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Aug 032015

My grandfather was sort of a “backwoods philosopher” and he had some interesting “sayings” and “proverbs” that definitely hit the truth on the head. One of the ones he told me when I was a little kid was “once a cat jumps on a HOT (wood) stove you’ll never get it on a cold one.” I didn’t understand what he meant but later in adulthood I did.

Once we have been BURNED by something, ever afterwards we are wary of anything that resembles the thing that burned us, so yes, indeed, if a cat jumps up on a hot wood stove it will never jump up on any stove in the future. It learned its lesson that stoves will burn, so it applies the same information to any stoves and takes no chances on jumping up on another one.

In our lives, the generality that we apply to the things and people who have burned us we call “triggers” and when we encounter one of these things or people similar to the thing or person who burned us, it “triggers” us into a state of anxiety. There is a difference between “anxiety” and “fear” though these two states of mind “feel” almost the same.

Fear is the emotion that we feel when we are presented with a “clear and present danger” that is happening NOW. If a person points a gun to your head you FEAR it. However, if you are anxious that someone MIGHT point a gun to your head, that is anxiety, not fear. While this may be a strange concept to many people, there is definitely a big difference in fear and anxiety and what may participate those feelings in our minds.

Two years ago when I was working on the parole protest for my son Patrick’s up coming parole hearing, The process of “reliving” that nightmare and thinking about what he had done, sent me into a tailspin of ANXIETY that  sent me back into the abyss. I was also blindsided when I asked several long time friends who had known Patrick and knew my “story” to write letters and those people had refused to do so. I think that they were anxious that if they wrote a letter Patrick would know about it and come after them for doing so. Of course there was no way that Patrick could ever find out who had written letters of protest as the parole hearings are like a grand jury, totally secret. But  the fact that my “friends” refused (for whatever reason) literally devastated me and helped propel me into the deep abyss of anxiety. I felt as if I was abandoned by these people who refused to help me keep Patrick in prison. Of course these people had a perfect right to say “no” to my request, but their refusals were “triggers” that I allowed to send me into a terrifying level of anxiety.

There are all kinds of triggers that can send us into a downward spiral of anxiety depending on what “burned” us in the first place. For the cat it is a stove that burned them so they get anxious when they are in the same room with a stove (hot or cold!) Sometimes if it was a male that abused us we may be triggered by any male. Or if it was an intimate partner or family member who abused us it may be generalized to all close relationships and we may avoid becoming close to someone else again because if we are not “close” to anyone then they are not able to hurt us like the original abuser did.

But whatever our “triggers” are that can set off anxiety of being burned again, we can control how we react to them. Unlike the cat, we have powers of reason and deductive thinking. We can realize that we are “triggered” by, say for example, loud spoken men, but we can also realize that not ALL men who speak loudly are dangerous. When we do feel ourselves becoming anxious, we can stop and analyze what is triggering us, and control that emotion. Anxiety is not something that we can not control. It is under our control if we take control of it when we first begin to feel it and ask ourselves what about our environment is  generating this state of mind. Once we acknowledge that we are feeling anxious, then we can assess the situation and see if our feeling is anxiety or fear. We can quieten and console that inner “child” that is anxious. If there is a real and present danger then we can deal with that danger, but if there is no real and present danger then our feelings of anxiety and panic can be put to rest.

Until recent years I had not realized how anxious I was most of the time. Anxious that I might offend someone or be found at fault in some way. Even the prospect of Patrick getting out because I had not “worked” hard enough to collect enough letters sent me into an anxious downward spiral that left me a quivering puddle of emotions flat on the floor, literally unable to function effectively. But recognizing what is a clear and present danger  to be feared from what is simply anxiety is important in controlling this crippling emotion.

Becoming aware of our emotions and what triggers them is important in our healing process.



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  47 Responses to “TRIGGERS”

  1. There’s another thing I’ve noticed in the ‘trendships’ or my ‘frienemy’s lately too. When they call, what do we talk about? Is all of it my problems or my issues? Or is it all their problems, their issues? I understand once in a while they need to vent or I do, but what is the ‘norm’ for our discussions?

    If it’s a mixed bag and the discussion goes back and forth, this is what I’m dealing with, this is how they perceive it and what they’ve experienced. Maybe this will help? Nope, already tried that. Movin’ on…. Ok. That’s friendship.

    If it always centers around my life, my problems, my issues, it makes me wonder how much of this is them just letting me vent while they take notes to gossip about later on.

    If it’s always about their life, their issues, their problems, I wonder how much of it is self imposed, pity parties and if they are just that self centered?

    Zen I’ve gotten quite fond of being in my own best company. I like to people watch and if you’re up for it, try sitting in a restaurant alone sometime sipping hot coffee or a cold beverage and watching life go by. It can be comical in a way how people react. Some of them don’t know how to. There must be something wrong- she’s sitting all ALONE!!!

