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Triggered | An Opportunity for Growth




Trigger button


Lately, I had been feeling triggered, yet I could not really pinpoint why. A trigger is something, such as a person's behavior, that reminds us of a past traumatic event. That particular behavior then creates a strong negative reaction. So usually when it comes to triggers we have:


A provocation → Reaction → Coping mechanism


I'm usually triggered by people when I feel as if they are attempting to control, manipulate, or intimidate me. Depending on the situation, I often found myself feeling confused, full of shame at having my vulnerabilities exposed, worthless, difficulty communicating how I'm feeling and why, and feeling overwhelmed. I felt like I was experiencing a roller coaster of emotions and surrounded by chaos.


The most recent incident in which I was triggered was with a particular co-worker. This co-worker was someone I had confided in about my struggles. She was extremely supportive at first, but as time passed that changed. These last few shifts that I worked with her, I found myself feeling resentful and angry, yet I was unable to adequately express why because I could not clearly identify at first what it was about her that was triggering me.


Have you ever approached someone regarding their behavior, yet they made you feel like you were either overreacting, or your perception was flawed? I had the feeling that would be the case with her.


Yet, I also found myself experiencing conflict avoidance for a couple different reasons. One reason was that I wanted to avoid making enemies. I struggled with the thought of being disliked by others. This co-worker was very well-liked and had many friends where we worked, and I realized that I was worried that they would also dislike me.


Another reason was that I simply did not know how to address the situation. I felt that I would look foolish if I did, because her actions and words were very subtle, yet I felt the hostility in them.


Being unable to communicate what was going on or even know how to go about addressing the situation made me feel frustrated and angry, especially with myself. I began to tell myself that I was weak and I hated myself for denying my feelings and pretending in front of her. Because I was avoiding having to confront her about it, I was allowing these feelings of anger and resentment to grow.


So I began writing things down. As I did, I began to gain clarity. These were some of the encounters I had with her:


One thing I sensed was that she was always paying attention to every thing I did. If I needed to take a breather, she would always ask me if I was okay (and her tone was a little snide) when I returned, expecting me to tell her why I needed a break. I felt like her eyes were constantly on me, watching everything I did. Every time someone said something to me, she always had a remark to go along with it. She always had to be involved in every conversation that went on.


During one of our shifts, she was the shift leader. I overheard her speaking as I was walking towards my work area. I had called out the day prior and that day, someone else called out. She said, "___ called out, and if this girl called out again, then we're down two people." She was walking towards the department I was working in as she spoke. As she turned the corner, she saw me standing there and hesitated. I stood there to let her know I overheard her.


One of the reasons why that bothered me so much was because as a shift leader, saying things like that feeds negativity to other co-workers and can create a hostile work environment. It can cause them to feel resentful towards you for calling out.


A short while later, she approached me and began questioning me about my son, asking me what was going on, and wanted to know why he was still struggling when she thought he was doing much better. She then questioned me about my being easily triggered. The conversation made me recoil, it made me feel a little violated, because I felt like she was intruding as she asked me these questions. She was being invasive and nosy.


What also bothered me was her approach. I felt like she wasn't asking as a concerned co-worker, but as someone annoyed because I called out. It was almost like she was seeking information to determine whether I called out for a valid reason.


That same day, another co-worker was helping me log some information in, as I had several that I needed to complete. As I walked away, she approached her and told her that she needed to focus on her tasks instead of helping me out. At this point, I knew she was just nitpicking with me. Yet, she waited until I walked away to tell my co-worker this instead of saying it while I was there.


This day was when I really noticed a shift in her behavior towards me. Passive aggressiveness can trigger me like nothing else can. I was getting really annoyed by her snide remarks.


But, I felt like I needed to bide my time until I had enough information so that I can effectively address the situation, with enough facts to present my case. Many times, when dealing with someone who is passive-aggressive, their behavior and control tactics can be so subtle that it can be difficult to detect. That is why writing everything down is important, because all those little acts that you write down will soon paint a very big picture that is clear.



Puzzle pieces containing handwriting


During another shift (our shifts are 12 hours long), we were assigned to work together as a team. I did the majority of the work, while she barely worked. Anytime we experienced a rush, she would walk away and make it seem like she was busy doing something else. I recall one time, several months ago, I had told her that I liked to stay busy because if I slowed down, I would begin to feel extremely tired. Ever since then, she took advantage of that fact and let me do all the work. I started to feel exhausted and drained.


Our most recent shift working together became a boiling point for me. As soon as I arrived, she seemed annoyed because I made it to work late. When I came in, she said "Good Morning," in this annoying tone.


At one point, she said she was taking a breather. It was slow. We had no patients, so I went to go to my car because I forgot my purse. As she was walking out, she said to me, "Where do you think you're going?" I answered her, yet I felt so annoyed. I was also extremely angry with myself for answering her, when I really wanted to respond with, "It's really none of your business."


