Itchy Trigger Finger: how to navigate your hot spots in the modern world
Triggers: the emotional express path to spectacularly derailing ourselves, and those around us, while going 200km/hr on the freeway. Oh oh. Here comes the car crash, everyone look out, this is going to be an epic 50 car pile up, avoid at all costs.
We all have triggers right?
You know what I mean? Those things in life that can make you hotter than a habanero chilli on a 45-degree day. The things that can turn us into a one-stop missile shop at barely a moment’s notice; the things you look at with more than a hot minute of hindsight and say “oh no, oh god, not again”, as you hang your head in shame. Mmmmm, those crunchy critters. Nasty. They can be big or small, heavy or light, it’s not what they look like that’s important (I see mine as spiky little gremlins with super sharp teeth), but rather simply that they are there, in fact, they are EVERYWHERE. Watch for the landmines kids. Oh. Too late you say? Missing a hand now? Oh well, I guess all you can do is try to sew it back in and give it another go again tomorrow (grimaces).
Don’t despair though. You are not alone. Triggers are all around us, all of us, all the time, waiting to spring their toothy little traps on any unsuspecting human wandering around, minding their own business, just trying to navigate the world around them.
We all have, each and every one of us, reacted to triggers at some point, sometimes mildly, sometimes with spectacular unwarranted force, sort of like taking a bazooka to a 5-year-old birthday party to keep the kids in line. Mildly amusing as an idea, until...it's not...and you have a trail of party favours and mangled little kiddies in your wake. More like funny train wreck, than funny ha ha.
Never mind, we’re all just doing our best, and honestly, when doing this kind of personal work, like identifying the things that set you off like a rocket, your first step ought not to be to beat yourself blind for having had a human reaction to life. We have all let ourselves flare up at the first sign of a trigger many times before. However, self-flagellation or self-harm is NOT a solution. Rather, look at it this way instead, you have to start somewhere, and I think just observing your hot buttons is a great place to begin to dismantle your own personal explosive arsenal.
So, let’s take a look inside your missile factory. What does this look like for you? What kind of weaponry are you hiding inside? Oh, you have scud missiles? Thought as much. Me too. Don't we all honey? Don't we all.
For those of you shaking your heads all “no no no, not me. I don’t react to anything, I am all peace, love and mung beans”, hmmm. Yeah yeah, blah blah, yawn. I’ve yammered that out before at various times in my life, and it sounded then about as convincing as you sound right in this moment. i.e. not at all. If this is STILL your position after more than a moment’s consideration, darling, you are either dangerously delusional or dead inside and need to take another look (insert namaste prayer hands here).
To reassure you, it’s all okay here at Miss Cook & Co to go that little bit further than usual, to push the boundaries of what’s comfortable, to look at that thing that scares you most. I can say that whatever you got on the trigger front, no one is going to think you're weird or whacked out. We've all been there, so today, we’re gonna kumbayah these little "inside" monsters out into the open, and do the looking together, so that we can see that there is nothing to fear here but fear itself and that this is a shared human experience.
But be warned, if you intend to carry on believing your own bullshit that you're immune from all this trigger business, you should know that I have no room for people with the personal accountability of a lobotomized hamster. I suggest you toddle off onto your own (again) and look a little closer. There is no room for pretending here, not here with my brave clan of peeps peering into their own personal abyss. We got work to do. So let’s have at it.
As Laura San Giacomo’s character Kit says to Vivien in Pretty Woman “work it, work it, own it, work it”…and so it is with all this emotionally squishy stuff squelching around in our (dis) comfort zone. Own it, work it, jerk it, just don't SHIRK it. There is no use pretending it isn’t there. Put another way, you would not give a suicide bomber a live explosive vest, give them a map to your most tender places and then suggest you play hide and seek with them would you? No. I’d say not. And so it is with your triggers, and your subsequent responses to them, don't let them hide, drag them out into the light so you can see what they really are. I often find they are tiny little bits of yourself whispering from some help/relief/understanding/love.
Triggers are the tinder to your emotional fire.
