Do you get so upset sometimes that you just go to reaction mode in 3 seconds flat? Upset meaning mad, freaked out, or frustrated?
We can get the most upset and stuck in our story about the relationship when we're triggered. it’s during those times that there's not tons of resilience or ability to be flexible and think outside of whatever upsetting experience is occurring.
What is an emotional trigger? Triggers are moments in the relationship where we go into accelerated 0-60 upset. Why? Because we are suddenly ‘triggered’ into an old story that usually comes from earlier times, most often from growing up.
Let’s say you are trying to tell your partner about something important that happened to you but your partner is preoccupied. He or she then comes in with advice or feedback after you’ve shared something hard about your day. Anyone might be upset by that but let's say you grew up with a dad that never really listened and didn’t take a huge interest in you, tending to make things about himself.
Then you might get ‘triggered’ - like really upset - by your partner’s lack of listening.
Now let’s say that your partner had a long day, learned that a favorite colleague was getting laid off, and is reeling in his quiet way. He might not be so available to hear about what you wanted to share because of difficult feelings he's wrestling with.
But because you are triggered, you interpret his preoccupation as disinterest and chronic self-involvement like your dad. Suddenly you get hijacked by your feelings and you are in 0-60 mode. That's when you might begin blaming your partner without asking where he's at or why he seems not able to listen.
When you are hijacked, you usually make an assumption and go with it.
It’s fight or flight. And that’s where a negative cycle between you can get started.
It’s at that point that you have a choice: you can stay with the story you are telling yourself or you can ask your partner why he wasn’t able to listen (with an open mind). Sound hard? It is, and it takes lots of practice. Short-circuiting your nervous system is super difficult but can be learned with practice and patience.
What you want to work towards goes like this: You share with your partner what you are afraid of or how it felt to worry that he wasn't listening. You say it in a vulnerable way. You take a breath, before and after. You take five breaths. And remember that your partner is usually not wanting to hurt you or not listen or not love you.
If you know where your triggers come from, you will have more understanding when they come up, and from that, an increasing power to slow them down.
Katharina Sandizell, LMFT