I violated one of my personal boundaries for myself yesterday … because I got triggered. I let that trigger push me toward behaviors I don’t like for myself — behaviors I’ve sworn off because they’re stupid and unproductive. I’ve spent the last 24 hours being so damn aggravated at myself for violating my own boundaries like that.
Let me explain.
Everything I do on social media is pro-women. Meaning, my entire platform is built around promoting the interests and well-being of women. I’ve been fortunate to have built a remarkable community of women around me who love and support each other. And, surprisingly, I’ve also had a lot of truly incredible men join in. They follow me to learn how they can be better men for the women they love. It’s a blessing to have them there. In many ways, those men have helped heal some of my very broken feelings toward men. They are restoring my faith in the literal mankind. But …
Every now and then, some truly detestable men find their way to my community.
I try my best to fly under their radar, doing whatever tricks I can to stay off their Instagram Feeds and TikTok FYPs. Somehow, they still find me. Earlier this week, I posted a quippy video about women and our body hair. I prefaced it with, “I have a question for the married women.” Hoping beyond hope that the men would just scroll on after hearing that intro. Alas, they did not. And now that video is flooded with hundreds of angry, fragile, women-hating men leaving me and other women in the comments section every kind of vile remark they can think of.
Why are these men so angry and triggered, you ask? Because, in my video, I asked the married women if we’re doing everything showers (you know, the ones where you shave EVERYTHING), or if maybe that’s a single woman’s game. For a while, me and the other married and single women had a lot of fun in the comments. The conversation was witty, hilarious, and good-natured. To be fair, there were also a few kind and funny men who joined in, laughing along with us. To my pleasant surprise, they reminded us that we are beautiful just as we are and to not stress too much over silly things like body hair. It was lovely.
But of course, the fragile, angry men showed up and ruined the fun, like they always do.
Despite this video being clearly not intended for them. Despite the premise of the video being about me and my own preferences for my body. Despite the video not in any way asking for their permission, opinion, or approval … these men showed up and demanded to be heard.
I’m not going to share their comments here. Honestly, they’re abusive, ignorant, infantile, riddled with grammatical errors, and just too annoying to bother typing out. Regardless of all that, I still managed to get triggered. And, I reacted.
The thing about triggers is they don’t care too much about our boundaries or our personal code of conduct.
They show up without warning. They beat loudly at our consciousness, telling us there is a threat. Triggers are meant to be good things, ironically enough. They have an evolutionary purpose, to help us identify potential dangers and get away from them quickly. The term trigger actually has its roots in the treatment of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), in which people with trauma from their past will respond to the present circumstances as though they are back in the place that caused the trauma. It’s why sometimes an Army veteran who returned home from Iraq many years ago may respond with a fight or flight response at the sound of fireworks. Although she is not in direct danger, her brain triggers a response like she is.
In many ways, our triggers do the same. However, for a lot of us, those triggers have run amuck. They have transcended warning us of danger, and now they cause us to react as if there is danger even when, technically speaking, there is none. People with PTSD tend to go to therapy to help them reprogram those triggered responses so that they can live a typical and trigger-free life. But what are the rest of us doing about our triggers? Most of us, if we’re being honest, are just white-knuckling our way through them.
That’s how we end up getting triggered and violating our own boundaries.
I promised myself I wouldn’t get down in the dirt with toxic men in my comment sections anymore. I set a boundary that said I would just ignore them, choking out their flame by not giving it any air. But in the last 24 hours, I’ve broken that boundary. I’ve violated my own terms. Toxic men have managed to get under my skin, and I’ve been scrapping with them.
As good as it feels to match energies — to engage in a little “two can play that game” — I am still disappointed in myself. I am in the process of getting a book deal; I have publishers scrutinizing my social media platforms. Now is probably not a great time to be involved in drama or controversy, to be acting petty toward men in my comment sections. I am good at going toe-to-toe with these guys, and I get satisfaction out of watching them spiral out of control when they realize I won’t just let them talk to me that way.
Still, this behavior isn’t good for me. Not just because my social media is under many watchful eyes at the moment; it’s also because I just don’t like acting that way. I don’t enjoy being petty and dismissive toward men, even the ones who are petty and dismissive toward me. At my core, I believe that men like this are probably very broken and traumatized, and are in desperate need of therapy. I don’t like pouring salt into their wounds, no matter how disrespectfully they treat me. I also know that engaging with toxic people (of any sex or gender) only hurts and upsets me in the long run. It invites more interaction with them, which is the opposite of what anyone should want when it comes to toxic people.
So, all around, I’m not acting in my best interest when I let my triggers get the best of me.
You and I both probably need to do some work on that, my friend. When we find ourselves getting triggered, violating our boundaries and acting in ways that are not in our best interest, we need to ask ourselves why. We must challenge what need is behind the trigger and the resultant behavior, and then work on meeting that need.
For me, I am beginning to understand that men are so able to trigger and upset me because deep down somewhere, I still believe that I am supposed to seek the approval and validation of men. It makes me sick to even type that sentence, but I know it’s true. I have yet to deconstruct the world’s training which told me that women’s job is to be pleasing to men, and if we aren’t, then our worth is in question.
I know that isn’t true. I know it. But somewhere in there, perhaps deep in my subconscious, is a girl who is unsure. Someone who thinks maybe these men are right, maybe I am of no value.
And this is the mindset that I absolutely must do battle with if I intend to stop letting triggers lead me into dysfunctional and unhealthy behavior.
I encourage you to spend some time this week thinking about your triggers — what are the things that consistently get you upset and cause you to act in ways you don’t like? Maybe spend some time journaling, asking yourself questions like:
What is the earliest or clearest memory of something happening that is similar to this trigger? Who was involved, what happened?
Am I aware of where this trigger began? If so, what was it?
How do I want to respond when I am triggered in situations like this? Am I responding like that now? If not, how am I responding?
What need is being unmet when it comes to this trigger? How can I work on getting that need met?
Spending time asking these questions can help you sort out how you want to respond to your triggers moving forward. Ultimately, although it never feels good to be triggered by someone else’s actions, we are the only ones who can control our reactions. We can allow triggering moments to send us into dysregulated behaviors, or we can do the work of meeting our needs and teaching ourselves how to respond in the face of those triggers. The work is hard, but you’ll find that it gets easier as you go. As this blog demonstrates, you’ll move forward in peaks and troughs. You’ll sometimes make mistakes. And that’s okay! Progress is non-linear when it comes to our mental health. We just need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. With focus and determination, the rest will sort itself out.
Amber Wardell is an author and cognitive psychologist who speaks about marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive free content and weekly blogs delivered once a week directly to your inbox.