There was a moment when she grabbed a chart at the same time I walked over towards her and asked me, "do you want me to do it or do you want to?" I knew full well she asked that knowing I would just grab the chart to bring the patient in, which further aggravated me, because she could have simply said, "I'll just bring this patient in," instead of asking me if I wanted her to bring them in or if I wanted to do it, with the expectation that I would tell her I'll just do it. And it wasn't the first time she did this, either. It was my own fault. In the past, I enabled that behavior. I worked and worked without setting those boundaries, giving them the impression that it was okay to take advantage of me and allow me to do all the work.


Later that evening, when I went to grab a chart, I turned to leave the room, and she was standing in front of the doorway, blocking it. She literally stood there without saying anything for approximately 1-2 minutes as I stood there, expecting her to notice that I needed to get by and move out of the way. There was no one around and no chart she needed to grab, so it wasn't like she was distracted. She was standing too close for comfort and in order for me to get past her, I would have had to push her. I finally managed to move my way past her as I turned my body to avoid touching her. At that point, I had enough.


I approached the shift supervisor to let her know I was feeling triggered by this person. I had a lot of difficulty expressing how I felt and I could tell she didn't take me seriously because of my inability to adequately explain what was going on. She told me that my co-worker was probably just joking. So, I began to feel like maybe it was just me. That maybe I was just overreacting. Maybe my perception was flawed and I was just nitpicking. I began to feel worthless, and as if I am always the one causing conflict. I felt like I was this toxic person, because I had been told that many times whenever I had to establish a boundary. I never realized that that was a lie that I took on as part of my identity.


As I began to process everything that was occurring, it also dawned on me that this co-worker used the information I shared with her about my personal life, taking my weaknesses, to exalt herself. She had developed this condescending attitude towards me. She weaponized information that I trusted her with, using it against me as a way to diminish who I was and make me feel less than, so that she could feel better about herself.


The next morning, I woke up and wrote to this co-worker. I then sent an email to her supervisor and my supervisor to give them my side of the events that occurred because I knew they would be informed about my confronting her. I told her how I felt and asked her politely to mind her own business when it came to what I was doing, where I was going, or my personal life. I told her she was not my supervisor and unless she was in charge for that shift, she didn't need to know anything pertaining to me. Then, I called out of work for that day, because I needed to distance myself from the toxicity of that environment, especially since I didn't sleep very well. I was not in the frame of mind to deal with her or her clique of friends/co-workers. I shut off my phone and spent the day reflecting.


I felt a burden lift when I did this because I felt like I did the right thing for myself. Sometimes we find ourselves feeling ashamed or anxious when we're triggered, seeing them as a sign of weakness. But if we allow, they can actually teach us revealing areas that need to be worked on and require healing. They can also help us understand ourselves better and reveal those beliefs that we value.


I was able to communicate my need to establish a boundary and I was able to discover strategies on how to address the situation so that in the future, I can be more at peace when situations like this arise so that I am not led by my emotions. My being triggered by her led to me isolating myself to process my emotions, which in turn helped me rediscover myself. There was good that came out of a bad situation.


With that being said, it's okay to honor your personal boundaries. Boundaries are expectations and guidelines that we set in relationships, even working relations. Our boundaries reveal what we will tolerate and what we won't. They establish limits that we identify for ourselves, and requires communication on our part. They also require that we take an active stance on maintaining those boundaries.


If something doesn't feel right, trust that, and don't be scared to establish those boundaries for yourself. You don't have to tolerate bad behavior. People can be quick to enable the things that you refuse to tolerate, and villainize you, or call you sensitive for setting or maintaining those boundaries. That's where you have to remain firm, be consistent, and don't back down. Don't feel guilty, either. Just because it's an acceptable behavior for them, doesn't mean it needs to be acceptable for you.



A soldier guarding a boundary


It's important to be aware of those who subtly try to cross those boundaries that you have established. If you communicate to someone the way you feel about a negative behavior that's been directed towards you, and they want to justify it, invalidating your boundaries and emotions, that's a form of gaslighting. Those manipulation tactics can include making you feel as if you are making a big deal out of something that is clearly not okay. It can cause you to second guess yourself and wonder if you're being too sensitive. When people overstep your boundaries, it is absolutely okay to enforce them or distance yourself from those individuals who do not honor your boundaries. That allows you to protect not only your peace of mind, but from those who seek to control and manipulate you.


Boundaries protect our heart and thus, our emotions. They also help us to discern who we need to keep a distance from, who we can and cannot trust, and who we need to detach ourselves from. Never feel guilty for being firm in maintaining and defending your boundaries.


When you find yourself feeling triggered:


  • Recognize and validate your emotions without feeling guilty or ashamed


  • Give yourself space - removing yourself from the situation or away from the person who triggered you allows you to regain calmness so that your emotions won't cloud your judgement


  • Journal - write about what happened, how you felt, what your reaction was, if there is anything you wish you had done differently, etc.


  • Identify any areas that you need to work on or boundaries that need to be established.


  • Create an action plan - what you can do when you are triggered or for areas that you would like to improve upon


If you are a member and would like to use these worksheets to help you identify your triggers, emotions, and establish a goal/action plan, you can find it here. If you are not, you can simply join here. There is no cost to subscribe and exclusive content is free.



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