When I was at the Social Justice Training Institute, we had lots of opportunities to get triggered. To be triggered is a way of saying that something that you experienced through or with another person lit you up inside. Usually the word trigger indicates something negative, like fear or anger and can manifest in emotion or physical sensations like heart pounding, face flushing, sweating etc, but triggers can also produce positive emotions as well.
Often you’ll see blog posts with “trigger warnings” for topics around violence or sexual assault or homophobia or racism, as a way to let the reader know they might get lit up inside when they read the text. I’ve heard and used the term “hooked” as well, as in “That conversation about race really hooked me and I need to figure out what’s going on for me.”
I like that word hooked; imagine many interactions as being smooth and relatively effortless, but occasionally there is a thorn or fishhook or rough edge that catches me, sticks with me, ruffles the smoothness and I have to figure it out and mend the space. Triggers are likely more intense hooks, and have heavier implications.
We talked a lot about triggers at the institute. We did one exercise where we took a situation where an interaction produced that hook or trigger in us and then broke it down into it’s components-what was said, how we felt, what we thought caused the feelings etc. But then, we went through again, with this stack of cards with words on them like “belonging” “hope” “acceptance” “connection” “empathy” and picked cards that we thought the other person might have been needing during the interaction, regardless of if we were hooked or not.
So, if someone was overexplaining to me about my own experience, it’s possible that that person was needing something, something that either he or she wasn’t getting in the moment OR something that he or she might have not gotten over time earlier in life. Like acknowledgement of intelligence. Or maybe that person needed to believe they could figure things out in order to be safe.
The exercise wasn’t to make you excuse your triggerer, but to utilize empathy in considering where that person might be coming from. That empathy allows you to engage the person more effectively. Also, you can ask yourself the same thing-what did I need in that encounter? That allows you to get some self compassion.
Basically, my personal experience was to move from my instinctive sense of protection and defense, into curiosity about the other person’s experience.
The cards we used were from a curriculum called Non Violent Communication and we only touched on it momentarily, but the facilitators seemed trained in it. Their ability to talk and listen and question us in difficult moments was pretty amazing, even as they had emotions or feelings about the situation at hand.
From the wiki:
NVC is based on the idea that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and only resort to violence or behavior that harms others when they don’t recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs. Habits of thinking and speaking that lead to the use of violence (psychological and physical) are learned through culture. NVC theory supposes all human behavior stems from attempts to meet universal human needs and that these needs are never in conflict. Rather, conflict arises when strategies for meeting needs clash. NVC proposes that if people can identify their needs, the needs of others, and the feelings that surround these needs, harmony can be achieved.
Given the culture we live in, I’m of the opinion that we have learned to use violence all the time. And so, I’m looking into training on NVC through local groups, state wide and hopefully, a national training in the next couple of years. They also have eLearning courses.
There’s been much in the news and blogosphere the past few days about waking up, staying connected, determining how to heal, how to change policy, changing opinions period, having courage to change, that finding ways into peace seems imperative.
Why not at least try it, right? I mean, we have lost so much already, why not push forward into a new way of relating. Imagine it, getting our needs met and minimizing pain while we do it. Being soft with ourselves and others and being able to help in deeper and more effective ways.
It’s worth the attempt, because things have to change.