IT ALL STARTED WITH A TRIGGER
It all started with a little trigger today. Beka Joy, my partner, came in earlier than usual (we usually sleep in separate beds). She started sharing a song she remembered from childhood. Her face became tense as she tried to remember the song. I joked, “It really seems like you’re singing from your heart.”
She immediately seemed hurt and went into defensiveness. I didn’t think I had said anything mean or hurtful, but she was already sensitive and easy to trigger. And now she was almost in tears.
IT’S EASIER TO ASK OTHERS TO CHANGE THAN TO CHANGE OURSELVES
She requested that I promise not to say that again especially if she was trying to sing. Expression has always been a sensitive topic for us. I could feel resistance in myself as she was asking me to limit my own expression. It felt like she was saying I didn’t have permission to be silly or make jokes when it felt innocent enough, as I did not have malicious intent.
Rather than react, I just let her speak out her fears and concerns and I listened. I allowed myself to relax into the feeling of frustration I was having. I apologized if I had said something that offended her, but that I really didn’t do it on purpose to hurt her. It was only when she felt safe in that moment to open back up again that the tears began to flow. There wasn’t any logical reason for it.. just she was feeling sensitive and needed to feel safe again to re-access her emotions.
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR RESPONSE
I explained that she was trying to change my expression rather than taking responsibility for her own triggers. Out of this dialogue we were able to go deeper into some Ego Dynamics, and from that I created the diagram that you see as a featured post on today’s article.
It draws from the classic “Fight or Flight” nervous system response to real or perceived threats and the idea that the Ego is an active mine field that only requires a little bit of pressure to set off one of the mines.
These mines are charged energies caused from experiences long ago that still haven’t been resolved. The response to these land mines going off is disproportionate to the thing or person that triggered it. If you happen to be the trigger, and get the brunt of someone’s disapproval, you can feel as though its unjustified, get defensive and experience your own trigger response.
However, if you slow down enough and become conscious of the trigger and the response that is usually automatic, you can disarm that particular land mine within yourself and become a happier human being with healthier relationship dynamics.
IMPROV COMEDY – A LAB FOR EGO DYNAMICS
I hosted an improv comedy workshop last night and this I think helped to bring up some of the material for today. Stretching the limits of each character and taking on new scenes rapidly.. you learn a lot about yourself and the other actors very quickly. It reverses the importance of words and normal communication and magnifies the non-verbal / emotional connections that are happening underneath the surface.
In acting, your hidden energies become front and center, exposing you to your shadows and light. It also helps you grow out of your default character (standard Ego) much faster, as you explore other options and ways of relating.
WE ARE ALL ONE – BIG ASSHOLE
The Ego is essentially the BEST you’ve come up with in terms of how to navigate the world. If you were raised in a tough environment you developed a tough Ego. If you grew up in a relatively peaceful era, your Ego has less resistance and more trust. This is not a hard-set rule but a probable dynamic based on previous life experience.
No matter how much you’ve refined your Ego to be a pleasant experience for others, due to the uncontrollable nature of triggers, it’s almost impossible to go through life without triggering someone. We joke that it’s like we are all one big asshole — because somewhere, someone thinks you’re an asshole. Not because you are one, but because you triggered something inside them that they didn’t like, and they associate you with a feeling they don’t like – so they call you one.
So yes, we are all one. We are all one big asshole. This can be liberating on some level, instead of trying to please everyone – consider that whoever you might think is an asshole is still lovable and some people who think you’re an asshole have no idea how love-able you are. In short, don’t take it personally if someone misjudges you because you trigger something deeper. You will trigger people no matter how nice you try to be.
I suggest you study the Ego Dynamics graphic as it makes the different approaches and responses to those approaches more transparent. For now in this article I’ll do a quick crash course on the Ego Dynamics but I think it helps to play with them in an Improv Comedy type setup as these dynamics go beyond mental understanding and are energies that need to be played with to be understood on a deeper level.
Whether it’s someone new or an old friend, we tend to see these approaches as either friendly (neutral / loving), aggressive or fearful. We might sense this underneath the surface and then we have our way of dealing with this energy on the surface. This is our Ego response – it’s the character that we have developed to respond to the various characters we encounter in a day.
