In Monday’s post, I stated that it’s possible to be overly sensitive, that sometimes when I am offended, the problem is more with me than with the other person. This brings us to the topic of emotional triggers. When am I most likely to take offense unnecessarily? A trained psychologist or therapist could give us a lot of information on this topic, but for now, let’s work with a few simple ideas.
Generally, I will be more sensitive to traits that I despise about myself. This is the classic law of projection. The typical example is the person who is so worried about everyone else’s sex life because she has her own secret obsessions. So if I like to feel in control of everything, even meetings with colleagues, I will become offended quickly when another person exerts any kind of controlling influence. I may call it something else: “Well, she hijacked that discussion, didn’t she?” But really, I’m angry because I feel that control was taken from me. A person too concerned about her physical appearance will become hyper-attuned to other fashion-conscious people not responding appropriately to her choice of shoes or hair style.
In my own family, the people who never got along so well were those most alike; for instance, my dad and I butted heads constantly because we shared several traits and weaknesses, so of course those were the first traits and weaknesses we would see in each other.
I may not be reacting to this person but to someone this person reminds me of. At least twice over the years, I had trouble welcoming and receiving a coworker or someone in my church fellowship—for no apparent reason. It took a while for me to figure out one day that this particular person reminded me of someone from my past who had been unkind to me or who carried some other negative association in my mind and emotions.
I will easily perceive that others are exposing a personal trait or weakness about which I am already sensitive. If I’m worried that I’m not doing a very good job at, say, hosting a dinner, then it won’t take much for me to read rejection and criticism into others’ remarks or even facial expressions. This is another form of projection, and it works like a charm every time. Only it’s not charming when I allow my insecurities to ruin the dinner and close down conversation.
I am set up to become hurt, angry, or otherwise offended because I have already taken hard blows today or this week, and I am therefore emotionally out of balance, unable to perceive the present situation accurately. If a fight with my spouse has left me feeling unlovable or unattractive, I am likely to think that other people are putting me down or not valuing my gifts. If someone in my church or neighborhood or family has been taking advantage of me in some way, I will feel that others are merely using me as well. Pain, anxiety, disappointment, and anger can set us on a course that is not self-correcting. When we deal honestly with our emotional/spiritual life, we can pull ourselves back into a healthy perspective. But if these feelings keep simmering and wounding us, they can render us incapable of rational thought or response. In such situations it’s no wonder that we are being hurt and offended at every turn.
- What emotional triggers have you identified over the years?
- How do you deal with these sensitive emotional areas so that they don’t become triggers?