"I prefer not going to the marriage workshop.” He quickly listed his reasons, valid reasons. He had filmed the main speakers and heard them share about marriage half a dozen times. "Really?", she came back."I was never there with you to hear any of it. I think it would be good for us to hear them together." She kept on in her effort to persuade him but could see it wasn't working. He stood his ground and went into defense mode. They were seeing things very differently. Her disappointment quickly turned into hurt feelings while his effort to defend his view turned into frustration. They both walked away after a few minutes of not getting anywhere, triggered.
She found herself in the kitchen cleaning, something she noticed she did when she got mad. Irrational thoughts hit her mind out of nowhere. “If he doesn’t care about going to this, it shows he doesn’t care about investing in our marriage. Bottom line, he's showing he doesn’t care about me.” These strong mental thoughts felt real. Physically, her brain felt cloudy, emotionally she felt hopeless. Were any of the thoughts true? No, her brain had been temporarily hijacked. It had entered the fight-or-flight zone as a way to protect and cope with her strong feelings.
I recently listened to a podcast recommended by a friend called, Triggers, Trauma and Emotional Traps, by the Liberation Project. The conversation in this podcast between Laura Duncan and Blair Reynolds was loaded with wisdom and insight. As a perpetual student of my own heart, it felt like I was listening to brand new truth. I took notes and immediately practiced what I learned. I had a fresh scenario of hurt to work through. The lovely husband/wife scenario above, it had happened a few hours before listening to this golden podcast. God knew what I needed in that moment. The tools felt like a gift, like a healing balm to my triggered and wounded heart.
“Wisdom soothes the heart of the one with living-understanding, but the heart of the fool just stockpiles stupidity.” Proverbs 14:33, TPT. Don’t you just love The Passion Translation? I can find myself stockpiling stupidity more than I’d like to admit but I get to choose wisdom daily. Wisdom is my friend, wisdom is your friend. And when she comes, everything changes. Here’s some of the gold I uncovered from this most wise, timely podcast.
Laura Duncan says, “Triggers happen when pain inside ones heart gets pressed on
and there’s a knee jerk reaction.” She explains that triggers are manifested on three levels, we experience them physically, mentally and emotionally. Some of the physical reactions to triggers are, a racing heart, tight stomach, numbness in limbs, and a cloudy brain. Some of the mental reactions are strong statements such as, “what is wrong with me, I’ll never get out of this, I won’t ever have xyz, I’m tired of trying”. She says, these statements include language like, “I always, I never, I have to, I never should have.” Some of the emotional reactions to triggers are feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, depression, defeat, and feeling trapped. All of these are warning signals, they scream, TRIGGER, TRIGGER!
The good news is twofold, our triggered self is not our real self. Let that sink in, YOU are not your emotions, you are just experiencing them. That angry mama or wife mode you get in is not who you are! When we begin to identify our personal triggers, we can learn to speak to ourselves objectively, “my brain doesn’t think like this, who’s thinking these thoughts, this is not who I am, what’s going on?”.
Secondly, Laura explains that if we can learn to deal with the pain in our hearts and realize we have an unmet need, we can be at peace even if our circumstances don’t change. She goes on to say triggers are an opportunity to connect with our pain and heal by comforting ourselves. Yes, comforting ourselves! Just like we would comfort a child who’s fallen and hurt themselves, there is transformative healing that happens when we learn to comfort ourselves with tender affection. “It has to be a real feeling, when you are actually moved by emotion for someone (yourself) because of pain, that’s what heals, not just sympathy or pity. You comfort how the pain is feeling first before trying to figure out why the pain is there." When we can find comfort, our brains turn back on. It returns from being hijacked and we find ourselves thinking clearer, we find there are better resources and options to our situation.
This is how I put this wisdom into practice that day, I went outside and said, "Ammie, I’m so sorry that happened. It really hurt your heart.” It felt gentle, nurturing and understanding. Immediately, the tears fell and they came from a deep place. I felt love wash over me, it was my own tender love combined with God's matchless love. I don't know that I've ever experienced this love and acceptance of myself combined with the heart of my Father for me.
After a while I was able to ask myself what I needed. I needed connection. The truth was that we didn’t need to go to a marriage workshop to find that within our marriage. Before going to my husband about it, he found me and said, “Let’s go to the workshop.” That speaks to the kind of man I’m married to. I have to give him credit here, on this blog, talking about our very real marriage. But I know it won’t always happen this way. I’m thankful to have found more tools to help navigate the complexities and beauty of my heart.
One last and very important thing, this practice goes way beyond self-care. Laura set the record straight by saying self-care is not the same as self-compassion. Self-compassion is not the time for positive affirmations or declarations. It is simply acknowledging pain, speaking to ourselves with care and digging deeper into discovering what our hearts need. In a culture of masking feelings with things or contrived experiences, this truth cuts the bull. We find healing when we discover truth. Truth and love is found by seeking wisdom. Healing is found by looking fear, loneliness, and pain in the face
and saying, I am loved. It always goes back to love, it always comes back to the heart. “Love never brings fear, for fear is always related to punishment. But love’s perfection drives the fear of punishment far from our hearts. Whoever walks constantly afraid of punishment has not reached love’s perfection. Our love for others is our grateful response to the love God first demonstrated to us."1 John 4:18 TPT
If you’re interested in learning more, you can find the podcast in the link below. There is also a book called, How We Love, that dives into triggers and explains how most reactions are formed in our childhood. Can’t wait to dive into that book recommendation next!
Triggers, Trauma and Emotional Traps Podcast:
How We Love: Expanded Edition: Discover your love style, enhance your marriage: