There comes a point in life for all of us, “people-pleaser” personality types where we need to make peace with the fact that it is impossible to make everyone happy and that not everyone is going to like us. At some point a test will come along which asks us, “How much are you willing to sacrifice to keep others appeased? What are you willing to do to avoid conflict?” This is an area where I recently encountered a shadily disguised personal victory.
There is a thing that can happen, when you are out there in the world, doing your personal work in the open and working with people in a spiritual context. You can become a trigger for people. Suddenly the things you say, things you post on Facebook, a single sentence in your video content can become a HUGE deal for someone who for the most part seems completely separate from your day to day reality. Suddenly someone who is an acquaintance at most feels the urge to attack you over something that has nothing to do with them. Except it does, because there is no separation and everything we do has to do with other people because we are all mirrors for each other.
This recently happened to me. After a seemingly innocuous Facebook post, I received a barrage of nasty messages and lengthy commentary from someone who is at most a fringe member of an old social circle of mine. A person who I know very little about, with whom I have had few enough conversations that I could probably count them on one hand. Somehow this Facebook post I made, was triggering enough for this person to attack me personally, attack my work, attack my belief system and demand an explanation for who I am. The post that I made was about happiness. About how personal happiness is the well from which all goodness can spring. About how we should make happiness a priority because I believe that it is through being in alignment with positive feelings that we can find our true work, that we can give the best of ourselves and be the most highly of service. About how eschewing the things that make us unhappy empowers us to find our best selves and how we are constantly pummeled by negative messages that tell us our happiness is unimportant and how I think this is wrong. This message, this message about seeking happiness as the nectar of our humanity, was what sent this person who I barely know into attack-mode.
Initially I was shocked and upset by this personal attack, particularly as the commentary characterized my personality as narcissistic, accused me of peddling bullshit and implied that I was avoiding reality through spiritual materialism. But then I realized that this person doesn’t really know me. I know me and I know that I spend time every day working with my ego through actively engaging in practices that keep me grounded. I know that I have a great community of people with whom I communicate openly and transparently who would check me hard if I was living from the viewpoint outlined in the message I was sent. I realized that I often work for free, providing healing services to people in need without asking for anything in return. That part of my
pricing schema is sliding scale rates so that I can give the best of who I am in the disciplines that I spent the past decade of my life studying, to anyone who could benefit from what I have to offer. And I realized that this person’s reaction was a projection based on a trigger they were experiencing. A trigger based on my words about happiness. A trigger that possibly needed to be handled with some intention.
It’s difficult being a trigger and more so realizing that you are a trigger and trying to engage with that dynamic in a way that doesn’t cause harm to anyone and doesn’t subject you to abuse. After the first email I thought long and hard about how to address the situation and the words, “Don’t feed the bear.” presented themselves as a solid mantra about how to engage. I deliberated about not responding, but I felt like that too would be giving my power away so I chose neutrality as the go-to approach and proceeded with caution.
This was met with a further demand to justify my beliefs and some hostility so I chose positive affirmation as an approach to try to neutralize the situation, including offering words of support for the person’s beliefs, validating their courage in speaking up and offering kindness as an attempt to resolve things without submitting to the attack or the demand for further dialogue. Even this fed the bear and what I learned is that sometimes the healed response is to simply compassionately walk away.
But it bears mentioning that I am really grateful to this experience. As a student of shamanism, I recognize that an experience can only be present in our lives if there is an affinity. An affinity is an existing situation in ourselves that mirrors an external situation. Through this experience I was able to identify my inner critic who was feeding me messages about being afraid of being attacked for my beliefs. Being afraid of being misunderstood and misjudged. Through this internal program, there was an affinity to this situation being able to present externally. Recognizing this allowed me to do some healing work with myself via this situation and to recognize and have compassion for the suffering of this other person. In working with myself through the recognition of this affinity, I was able to think during the experience of this situation, “If I were to be speaking to the part of myself that has these fears, that is terrified of being judged this harshly what would I say?” I would say, “I understand your perspective. Thank you for letting me know that this is a topic that you feel I should explore. I honor your courage for speaking up about something you think is an important message. I have heard you, but I choose not to focus on this more deeply. I wish you well.” That is exactly what I said to the person who wrote those things to me and that is how I found healing in her harsh words and gratitude for the message.
It is in recognizing, even in the situations where we feel challenged, how we can work with our power skillfully. In engaging responsibly with the way we use our words and checking in with ourselves about our emotional responses and our intent that we can take lessons and benefit from healed outcomes in the situations that might otherwise have us handing our power away. That doesn’t necessarily lessen the trigger factor. I am pretty sure that the person on the other end of this dynamic is still feeling triggered because I didn’t feed the bear, but I feel that I responded with integrity and in a way that didn’t give put my power in the hands of another
person. Sometimes that is all we can do and take the healing lessons that are available.
I don’t expect that my work will stop triggering others and I am grateful to be the contrast that inspires others to explore their beliefs. Even the mirrors that portray me harshly have something to teach about my internal environment and if I can engage with them compassionately I can see them as medicine allies instead of as enemies. We are not called to do whatever it takes to preserve our “friendability.” Even those of us who are used to being people-pleasers need to confront that program. Sometimes being a teacher means catalyzing someone else’s exposure to their own shadow which can be unpleasant for them, but just as I would never take responsibility for catalyzing someone’s physical healing – they’re doing the work, I will not take responsibility for being someone’s trigger. I hope that person I encountered today eventually finds healing from the medicine they came looking for in me and I am grateful for the medicine I got from this experience. The sacred mirror may have reflected a shadow part of me today too, but I have spent the past few years cultivating a friendship with my shadow so it is showing up more as a friend these days. I tell this story today only with the intention of offering an alternative way to view these types of interactions. My shamanism teacher once asked, “How will you know that issue is healed?” to which I responded, “When I stop responding emotionally by giving my power away.” Sometimes the greatest mirrors of our own work, our own healing come in the form of a shadow messenger. Both the light and the shadow form the self – we need to make allies of both.