triggers and lipstick


Brené Brown has become one of the most popular voices of our time. Her work on vulnerability and shame and the path to wholehearted living is truly changing the world. If you haven’t come across her words yet, she is a woman worth knowing.

Within the past year, Brené partnered with Oprah Winfrey to create online courses for participants to enter into a more intimate conversation and join her in activities aimed at transforming lives. Like all good groupies, I couldn’t wait to join!

In the company of some of my closest friends, we came together to begin the work of changing our lives. Hard, honest work is always better with trusted friends. Several weeks of soul-searching proved to be powerful in all the right places.

Amidst the myriad of virtual conversations and activities I knew with Brené, one exercise left me especially thoughtful. Inspired by the course, I’d like to share a few questions and reflections about life’s inevitable triggers and the ways we all cope.

1. Let’s talk about triggers. What moments do you find challenging? Who do you struggle to be with in relationship? How are you triggered in ways that leave you wanting to flee (run or avoid) or freeze (stay stuck or shut down) or fight (grow angry, defensive, or enter conflict)? Sound familiar? You aren’t alone.

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In my exercise with Brené, I found images to express these places of tenderness in my own life. Join me. Take time to gather a few magazines and search for images that conjure pictures that represent triggers in your life too. Not finding what you’re looking for? Simply write the words you know to be true.

As a woman who has dated for nearly two decades now, the ghosts of men are certainly among my triggers. Ladies, I know I’m not alone here. Men and heartache sure have the power to leave us unraveled, don’t they? What else is on your list?

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2. Ouch. So, now let’s chat about numbing the pain. What’s your vice? When you feel triggered by discomfort or pain or anxiety, what do you turn to lessen or numb the feeling? Wanting relief isn’t unhealthy, but often, we turn to sources or behaviors that aren’t healthful or honoring. Ultimately, they aren’t too helpful either.

Do any of the following sound familiar? Shopping or consuming. Staying busy. Excessive eating or drinking. Using drugs. Too much television or screen time. Cutting or self-harm. Isolating from loved ones. What do you reach for to cover the sting? How do you numb uncomfortable feelings?

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A recovering perfectionist, I’m tempted to collage my triggers by maintaining a certain physical appearance. A product of my culture, I often reach for my make-up bag when I’m feeling the need to hide the discomfort I’m feeling. For all of us, triggers have us feeling exposed and vulnerable and wanting to quickly cover up.

Let’s resist the urge to mask and numb the emotions that leave us a little raw. We will all be better for letting them wash through us as we honor their truth in our lives. It’s from that place we can greet triggers honestly, engage with them in new conversation, and then offer ourselves the comfort we deserve.

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3. Comfort will be our greatest companion. In our quest to find relief from the pain or discomfort of unwanted triggers, granting ourselves comfort is key. If we can be vulnerable and brave enough to sit in the truth of our trigger without numbing or avoiding its presence, we have the chance to bestow genuine comfort in our lives. Numbing denies our pain. Comfort honors us and seeks to heal.

What brings you comfort in your life? What choices or behaviors or moments feed your soul? What experiences leave you feeling nourished instead of numb?

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I once dated a man who noticed I liked to clean when my life felt unpredictable. I couldn’t control everything in my world, but I could sure make my home sparkle and have everything in its rightful place. He was right. Cleaning and “nesting” in my home is life-giving to me. It leaves me feeling renewed and grounded when my heart has been worn. A little taste of chocolate also does the trick.

A note of importance: Often healthy places of comfort can include sources that can become numbing if used in excess. Chocolate or a glass of wine or a treat brought home from the mall can all be a source of comfort when experienced in balance and moderation. In excess, they’ve crossed over into numbing our hearts. The line between these two words can be thin, but usually we know when we’ve crossed it. (Hint: Generally, excess and obsessions or compulsions give us away.)

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Take time today to reflect on places of comfort in your life. Notice what brings you pleasure. Be intentional about fostering those moments when you greet the uncomfortable. The greatest gift we can give ourselves, and each other, is the ability to be truthful and kind and nurturing just when we need it most.

Triggers are guaranteed to meet us more than we’d like to admit. Though, if we allow them the chance, they have the potential to be among our greatest teachers. Let’s encourage each other to not numb or quiet these great teachers. Instead, let’s create a new conversation together– one of comfort and compassion. Amidst the tenderness of life, we are all worthy and deserving of this grace.

SHANNON WEST

is the owner and founder of Speaking Pink, a private therapy and consulting practice devoted to teen girls and twenties women in Seattle / Kirkland, Washington. Shannon is a licensed family therapist, a private consultant, and a writer about all things on the journey from girl to woman. Follow on Pinterest and Twitter or send an email to Shannon@speakingpink.com.