It happens to the best of us. You go about our days/weeks/months actively disengaging from the conflict your co-parent likes to send your way, and it’s working. Your hard work practicing disengagement is paying off.
You’re sleeping at night (or at least some nights), you’re obsessing about how to fix the conflict less and you’re starting to laugh and relax a little. And you think you’ve nailed it... that you’ve succeeded in not letting your co-parent trigger you. You catch a glimpse of what freedom looks like. Freedom from over analyzing. Freedom from being controlled. Freedom from the little voice in your head that took so much work and effort to quiet. Freedom from the agonizing roller coaster of emotions you used to let flood over you whenever your co-parent would strike. And that freedom feels good. It feels normal. You start to feel normal, like you have the tools and strategies to cope with whatever might get sent your way.
Feeling normal builds confidence, and when you’re feeling confident, you’re better able to manage your emotions so that you can utilize flexible thinking and moderate your behaviour. No more 3am middle of the night wake ups feeling the need to defend yourself from the attacks you read in an email the day before, and then it happens out of nowhere, like a slap in the face or a punch to the gut.
Your co-parent blindsides you with something you thought you would be prepared to handle. You rage with anger. Or cry in frustration. Freeze in fear. Your blood turns to ice. You can’t breathe. Your brain shuts off. Your resolve to disengage doesn’t just crumble - it shatters into a million pieces.
You bounce back and forth between disappointments in yourself, and you may question yourself, “How could I be so stupid? I never should have let my guard down.” You have nothing but sheer hatred for your co-parent’s actions/words/manipulations. You are 100% stuck in an emotion, or multiple emotions. It may very well be the worst feeling(s) you’ve ever felt. “I can’t do this anymore.” “I want to just give up.” “I’m calling my lawyer and we’re going to court.” “How much does a hit-man cost?” (We’ve all thought it - we just don’t act on it!) Do not act on it. You will end up back in the dark hole.
The dark hole feels like waves of anxiety sporadically washing over you; or tirelessly running on the hamster wheel; micro managing in an attempt to stay in control of something (anything!); shutting down and not functioning; eating yourself out of house and home. You’ve been triggered. When it happens, you think all these new feelings (that are actually old feelings) are here to stay. Forever. That your dark hole is going to become your new norm. You forget that you have skills. That you’ve been in the dark hole before and crawled out. That you can move your emotions and become sane again. No one is sane while stuck in emotions.
When you’re triggered, the feelings you feel are intense, all-consuming and terrifying. When you’re triggered, you fall back into old patterns. Unhealthy patterns. Triggers are tricky little buggers. Popping up out of nowhere when you least expect them. Testing you to see if they can poke at your weak spots, which is what makes triggers interesting. You may think your triggers are caused by your co- parent’s actions/words/manipulations that trigger you. What if I told you your triggers were caused by you? That you were triggered because of something you ”did”, “said”, “felt.”
Your triggers are different than my triggers. We both have a high conflict personality in our lives; yet what triggers you is different from what triggers me. It’s not because the high conflict personality in your life is any worse than the one in my life. And it’s not because you have ‘more on your plate to manage so it’s harder for you, and it’s certainly not because I’m smarter and have more skills than you.
I spent two weeks a few months ago hanging out in a triggered state. I ate all the food in the house and I started gravitating towards sweat pants. I was snapping at those around me and I wasn’t sleeping. It took me 2 weeks of hanging out in the dark hole before I made any effort to get out. I had to force myself off my self-induced hyper attentive state to figure out what had happened.
Even those with tons of skills and practice managing triggers, get triggered. What triggers you, likely wouldn’t trigger me. Just like what triggers me, likely wouldn’t trigger you. What triggered me to eat for two weeks straight, snap at my loved ones and lose sleep would likely make you roll your eyes, but that trigger put me into a two week tailspin. And that trigger had nothing to do with what the high conflict personality person in my life said or did. It was 100% on me. I went into self-doubt mode; criticizing myself for not seeing the trigger coming; for not managing it better; for not staying on the hamster wheel so I could have foreseen the future and avoided the trigger altogether. Thankfully, years of practice has taught me that hanging out in the dark hole doesn’t have to last long. Don’t get me wrong, two weeks of hanging out in a dark hole feels like an eternity.
A lot of long walks later, I was able to let go of the emotion around what triggered me and figure out why I had let myself get triggered. I got too busy.
The #1 Reason you get triggered is you get too busy. It is as simple as that. When you get busy, you get lazy. And when you get busy (and lazy), you don’t practice all the strategies you have implemented to manage your triggers. All those skills that allow you to sleep better, relax more, enjoy life again.
There is no reason to self loathe when you get triggered, no reason to hang out in the dark hole for too long. The #1 thing you can do to help yourself manage your triggers is to stop being too busy to practice your disengagement skills. You don’t get triggered because your co-parent is a lying and manipulative crazy person.
You don’t get triggered because you let your guard down; started to relax and laugh more. You don’t get triggered because you got off the hamster wheel. You get triggered because you get too busy.
Take time to evaluate where you are at the end of the each day. Listen to your voice when it says you’re doing/thinking/being too much; that busy-ness has taken over, and then stop. Use that opportunity to engage with yourself and slow down, so that when that next trigger appears, you’ll be able to move right through it.