When I was nine years old my family and I lived at - or just above - the poverty line, depending on the month. My parents had recently divorced and my mom, sister and I relocated from Colorado to Maryland. My mom, who had been both a teacher (in Iran) and a seamstress prior to the divorce, was now tasked with providing for and raising two kids on her own. There is a much longer story here, one that’s filled with a great deal of love, hard work and sacrifice from my mom, sister and many amazing family members that supported us through that time, but that tale is for another post.
I find myself returning to this period in my life because I recognize now that this experience created a profound fear in me – of lacking what was needed to thrive. The experiences of watching my mom struggle, being laughed at by classmates for not having name brand clothes and being embarrassed to invite my wealthy friends over to my house still fester in me. They’ve stuck to me and with me, even though my life today looks very different than it did when I was young. We all have these sticky experiences, these events which have now become our triggers.
Triggers are a behemoth, the monsters we keep having to slay over and over in order to make progress. The idea of triggers is sometimes, unfortunately, associated with being sensitive or weak. This is another lie we’ve been told – that if we have triggers, we are somehow not strong enough to succeed. Everyone has them. Everyone. Now, as we collectively navigate this global crisis – they seem to be coming back to haunt us. These triggers telling us now, “see, it is scary out there.” “I told you it’s worse than you thought.” “Something bad is going to happen now for sure.” (I like to imagine them as the critics in The Muppets – it makes them a little easier to live with.)
But, do we have to just live with them? I am here to tell you emphatically that the answer is NO! Once we understand this, these triggers lose their hold and not only do we heal but we can teach others, lead others, toward that same freedom.
So how can we begin this rebellion from fear? Talk to it. That’s right – it sounds 100% crazy – and it is also 100% effective.
To get into dialogue with our fear is to do two things:
1. Acknowledge its presence and
2. Find out what it wants so we can address it and move on.
Let’s start with acknowledging its presence. You know that nagging ache in your tooth that not only won’t go away but keeps getting worse the more you ignore it? That’s the same energy that fear moves with. Like any entity, it wants to be acknowledged. We people are the same way. Imagine that you walk into a room and everyone ignores you – how would you react? Knowing that, humanize your fear by speaking to it.
That’s the first step. It literally goes like this: “Fear, I see you’re back again.” You can even visualize it as an entity that can be removed from inside you and looked at – separate from you. This is the key – separate from you. Fear is not part of who you are, it’s just an old trigger, an energy that’s trapped. Disentangle it from yourself by visualizing yourself, however you’re comfortable, taking it out and looking at it. What does it look like?
Now that you’ve literally acknowledged it by looking at and speaking to it – you can begin your conversation with it. Ask it any question you want: “Why are you here?” “What do you need?” “What can I do for you?” Whatever – and I mean WHATEVER – pops into your head in reply, take that as your answer. For those of you that process better by writing – write these responses down.
A conversation is about a back and forth – so delve into whatever response you get, ask more questions, keep up the dialogue.
One common comment or question I get with this exercise is ‘I feel like I’m making up the answers in my head.’ Maybe you are, but let me ask you this: if those responses are a construct of your mind – then isn’t the very thing you’re talking to as well? To be even more explicit; If the fear feels real, then the answers it’s giving you are just as real. If you don’t believe in the answers, well then, why do you believe so strongly in the fear?
This conversation is about uncovering old belief systems that no longer serve you. Fear holds this gift within it.
I hope that many of you try this exercise. I also hope that you leaders out there can teach those that rely on you to do the same. I know from doing this that I’ve healed a lot of my old triggers, reminded that 9-year old that those harder days are gone and reclaimed my own sense of purpose and power. This has been an ongoing process for me, many many conversations with these ‘darker’ parts and a tool I continue to go to, every time I am being triggered. I want that for each one of you.
Enjoy the dialogue!