#127 Identify Your Triggers

Sharing 365 life lessons, tips, or hacks; the things that make life easier, happier, and more productive. I hope you’ll follow along and find them helpful too.

#127

Identify Your Triggers

Defined

An emotional trigger is something that provokes you. It may be a person, an opinion, a situation, or an environmental condition. When we are ‘triggered’, we generally REact emotionally – often with a defensive behavior. We experience a swell of emotion and it may or may not be specifically connected to the experience at hand.

Discovery

In order to properly manage your emotions, it’s imperative that you know what your triggers are. Ninety-nine percent of the time, our triggers are based in fear. Fear of losing something, having less of something, or never having something – that ‘something’ being anything really… trust, respect, time, money, love, etc… When we understand ‘why’ we are reacting – managing our reactions is much – much easier.

Management

Once we know ‘why’ we get triggered we can learn how to communicate and manage our reactions. Often, it’s about learning how to be present – not allowing our histories to overrun the present moment. It’s about communicating our truest emotion – that thing we fear (i.e, not being loved, having enough time, etc…) By being aware of our immediate thought, engaging our breath, and making an intentional choice in our response, we can stand down those automatic responses that tend to stand at attention when we are triggered.

In order to change anything – we need to be aware and know what needs to be changes and so to improve our reactions it is imperative that we make an effort to ….

Identify our triggers.

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The Longest Day

Continued from The Tipping Point

“Those who are heartless once cared too much” – unknown

When my tears were spent, I stood up and squared my shoulders. I was finished. Done. Through. Right there – in that moment, I knew that this marriage was gone. I was no longer willing to spend another minute allowing myself to be disrespected in the manner that had been a hallmark of this union. As the saying goes – ‘fool me once, shame on you… fool me twice, shame on me’. This was the third time and this time, my mother could fend for herself…  It was time for me to think of me – the messages I was sending to my children, my daughters – about self-respect.

I had things to do today. I was scheduled to get my hair cut and then meet some friends for drinks. I thanked my therapist for being there, for allowing me to breach a boundary in the most unforgivable way and scheduled an appointment to sort this all out.

I headed to my hair stylist, approximately a thirty-minute drive. I had first met him two years back after my hysterectomy when I realized that I had the same hair style for twenty years or more. I had researched stylists in the area and his name came up as one of the best. My primary interest was finding someone who could look at my face and determine – for me – the best hairstyle based on the shape of my face and my hair texture. In past attempts, a stylist would ask me what I wanted, ‘look through a book’ they would say… well – that’s like buying a pair of panties that I like from the Victoria Secret catalog and then being pissed that they don’t look like ‘that’ on my bottom!

Michael had cut my hair that very first day – trimming at least eight inches or so – and gave me a new look. It was something completely different and I loved it… I’d been going to him ever since. Funny that this particular day I was seeing my hairdresser, the proverbial therapist…

I recall being there and obviously emotional. There is no hiding this kind of emotional devastation even if I had wished to. When he asked me, what was happening, I put forth an avalanche of verbal expression, detailing each minute of the morning with explicit detail. It was a safe place, a location where no one knew me or my family, and I was free to exhibit any amount of animosity that popped up in the conversation. I was incredulous. I was beginning to get pissed, pissed at Hubby, pissed at Abee, mostly, pissed at myself. For a while, I forgot all the spiritual development that had been a part of my recent life and moved back into this rudimentary human reaction space. I wasn’t focused on forgiveness or spiritual growth, just the pain of my immediate experiences and it was raw.

Michael listened, like any good therapist – hairstylist and proposed blonde accents to spice up my look. Thankfully, that meant another two hours at the salon and I was grateful for the diversion. I didn’t care what he did, sex me up – spice me up – make me look younger… it didn’t matter. What did matter, was my plan. I needed to create a plan.

I never planned to divorce my husband. Years back, the first time I had discovered infidelity, our business was young, I had a newborn baby and our finances were just budding. Today was different. Our children were older; our business was established and we were much stronger financially. This was better than at any other time before, to think about leaving our marriage and believing that I would be ok. I had never finished a bachelor’s degree. I had taken a voluntary second place, a submissive posture with our business in terms of production – running most of my earnings through Hubby’s position because of the tax advantages. On paper, I was worthless except that I owned an equal fifty percent of our company. Otherwise, my resume demonstrated twenty years of partnership but no production quotas to support successful claims.

