I wish this article was about how to teach others not to trigger you. However, if it were, I’d be living in La-La Land, thinking I could actually make others change or thinking I could live my whole life without feeling big emotions.
Like many of you, I have tried that before, and you’re right...changing others does not work.
Today, society is teaching us and younger generations that it is more important to avoid our triggers than to identify them, notice them, and put ourselves through the experience despite feeling anxious or afraid. Avoidance teaches us nothing helpful; instead, it reinforces that our triggers should be and still are more powerful than we are. It teaches us that we cannot tolerate big emotions and makes us behave in ways that are sometimes going against how we want to live.
Have you ever felt like you disassociated or felt outside of yourself in conflict?
Did you feel yourself escaping or “dozing off”?
Do you feel the emotions in your body but have a hard time identifying them in the moment, which prevents you from communicating that to the other person?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you likely shut down in the face of a trigger or conflict, and this article will be for you. If you are a partner of someone who shuts down, this article could be even more helpful for you.
Please note that identifying triggers and honing into your inner psyche when you are triggered or when you shut down takes a willingness like no other. Self-awareness is extremely difficult because it forces you to acknowledge sometimes really hurt or scared parts of us that were formed from very early experiences in the moment that it is happening. It requires mindfulness and listening to your body. These parts of ourselves are often really young and have potentially:
Our bodies remember these times even when our conscious does not. It doesn’t forget. The hurt parts take over from our True Self or Centered Self and send us spiraling back into those previous experiences. We may try to use Intellectualization - a defense mechanism created by Freud - where we get stuck in our thinking, trying to rationalize and reason so much so that it blocks the feelings and skills it takes to actually tune in to the experience game.
1. Do the Opposite of What Feels Comfortable - Just writing this was hard. If your tendency is to shut down, then do the opposite by finding the words to express yourself in the moment. Typically, if we shut down then we lean toward avoiding the conflict or the trigger. By leaning in to the person you are in conflict with or sharing your opinion, you can be teaching the hurt part that it is a new experience - that it is not the same thing as those previous times and giving yourself the opportunity to change the brain patterns in the meantime.
2. Ask for Accountability - In your closest relationships, you may feel comfortable sharing what you are doing and asking them to encourage you to speak up if they notice when you shut down.
It could look like this to your partner: “Hey, you may have noticed that I shut down when we talk about hard things. I’m trying to speak up, and I want to be able to share my opinion in those moments. Will you tell me calmly that you notice that I’m shutting down and that my opinion matters?”
If you don’t feel comfortable in your relationships quite yet, ask your therapist to make this a part of check-in so that you are accountable to this behavior change.
3. Understand You May Not Feel Like It - When we change brain patterns like this and go against our natural tendency, it’s not going to feel comfortable at first. In fact, it will feel completely uncomfortable. That’s normal. Any change is going to feel uncomfortable. Just do it is a great motto here. Eventually, your brain won’t see that as a change and will begin to adapt and MAYBE even change toward that, even just a little bit.
Whether we are trying to change our thoughts or our behaviors, it feels easier to avoid the stimulus or trigger. However, easy has never been attributed to growth. It’s going to be hard, but you can do hard things.