Usually, triggers are something external to us that set us off/"make" us feel something strongly, emotional explosives if you will. As the name suggests, this literally “triggers” feelings of anger, sadness, inadequacy, guilt, shame or smallness. For example: someone saying something to you that is careless or thoughtless or mean that “makes” you feel a particular way. An act or words of a stranger that “makes” you feel less than ideal, sad or downright blue. Not being able to do something, have something, get something or be something that we desire, or think we need to get through the day, or to build a better life that “makes” you feel worthless or useless. It could be something as simple as waiting in traffic for way too long or someone not saying hello in the morning, or something as complex as a parent or loved one needling you about not being good enough over years and years. The trigger struggle is real, and we are surrounded by it.
So, today, we are going to look at your triggers, observe them and I will invite you to really see what is there for you. You're safe, we're all here with you, rowing around aimlessly in our little bullet ridden trigger boats together ;-)
The trick to remember is that triggers are exactly like hand grenades. It’s what you do with them that makes all the difference. You can:
- pull the pin and lob that thing into a crowded room taking out everyone within a 10m radius screaming “In the name of Holy Jesus”, “Allah Akbar” or any other equally as ridiculous and self-serving belief that doesn’t help those now flailing and maimed in your wake;
- pull the pin and run outside, holding onto it tightly, as you use it only on yourself in the ultimate act of self-harm, blowing yourself to smithereens; OR
- hold it in your hand with kindness and care, look at it, see it for what it is, and actively decide not to pull the pin, setting it down on the ground, and walk away, hands, feet and heart in tact. Others will also be grateful they didn't lose a limb.
How you handle a trigger is absolutely up to you. You can either be a terrorist or the hero of your own story. It’s a dramatic juxtaposition, but I think actually, it’s quite apt.
Let me soothe your fears and apprehension about how your own triggers may be ruling your life, by sharing a little of my own sad (yet ultimately uplifting) trigger story. I suspect this may make you feel a little better about what sets your hair on fire, and how you handle it. It’s possible that few people were/are held hostage by their triggers in the way I was. I managed to make the Libya hostage crisis look like a school picnic with cupcakes and candy bags. Oof, not pretty at all.
I was, in days gone by, the Trigger Queen. I was hyper-sensitive, an elevated empath (that’s a whole body of work in itself), and “helpfully” had a hair trigger temper that could absolutely go from giggling and girly to nuclear in 60 seconds flat. I was armed to the teeth 24/7, a fragile heart behind Fort Knox-esque walls, and completely unable to control my weaponry. I was firing an AK-47 left handed (I am incidentally right handed, so…yeah). I sprayed my trigger response bullets everywhere and anywhere - bystanders be damned. I had zero self-control when it came to getting a handle on that hand grenade. INCOMING!!!!!!!
Heaven help you if you were in the hot zone during one of my tirades; you’d need something a little more robust than duck, roll and seek cover. You would need blast resistant armour and a bomb protection suit to start with…and that was just to get near me, let alone try and get a closer look at the fuse board to try and dismantle it.
I wore my pain at all the perceived slights and heavy trauma of my life on the outside of my body. My super sensitive heart was splayed open for all and sundry to poke and prod at. All that should have been internal, was most troublingly, external.
It’s a rather unfortunate way of being that meant that the slightest brush against something that didn’t feel right, something a little “iffy” as we say in Australia, which would ensure my defence system was immediately enacted and all weapons were deployed in that direction. All at once. All at one hapless person who happened to be standing in my way, usually paralysed with fear (or incredible irritation) when it became clear that the Australian female version of Kim Jong Un was standing in front of them with the sights of her laser guided surface to air missile pointed at their head. A horrible experience for even the most seasoned campaigner.
Essentially, I was as emotionally stable as Donald Trump, and equally as incapable of distinguishing threat from friend, and had my pudgy little food loving finger constantly on the BIG.RED.BUTTON. I loved the smell of napalm in the morning. Goooooooood morning Vietnam.
For here is what many wont tell you about being a trigger happy little solider…you get used to the rush of letting your emotions run rampant in the world. The adrenaline spike that comes with being emotionally loose as a goose is addictive. There is something almost seductive about letting your emotional infantry loose in the jungle with zero accountability for their actions. Everything is an enemy until it isn’t. But the problem with that is, you usually have shot the living bejesus out of something before you realise (a little too late) that you are the perpetrator of friendly fire. Oh dear. Oops. You just shot the one you love most. This cannot be good. For anyone.
