On March 27, Smith slapped Rock after he made a joke about his wife's hair during the Oscars.
Picture Credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters
Triggers are like little psychic explosions that crash through avoidance and bring the dissociated, avoided trauma suddenly, unexpectedly, back into consciousness. Carolyn Spring
In the Academy Awards 2022 ceremony, the world witnessed the physical assault of Comedian Chris Rock by Award-winning actor and philanthropist Will Smith in retaliation for some insensitive joke by the former about the latter’s wife, Actress Jada Pinkett Smith, regarding her alopecia. Though the joke was in bad taste, it triggered the usually calm and composed actor to resort to violence.
While social media was quick to pick sides, only a small fraction realized that the joke had hit home for Will, triggering him in a way that caused him to lose control and react to the situation. He’s a celebrity, so the public was quick to judge.
But haven’t we all been in such reactive situations at some points in our lives, times when we lost control over our emotions, experienced intense anger, lashed out, hurt people, ended up in frustrated tears, even going so far as to run away or escape.
What exactly happens when someone is triggered
We all have a trigger built into our heads... Not aware of its existence whatsoever. But a single word can pull the trigger. Forcing us to feel numb, allowing the shadows to sip through the cracks in our build-up shell. Kate O'Grady
When people are emotionally triggered, they tend to become highly reactive. What they experienced is a trauma response. This means their mind+body is reacting to the situation as a life or death situation. Because our innate defense mechanism gets overloaded by external triggers, such as situations, words, or even memories, resulting in a fight or flight response.
This flight or fight response can feel extremely intense within the body like racing heart, intrusive thoughts, quick breathing, overwhelming emotions. At the bottom of all these reactions is fear, hidden beneath. As a result, we tend to say things, do things we regret later. What follows is a cycle of shame, of self-loathing.
Today, I will tell you about the different kinds of emotionally reactive responses we exhibit, their effects on our nervous system, and the various coping mechanisms we can use to ground ourselves back to a non-reactive emotional state.
What should we do to prevent reactivity and outbursts
To work through emotional triggers, we need to practice observing these sensations, identifying or recognizing them, then breathing through them instead of reacting to them. This looks like staying conscious to prevent ourselves from going into autopilot mode and pausing before we react.
So let’s break down the various reactive responses we exhibit and how to control them individually.
Mind: When you feel like you might blow up, boiling anger, terrified.
Body: Racing heart, adrenaline rush, and an instinct to attack
Reaction: You tend to pick fights, yell, slam things, etc.
Coping mechanism: Take deep breaths and pause. Repeat until you can think clearly and respond rationally instead of impulsively. In case of anger, you can also lift weights, shake, scream, hit the pillow, cold plunge to dissipate the intense emotional charge you are experiencing as a result of anger.
Mind: Overthinking, intrusive thoughts, chronic worrying lead to anxiety and panic attacks.
Body: Intense sensation, sensory overload, or numbness.
Reaction: You might “ghost” someone. Leave to avoid conflict, withdrawal
Mind: You feel like shutting down, zoned out, even experiencing dissociation.
Body: Emotional numbness, disconnect with body
Reaction: You struggle with making a decision, experience brain fog, lose motivation.
Coping mechanism: Practice deep belly breathing, tapping, dancing, grounding using the 5-4-3-2-1 method( Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 sensations you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste around you, say, in your mouth).
Mind: Feeling apathy, overwhelmed, engaging in codependent patterns.
Body: Anxiety, emotional rushes
Reaction: losing a sense of self, dissolved boundaries, foregoing own needs
Coping mechanism: Practice boundaries, affirmations, move your body.
Learning to observe these intense emotions come and go will allow you to feel more confident and in control. It will also help you to feel less shame because most of our shame comes from our reactions to our emotional states and subsequently doing things we regret later.
The most important thing you can do in such a situation is to release the emotional charge by moving our bodies, allowing ourselves to feel, even crying, that gut-wrenching ugly cry if it helps to lighten the burden we feel in our bodies and hearts.
This will enable the body to recover from the threatened state and feel calmer, at peace, less dysregulation during those moments of being triggered. Also, do not forget to self-soothe, and remind yourself that you are there for yourself; that you are not alone. Extend the kindness and compassion to yourself.
Learning to work through emotional triggers is a superpower. Learning to witness the emotion rather than reacting to it, is the foundation of confidence.
Here I leave you with a quote by Goitsemang Mvula.
How you avail yourself depends on who or what is on the side of the podium. And what is on the side of the podium will determine what kind of trigger, determination, or calmness is within you.
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References and Resources:
LePera, Nicole (2021). How to Do the Work: Recognize Your Patterns, Heal from Your Past, and Create Your Self
Richo, David (2019). Triggers: How We Can Stop Reacting and Start Healing