Triggers in relationships
The pain of not being heard, or betrayed, lied to or criticized are examples of experiences from our past that become sensitivities we bring into our present relationships. We become vigilant to these behaviors in others, and it takes only a hint of the original betrayal to cause a reaction. These tender spots are the fragile areas of our psyche that are like open wounds. Any slight touch stings with pain and intolerance. The emotional reactions that erupt out of this pain take on proportions that far out weigh a common response. We justify our response with an internal logic which supports the perspective that our partner has purposefully hurt us. This will tend to create more of what we don’t want because others will perceive our response as unreasonable and become defensive.
Ordinary events such as misunderstandings trigger an over-reaction because of the burdens of the past we carry. We are not just seeing the present moment but many moments behind that. Partners can't understand where the accusation is coming from and their confusion can quickly escalate into frustration as the person who is triggered escalates their attempts to be responded to.
Patterns evolve between partners as they try and control, disarm and dodge these painful burdens from their past. This dance never heals and often serves to repeat the original injury.
Let's examine an example to explore this further. A common sensitivity is not being heard. Here is a common scenario:
- There is some interaction that triggers an experience of being ignored. With the burdens from the past influencing our experience it is not easy to deal with not being heard. We can't just see it as something ordinary that happens between partners. It becomes a major hurt.
- Feelings of anger, hurt and frustration emerge.
- We have a story we tell ourself over and over such as; here we go again, why can’t they just listen, they are doing this on purpose, how many times do I have to say something, they don’t want to hear me, they obviously think I have nothing important to say.
- We make accusations as if this story is true. Our partner hears this as exaggerated and unjust. So will defend against it.
- This leads to a back and forth of accusation and defence leaving the triggered partner with more evidence that they are being ignored and the defensive partner feeling blamed.
These reactions (triggered feeling, story, and behavior) may lead to behaviors ranging from emotionally demanding, raging, controlling, criticizing or shutting down.
No-one is listening. These interactions around triggers prevent you from dealing effectively with your responses to each other and understanding between you.
Ways to deal with your triggers.
- Your triggers are your responsibility to ease and work through. It is not your partners job to be more attentive, kind, open, happy, calm and so on so you wont be triggered.
- Work through your past hurts so they don't affect your present relationship.
- Become aware of your reactions and the story you make up in your head about your partner. Own it as what you make up. Your partner can acknowledge which part of it is true.
- Learn to work with the wounded child. You are the one who is there for them, you are not going to abandon them. They can over time rely on your presence and self-love.
- Take a time out to deal with your triggers so they don't escalate in communication.
- Resist thinking in terms of ‘always’ and ‘never’. Triggered feelings tend to get generalized.
- Take time to explore what is happening with your partner, what caused them to behave that way, what was motivating them, ask questions before you come to your conclusions. Get to know who they are. Receive their truth.