As I transitioned, bit by bit, into more emotional maturity, wisdom and stability, which coincided quite nicely with quitting my corporate career, I began to see my internal infantry had been waging open warfare on everyone around me, which was just blatantly unacceptable. It was no longer okay with me to go absolutely off my face with rage if my latte was too hot (I laugh now – but that’s 100% true and not entirely uncommon back in the day), not alright to hysterically cry like a tantrum-ing child if some boy dared not text me back in time or (god forbid) someone didn’t have the dictionary to interpret my erratic emotional language exactly in a moment of need. I tell you, reading Harry Potter in ancient Aramaic would have easier than reading my needs in those days.
At some point it started to dawn on me (it only took 35 years – meh), that this was not how I wanted to be in the world. The girl with a hair trigger temper who, whilst kind and caring most days, was equally likely to fire a torpedo up your ass if you didn’t do what (I had absolutely not communicated) I wanted/expected/demanded. The AUDACITY of it all!!!!!
If this sounds all very self-deprecating and self-effacing on my part, yes, yes it is. It has to be, there is no space for pussy-footing around in warfare: you are IN or you are OUT. There’s no room for “sort of, maybe, perhaps, kind of” in the heat of battle. Which is a good thing, because I am 100% OUT: my army have been decommissioned and my weapons handed voluntarily into the amnesty (America take note - if I can do it - so can you). For in my humble opinion, the sooner you start being accountable for your behaviour in the world you inhabit, the better, and you can begin by being honest with yourself and others. Not shaming or blaming mind, just honest and observant.
There is folks, no change, without owning your shit first. I am not going to sugar coat that fact for you, that is as simple, and as plain as I can be.
Is it embarrassing to admit to the open warfare I have waged on so many (including myself) for so long? No. It isn’t. It’s not that I am not offering contrition, I absolutely am, but I am not going to let my shame story win this one. Nope, not today, not ever. All I can offer, if you have been one such person I have beaten with my emotional baseball bat, is a heartfelt and authentic apology. I mean every single syllable of that sorry (all one of them). I am not offering anything else though, there is no grovelling, no need for scratching and scraping or shaming and blaming. Nope. That woman, the woman who held a gun to the head of others and herself, she was a different me, in a different time, and I can’t take back what’s past. She protected me (albeit slightly overzealously) for the most of my life, and all I can do is thank her for her service, and ask her to politely retire. She is not Hitler, she's not responsible for any massive loss of life, but she did enough damage, and her time is now done.
What I am capable of now, is this: CHANGE. Dramatic, wonderful, radical, gentle, transformative, life-giving change. Until you take your own triggers in hand, you will never know how fortunate I feel to have had this enormous wake up call.
The Angela Army is no longer on Red Alert instead my little sergeant majors are now relegated to the Army Reserves, not able to be called to battle in a moment’s notice. Sort of like the emotional weapon version of a musket rifle, if I am going to shoot you, it will (a) take forever for me to assemble the gun and load it and (b) you will know you absolutely deserve it because I don’t have the patience or technical knowledge for completing step (a).
So, what changed? How did I get that internal despot under control? Well…that’s not easy, but it was done like this: SLOWLY. You can’t just go from Kim Jong Un to Ghandi. Not saying, I am Ghandi, anyone that knows me would cry laugh at the suggestion, but you take my meaning.
In my experience, the heart of the trick to self development in this department is so simple it’s painfully embarrassing to say I didn’t discover it sooner. My path is my path…blah blah blah…and all that. Here it is, the thing modern day gurus will take 10 grand off you to tell you in a workshop of 5,000 other trigger happy humans:
In moments of the hottest heat, when your hot buttons are being jammed on like the 911 emergency switchboard on a super full moon, breathe, breathe, breathe again and then…
ASK YOURSELF: “WHAT WOULD LOVE DO? WHAT WOULD LOVE SAY?”.
