Here's a post straight from my heart... and pardon me if I start ranting (I promise it'll be worth it!).
On the rare occasions that I still browse social media (man, have I gotten good at NOT doing that!) I still see posts starting with "trigger warning!!!" followed by a compassionate blank space (sometimes playfully disguised as a series of vertical stars) that is just long enough to require you to actually click on the 'more' button to see the rest of the text.
Now - there IS the question whether this is simply a ploy by the 'OP' (original poster) to get you to expand their post (facebook reads that as 'engagement' and rewards you with more exposure) - but let's assume for a second it's actually an honest attempt at compassion and courtesy...
What are they trying to say???
They may be saying the same thing as the - equally common - reassurance we hear time and time again that 'this is a safe space'.
F*^& safe spaces!!
(Are you feeling triggered yet???? - Read on!)
You're probably wondering by now what I'm on about - isn't it critical to provide a 'safe space'?? Isn't it important to let people know BEFOREHAND that you may be talking about something they may find difficult to hear so they can choose whether to proceed with hearing/reading it?
As a professional coach, facilitator and mediator, of course I know about the importance of providing a 'safe environment'. And I know how to create it (following all the standard advice you know...). And of course they have their place and no, it's not ok to just ramble out of control. But aren't we - at the end of the day - just putting a sticky plaster on a festering wound without actually solving a single thing?
What I mean is: Have you ever wondered what the underlying assumptions for creating a 'safe space' in a conversation, for adding a 'trigger warning' to a social media post or even a news article actually are??
I believe there are many - and none of them that good. In order to consider this important I'd have to assume that
The person on the receiving end is unable to cope with being exposed to certain content / information
The person on the receiving end is also unable to LEARN to cope with being exposed to certain content / information (because if they were, we could just teach them, right?)
The person on the receiving end is unable stand up for or take care of their own needs
Being 'triggered' is somehow bad, unsafe or dangerous.
Environments of people gathering together are somehow 'dangerous' by nature and require not only guidelines for behavior but also monitoring by a 'person in charge'.
In certain situations I could potentially take this another step further by saying
The person on the receiving end is - therefore - somehow 'broken' and needs to be protected (by me) who is - consequently -
In some sort of 'superior' or at least 'rescuer' position (think: Drama triangle!) - Which leaves the other person to be - what exactly?
I'm not saying all of these apply in every situation - but some of them always will.
What's a different way of looking at this?
If our 'triggers' point to our hidden wounds and pain - isn't every 'trigger' an opportunity to take care of these wounds / pains once and for all - and opportunity we might embrace and cherish?
And isn't a community of people coming together exactly the kind of support we might need to do so?
Challenging assumptions, I know. And some of you may be thinking that 'trauma' is real and that 'people aren't always trustworthy'... or even that 'most people aren't'.
Is that really true?
One of the foundation stones of the coaching work I do is 'radical responsibility'. "Radical responsibility" is based on the assumption that being responsible is ALWAYS better than not being responsible. Why? Because the more responsibility I can choose to assume for ANYTHING, the more power I will have over it. (I'll happily elaborate on this another day).
So if I were to take full responsibility for my triggers - and my own safety - what might that mean?
I acknowledge there may be things in my past that were painful, traumatic or stressful (to varying degrees) which I am still allowing to influence how I experience certain events or situations TODAY (even though they are in the past)
I acknowledge that - while I allow these past experiences to have that sort of effect on me - I will run the risk of experiencing strong emotional reactions at times which may impact the quality of my life, wellbeing and relationships
I acknowledge that it is therefore up to me to take care of my emotional wellbeing around these experiences - and to commit to the work of healing or transforming them - or not. Which is a choice I get to make (weighing up costs and benefits here..)
In which case, a 'trigger' situation becomes a welcome indicator for an area that still requires my attention for healing - or one I volunteer to maintain.
Where other people are present, I have the choice of involving them in this process through embracing my vulnerability and trusting they will be able to contribute positively to my healing process - or to remove myself and take care of myself in other ways.
How to deal with triggers
So - following this rant: How DO you take care of stuff that triggers you? - A very useful approach for this comes from Dr. David Drake and his 'narrative coaching' technique. This approach helps break down the trigger situation into manageable chunks while getting to the CORE of what causes the intense emotional response inside us in the first place. The assumption here is that something can only trigger us if it is linked to a challenging belief we have about ourselves which we unconsciously hold to be true. If we can shine a light onto this belief, we can then investigate whether it is ACTUALLY true (spoiler alert: it never is!) and - if necessary - replace it with a more helpful one. Here's Dr. Drake's series of questions:
What actually HAPPENED? This is where you identify - precisely - the triggering event while REMOVING ALL EVALUATION / JUDGEMENT. What this looks like could be this: Person A opened their mouth and the words [whatever they actually said] came out of it at the volume of xyz decibel. (Take a guess!). Or: SOMEONE shared a personal experience that involved [triggering content]. Or simply: Person B continues to call me. I have previously asked them not to.
