A few weeks ago, something happened that triggered me.
By “triggered”, I don’t mean being overly sensitive or easily offended (as the word seems to suggest these days). I mean that something happened, which was so reminiscent of a traumatic memory from my past, that I literally felt as if I had been transported back to being a 9-year-old girl on the school playground, vulnerable and defenseless, desperately wanting to cry.
The fight-or-flight (or, in my case, freeze) response automatically took hold, and I found myself reliving the same horrible feelings I had felt many years ago—not just psychologically, but physiologically. Sometimes trauma continues to live in the body, at least that’s what my counsellor says, and never had that felt more true.
After getting over the initial shock from what took place, I found myself feeling ashamed and frustrated with myself. Ashamed that I had allowed someone to successfully belittle me. Had I just failed to live up to Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote of, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”? Because at that moment, I really did feel small. So, so, so small.
But a few days later, I stumbled upon a quote that put things in a different perspective:
“Your first reaction is your past. Your intentional response is your present.”Yung Pueblo
It made me realize: how was I to blame for my initial reactions, born from the darker memories of my past? Why was I shaming myself for feelings that were only natural given my previous history, which served to tell me that these moments hurt, that they mattered, and that they were still in need of healing? As cliché or ‘psycho-babbly’ as it sounds, my “inner child” needed to be held and comforted, not lectured or punished.
As Yung Pueblo points out, there is a profound difference between a “reaction” and a “response.”
A reaction is automatic; a response is a choice. We don’t have much control over the automatic initial reactions that get triggered in us from time-to-time (usually as a result of our past), but we do have control over how we ultimately choose to respond, and that is what determines our present and future.
Sometimes we feel like we haven’t grown or healed if we still get triggered from the same old things. But that’s not true. Simply feeling this way is not a sign that you have regressed. A more accurate measure of your progress is how you respond after experiencing that initial reaction.
There is a space between our reactions and our responses where true growth and healing occurs.
It happens when:
You feel afraid, but choose courage
You feel self-critical, but choose self-compassion
You feel discouraged, but choose persistence
You feel unmotivated, but choose discipline
You feel judgmental, but choose curiosity
You feel defensive, but choose understanding
You feel doubtful, but choose faith
See what I mean? Same feeling. Different response.
So the next time you find yourself triggered by the same old things, don’t fret or shame yourself. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve regressed, and it definitely doesn’t mean you are trapped in the past. Always remember that how you choose to respond afterwards is what matters most.
– Celine (@itscelinediaz)