A trigger response is when someone’s approach has breached a comfortable boundary, creating distrust, confusion, deep pain, fear, anger, sadness or any combination of these emotions. Triggers are often uncontrollable and automatic responses to a breach.
They often have less to do with the immediate trigger and more to do with some deeper, unresolved charged energy that was detonated at the surface, the past.
Relationships with people we love are often challenging to navigate as they are already inside our comfort zones and can trigger us more than people we keep outside of our normal boundaries. And visa-versa.
If we are not aware of our triggers, or the triggers of others, we can get into trigger loops – creating an unhealthy pattern in relationships that most people understand as simply toxic. As the byproduct of looping triggers is massive disharmony in the nervous system, drained energy and unhealthy communication and relating.
But alas, there are solutions to overcome looping triggers.
SOLUTIONS FOR TRIGGER RELATIONSHIPS (Or Something Like That)
- FACE WITH GRACE: When you inevitably trigger another persona and they respond with an attack. Face them head on with grace. Don’t take it personally. Avoid temptation to rationalize, justify or defend. Just feel the energetic explosion of a trigger going off and feel it as the uncomfortable waves of energy ripple through your body. This is your first test at staying centered and in your heart.
- Do the same thing when the trigger is happening within you. Resist the temptation to immediately attack whatever caused the trigger and sit with it. Stay centered. You might surprise yourself with how easy it is to dissolve a trigger the moment it happens rather than let it grow bigger.
HOW TO COMMUNICATE IN WAYS THAT BUILD BETTER CONNECTIONS
- Avoid hogging the ball. Or controlling the conversation to make points. The more we control the conversation and make points, the less others may feel included or close. We often seek to make points to feel righteous or superior. (See polarities of personality.) In other words, we want to feel better, so we make points.
- Pass the Ball faster. By passing the ball as quickly as possible back and forth we build trust. This may not be something we’re used to, especially if we have dealt with people who have hogged the ball (control the conversation to make points). But if we can accelerate the speed at which we pass the ball back and forth we can accelerate the pace at which we build trust. This makes both parties feel better and dissolves fears of not having enough space to express.. it creates an abundance of opportunity to express more and feel like there’s a mutual understanding.
- Ask Questions. One way to pass the ball quickly is by simply asking a question. Through asking a question you shift ball of expression to the person now answering. People that feel your presence and listening will feel seen, heard, held and felt. In other words, you don’t have to do much, just hold space through the power of your listening.
- Sentence Stemming. While it might be tempting to only ask questions, with how positive people respond to a good listener, there might be a part of you that also feels like it needs to express or ‘make points’. This is where sentence stemming can be an effective way of get a point out there but SHARE it with another. You simply start the sentence and trust for the other to finish it. If they got the point, you both get to share it. If they didn’t get your point.. you might have picked up a new point from them and can try to get the point across by starting a new sentence and letting them finish it. By going back and forth, starting a sentence AND finishing the sentence of another – you can build massive rapport and trust very quickly. Because you are both sharing points and not just trying to make them.. the distance between you can close very quickly, giving way to a higher level of intimacy and connection that sets the stage for the final two modalities on this list.
- Speak As One. As you get more in sync through sentence stemming this gives way to the opportunity to a kind of improv game where two people speak as one. If you haven’t seen this done before all I can say is search for it on Youtube, it’s pretty funny. Both people are tuning in so closely to what each other is saying that you actually can’t tell who is leading the conversation. They are both speaking at the same time saying the same thing. Done properly, not only is this a hilarious way to communicate (while still passing the ball back and forth!) but it can create massive trust and harmony in a short period of time.
- Sing as One. As you get closer and closer to the holy grail of communication harmonization would give way to music and singing as one. This is similar to Speak as One only now you might find yourself singing different parts of an improvised song that somehow still manages to flow together nicely. It seems that are musical gifts are innate and when we tune into each other through an open heart and intention to connect more deeply – we open a portal to the world of music, a language we all know on some deeper level.