brain stuff May 19, 2021

It seems like everywhere I go lately, there are trigger warnings. Trigger warnings on podcast episodes, trigger warnings on blog posts, trigger warnings on YouTube videos. I even overheard a woman who was about to confide something to another woman at my gym preface by saying "hashtag-trigger warning" before she started spilling.  Back in the day, we used to talk about pushing someone's buttons. Same deal. Only these days, it seems like a whole lot more people are getting a whole lot more buttons pushed and in a way that makes communication feel a whole lot riskier. You might even be triggered by reading this. 

And I really find myself wondering when the hell did we become so fragile? Oh, and hey, if you're not familiar with the term fragility, it means weakness, vulnerability, insecurity, easily damaged or broken. I used to be a therapist, so I am the last person to disrespect someone who has legitimate PTSD and actually gets symptomatic when they see, hear, smell, taste or touch something that brings on their symptoms. This is a real and sometimes debilitating condition. I had PTSD for a period of time after a serious car accident that left me with permanent physical damage. Luckily for me, the psychological effects were temporary. But, I am really concerned about our culture and honestly the future of humanity because of how genuine difficult, painful and frankly fucked up life can be. 

Life can be hard. At times almost unbearably hard. Hard to the point where we truly don't know if we're going to make it. Hard to the point where we aren't even sure we want to. BUT, even if you grew up in the world's most dysfunctional family or are currently living in one, even you have some good days and perhaps some extraordinarily good days. Human beings do not get PTSD when they have to wait too long for their Uber Eats order, nor do they get it from being dumped and then ghosted by someone you're into, after hooking up. This is being emotionally fragile. And there is a cure for this. You just might not like it. 

The fix for your emotional fragility is to toughen the fuck up. The goal is to be resilient, so you can stand up to hard stuff, to bend without breaking. Think willow tree, not popsicle stick. Being in touch with your emotions is a good thing, a really good thing. I've known lots of sensitive, emotional people who think it's a curse. I believe that having deep emotions and a wide range of them means experiencing life on a more meaningful level. Some people have shallow emotions or they have a narrow range of them. It's like they are a piano, and their emotions are the keyboard and they only have the white keys. They really can't make music on the same level as someone who has the entire keyboard. 

When your emotions are deep and powerful, you really do need to learn how to manage them and protect them. Or you will get triggered and feel like you can't control yourself. You may tell yourself that the only way to deal with having emotions that feel like a tsunami is to avoid a lot of things and maybe even most people. But then you will be living in a cave, avoiding what could be a rich and rewarding life. There is a better way. The way of resiliency. Resiliency isn't shutting down or numbing out. Those strategies are coping strategies that should only be used in an emergency situation, not on the regular. 

Resiliency involves learning what kinds of people, places, circumstances, and scenarios get to you and developing both the mindset and the skillset to manage them. You might decide to opt-out with certain situations and people and that is totally fine, but opting out across the board just can't be your only way of dealing with things that flip your switch. That is fragility and you're better than that. Plus, you want to have more of a life than the one you end up with when you're fragile. 

So, the first step in developing resilience is to recognize when and where you already have it. Even if you are the most delicate of all humans, whose emotions threaten to overwhelm and overpower her just trying to decide which brand and type of toothpaste to buy, even you are resilient some of the time and in some circumstances.

It might take a few minutes to come up with an example because it’s normal to pay more attention to what isn’t working, but be patient with yourself because there are times, I promise you.  The next step is to identify whether you might need some kind of treatment for actual trauma.  EMDR and Somatic Experiencing are all great ways to heal from the kind of trauma that leaves you chronically exposed to being triggered. 

The third step is to find sources of inspiration and motivation - people who are brave and strong and live with courage,  even though they are sensitive and vulnerable.  The work of Brene Brown and Gabor Mate is great for this.  I find inspiration in people who live with significant mental and physical challenges and lead others with honesty, transparency, and conviction.  

And the last step is to explore, practice, and embrace practices in your daily life that shore up your coping strengths and help desensitize you to be easily triggered.  This may be affirmations, journaling or Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping), breathwork, meditation, or role play with a trained facilitator.  There are countless people that have become resilient as a result of adopting these practices and rewiring their brain’s responses to certain stimuli as a result of doing so. 

We don’t need to hide from the world in order to avoid being injured by it.  You can take one baby step today and another when you feel ready.  Resiliency can be learned and life is much better when you aren’t so easily triggered. 


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