But also, please stop living in that freeze-frame of fear.
The fear of potential triggers blocks the abundance of potential healing.
Our fear of potential triggers (and yes, what I’m talking about is fear, not just a careful awareness) blocks the massive abundance of potential healing in two ways.
1. When we live in fear of being triggered, we give that fear total control and power over us.
The fear owns us, and we live at its mercy.
We surrender any option of reclaiming that control and instead spend all our time just waiting for the next trigger to set us off. Sometimes, we won’t even know what those triggers are, so then we not only live in fear of the known triggers, but we’re also living in terrified, nervous anticipation of other new, unknown things that may arise.
At the same time, we close off the option to confront that trigger, work through it, and heal it (whether this is done independently through practices like reflection, meditation, journalling, and so on, or with the support and guidance of a qualified mental health professional).
By letting that fear in and letting it stay, we simultaneously close ourselves off from overcoming it altogether and living trigger-free.
2. When we live in fear of triggering others, we are constantly self-censoring, diluting everything we have to say so that it remains always and entirely “safe” (but bland).
What usually happens is that we end up saying nothing at all—or at least nothing that’s fully, deep-down honest and true.
We don’t really say anything that will serve those people with the potential triggers.
We also don’t really say anything that will serve anyone else.
And we don’t say anything that really honours our own truth.
Living in fear of who we’re going to upset, how we’re going to upset them, how they will feel/react, closes us off to the huge abundance of healing, service, inspiration, and infinite other good things that we could be adding to the world by letting ourselves speak fully from a place of mindful, empowered kindness and care.
The flipside to that fear is healing and a huge mountain of love.
So why is it that we’re so terrified of upsetting others but not equally “scared” of all the thousands of others who we could be truly, genuinely helping, serving, and healing by doing our thing?
You’re also making a lot of assumptions about what will trigger someone (and how); that too blocks any potential healing.
Because why do we default to thinking that speaking truthfully and kindly about something that is important to us will only and automatically trigger someone negatively?
What if, instead, it provokes an alternative perspective for them? What if it inspires them to take a different action? What if it jolts them into seeking other means of healing that trigger?
And finally, what if people stop liking and following you?
There’s considerate, mindful management of your relationships and conversations. And then there’s just falling over yourself trying to please everyone.
By doing your utmost to please Person A, you may very well end up triggering/upsetting/pissing off Person B. And vice versa.
It’s probably not news for you to hear (again) that trying to make everyone happy ends up making nobody happy. Not really, anyway—unless offering a half-hearted, not entirely honest, self-censored, dampened-down version of happiness is enough for you.
So yes, I guarantee that you’re 100 percent going to come up against someone who’s not going to totally like what you have to say, or get triggered, upset, or ragefully offended.
But if you’re mindfully and truthfully checking with yourself about where you stand with your beliefs, your intentions, and motivations, how you wish to engage, dialogue, and serve in your relationships, and someone still gets upset with you, well, then, what else can you do?
Literally, what can you feasibly and practically do in a way that won’t ultimately compromise your truths and integrity? What can you reasonably do that won’t end up compromising someone, some way?
At some point, you’ve gotta recognise that it does really take two hands to clap, and you need to hand back the reins to them to take responsibility for their own reactions and feelings-management.
You can’t, and shouldn’t, be taking it all upon yourself.
So, we come full circle, and I leave you with the two questions we started with:
Are you acting from a place of grounded, thoughtful, and mindful care?
Or are you (still) (re)acting from fear?