I’ve been thinking a lot about triggers lately. Like, there are seemingly random, generally innocuous things that will send me into outer orbit, either angry or anxious or panicky or whatever, but basically my fight/flight/freeze response kicks in, and with it comes tunnel vision and a complete inability to process the situation like a “normal” person.
An example: I live in a duplex. My 2-BR apartment only has one entrance, the front door, that opens out onto the front porch of the house, with steps that lead down to the driveway and two parking spots in front of the house. My neighbor’s 1-BR has a front door and a back door; the back door leads to the back yard, as well as 2+ parking spots, because the driveway goes all the way to the back. In the 3 years I’ve lived there, the front spots have always been for my apartment, the back spots for the other apartment, since they’re the only one with direct access to it. For some reason, though, my new neighbor sometimes feels the need to park in the front, either in one of my two spots (which, you know, whatever; unless C is coming over, my car only needs one spot, and I get that), or they’ll just park in the driveway blocking my car in, because they want to use the walkway to the front porch and their front door.
I should mention that when she moved in, we talked at length about the parking and she was totally fine with parking in the back, so it’s not like I’m expecting this without expressing the expectation.
Anyway. Every single time this happens – which I should mention isn’t THAT often – I am overcome with anxiety and being PISSED. Like I’m going to have to fight for my life over this stupid parking situation. You know, instead of just knocking on their door and asking them to move the car. I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO DO THAT AND WHY ARE YOU SO RUDE AND DISRESPECTFUL AND FFS YOU’VE GOT PLENTY OF ROOM IN THE BACK AND YOUR OWN DAMN ENTRANCE WHY YOU GOTTA TAKE MINE TOO.
There are other things, too. One time I had the wrong appointment date/time with Noelle, and I sat in the waiting area as the minutes ticked by, getting more and more worked up, thinking either she’d disrespected me by not writing our appointment down, or that I obviously wasn’t worthy and she didn’t want to meet with me, or something equally NOT TRUE, but man. I had to talk myself off the ledge and do a lot of deep breathing, just so I could respond to it like a sane person. Which meant leaving instead of sitting there stewing, and then sending her an email asking if I’d written down the day/time wrong, which it turned out I HAD.
So, she and I talked about this a little bit during our last visit. She said something that struck a chord, and I believe there’s a whole lot of truth to it for me.
When you grow up feeling like you’re not enough and don’t really deserve space in the world, like you and your autonomy don’t really matter in the grand scheme, and then when you’re modeled that behavior and are never encouraged to be your own best self, to speak up and out, to have opinions and to value who you are and to be your own person, then you end up feeling like a victim of everyone else. At their mercy. Unable to stand up for yourself because you don’t really think you’re worth defending.
And that lends itself to finding yourself in relationships where you’re taken for granted and taken advantage of, where you allow yourself to be treated poorly because you don’t really trust that you deserve any better. You’re easily manipulated, easily abused, easily led astray, and then all the bad things you’re told and shown feed into the narrative you’re already telling yourself.
In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz talks about the poison that people feed each other. And that we only accept as much poison from others that we feel we deserve. But once we reach the point where we no longer feel like we deserve the levels of poison being injected into the interaction… that’s when we raise up, and we no longer accept what a person is trying to feed us. “Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make any assumptions. Be impeccable with your word. Always do your best.”
I described it all to Noelle like I’ve had a lifetime of trying to make myself small enough to fit within the parameters of what other people thought and expected. Small enough to fit in THEIR existence, instead of exacting my own, and demanding my own space in the world. Backing myself further and further into a corner, until one day I no longer fit, and I finally stood the hell up and started pushing my way back out.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anaïs Nin
Last year, I think I just took on the last vestiges of toxicity and poison that I could handle before the cognitive dissonance of my own beliefs of my worth (and all the choices I made in keeping with that – relationships, jobs, friendships, etc.) came into direct opposition with what the world has been trying to show me all along: that I’m smart, competent, capable, and worthy of what’s good in the world.
I think starting school was the first big step in the right direction. I think severing ties with toxicity (people and work environments and social situations and that relationship) was the next huge multi-faceted step. Instead, I now have a great (albeit stressful) job where I am obviously valued and appreciated and we’re doing great work with the intention of helping MORE, as much as we can; I’m kicking ass in grad school and learning all about the things that matter most (and showing myself just how capable and smart I actually am); and I am dating a man who is honest, loving, kind, supportive, and good for me in every possible way.
Talk about blossoming.
Anyway. Back to the trigger thing… Noelle seemed to think that when I have this reaction, it’s because I am feeling threatened in some way, like my place in the world is being devalued, and my gut reaction is to raise up and defend what little I have. Which, of course, is that fight or flight mode going into overdrive, and I think THAT is likely due at least in part to genetic programming, because that apple doesn’t fall far from the tree at all. It was modeled, certainly, but I also think there’s some epigenetic switch flipping going on there, too. And the only way I’ve learned to manage it is to 1) take a whole lot of deep breaths until the overreaction passes, 2) determine root causes and conditions, and then 3) stand up for myself in a reasonable way. That’s how I can learn to trust that I’ve got my own best interests at heart, and that I can, and should, and totally know how to defend myself if I need to.
It seems silly to get so worked up about such little, insignificant things, feeling like I have to fight for myself and what’s mine. But when it’s tied into the bigger picture, it all makes sense. All the little things add up. I’m just grateful I’ve got some insight, and that it usually doesn’t leave me – at least not completely – while I’m in the throes of a visceral response. So whether it’s about the parking, or missed appointments, or passive-aggressive comments and behaviors from people who don’t ultimately matter, or perceived slights or threats to my safety and security and livelihood and happiness… I don’t have to hop on that trigger and let it take me to a place I’d rather not be.
It’s no horse, and I’m no Roy Rogers.