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Why Do Certain People Trigger Negative Emotion In Us?

November 29, 2018

“The people who trigger us to feel negative emotion are messengers. They are messengers for the unhealed parts of our being.” – Teal Swanpeople trigger negative emotion

Recently, I had a conversation with someone I hadn’t seen in a long time. The relationship has been a bit topsy-turvy over the past years but I had always convinced myself after a period of silence and distance that I had changed – grown and evolved enough that talking with this person again wouldn’t bother me. Afterall, there had been a few enjoyable interchanges sprinkled in. But this last interaction was not one of them.

After this particular encounter, I was left reeling for weeks. It triggered such a strong negative emotional response that I am still on the descent from the roller coaster ride. Yet, the conversation included no arguing and no overt displays of one-upping. To a third-party viewer it would probably come across as rather dull.

I’ve since wondered what is wrong with me. Why am I generally so affected? Am I the only one who feels this way around this person? If so, does it secretly mean that I am envious of him or her? It took rehashing the details with Yvonne for me to start seeing the truth underneath it all.

The Truth Behind Negative Emotional Triggers

When I first explained the relationship – how it had originated, how it had progressed since then, and how it was now, Yvonne immediately said in her insightful, straight-forward way, “MK, you’ve outgrown this relationship.” Her words hit me hard. Outgrown? Was that even possible? Didn’t that paint me as “holier than thou” to outgrow someone? But as I sorted through what she was saying, I realized there was indeed truth to her observation. This person and I have grown and changed. And we’ve chosen different paths. Neither one is better than the other. They are just different. And sometimes it can be a challenge for different paths to find a common ground. Here is why.

The week after Yvonne’s revelation, I realized I was still incredibly bothered. And bitter. I kept mulling it over in my head and I just couldn’t let it go. If I had truly outgrown this relationship, shouldn’t I be able to walk away from it without pain? Shouldn’t it feel easy to acknowledge I have changed in a different way? Shouldn’t that revelation have provided closure for my incessant mind churning?

What I realized is that there was something deeper going on inside. This person was unintentionally triggering something very raw and painful in me that had not yet healed. And it took some research about emotional triggers to bring me to a quote that pulled it all together:

“The people who trigger us to feel negative emotion are messengers. They are messengers for the unhealed parts of our being.” – Teal Swan

A Glimpse Of Beauty In Emotional Pain

Instead of thinking negatively, this beautiful outlook shed light on an emotional hurt. This person in my life is unintentionally serving as a messenger for me – reminding me that there are pieces of myself that are still raw. Wounds from my past that I have not fully recovered from. Deep insecurities and pains that I am still sorting out. 

It would be so easy for me to say I have outgrown this relationship. It would also be easy for me to say I have evolved more than this person. But the truth is, I still have work to do. Walking away and moving on is the easy path. Recognizing that I have my own heart work to do is not. But admitting this and taking action will ultimately invite more freedom and resilience into my life. 

What is true is that both of us have changed, we have both arranged our lives to celebrate different areas we value, and that I have areas in my life that still need a lot of care and tenderness. 

How Do We Remain Resilient When Someone Triggers Negative Emotional Pain In Us?

This is the ultimate question, especially when it is someone we have to interact with on a regular basis. But there are a few ways to approach the situation that can lessen the discomfort.

1. Admit that there are pain points in us that have not healed. Often this is the hardest part. To actually recognize that there is something going on inside of us instead of immediately judging and blaming the other person.

2. Give ourselves permission to feel pain. Often we run away from discomfort rather than stay with it for awhile. It’s okay to feel pain. We don’t need to immediately bury it or numb it. By allowing ourselves to feel it, we realize that it won’t overcome us. And we learn to be less fearful of negative emotions, which in turn prompts us to try to understand them.

3. Practice loving-kindness meditation. In this particular meditation, we wish ourselves peace and happiness and an end to our stress and suffering. Next we wish the same upon a person we care about, such as a child. Finally, we bestow this same wish upon the person who has triggered negative emotional responses in us. This can be really, really difficult. Especially the first few times. But something miraculous comes from this practice. Our hearts lighten, our empathy muscles turn on, and the bitterness and pain begin to dissipate.

My hope after all of this is that I can have a future conversation with this person that leaves me feeling confident in my own decisions and values because the pain has begun the beautiful process of healing. 

Do you have relationships in your life that trigger negative emotional reactions? How have you navigated them and what happened with the relationship? Please let us know.

Wishing you peace and many meaningul relationships,

Related Posts: You Are Who You Befriend

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