When I was in therapy, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was when my therapist told me “You are responsible for your actions, but you are never responsible for someone else’s feelings.” Of course in this context, she was talking about the feelings of adults and how we should be responsible for ourselves.
I have spent most of my life taking care of people’s feelings even when I’ve done nothing wrong. It’s draining. I don’t want to hurt anyone, though and do backflips to make sure I don’t.
Our feelings are not about them; they are usually about US.
Nobody can ‘make’ anyone feel any way. While there are real mean people out in the world, our feelings are always our responsibility. If something is triggering me, I might write in my journal to do some shadow work to find out why I am being triggered. Or maybe I will just wonder to myself and try and figure it out. These are some things we can ask ourselves when we feel triggered:
–Is is a familiar feeling?
–Who else triggered this in you in the past or present?
–How often do you feel this way?
–If you could let yourself go, what would you say back?
–I feel “……….”.
–What do you need in this moment? If you had the courage to ask for it, what would you ask for?
—Where in your body are you feeling these feelings? If you can sense the location in your body, be present with that body part and breathe into it. What comes up? Whatever surfaces, let it all happen.
The trigger in the present might be symbolic of events that have happened in the past that are still unhealed in the adult. For example, if I am angry for someone blaming me for doing something I didn’t do, while the person who blamed me was wrong for doing that, I am only triggered because when I was a child, my mother often blamed me when things went wrong in her life instead of taking responsibility for herself. I resented that as a child and never felt the feelings and took that baggage into my adulthood. So now when I am reminded of that event, I get angry. Once I resolve that trigger from the past, in the present when that happens again, there won’t be that emotionality surfacing or any overreaction. I’d just let the other person be wrong and move on. Or I might no longer attract those triggers again! The world we see outside of us is seen through the fog of our past. There may be lots repressed in our subconscious we don’t even know is there, but we find out what is there by the way we behave in the present. What triggers us in the present is a dead give away to our history.
“But it’s normal to feel triggered by a mean person.”
I really don’t so since nothing a person does is really ever personal — even in the case of sadists. People are all acting out their own pain. They are using people in the present to target instead of the real targets from the past. Once we heal our own pasts and once we make peace with the fact that nothing is ever personal, we can no longer get triggered. Once we become comfortable and secure with who we are, we cannot get triggered again.
While we all have an obligation to treat everyone with respect, equally, we have an obligation to be responsible for our own triggers and use them to learn more about ourselves so that one day we’ll be free from them.