Triggers: The Root of our Resentments

Last week I touched on the need to validate our feelings – and others’ – without comparison to one another. This lack of validation easily results in resentment from both angles: the inability to receive validation leads to resentment; being unable to validate others in comparison to us is already a form of resentment (oh hi, defense mechanisms).

I also touched on how it is natural to resent things we envy. Sometimes these things are easy to identify, but not always. Sometimes we resent things without realizing it is rooted in envy because we are trying to deny that desire – for whatever reason. When we see others recognize and fulfill those same/similar desires we have, it can be a major struggle. This struggle may be compounded by the inability to even recognize in ourselves why we are so bothered. I always think of the scene in Friends where Phoebe realizes she wants to be a soccer mom.

Anywho. So what’s another word for bothered? Let’s try… triggered. Since resentment is often rooted in our unmet needs – from ourselves and/or others – it is imperative to be able to identify those needs to determine how to meet or cope without them. The best way to begin identifying those needs and start to uncover things we may have been denying to ourselves is through our triggers.

I’ve started using a system for myself to do just this. I’ve been calling it the TFC system: Trigger, Figure, Consider.

The first step is to identify the trigger at face value. What spikes your adrenaline? It doesn’t have to be “big”. Triggers are often small – an off-handed comment, the lack of a thank you or use of a turn signal, someone’s facial expression. Yes, there are much larger triggers, but our needs are usually a little more obvious when it comes to those larger triggers. For example, loud noises triggering fear because of a lack of safety as a from a traumatic experience. To further illustrate the TFC method, I’m going to use the example of being triggered by others not using turn signals.

The second step then is to figure out what negative message these triggers encapsulate, summing up the reason it bothers us in one or two words. Doing this will help us see patterns within our triggers because we’ll often see that our triggers boil down to a couple of main themes. In the turn signal scenario, the trigger is feeling as though this person has a lack of consideration for others because, ultimately, we don’t use turn signals for ourselves, do we? We use them for others’ safety; therefore, the lack of use of this rudimentary thing boils down to inconsideration of others.

Last is to consider which of our needs are not being met in relation to this trigger. This is the part that’s often referred to as inner child work because most of the time, our unmet needs and biggest insecurities are rooted in something from childhood. This is arguably the hardest part and something I’m going to address in greater detail next week. I have a journaling exercise to help break things down so we can fill in the gaps in our emotional foundations.

To finish out this example: we figured out that the trigger of turn signals is related to a lack of consideration for others. But now we must consider where this trigger originates from – why does the lack of consideration for others bother us so much when it may not even register on so many other peoples’ radar? Through work, the realization may be that it’s a result of feeling as though needs were not understood or properly seen as a child; a feeling of invisibility perhaps. Or in Phoebe’s case, she realizes she wants to be a soccer mom because her childhood was “abnormal”, and she was ready to relent to her desire for her definition of normalcy; a need she’s wanted to satisfy since she was a child. Though she’d been labeled by herself and others and quirky and “abnormal,” that wasn’t her authentic self in its entirety.

Why does any of this matter to our health? For us to really address health at the root, we must prioritize emotional health and wellness because it so heavily influences our behaviors – for better or worse. It allows us to expand our capacity for emotional intelligence, which helps us cope with stress, build resilience, and find a way to live our truth. Through doing these things, we are also able to take better control of our health because we are able to understand what we truly need to thrive at every level – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  

I’m going to change direction with this for a moment to illustrate in a different light, on a more personal level. For a long time, I was resentful of people who lived their lives doing something they truly love for work. I envied people who didn’t have to adhere to a corporate schedule; didn’t have to answer to anyone. I won’t get into the full process here, but it took me a long time to break down this resentment through unmet needs, which ultimately happened through learning my triggers. I would get triggered by other peoples’ satisfaction – even though I was happy for them at the same time, it was still triggering. Why? That trigger boiled down to authenticity. I was triggered by authenticity because I couldn’t fully find or live mine at the time.

I had to keep exploring those unmet needs to figure out where the disconnect was and ultimately, like most other things, it was a result of childhood stuff. Not even trauma – quite the opposite, in fact. Labeled a “smart child,” I was given a lot of examples of who I should be when I “grow up” and they were things like lawyer, law maker, etc. It was never about what fulfilled me – it was about putting my brain to use. It was supposed to be empowering – I know that was the intention – but it resulted in chasing productivity and others’ definitions of success; the desire to make money, enact large-scale change, or accumulate professional credentials and accomplishments.

My definition of success and happiness isn’t what I had been sold as a child and it took a long time to admit that to myself. I’m not going to be a high-stakes politician or start something that changes the world  – and that’s okay. I would have been miserable trying. It’s more important to me to help one person change their own world. One at a time.

I have found a way to live authentically and look, it’s hard, but it’s a different kind of stress – it’s chosen, you know? The best part? I usually don’t feel that resentment towards others anymore. That lack of resentment because I understand who I am at the core and what I need to be truly fulfilled – even when it means short-term sacrifice – has filtered into other areas of life, too. It’s allowed me to explore the idea of moving my body in different ways, explore new hobbies, and be unafraid to go against the grain when it’s right for me and isn’t hurting anyone else. Most importantly, it’s allowed me to see the degree to which I can have faith in myself.

There will be plenty of losses, but resilience isn’t built through winning.

So let’s do the work, yeah?

Come back next week for the journaling exercise to consider the root of our triggers.



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