Triggers, Politics & Losing Focus

I have been MIA on my posts for a few months. I am passionate about coaching and communicating, so I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason for this unplanned hiatus. Upon deeper reflection, I think it boils down to the election — and the triggers brought on by the current cultural and political climate. As much as I have tried to avoid getting sucked into the daily news cycle, it is simply everywhere, and, therefore, impossible not to — and it gives me knots in my stomach. Hell, even Anderson Cooper is meditating on CNN to get through it!

Over the past few months, I have been involved with a men’s group called The Unshakable Man, and part of the program addresses triggers. When we began discussing this topic, I realized that every time I hear the President’s voice, it’s a trigger for me. A trigger that signals bullying, hate, and mocking. It hurts. It makes me fearful. I was very seriously bullied for about 15 years of my life, and it still happens on occasion — so this trigger and the fear behind it run deep into my psyche and subconscious. When this happens, when I (and when many of us) feel threatened, our limbic system kicks in and we go into a “fight-flight-freeze” stress response. Read more about it here.

So, as it pertains to writing, I have been in a freeze response, if you will. Under stress, it’s harder for me to focus and put my thoughts on paper. But I don’t want to freeze. Not now. It’s too important. To this end, I voted early, and I am working the polls on Nov 3, but I have been avoiding addressing the elephant in the room, so to speak. So here goes…

The Issue: Triggers and Stress Responses

The interesting thing about stress responses is that they are automatic. Whether we fight, flee or freeze is often out of our control. A few weeks ago, three large white guys were walking towards me on Cannon Street at 9 am and tried to push me over. My stress response was to take flight — I fled, and as I did they shouted, “faggot!” When I got home, I was shaking. I turned on the television to calm down and zone out, and there was the President shouting and spewing, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this President and the open conflicts and violence in our country right now has shown people — like the three men who attacked me — that it’s acceptable to bully again.

A few weeks later, I was with a conservative group of people at an event and I was engaged in conversation with an older woman who supports the President. The conversation took a turn when she looked down her nose at me and said quite unkindly and condescendingly, “You dems are in for a big surprise in November!” In this instance, I didn’t freeze and I didn’t flee. I fought (verbally) and snapped back with an intensity and anger that surprised me. I shouted at her that those are my rights she’s talking about. To marry, to adopt, to receive health care. I demanded that she look me in the eye and listen to me. I explained to her how much this administration has hurt my community and hurt others I love, from immigrants to dreamers to POC. She sat back and her voice became meek and childlike. In this instance, without even thinking about it, I had engaged in a form of bullying. Of course, I regained my composure and we found our way back to kindness and common ground, but I spent many hours afterward reflecting on where my compassion, empathy, grace had gone at that moment?

A few questions to ask yourself if you find yourself triggered:

· In this situation, time, and location, who or what triggered me and why? (Get curious about your triggers. They can tell you a lot about yourself.)

· What feelings am I feeling? (Fear, Anger, Sadness) Why am I feeling this way?

· Can I bring love and compassion to this part of me and my experience?

· Can I extend that love and compassion to others?

The Solution: Humanity and Understanding

First of all, we are all human. Recognizing our shared humanity, including the fact that we all have flaws, triggers, differing stress responses, differences of opinion, and common ground is hugely important. In today’s political climate, people tend to see red or blue. These differences are important but finding common ground and seeing humanity and light in each of us matters too.

So, in this spirit —

COME FROM A PLACE OF COMPASSION- I am trying so very hard to live like the great RBG who said, “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.” If anything, these four years of vitriol have shoved my fears and insecurities right back into my face for me to deal with. In the instance of my political conversation, how can I better engage next time? In the instance of me being bullied, it simply doesn’t hurt as hard as it used to because I know those three men are hurting and deflecting that hurt to others.

LET IT OUT- Often times we release all the emotions on a coaching call. We can jump for joy, weep with sadness, or rage with anger. It gets it out in a safe space. Knowing I would be with a group of Trump supporters at that event, I probably should have screamed into my pillow before the event, felt it, had a dirty cry, and let it all out. Instead, I went into the event feeling like something would happen, waiting to punch back so when that woman talked down to me, my rubber band broke.

CONNECT WITH OTHERS- Right now, we are all stretched to the limits on both sides. There is so little middle road. Just remember, you are not alone. Don’t hide in your bubble, connect with people who have compassion for you and for whom you have compassion. This is the time to receive all the love.

And if you, like me, find yourself reacting to so much stress — particularly if you are freezing and losing focus, it’s ok. We don’t need to be on top of everything all the time. Balance the being and doing, and know I am always here to talk it out.

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Cator Sparks

Cator Sparks

Former men’s style writer/editor in NYC. Currently, CTI certified life coach working with men around the globe to build community and find self-love.