We were earning good money so I knew that it would all be ok, that it would work out, but there was a moment of anxiety when I realized that I had not personally produced a dime in income for more than ten years. I needed to put a plan in action but I had no idea where to start. I sat there with foil protruding out from my skull thinking carefully about what I must do next. I knew that first and foremost – I was finished with Hubby. There was an absolute in my heart, an unequivocal finality in regards to the future of our relationship. We would co-parent… that’s it. There was no denying that we had four children to raise. Even though Frank was in college, we still had three girls, the oldest of which was about to begin high school.

Oh. Our girls. What would I say to them? The breadth and width of Hubby’s betrayal is his story… not mine to tell but it clearly would have an impact on our family. I had to find a way to frame this morning’s experience in a way that could be digested by adolescent girls. I was willing to take the fall, to say that I was no longer willing to be in a marriage where I didn’t feel valued. I could say it in a way that didn’t disparage Hubby but still honored me. Why in the hell was I concerned about his favor??

“A heart can only take so much pain, and although it won’t shut down, it will begin to shut out.” ~ unknown

There were a gazillion thoughts swirling through my mind as I sat in Michael’s salon; some of which made sense, some did not; some were rational, others not so much. My defense system kicked into high gear and I formulated several automatic responses in anticipation of greeting Hubby later that night. I was going to stand my ground – we are done. Period.

My hair turned out fantastic. I was blonde from ear to ear and by any measure, the cut was sassy and the color was sexy. Michael was good at what he did and perhaps a little impartial to me, protective of the perceived injustice that existed in Hubby’s behavior.

I finished up the day at a restaurant / bar in a small neighboring town where one of my good friend’s and her friend – an acquaintance of mine – were catching up. I was exhausted, completely spent and somewhat unwilling to relive the melodrama of my day. I just needed to laugh, to think of something neutral, to escape the reality of my life so that’s what happened. We talked and laughed about kids, life, and busy schedules. It was good to be with friendly faces but I was wary of the impending confrontation that I knew was looming in front of me. I needed to go home.

When I got there, Hubby was sitting on the couch, watching television. I hadn’t spoken to him since earlier in the day when I told him I wanted a divorce. I suspect he had realized at some point that he had left his email account open, that there was a lot of evidence to suggest that he had significantly betrayed everything our matrimony vows embodied; so much evidence. He was regretful, remorseful, and repentant. I sat down on one side of a very large couch to listen. He stretched out and put his head on my lap after commenting on how much he liked my hair. He cried. I sat there quietly and still.

My heart was stone cold.

Just Give Me Xanax

“Each meeting occurs at the precise moment for which it was meant. Usually, when it will have the greatest impact on our lives.”  ― Nadia Scrieva

It was a long drive home for several reasons. First, getting anywhere on Sunday afternoons if you are moving through the Washington DC area (even 25 years ago) is a formidable challenge and it doesn’t seem to matter what direction you are travelling. I was driving and being the frugal (broke really) single moms we were, we packed food so E (what I sometimes call my BFF) handed me one of the sandwiches she had grabbed from the lunch buffet we were too hung over to enjoy. I took a sizable bite, chewed a couple of times, and then all of the air was sucked out of my respiratory system. The amount of freshly grated horseradish on that sandwich could have been the base ingredient for an atom bomb. I sincerely, could not breath. It’s a true miracle that we didn’t die right there, me from horseradish, E from the median I almost crashed into.

One of the best parts of having a best friend is their ability to build you back up after our mental gremlins have demolished our self-image, self-confidence, or self-worth. All of my ‘self’ things were battered and torn after the weekend. I was still very much trapped inside that girl who believed she wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough. The girl who believed random sex was ‘bad’. I was pretty sure that I had just demonstrated myself to be a disappointment to every standard my parents had ever attempted to instill. Socially, I had just fulfilled the role of being ‘cheap’ and ‘easy’. Label after label drifted across my awareness as I judged myself harshly. She was great at listening to me babble and then countering each and every contorted thought I presented with something positive and complimentary. Balance… that was always the goal.

