Are you inspired or triggered by what you see?
Everywhere you look, you’re looking at something, and whatever something that is will have an impact on you whether you realize it or not. Okay, it’s really not as complicated as I just made it sound. We see things in real life and on the internet and what we see stirs us up in some way. Good, bad, and maybe confusing. When you go about your business on a daily basis, your senses are taking in everything around you and your brain processes the stimulus. As your brain processes all that’s around you, your memories, experiences, and current feelings factor in. That’s why you can have a very different reaction to something than someone experiencing the same exact thing. We carry our own personal “luggage” (sounds better than baggage) with us everywhere.
*Trigger – Cause feelings of insecurity, self doubt, anger, and/or negativity.
So why am I writing about this today? I’ve been thinking about social media, since I’m on it pretty often, and how it influences people’s feelings and behaviors. I’m not even going to go the route of the obvious “fitspo” photos and quotes that in my opinion, are CREATED by people who are struggling with insecurities to purposefully TRIGGER people by taking an arrogant stance in what is extreme and unhealthy “fitness.” I’m going to focus the much more subtle ways we can all be triggered. Like seeing what someone ate for breakfast, a photo of someone’s gym outfit, a “what I did over the weekend” blog post, a friend chatting about her latest fitness “challenge” or a picture of someone’s kid playing on the kitchen floor in a nice big clean new kitchen (that was one of mine.)
Sometimes there is such a fine line between being inspired in a positive way to make needed or desired changes for ourselves and being triggered into self doubt and a potentially harmful behavior pattern. What is an inspiring photo/quote/blog post for one person can feel defeating for another. Plus, as we hopefully already know from social media – all that glimmers isn’t gold and what we see is certainly not the whole picture. But, it can be easy to forget this as we go about our day. Even for a blogger who aims to be as authentic as possible (I try to maintain this) you are still not seeing the whole truth of who I am and how I live my life. This goes for the people we know in real life too. The closest any of us can come to fully knowing someone is through our relationship with ourselves.
*Inspire – Cause feelings of self efficacy, confidence, desire to achieve a goal, or a start to positive action.
All that said, there are relationships we have, blogs we read, friends, pictures, quotes, and experiences, that cause us to want to truly better ourselves out of a feeling of increased confidence, self efficacy, and new ideas that drive us to take action toward a goal.
Even as I’m writing this, I can already see where there can be overlap between the positive feeling of being “inspired” and the bad feelings associated with being “triggered.” One problem is that many people take negative emotions and use them to fuel actions toward a goal, such as criticizing our bodies and using negative language toward ourselves to motivate weight loss or fitness goals. Unfortunately, while you might lose weight always believing you’re “fat” and “flabby” and lack “willpower,” no matter how much weight you lose, you won’t feel good about yourself because of the abusive messages you’ve sent yourself to get there. If you keep telling yourself you’re fat and slow, you will always be fat and slow in your own eyes, no matter how thin and fast you are in reality.
This is why I believe it’s important to know where your motivation is coming from. Sometimes, the less obvious triggers for negative emotions become apparent only through the negative emotions themselves, and perhaps the behaviors that follow.
Here are 5 signs to look out for that might mean you’re being “triggered” rather than inspired.
1. You judge the person in the photo/author/real life person to be “better” than you in some intrinsic way, rather than just further along toward a goal. You feel like you won’t be able to measure up to her/him.
2. You feel “disturbed” after being exposed to the stimulus. This may mean angry, anxious, confused, doubtful, depressed, or in some other way upset.
3. You don’t notice a change in feelings, but wind up “acting out” after experiencing the stimulus. This could mean overeating or wanting to restrict food (if it’s a weight loss/fitness thing,) wanting to spend money on material things or “stuff” (sounds silly but this happens to me!) or taking part in some other maladaptive behavior that wasn’t desirable beforehand.
4. In the case of running/fitness triggers, you start doubting your own training and abilities and go against what you knew in the past was right for you. This can lead to overtraining, injuries, and further emotional consequences.
5. After exposure to the stimulus, you no longer feel like you’re awesome just the way you are. You now feel overwhelmed and discouraged by perceived “imperfections.”
To be honest, the reason I did not put a lot of pictures and quotes in this post is because I had a hard time finding ones that weren’t pretty obviously triggering! It disappoints and upsets me that we still rely on extreme and unrealistic images, quotes, and approaches to “motivate” ourselves to achieve goals.
So what can we do?
When you realize your emotions are being triggered in a negative way, you have a choice. But before you make that choice, tell yourself this: “What I saw is stirring up something in me that doesn’t feel good, but it’s only a feeling and not the truth about who I am or what I should do.” It’s important to be aware of the origin of the feelings so you can separate from them and take their power away.
Then, the choice is this:
You can decide to remove the stimulus from your life. If it’s something on the internet that you don’t need to interact with and don’t have ties to, this will be easy to do. Only you can decide if this is the right choice for the situation, but if it’s something that’s making you feel badly on a regular basis, removing it from your life altogether could be a consideration.
For a stimulus that’s part of our daily lives this won’t usually be possible or desirable (though it still might be.) Good friends and well meaning family members can be triggering and it doesn’t mean they’re all bad. In these cases, going deeper into your feelings to gain an understanding will be more helpful, as well as recognizing the trigger for what it is. Positive self talk before, during, and after being around the triggering person/situation will always be necessary.
For a look into the (hopefully!) changing body image among female runners, check out this article from Tina Muir. It made me (inspired me!) to think about how I can help shift peoples focus away from thinness/weight loss and toward being both mentally and physically healthy and strong. More true inspiration and less painful triggering.
*My own definitions for the purpose of this post.
How often do you feel negatively triggered by what you see in real life or online? What inspires you and what gets you down on yourself? What do you want to see more of online and what do you want to disappear?