Kollel Milhamta Shel Torah of Queens A Spiritual Home for Torah and Tefillah

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By: Mozelle Forman, Lcsw

We all know the feeling we get when someone makes a jokingly-mean comment that might not be a huge deal to another person, but totally destabilizes us for the rest of the day. There’s a name for this: it is an emotional trigger. Emotional triggers strike in situations that remind you of something painful that occurred in your past, which cause an intense emotional reaction in the present. Identifying your triggers and learning how to manage them will lead to a calmer, more satisfying way of being in relationships.

It didn’t take me long to uncover my main trigger – someone being disloyal to me – but it did take me some time to learn how to better manage my reactions.

Feeling that someone has been disloyal to you is a universally bad feeling. If someone you think loves you take your opponent’s side, or abandons you for a “better” option, it hurts a lot. You can’t help but feel that something or someone else is more exciting, more appreciated, more loved than you are. And while that may be true – you can’t be everyone’s favorite – the younger me felt rejected and, well, not good enough. My hurt and anger in the face of disloyalty were intense, and I couldn’t recover from those incidents very easily.

In an effort to cure myself of the constant hurt I felt when people let me down, I decided that disloyalty is not about my not being important enough, but was rather a product of the other person’s flakiness. Their inability to be thoughtful to me was a character flaw in them, I reasoned. I would look at people who changed plans on me at the last minute as irresponsible, and those who chose to side with my opponent’s version of an argument as misguided or, frankly, ignorant. This worked for a while, until I found that I was surrounded by irresponsible, ignorant people!

My next attempt to “normalize’ my intense reactions when
I was triggered was to apply logic to what I desired from others.
Iwasn’t expecting from anyone anything that I wasn’t willing to givein return. I lived by the creed, “Never say ‘no’ to people – they will feel let down.” “Always defend those closest to you even though they are wrong in order to keep the peace”I believed. So, when others did not afford me the same courtesies, I became irrationally angry. What I hadn’t realized was that I was holding myself and others to an unrealistic standard, causing myself much angst and hurting my relationships.

And so, I had to evolve some more. I had to re-think my definition of loyalty and ask myself – “If you say ‘no’ to someone does that mean that they are not important to you, or simply that something more important is happening for you right now?” My answer to myself:Exactly!

Answering this accomplished two life changing things for me:
I learned to accept hearing “no” when I wanted to hear “yes” and I learned to say “no” when I didn’t want to say “yes.” I realized that the other’s disloyalty was not an absolute, as some of the people who have been disloyal to me have also come through for me. I began to tolerate people changing plans at the last minute or not coming through with their commitments to me. These disappointments now twinge rather than heat me up.

Below is a list of some common emotional triggers:

            Someone leaving you (or the threat that they will).

            Someone discounting or ignoring you.

            Someone being unavailable to you.

            Someone giving you a disapproving look.

            Someone blaming or shaming you.

            Someone being judgmental or critical of you.

            Someone being too busy to make time for you.

            Someone not appearing to be happy to see you.

            Someone trying to control you.

            Someone being needy, or trying to smother you.

Do any of them heat you up? Do you find yourselfhaving an extreme reaction when any of these things occur? Triggers usually play themselves out in relationships, as it is usually someone else’s behavior that triggers an emotional reaction in you. Take some time reflecting on what is “triggered” from your past, and if it feels comfortable, share this with the one that has triggered you. While you will never be completely free of a reaction to your triggers, you will be able to put them into a better perspective. With great compassion and patience for yourself, you can ease the intensity of your reactions, which will protect you and your relationships.