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Recognize Your Triggers: How Getting Defensive is an Important Part of Mental Health & Wellness

When I was a young girl, I had to watch my father leave and return over and over again. Not a unique story, however, he was in the Navy so any anger, resentment, or frustration that came along with this experience had to be suppressed because, “Daddy is just doing his job” and,  “Daddy is providing for all of our needs”. So, I did what most of us do with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) I disregarded my mental health needs and packed them away, only to be triggered by them later and begin to ruin my relationships with men.

This particular ACE most often shows up in my marriage. Whenever the Hubs tries to lead me, correct me, or challenge me, even in healthy ways, I am immediately returned to 7-year-old Mia who has no voice and the inability to process her emotions. Knowing is only the first step because instead of going into reflection, I immediately begin to defend little Mia. She’s only a child and cannot defend herself. The truth of the matter is that she does not need to be defended, she needs to be healed and released. And that is my work, not my husband’s

There are certain emotions that drive us all to act more quickly than we’d like to. These are often called Triggers and can be extremely useful on our journey to mental wellness. The behavior that immediately follows our triggers is the indicator of needing to do something different; a sort of “check engine light” for our mental and emotional bodies. My primary “check engine light” is the drive to defend myself.

If I become defensive after someone has said or done something triggering, it is an indicator of something deeper that I may not want to go to at the moment like an ACE. After all, what am I defending?? Honestly, it’s those very sensitive, vulnerable spaces within our psyche that hold memories and experiences to which we have attached value. Many times this value is not a completely healthy assignment, which is why it feels very sensitive when “touched”; like an old sore.

Unhealthy attachments to memories and experiences are packed away within our baggage, some of which we are so often holding on to with white-knuckle tightness. When we begin to defend our behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and systems of belief that are built atop this baggage it can be a great indicator that it is time to unpack.

Mental Health

Mental Health Tip: Evaluate Your Triggers

Next time you are triggered and you begin to defend yourself, take a deep breath, put down your sword, and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. When have I felt this before? Think all the way back to the VERY FIRST time you felt it.

  2. Who taught me to feel this way about situations like this? Dig into the BELIEF that keeps you bound to this emotional response.

  3. Is the way I am looking at this serving my growth? Is the way I see this problem, a problem for me? Here is your opportunity to take a new perspective, one that serves you.

The level of honesty you allow yourself to engage in will truly make this exercise worth doing. Questions 1 and 2 can be very difficult because some of these emotions are attached to trauma and deep systems of belief, like religion. If you ever need support going through your exercises, never hesitate to book a session with me or access the Responsive Journaling service to receive guidance on your writings.If you are already in treatment with a professional, take the results of your exercise with you to the next session and be open about what areas you need help exploring. This is the work.

So, the next time you are triggered and start to engage in those defensive behaviors, remember to pause, end the communication, and go into reflection. Less communication is always better than more in these types of situations and if you need to stop talking and walk away mid-sentence, do it, and explain that shit later. They will be okay.

Take care, and as always, I’m here for you.

Mia Garret, LCSW


Mia Garret is a Clinical Social Worker who specializes in healing relationships and reinventing them into safe spaces to exercise the skills of mental and emotional wellness. We all go through similar processes: triggered by an event that causes us pain or disruption, Reacting in a way that furthers our pain,  Perpetuating the dysfunctional behaviors we’ve learned in our past and finally we go into suffering through the inability to resolve our issues. 
While serving students and the adults charged with their care and learning, Mia recognized that we are all shaped through the interactions we have with those around us; from this realization, Village Life Therapy was born.

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