How To Handle Folks Who "Trigger" You
Life & Travel

How To Handle Folks Who "Trigger" You

The GIF that's the feature image for today? Aside from it being signature Moniece Slaughter and also pure comedy, I have another reason for going with it. It's tied into a fun fact for the day. Back in the day, my mother used to manage a group called Take 6. At the time, one of the members of the group had a stepdaughter that he was raising as his own. When I knew her, she was an itty bitty thing that used to sit in a car seat of her mom's ride. That little girl is all grown up now. Her name is Moniece Slaughter.

Because of the far-less-than-six-degrees-of-separation between us, the speed of time that has transpired and the pure quirkiness of Moniece, while I don't watch any of the Love & Hop Hip shows, you'd have to live under a rock to miss her name in the headlines, seemingly on a weekly basis. Yet no matter what you may think of her, I think you would find it… "helpful" is the word that I am going to go with, to check out the interview that she did with Hollywood Unlocked not too long ago (you can check out Part One here and Part Two here). Sometimes, all we see is someone's reaction to her triggers. But there are real gems in Moniece's interview about where her triggers originated from in the first place.

After watching her share her story, it got me to thinking about triggers, in general. How so much drama and mayhem could be avoided if we took the time to figure out what our own triggers are, where they derived from, and what we can do to take power over them. Because you know what? Just because someone triggers us, that doesn't mean we have to react to them. Self-awareness and inner peace (and perhaps watching the originalThe Karate Kid every once in a while) are great teachers of this very fact.

What Is a Trigger? How Do We Get Triggered?


Before getting into how to handle folks who trigger you, let's first look at what a trigger actually is and how one is able to affect us in the intense way that it can. From the reading and research that I've done on the topic, a trigger—when it comes to this article, what I'm basically referring to is an emotional trigger—is something that touches on an unresolved issue or an unhealed wound; one that oftentimes stems from our childhood. Maybe you grew up in a physically abusive environment. Maybe someone teased you about your skin tone, your body type, or your weight. Perhaps your family didn't have a lot of money. Maybe you witnessed something traumatizing. Maybe you were sexually abused. Perhaps you were abandoned by a parent. Because we come into this earth as such innocent and also resilient souls, no matter what we go through as children, a lot of us have an uncanny ability to forgive those who have harmed us. Because children are such miraculous vessels of unconditional love, as kids, we tend to be more interested in if our "victimizer" or "offender" is OK rather than if we are.

Here's the thing, though. As we get older and we grasp the magnitude of what happened to us, that can cause more complex emotions to settle in. I'll give you an example of what I mean. My parents have been divorced since I was three, but I would fly to see my father every summer. One time, while I was with him, my mother's mom died and so I had to stay longer. Here's what's crazy about that. There was a flight that I was supposed to be on that actually went down. I missed it because my mom had me stay longer. As a child, it didn't affect me all that much. Oh, but now that I've grown up and grasped how truly devastating a plane crash is, although I travel when I need to, folks who know me know that I am not the best traveler in the world. Due to my childhood, flying? It is a straight-up trigger.

Here's another one. I am a survivor of sexual abuse. There are layers to how that has infected and affected me over the years, but what I will say today is, when someone who is supposed to protect you is the one who uncovers you, it sends your self-esteem through all kinds of shifts and changes. Anyway, my molester (a male relative) used to call me "GC" (it stood for "great curves"—ugh) and would sing "Brick House" to me on a regular basis. During many of those same years, I was teased—by relatives and non-relatives alike—for having an overbite and full lips. As an adult, when guys would call me "sexy", sometimes my immediate response would be, "What?! So, I'm not pretty? You don't think I'm beautiful? All I am is 'sexy' to you?" Triggered. As far as the teeth and lips go, I remember one of my male friends—someone who I know loves me and affirms me, both in and out of his presence—once asked, "Did you ever think about getting braces when you were growing up?" He was asking because I was telling him that one of my front teeth irks me sometimes. But when he said that, I was pissed. I snapped at him and sat in silence for a while. His question triggered me. In my 20s, when someone merely commented on my lips, I received it as ridicule. Again, a trigger.

One more example. I have a friend who, while he is more like the middle child of his family, he's been treated like a patriarch for all of his life; even when he was a kid. His mother relied on him as if he were her husband; she still does. So, to this day, if you text him something more than once, he gets really agitated. When I finally asked him why, he said that it was because that's what his mother does; that it makes him feel nagged and pressured. It's a trigger.