It was still time before cordless and mobile phones. I had a really long cord on the kitchen wall phone; long enough that I could drape it across the little breakfast bar to the couch where I could comfortably chat. In addition, I had one on my nightstand. I wasn’t home an hour at best before the phone rang. My first thought was that E had forgotten something at my place and was turning around to get it. Nope. It was him.

He was calling to tell me he had gotten home and that he couldn’t get me off his mind. For just a split minute I was feeling a bit prideful, figuring it was the sex piece he was lamenting over. Actually, on that occasion, he didn’t refer to sex but to how much he wanted to get to know me better. I had some time before my weekend sitter brought Francis home so I settled in and began to share myself in a more appropriate way. We talked again that night before I went to sleep. We covered a lot of history and filled in some details where holes had developed from our weekend discussions. Since we worked for the same company, some of our conversation was about the stock market, our investment strategies, and pet peeves regarding both. We were on the phone well into the night.

I was tired at work the next morning as I prepped for the Monday morning meeting I typically ran. Just before I got started the door opened and in walked a delivery driver holding a massive vase of red roses with a dramatic white bow tied around it. There must have been 30 or more long stemmed roses. Everyone oohed and aahed. The women were instantly barraging me with questions and the men just offered raised eyebrows. My meeting wasn’t going to be productive.

I had to call. I did. If it were today, of course I would Snap it, save it to my story and then all of my friends would be involved. But again, this was back-in-the-day so I was relegated to also using the phone and of course, I called E. We oohed and aaed together about how sweet it was that I received flowers and I shared our talk from the night before with her. Best friends get the whole scoop!

Again that night after Francis was tucked into bed and sleeping, he called and we talked for several hours. I was amazed at how much there was to say. We talked about our families and I shared the story of Rocky’s death. We compared stories about being the oldest sibling and about large families. It began to feel easy. After we hung up, I would call E and talk about how I felt about talking to him. There was a lot of talking.

Wednesday I received more flowers, a different kind but a bigger bouquet. We talked again at lunch time and for several hours later that night. I pulled out that ‘attraction list’, the one where I had written down all the qualities I wanted in a man… As I ran down the list I felt goosebumps developing. He was all of them but one. He wasn’t Catholic. He was Lutheran though geez – -you couldn’t get much closer. Frankly, it turned out that my philosophies aligned more closely with the Lutheran traditions than with Catholicism anyway – at least back then. Lay ministers and no confession worked well for me.

He wanted to see me again and we agreed he would come to Fredericksburg. As a branch manager, I sometimes brought motivational speakers in to inspire my reps and a Top 10 sales representative fit the bill. We scheduled a meeting for the coming Friday morning. He would take the train down from Delaware and be at my office by 10 a.m.

I called E. I shared more of our discussions; how I was beginning to feel. I ranted incessantly about the craziness of how fast this was all developing. My internal warning sirens had started to run out of steam as the foundation of a relationship was evolving. He lived in another state, he had never been married, he matched my list, he was super charming… I was feeling excited, nervous, afraid, vulnerable, and restless – all at once – constantly. Somehow I went from an undignified walk-of-shame on Sunday to a skittish ball of anticipation and overstimulated imagination on Thursday. What was happening? It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know about Xanax. She allowed me to run through the gamut and then matter-of-factly asked me “what will you do if he asks you to marry him”. Wait… what? Seriously? We’ve known each other 5 days.

I can’t say ‘yes’.

Can I?

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My Heart at DEFCON 1

I spent the end of my twenties as a single lady. In retrospect, it was a time of defense. I was in personal DEFCON 1. I was unwilling and unable to invest my emotional being in any type of intimate connection. I developed ‘control issues’. Ultimately, at any time that we feel unsafe – emotionally or otherwise – we attempt to gain control of our surroundings so that we can experience comfort. My intent was not to control any ‘person’ or really any ‘thing’ – simply create an environment in which I felt emotionally safe. It was much harder to do than one imagines.

In those years I did have a relationship with a guy who was really, really, comfortable. He was great. Non-confrontational and easy, really easy to be with. He was fun. He wasn’t a lot of other things that really mattered to me but I loved the ease with which we existed together. It was mostly a long distance relationship and when it became a REALLY long distance romance because he moved – he asked me to marry him. He called dad and I said yes. There was no ring – no real plans – it was a desperate proposal. We loved what we had together – we didn’t love each other!