What MEANING am I creating with regard to this? (My BS story) This is where we own up to our judgement. "They yelled at me and that's disrespectful / abusive / not ok". "They're trying to piss me off". "They just want to hurt / annoy me". "This reminds me of [my trauma], therefore I'm not safe". "They hated me all along" "I'll never get that promotion now" - We are meaning-making machines and the stories we create because of this are not always accurate. So the inevitable question that follows is: Is this REALLY true???? Can I know with ABSOLUTE certainty that this is true??
What BELIEF do I have to have about MYSELF in order to create this meaning??? (What does this say about ME??) - This is where it gets really interesting - because this is usually the REAL reason why we get triggered. It's the REASON the meaning we created in step 2 is so painful. Why am I upset about not being respected? - It's only going upset me if, for example, I am not respecting myself, if I feel I am somehow unworthy, inadequate etc. (Or, conversely - if I had 100% bulletproof self-love and self-respect, knew my worth and what I stand for - would it upset me if someone disrespected me? Probably not. I'd just laugh at it, right?) Other underlying beliefs here might be based on assumptions of permanence, pervasiveness and personalization: I will ALWAYS be affected / hurt by this. I am NEVER being taken seriously. I'm not worthy of love. I am a FAILURE in all areas of my life. "I AM"... weak/helpless/too stupid - etc.
How does this make me FEEL? Note: this is not the EVENT making me feel anything. These are the MEANINGS and BELIEFS I hold about this event that make me feel this thing. - And the answer is probably: shit.
How do I BEHAVE as a consequence? Well - we all employ all sorts of coping strategies when we feel shit, right? We strike back. We withdraw. We walk out. We break down in a heap. We yell, scream or shout. You know... the usual.
What is the RESULT of this behaviour? Well - let's own it. Maybe it's just making my own life miserable and keeping me trapped in never ending negative emotions and high stress levels. But quite likely it has more far-reaching consequences: Consequences on my relationships or how I relate to others, my work, or ability to set goals freely and pursue them... Think about what this actually leads to - and be honest.
The more honest you can be with yourself going through these questions, the more opportunity you have to bring your own stories into the light of day. And truth means power. Remember: we are in charge of what we believe. We are in charge of the meaning we create.
So what to do then? - Dr. Drake then simply proceeds to reverse engineering the process:
What result do you actually WANT?? - Things like: a positive work environment. Peace of mind. Having fun. Getting along. etc.
How will you need to BEHAVE in order to achieve this? - Well, this may involve things like: be more kind. Listen more. Be humorous. Be supportive. Get on with my day. Make sh*t happen...
How will I have to FEEL in order to behave like this? What do I need to focus on, how do I have to hold myself? What is a more helpful state?
What will you have to BELIEVE about yourself in order to feel like this? - Things like "I CAN cope with this" "The past has no power over me - it does not determine my future" "Life is always happening FOR me, not TO me" "What can I learn from this?" "I am well worthy of respect for what I contribute and how I show up" would be a real game changer here, no?
What else could this event MEAN? - This is where we bring in come compassion for the other person, ourselves and the world at large. Generally people are doing the best they can with the resources they have... which then again, generally, means that if someone seriously messes up, they probably have shit going on that I don't know about. Maybe THEY were triggered by something (and didn't do their work on steps 1-6). Maybe they just had a shit day. Maybe they have other things on their minds. Or maybe they actually DID try and get back at us for something - what might it be that I may have done to cause such a reaction?
How do I see this event NOW? How should I respond? What action do I take?
Now, my friends - I say all this with absolute love and compassion. And I know that ANYTHING that involves a 6 (or 12!) step frigging process is not going to change your life in a heartbeat. This is a skill that takes practice. Over time, the process will become quicker, smoother and - eventually - almost instant. Practice makes perfect. So keep having compassion with yourself when you are feeling triggered and can't seem to get on top of your inner world - and go through the questions when you can.
The one thing you can take away IMMEDIATELY though is knowing that there IS another option. That you are not a victim of your 'triggers'. And that whoever it is who is triggering you has almost certainly NO IDEA of all that storytelling you're doing inside - and if they did, if you were willing to be vulnerable and share - wouldn't they be more than likely to understand? And who knows - maybe they have a challenge inside of them somewhere that is just as painful as yours - and if you knew what it was, you'd understand them too, wouldn't you?
PS: This post is a content summary of my second ever "Next Level" session... however, it's NOT about the content (well - not exclusively). Next level sessions are about having a chance to meet new people over meaningful conversations while learning some new skills and tools to improve your every day in the 'good-good Quadrant'. Next level sessions are where we don't just LEARN this stuff, but EXPERIENCE and PRACTICE it. Information isn't power - it's potential power. Unless you have given yourself the experience - how will you ever know this works?? And in case you missed it: Next level sessions are NOT recorded, and there's no replay - they are real life conversations, shared exercises and practices and subsequent celebrations with real human beings.. So be there or be square!
PPS: And if you're up for REALLY making your life in the 'good-good' quadrant happen, I have a real treat for you: Soon I will be launching the first cohort of "The Village" - a 12-months personal development program that will help you shift ALL areas of your life into the good-good quadrant, alongside a close knit community of fellow humans providing you with support, accountability and a sounding board. Not only that, but you will start DOING actual good for the world on day 1!! Talk about FEELING good as a result! If you're interested, send me a message to email@example.com and I'll provide you with more info on "The Village - Where good goes viral"