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The Narrative Method Online Magazine

  • Writer's pictureShari Foos (she/her)

Put Down That Trigger

You know when somebody says you look good, but you think you look bad, and you can’t tell whether it’s a compliment or an insult? And you know how in the ensuing milliseconds you are pelted from the inside with a tangle of thoughts and images and vulnerable feelings you can’t quite name? And you know how you can hear your adult-self yelling in the distance not to go down this road, but the emotion overpowers your thinking and the next thing you know you’re back in that bad place, freaking out but trying not to show it?

Once your rocket ship has blasted off into the stratosphere of mis-associations and false interpretations, there’s no guessing what kinds of unique and unconnected illogic you may be capable of concluding — with absolute “certainty.” We’ve all been there and it’s pointless to blame yourself. Your unconscious is just doing its job, throwing a wide net and dumping mountains of irresistible “evidence.” It’s meant to alert your “Internal Defense Department” to potential danger, but like motion sensors that can’t differentiate between a burglar and a leaf, your IDD’s all-points bulletins call in the big guns, whether you need them or not.

In that heightened state of anxiety, when your emotions have blown their fuse and knocked out your power to fathom other perspectives, all you have is instinct and habit. Your instinct says fight-or-flight and that’s a hard one to disrupt. To be fair, there’s not much time between the trigger and kneejerk reaction, but it doesn’t take longer than slamming on your brakes to stop and redirect. Once your intelligence and humility come back online, you can consider the remote possibility that whatever evoked your upset might be more nuanced than what it seems.

Hey, if it turns out your fear was correct, you’ll be better prepared to deal with the fallout that may occur. If you jumped the gun, you can try to understand why you were triggered. Or you could conclude that even if you heard what you heard and saw what you saw — it still might not be what you think, and more shocking than that — wait for it — it might not even be about you.

So, the next time you think your friend’s engagement announcement was timed to make you feel terrible about your boyfriend having broken up with you, try shifting your rocket ship’s trajectory just one degree, away from the old path and toward one less traveled and clogged up with other people’s footprints. The goal is to wake up when you first hear the alarm, before you get snagged into a web of false assumptions and those old fears carry you away.

Unfortunately, none of us can do this 100% of the time, but we can be prepared. When you next hear that alarm, try calming yourself by placing your hand on your heart and taking long rhythmic breaths until you start to relax. Then, look in the mirror and ask yourself this simple question, “What else is true?” This susses out the dangerous from the unkind or unexpectedly benign. The more times you ask, the more perspectives you’ll discover until you feel less upset and more connected to your mind. And from that calmer and more trusting place, look deeper into your own eyes so you can take my compliment in the way it is intended: You look good, Captain.


Shari Foos

TNM Core Concept: Rocket Ship - The idea that small shifts in thought or action can lead to profound change. Imagine being a rocket ship speeding through space. If your trajectory changes one degree, you will eventually end up in a completely different place.

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1 Comment

Carole Isenberg
Carole Isenberg
Feb 07, 2023

This post is a fantastic lesson. I resonated with everything you said and most important the suggestion how to mitigate the immediate reaction jump. Hand on heart, take a breath…Thanks

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