He relocated and started building his life in a new town – I was setting things in motion to get there. It was really hard for us to connect when we couldn’t even spend weekends together (Ahhh… time before cell phones and Skype). He was lonely – I was distracted and busy with a preschooler and a 50 hour per week job. We started arguing and disagreeing about timing of my move, etc. One day he called and talked about an ‘attraction’ he had to a woman he was working with… he was reconsidering our engagement. I didn’t give him a chance. My reaction was at gut level and instinctive…. “I guess I’ll just have to get over you then.” That was me – controlling. I believed I was in control of the amount of emotion that I could allow in the experience. I shut down anything that was intense. I had developed a coping mechanism that was completely unhealthy. I was refusing to feel.

It was me – reacting to yet another loss in my life. I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt – I didn’t let him explain or share feelings, insecurities, or fears. I shut him down before he could shut me out. He was done in my mind. I had reacted from a place of deep pain – a part of me that had lost love and had yet to be willing to experience the vulnerability of truly loving again.

Love – in any way – did not feel safe.  I had loved my mother and she left. I had loved Rocky and he died. I had loved another and he got sidetracked. Bam! Fuck love. I was now in control mode and making sure that love didn’t touch any part of my life. Defense … Defending … Protected. That was me.

I didn’t know that I had adopted those mechanisms. I was on auto pilot. I was dating and anticipating… excited to meet each new guy but every time, failed to make a connection that felt authentic or long lasting. I was holding everyone I met to the standard of how I loved Rocky and of how he loved me. Even though there were real moments in my marriage that humanized him, Rocky remained a superman in my mind. I had him on a pedestal of sorts. I knew that there were problems in our relationship that were real and typical of young love – it didn’t enter the equation when I associated men that came after him. No one compared.

I put a lot of focus on being a mom. I rented a room in my house to a guy that had been a really good friend of Rocky’s. He was in the area for work and was a great addition to our home. I wanted to love him. We weren’t romantic at all but I wanted to be with him – he was a connection to Rock. I couldn’t. I’m not sure he ever knew my thoughts and I’m still not completely sure if I was simply horny and trusted him or if I loved the idea of him from the perspective of the memories we shared. We had both loved the same guy – differently of course – but it was a connection that I didn’t have with anyone else. I lost track of him eventually.

I was a mom and a hard worker. I spent a ton of time working (a pure commission job) just to make ends meet. Rocky didn’t have life a life insurance policy. I distinctly remember a couple of guys from some Veteran’s group sitting at our kitchen table before he went overseas, trying to sell us a substantial policy but we were poor and young. We believed there was time. He had a small benefit from the Navy Reserves but it took me a long time to submit the paperwork. There was a finality about it. If I got the money it meant, he wasn’t coming back.

Our life (Francis’s and mine) was forging forward without much effort. I bought a house by assuming a mortgage. He started preschool and I kept working. I would drop him off at daycare in the morning – pick him up at night – take him home to eat dinner – and then wait for the babysitter to come so that I could go back out to work and yet… we were basically broke. I had never finished my degree so I felt stuck with the job I had – a sales job with an investment company. I was determined to make something of it.

I was lonely though. I still wanted a piece of that dream I had created all those years ago and I had become somewhat depressed and pessimistic – angry almost – about it coming to fruition. I recall a pivotal moment one evening when, after making a dead end sales call far away from home, I had started the return trip home – in tears – feeling completely and totally defeated. I was sure that none of my dreams would ever come true. In an instant – there was a voice – a male voice – deep and comforting – that said “stop being narrow minded – there are so many possibilities”. Holy crap… did God just talk to me? Was that my imagination? Who’s there? It’s hard to explain what a deep sense of ‘knowing’ I had immediately. It was so intense that I started laughing. Like a slide show on fast forward, dozens of potential life scenarios appeared in my mind. I went from sadness to exhilaration in a second (this experience is what I reference when I attempt to empathize with a psychotic break). I experienced an understanding that had not been there before. I would be OK.

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Photo credit: Skley via Foter.com / CC BY-ND