‘Tis the Season…to get Triggered
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | December 1, 2023
Maybe 10 years ago I’m at one of those big, loud, extended family + friends holiday gatherings – with plenty of yelling across the room and booze flowing freely. But I’m enjoying myself, giggling with a cousin and eating yummy hors d’oeuvres while my talented brother coaxes smooth, jazzy Christmas tunes out of the piano in the background.
Then it comes in hard and quick from the right, “Hey Kris, nice to see you! You’re looking healthy – gained a few pounds, eh?” A deep chuckle. I say hello, smile and kiss, and then excuse myself. Old patterns of shame seep in through cracks in my boundaries. I barricade myself in a Barbie pink powder room and breathe.
Rationally, I have less than zero invested in this person’s opinion of my body. Sure there’s a lack of self-awareness, but he means no harm. I breathe some more. I have no choice over others’ actions, only my response to them.
But it’s the holidays, and, like many of us, I’m more prone to triggers at this time of year, particularly by family. So, I take a moment to compose myself, smile in the mirror, smooth my hair. Then I remember who I am and go back to enjoying myself at the party.
Note to self: Yoga Sutra 1.33 – just bless everyone. Let it go. Bless it all.
There’s some deep svādhyāya or self-study to be harnessed during the holidays. When I acknowledge my triggers and take a moment to respond rather than react, then I can do something about them – I have an opportunity to drain some power from them. I can work out the entrenched samskaras that hold me back.
Some triggers are easier to deal with than others. Being resourced – having good relationships, a strong sense of self and feelings of meaning and purpose in life all support the resolution and integration of triggers. I didn’t have any of that earlier in my life but I do now. When you don’t have resources and support and you don’t have strategies for self-regulation, then triggers can feel catastrophic.
I don’t spiral back into self loathing or dysfunctional behavior anymore because, thank goddess, I’ve become too much of myself – it wouldn’t make any sense. That particular trigger, wherever or whomever it comes from, while it can be a bit stingy, no longer cuts very deep or leaves much residue.
I find a useful tool for dealing with triggers can be a simple 1-10 Likert scale. When something happens which, in a rational universe, would trigger you to a 2 on that scale, but you get triggered to an 8, it’s a red flag telling you that you’ve got something potent to work with.
Another example for me are the times when I’m casually commenting to someone, usually a family member with no yoga or PT background who knows that I’m a yoga therapist about something biomechanical – let’s say my low back is sore. And then that person launches into an unsolicited detailed prescription for a hot yoga sequence to fix it. I’m not enlightened. That would definitely trigger me.
If it triggers me to say a 2, that’s pretty normal for me. If I can reflect and think okay, that’s a little trigger-ey, but no worries, I’m just gonna let that slip by. But if instead I have a strong reaction, feel my heart racing, start sweating, strongly retort, or storm out of the room. If I’m at a 8, then that would be a good indication that the trigger has unearthed something deep that I would benefit from examining.
And BTW, sometimes people’s assertions or behavior absolutely need to be countered, sometimes strongly. But I’m not talking about that here.
‘Tis the season to get triggered. Engaging in regular contemplative practice forces you to look at yourself. If you want to derail a trigger, either in its tracks or afterwards, you have to be able to pull yourself out of limbic/SNS activation, self-regulate, take a step back, and examine the trigger with some measure of clarity and objectivity. It’s not simple or easy. But it is possible. And the more you practice the better you get at it.
For me, the best result of yoga practice is not my stretchier hamstrings, it’s the increasingly flexible mind.
What helps you manage holiday triggers? Please let me know in the comments.