If you look at a common thread in all of this, it's that once we know that something really gets to us, it's important to make the time to look into why. What exactly is our response or reaction tied to? What is it that's causing us to get angry, pop-off, become fearful, lash out, cry or even experience physical symptoms like heart palpitations, shaking, sweating, hot flashes or dizziness? Why are we "getting out of ourselves" in direct response to something someone just said or did—even if, in the grand scheme of things, really isn't that big of a deal? Or, at the very least, doesn't warrant all of the intensity that we're experiencing?

How to “Deactivate” Your Triggers


I think I should put on record that it's one thing to be triggered; it's another to be flat-out attacked. How to handle the latter is another article for another time. But if what I'm talking about today is resonating with you, I'd be shocked if you didn't connect that healing the source of your trigger is a very powerful and necessary step.

What I mean by that is think about what really is causing you to feel the way that you do. Do you need to forgive someone from your past? Do you need to have a hard conversation, not with your current trigger-er, but with the person who reminds you of them? Maybe some therapy is necessary so that someone can help you to unpack all of your thoughts. I am a firm believer that there is no point in continuing to try and prune a tree that actually needs to be pulled up from the roots. In other words, if you're constantly getting triggered, trying to deal with the trigger at the moment isn't going to "fix the problem" nearly as much as getting down to the foundation of where the trigger came from in the first place.

I can speak from personal experience when I say that, the more the "inner child" is loved on, the more that the root is dealt with, the less triggered you will be.

Case in point. I grew up in a church that, not only didn't support me in my sexual abuse but actually said I was lying about it (wow, right?). Later up the road, I dated a guy whose mom used to call me "the preachin' heathen". It's not the nicest thing to call someone, but because of my past wounds, it just felt like more discrediting. So when she would say that, I would seethe. For about 10 years now, I'm in a good place with my calling and with church, in general. I just saw ole' boy's mom not too long ago and she said something slick to me, in jest more than anything else. I greeted her and moved on. The wound is a scar and a faint one, at that. She is no longer able to trigger me. So yes, in order to deactivate a trigger, first get down to the source of it and heal that place.

How to Handle Those Who Trigger You


And what should you do about the people who are actually triggering you? The ones who usually aren't the source, but are still getting on your last nerve? There are layers to that question, but here are a few approaches to consider:

Don't ignore or dismiss how you're feeling. Remember, a part of the reason why a lot of us have triggers is because we don't feel like our emotions were validated at the point of our wound. So, whatever emotion is rising up in you, listen to it. Take a moment to figure out what it needs. If it's space, give it that. If it's setting a boundary with an individual, allow it the dignity to do that. If it's an affirmation from you, honor it with that.

Think before you respond. Here's the thing that I've learned about trigger-ers. A lot of times, they are so clueless that, if you do pop-off, they are only going to trigger you some more as an act of retaliation. That said, I can't recall one time when taking 5-10 seconds to deep breathe while saying absolutely nothing made matters worse or backfired on me. Even if you want to "checkmate" someone, is it worth it? Ask yourself that before you do.

Be honest with yourself about someone's motive. Some folks are malicious; they just are. But sometimes, someone triggers us, and they absolutely did not mean to. Following through with the second thing that I just mentioned gives you a moment to process where the trigger-er is coming from. If you know they are unaware or just teasing, address them from that space. If you sense that it is direct or even passive aggressive disrespect, it's time to do the next thing that I'm about to mention.

Explain the trigger. Make a firm request. You will spare yourself a lot of miscommunication with folks if 1) you stop expecting them to know what's going on in your head and 2) you don't look for them to respond to something (or someone) in the way that you would. I remember someone once coming up to me and telling me how I needed to handle my relationship with an abusive member in my family. Their bold ignorance and arrogance? A trigger. When I said, "Umm, are you aware of the trauma that I experienced? I think you should have the facts before you speak on something like that." The surprise on their face showed me that they had no clue. I proceeded to say that that is something that we didn't need to talk about again. It hasn't come up again.

Reward choosing to respond rather than react. No doubt about it—it takes a lot of maturity, introspection and self-control to learn how to respond vs. react. Even more to master the fine line of when even a response is necessary at all. As I've worked more and more on my own trigger-management, the main thing that I try to keep in the forefront of my mind is that reacting to a trigger takes a lot out of me. Do I want to expend a lot of energy? Do I want to feel "outside of myself"? Is reacting to this person going to change anything for the better? When all of those answers are "no", I typically choose instead to calm down, state a boundary if needed and then reward myself for handling my own being with caution and care.

Triggers suck. All of us have them. But no matter how long you've been getting triggered, know that you have the power to no longer let them have power over you. Heal the wound. Process the trigger. Respond if necessary. Set a boundary. Move on.

And just like that, the trigger is deactivated. Well, looka there.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

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Feature image by Giphy



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