I don’t talk much about my teenage years—I’m partially still embarrassed, partially still trying to figure them out myself. A lot of emotional and physical upheaval occurred after my parents divorced and married other people, and I was a walking bundle of nerves. Mainly anger. For some reason, my new stepdad thought arming me would be a brilliant way to get me to stop hating him, so when he scored a brand-new Airsoft gun, he offered himself as a moving target. It’s not a pretty admission, but angsty 14-year-old Kassie took every advantage of the situation. That poor guy looked like a turkey at the first Thanksgiving. The last thing a triggered teen needs is an actual trigger to pull.
I don’t think we grow out of that. Adults can unload some heavy ammunition just as easily, and with a bit more aim and finesse. If we don’t know what our personal hot buttons are, or if we do but haven’t dealt with them, we’re primed weapons ready to go off at the slightest touch, wreaking havoc on our relationships and playing victims to the tyranny of our own emotions. Unacknowledged or unhealed hangups create a poisonous case of paranoia. The good news is that we already serve a King, and He has given us a stable foundation on which to build our lives. Because He is good, wise, and powerful, we don’t have to submit any longer to another master—even our own fears.
To get the party started, run through this diagnostic and write down your top five negative triggers. While the test only deals with work situations, it might be helpful for you to continue in that thread by listing the main situations that arise at home, in friendships, or at church that get your pulse racing.
For added insight, if you didn’t continue down to #4 in yesterday’s assessment, go ahead and use it to identify the ways you typically handle feeling triggered. (Depending on who the offender is, my tendencies are withdrawing, caretaking, or catastrophizing.) Recognizing what sparks the crazy in us and what the crazy looks like will prove to be some crucial first steps in this aspect of self-awareness.
Listen, friends. We all have creation longings built into us, echoes of the way it was supposed to be. God designed our hearts to feel safe and respected, to encounter excellence, to be real with one another. Our triggers are flipped when those creation longings are somehow thwarted and we gain a fresh remembrance that we were made for more than we’ve experienced (which, in this broken setting, happens all the time). As we stand in the wreckage, though, we don’t have to add to the pain around us.
Part of what makes this such a tough topic for me is knowing that I can hit the hot buttons of others—usually on accident, but occasionally on purpose (if your name is Riley and I’m really worked up). The gospel is in full power here, too, friends. I don’t have to be crushed by the fact that I can crush others. Christ was crushed once for all, and He covers me. Grace waits in triumph as I admit my fear, my weakness, my need for Jesus, my sin. I can move away from looking right or strong or good and let you see me as I am—just a fellow traveler on the broken road to beauty. With nothing left to prove, we can help each other heal instead of adding to one another’s wounds. This assisted mending is what captures the attention of the world.
There is a circumstance in which our hot buttons can lead to positive change. If what’s on the line is not your own ego but someone else’s safety, channel those triggered emotions in a healthy way toward a solution. If you witness child abuse, for example, let it propel you to fight for the image of God in that little soul. It’s just as dangerous to remain apathetic in the face of evil as it is to allow every emotion to have full sway over your words and actions. As we keep in step with the King who created our hearts to feel deeply, we can move as He moves, always away from comfort, ever toward the weak. And the hot buttons that have dictated us for so long, tainting any true shot at friendship, will fall at His feet, as powerless as the grave.