Let me say that again...what would LOVE do? What would LOVE say?
I’ll bet you 1 million Rupiah (see what I did there - that's not actually all that much before you come calling for the payoff), what love would NOT do is call someone a “useless git”, "a worthless lump", "baggage" or something equally as hideous and hurtful, it would not lash out in pain to hurt the other back to the level of your own perceived hurt, manipulate another into feeling guilt or shame (I have done this more times than I can think - what a horrible thing to do to another person) or try and diminish someone’s self worth to the low level yours is currently operating at right now in this moment of boil and bubble.
No, it would NOT do that. At all. Ever. Love would offer that person peace, kindness and understanding, knowing that the event that set off the trigger was not aimed at you. It has NOTHING to do with you. It's not incumbent on you to pick up that person’s pain off the floor (or your own), and put it into your heart, integrating it into your being. Nope, look at it, see it, and then wish it all the love in the world. Set it down gently. And walk on. Walk right on. Don’t look back.
I will illustrate this very briefly to help illuminate this simply so you can see it in operation using myself as the ultimate crash test dummy. On returning to Australia this week for the first time since I cut and ran two years ago, I was apprehensive and cautious. What would I find, how would I fit in, there were some issues that are very much live for me, for example surrounding some unmended things within my family. The usual things, nothing entirely out of the ordinary for any of us.
These issues are hot, super hot, and my buttons have been pressed since arriving. Repeatedly. Not just any buttons, my FAMILY buttons. My childhood buttons. The REALLY sensitive ones. The ones in the past I would have blown people to bits before letting you get anywhere near even pressing them. Come any closer and I'll take your hand off, type-stuff.
Trust me when I tell you, if you’re going to rise out of me then these particular buttons are the sure fire way to do it. And when it happened, the button pressed, once, twice and again, but multiple people, I sat, and I breathed into my expanding belly (this my internal energetic porcupine at play - how I know my body is under perceived threat), and just sat still. And it arrived in my heart before my head had a chance to involve itself: I choose not to react to this anymore. Nope. People are pushing my buttons, not to hurt me, but out of their own pain, hurt and insecurity.
BUT, the big bit, is this; THIS IS NOT YOUR PAIN. Nope, not yours or mine. It doesn't matter if it's someone you love or a complete stranger, the same rules apply. So side step that pain, see it for what it is, and keep on doing you. Keep calm, breathe, and keep on being your amazing self. Do not pick up the emotional echidna - those quills will sting and you will swear.
Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, for my friends, you don’t need to. Just because you pulled a dud card in the game life every now and then, does not mean you have to scream and shout about how unfair life is or blame the person sitting next to you. They are just trying to keep their hotels and houses from crumbling down, scrambling to look out for themselves, probably not thinking about how their actions may impact you, and likely not deliberately trying to ensure you are sunk (unless they are a cheating evil asshole and then, the same thing applies, this is their business, not yours).
So, as for me, it is the same for you. I asked, when my heat started to poke its head above the parapet, what would love do here? The answer was pretty simple, send some love and kindness to the old me, and even more to the person poking me, provoking me, for that person is still sitting in their pain or pity puddle that is not me or mine, and I got on with my day. Did it smart when it happened? Of course. I tell you what feels better than biting back though? Standing in your power and knowing this is NOT your battle, not your fight, and instead of engaging as you may have in the past, just sending that person a little extra of the love you just created for yourself. You should be so proud of yourself, walking away, not assuming someone else's issues, for this empowers you, AND them. What they do with that power is not a matter for you. YOU DO YOU HONEY.
You got this, you don’t HAVE to react or spray your emotional waste on the world around you. Ask yourself, what would happen if you sprayed your love and happiness instead? That sounds worse than I mean, but I know you feel me ;-)
So…get your finger off the trigger kid, and smile instead.
You are an extraordinary, emotionally sensitive human being, who from today is no longer going to be held hostage by the little warrior within or enemies (perceived or real) without. I believe you can walk away from this situation, and every other like it, with dignity and peaceful grace.
Now, GO, make your wonderful way now in the wondrous world. As they say, I hate to see you go, but I love to watch you leave ;-) #goyougoodthing