“It’s fine if you don’t ever go to church again, mom, I support you.” I felt so relieved to hear my daughter say that! I had always loved going to church on Sunday, but it had become something I dreaded. At that moment, just the thought of stepping foot in the church building was depressing to me.
This sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight and I can’t pin point what did it, but sometimes you have to take a step back even from good things and good people that trigger you – self-preservation.
My daughter knew I wasn’t about to stray off my faith, that my connection to God is a priority in my life and that I didn’t have a bone to pick with anyone in particular, but it was obvious that whatever it was was taking a toll on me.
Good people trigger you because they are simply reminding you of the unhealed wounds inside you. These friends who trigger you can be a gift to you because they can help you understand yourself and the healing you need. We sometimes fight so hard to overcome, to not be a victim, to get over it, that we ignore our emotional pain and don’t give it the attention it needs, so it keeps showing up until we do.
For the longest time, though, I didn’t understand why some people seemed to have “the magic touch,” you know, they just trigger you to pieces almost every time you are with them or around them. It’s harder to acknowledge this about people who don’t necessarily put you down, abuse you, belittle you, or damage you in any way. They aren’t those you would refer to as toxic people or so-called “energy vampires.” No, these are people whose company you enjoy, people you admire, people you respect, and even people you love!
It has been a process for me to give myself permission to let a friend know she triggered me. I often didn’t want it to seem like I was “punishing” her or that I was being resentful and unforgiving. I’ve realized she’s entitled to her own opinion and I know now how vital it is to my sanity to process my feelings, to do a little (or a lot of) soul-searching, and to give myself what I was seeking in her. It’s not my job to change her, but to change myself, it’s not her job to like me, it’s mine.
I’ve gotten better at making peace with the fact that there’s brokenness in my life and there are going to be inevitable triggers around me, even at church, of all places. Even if you didn’t have a traumatic childhood or had major tragic events in your life, I will dare say that no one goes through motherhood without at least a crack or a chip. Life is as hard as it is beautiful – opposition is a universal law!
But here’s the deal. Over the years, I’ve learned that pushing aside the feelings that come up only magnifies the issue. What you resist, persists, until we fully acknowledge it and take ownership for it. In Biblical terms, “the truth shall set you free,” despite (and maybe because of) the discomfort.
I’ve found that when I’m already depleted I am less able to handle emotional triggers, and being in a supportive environment where your pain is met with compassion and understanding can make it all go away, but when you’re faced with justification, rationalization, and EVEN WORSE, with blame!, it can be very demoralizing.
There was a time when someone in my life kept rescheduling and cancelling our plans over the course of many months, and stood me up several times, I don’t think she is a frenemy, and I know everyone has their own battles going on, but I had been observing she definitely didn’t seem to treat me like she did other people in her life. I felt like I was the only one putting effort into keeping our relationship alive. Whenever I mentioned it to her, hoping we could work this out, she either brushed it off or tried to convince me we didn’t have firm plans, in other words, she knew I didn’t feel appreciated and chose to not take responsibility.
After my fruitless attempts, I shut down.
I literally exclaimed ¡tierra, trágame!” I wanted to be swallowed by the Earth. I wished I would die and went down in a spiral of self-loathing…
I was foolish to even open my mouth.
I was wrong for expecting her to care.
I was suddenly the one at fault for even bringing it up.
In that moment, her response felt just like being abused and then called a faker, or drama queen, or blamed for exaggerating to seek attention – a feeling I know all too well.
Another wound that gets prodded and poked around is the shame of victim-blaming. Good people often try to comfort your pain explaining just “why” something happened to you. Someone telling me the reason I am feeling invisible is because I don’t use text messaging might as well tell me I deserved to be raped because I smiled at the kidnapper, or that I deserved to be beaten up because I stayed in an abusive relationship.
I’ve learned it takes a special kind of person to listen without judgment, and so in these moments of insecurity, depression, and suicidal ideation, you’re now dealing with disappointment, and a sense of abandonment or rejection. Even though there are people who are skilled to deal with triggered friends, our reaction to the trigger is all about us, not about them.
That’s why I honor myself and my emotions, even if others make me feel wrong for it, even if they do not own up to their part (or at least see what I perceive their part to be), the pain, anxiety, tension, stress, fear, and frustration start to dissipate.
The key to dealing with these triggers is to own what is behind them. It’s important to identify the exact emotions you are feeling and what it’s mirroring (something from the past you never want to feel again, something that brought you shame or guilt, or something you are unwilling to admit about yourself).
Sometimes you gotta dig really deep because it’s probably something you’ve suppressed or something you think you’ve gotten over.
Accepting my triggers doesn’t mean I don’t actively work on them. I don’t distance myself from every friend that triggers me and the first time they trigger me. Each poke at old wounds is an opportunity to heal, to learn how to deal with it, to learn from it, to be free, to become better.
When a friend triggers you, they are helping you awaken to the self-forgiveness, the self-compassion, and the self-acceptance you need. And even if that friend decides to provide you with the encouragement, support, and soothing you wanted in the first place, it’s crucial to remember that healing is an inside job – no one on Earth can help you feel safe, whole, and free, except for yourself.
That’s why taking a break from the friend that triggers you is beneficial. You need time to recharge, to heal, to make sense of what just happened, not because you give that person power over your happiness, but because you take charge of it.
Our significant other and our precious children, plus the people we must keep in our lives trigger us enough, so we don’t really need the extra weight, at least not when you’re not ready.
When you let go of people that trigger you, you are taking a step to treat yourself with kindness, love, and validation.
You’re not letting go of the love you have for them or harboring negative feelings toward them, you’re just letting go of the dynamics of the relationship that triggers you. Love transcends distance, so that person will still be connected to you, alive in your memories, and present in your prayers, and if it’s meant to be, it will be.
When you distance yourself, some will take it personal and most will try to find an explanation, but self-preservation is not about the friends who trigger you, it’s about your decision to take care of yourself, to heal, and about giving yourself space to do so.
And it’s hard to let go, even if for a while. We want to hold on to people because of their goodness, their greatness… but when they push buttons that trigger negative feelings in us, it can be unhealthy to stick around. It’s best to bless them and release them, not because there’s anything wrong with them, but because my peace, my sense of worth, and my happiness are important to me.
I’m feeling more mentally strong these days and I’ve been slowly opening myself up to some of the people I still want in my life. I’ve also been going to church somewhat regularly, taking it one Sunday at a time, knowing that I love God and that I if I am to love others as I love myself, I better be doing a good job of the latter.
Do you think some people belong in your heart but not in your life? Tell us about good people that trigger you and how you manage to stay positive through it! xoxo