  2. Phoenix, “alone” is not “lonely” and learning to like, to SAVOR our own company is a good thing. Some folks seem to REQUIRE having a “crowd” around all the time….but I find that being with myself gives me time to meditate, to do things, to enjoy my own company….and the time I DO spend with others is QUALITY time….and sometimes yes, we talk about their problems or mine, but the conversations don’t CENTER on problems but on other things…mutual interests, jokes, fun, games, stories, hi-jinks, sharing a meal etc. PROBLEMS are not the focus of our relationships, not mine, not theirs, though they ARE there if I need to talk, and I’m there for them as well…but you know just having problems in common is not the basis for much of a relationship/friendship…in fact, those kinds of relationships don’t last long.

    I remember years ago I had a friend who had gotten out of an ABUSIVE relationship, and after several years as a single woman she hooked up with another abuser. He moved into her place, didn’t work, etc. and would periodically beat her. she would have him arrested then go bail him out….and while he was in jail she would come over and cry about “oh, ain’t it awful”–but then the next day she would bail him out. Well after several times of this, I said to her “Marilyn, you keep having him arrested and keep taking him back…so I’ll tell you what. LET’S NOT TALK ABOUT DAVE, let’s talk about ANYTHING EXCEPT Dave.” You know, funny thing, I didn’t see much of her after that, and she quit her job of 22 years (A GOOD one) married him and moved away. I haven’t heard anything about her since, but I can probably write the story of her life.

    And hey, I kept “taking back” Patrick after a continual string of bad acts, including Murder…it doesn’t have to be a love interest that abuses you it can be your child, your parent, your neighbor, your friend. The point is that we keep giving them chances and more chances UNTIL we learn to see the PATTERNS…and REALIZE that the Patterns are NOT LIKELY TO CHANGE… And it doesn’t have to be them picking up a table and throwing it through the living room window or hitting us with a broken chair leg…it can be snarky hateful remarks. Temper tantrums, lies, etc. WE are the ones who decide what our boundaries are and how we want to enforce them.

    I’m pretty “sot in me ways” these days and HATEFUL or bad behavior, lies, etc. are just not on my plate where my friends are concerned. I dont’ give many second chances. And if there is a PATTERN of unacceptable behavior, well there is no chance of a second chance.

  3. Absolutely, it’s a wonderful thing to learn that being alone isn’t the same as being “lonely.” I can remember being in places where there were so many people that I was acquainted with, and feeling as if I were the only person on the planet – feeling excluded or under scrutiny or just feeling unwanted.

    I also had a professor friend who never married, never had children, and had lived a privileged life. And, she was ANOTHER “ultimate authority” on Life, relationships, marriage, divorce, parenthood, etc. Whenever she would call me, it would always be on her way home from her college, and she would whine, moan, and groan about having to buy another wool rug because there were moths eating the one that she had just bought. She went ON and ON about how she dreaded going on European trips as a chaperone. She would go ON and ON about what movie she wanted to see with this group of very catty women that were so uncooperative and backstabbing. I was living on barely enough income to keep my lights on, and here she was going on about what she had just purchased at Trader Joe’s!

    I finally had enough when she insinuated that I was an unfit pet owner because I couldn’t afford to take one of my cats to the vet with a urinary tract infection and had him euthanized, instead, by the SPCA. This is the same gal that spent over $20,000 in an attempt to try to cure her cat of cancer. That was it. The conversation wasn’t about the agonizing decision that I had to make because of my financial situation. It was about her claiming that I shouldn’t have any pets if I can’t afford to “care” for them.

    People judge. People use. And, I don’t have to “like” that fact, but I must accept it and walk away from users and abusers. That’s it. I’m learning how to do without malice and anger, these days, which is a HUGE change for me. Seriously.

    It’s a new world, out there.

  4. The world is not and never has been a “sweet and kind” place, nature gives us diseases that sicken and kill us, old age creeps up and takes our strength…people betray us, stab us in the back, belittle us, and horrible people in places of power use and abuse those they rule over or want to rule over…people kill in the name of God…it has ALWAYS been that way and I imagine always WILL BE that way.

    We can’t change the whole world or do away with the bad people in the world, but what we CAN do in our country (though some people don’t have this right or privilege in some places) is to eliminate the bad people from our intimate lives, AND we can change our outlook from black to light. Even one candle defeats a universe of darkness.

    Changing our attitude, eliminating bitterness from our outlooks, getting the bitterness out of our hearts toward those who have wronged us or even continue to wrong us is the only way I can see that we can truly heal. I don’t want to feel bitterness, anger and hate, whatever the JUSTIFICATION I have to feel it.

    I can “love” my “neighbor” but that doesn’t mean I have a squishy feeling toward them if they have wronged me, it simply means I don’t seek revenge, or mistreat them.

    I am sure patrick thinks me protesting his parole (and I am sure he knows I am to one extent or another because I foolishly threatened to do just that and he knows I am a woman of my word) he thinks that I am taking revenge on him…but it isn’t revenge it is SELF PROTECTION because I KNOW he wants me dead before my mother dies so he can inherit from the family trust and if I die after she does, he gets NOTHING. A big motivator for him. But you know, I ACCEPT the truth before my eyes, he hates me, wants me dead..but I don’t have to live in TERROR and I am determined NOT to do so.

    I am at peace with myself. I accept what and who he is. It has been a long time coming, this peace, but it is where I want to live the rest of my life.

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