Some of us have a hard time controlling our tempers.
We’ve all seen it: a friendly conversation turns into a mild disagreement, and one participant seems to lose all sense of perspective. A man might become visibly angry, might raise his voice, might adopt a threatening posture. A woman might become irate and start shaking her finger in others’ faces. Or either might simply close up, quit talking, and drift away from the group.
Either way, we look after them and ask each other What’s wrong with them? We wonder what we said to set them off. Depending on the dynamics in the remaining group, the conversation may shift to who is to blame for the outburst. You know he’s sensitive about that, we say to the offender who brought it up. You know she hates talking about that. We like to think it’s unusual for someone to react strongly unless we somehow triggered it. We like to think we would never have reacted that way. We have better self-control than that. We would never go off on somebody like that.
The truth is, none of us can have a conversation about only the topics at hand. All of us bring our lives into every interaction. And even if we don’t get violent, even if we don’t shut up and go away, there are situations that we react more strongly to than others. There are triggers that set us off, even if we don’t visibly explode.
Because we’ve all had experiences, good and bad and uniquely our own, and those experiences make us who we are. They inform what our triggers are and how we react to them.
We can’t ignore them–I tried that for years, tried not caring about anything. It didn’t work, any better than not breathing works.
We can’t avoid them–I’ve tried that, too. Eventually, you learn you have to avoid everything, because anything has the potential to trigger our pain.
Because pain won’t be ignored. Like a splinter in our skin, eventually we have to address it.
We can’t deal with our friends’ triggers for them. But we can stand ready to face our own, let those we love help us deal with them. Then they might let us help them with theirs.
It won’t stop them from coming into our interactions with others. But it might make them easier to deal with when they do.