“You have no friends. You have no enemies. You only have teachers.” ~Ancient Proverb
My very wise aunt, a talented psychotherapist and one of my spiritual teachers, has told me many times that the people, places, and things that trigger us are just “props in our spiritual drama.”
This phrase has stuck with me for years because it’s catchy and it rings so true to me. If we are struggling, it’s not a matter of the external force, it’s about what it provokes in us.
We don’t heal by trying to change others. We heal through breaking cycles; through knowing and honoring ourselves by creating healthy boundaries, processing the past, and living presently to make different choices.
We don’t grow by staying in the same circumstances and hoping they will be different, or by leaving one set of circumstances only to repeat the same patterns with new people and places. We grow by stepping out of our inner default programming and into discomfort, and by consciously shifting away from the patterns we know and choosing different environments and dynamics.
The people, places, and things that come into our lives are there for our spiritual journey, learning, and evolution. We can use these ‘props’ for good, we can use them to stay stuck, or we can use them to spiral down. As adults, the choice is ours.
The props in our spiritual drama are what trigger us the most. They may be people, situations, or even certain qualities we notice in strangers.
My most challenging relationship is with my father, and while I could get stuck in that hardship story, I believe that he was placed in that role to assist me in the lessons I needed to learn while growing up and into young adulthood.
The guy that I just dated, who I fell hard and quick for, was a prop in my relationship practice and process in continuing to clearly define what I want in a partner and what healthy boundaries I need to set.
When I feel pain in my heart and want to stand up for the child who is being yelled at by a stressed mother on the subway, it shows me my own emotional hurt and the ways I haven’t expressed my truth about how my young inner child was treated poorly.
When I feel anger when confronted with economic inequality, inconsideration/lack of caring, and other injustices in this world, it teaches me that I am not doing enough to feel satisfied and proud of the ways in which I contribute positively to society.
Anything that I have not made peace with, found forgiveness around, or worked out within me yet continues to be a prop that encourages my spiritual growth.
As I’ve contemplated the props in my spiritual drama, I trust they are there to assist me on my path.
Challenging people and situations can be very difficult to live with and through, but I believe they serve an important purpose. If we are conscious and choose to move toward growth, freedom, and love, we can take this adversity and turn it into empowerment so we are more capable of being our best selves.
Two main points have stuck out to me as I try to evolve through my spiritual drama.
1. Situations repeat themselves until we learn the lessons.
The lesson is ours to be learned, so if we don’t learn it the first or the tenth time, the pattern will continue in a vicious cycle until we finally get the message and choose a different way.
Sometimes if we examine where or by whom we are triggered, the lesson is clear right away. Other times we need some guidance because we recognize something doesn’t feel right, yet we can’t get out of our own way enough to see it clearly.
Friends, mentors, and family members we have healthy relationships with can be great at helping us understand our cycles and patterns so we can break free. Other times, we need to go within.
When confronted with a low point, we have the opportunity to acknowledge what isn’t working and figure out in what direction our gut wisdom is guiding us.
Personally, I had a habit of choosing men who were very passionate about their career or a serious hobby, and they would prioritize this passion over me, which led me to feeling hurt and uncared about.
When I held up the mirror to examine myself deeply, I was able to see that as long as I wasn’t prioritizing myself and showing up to fully love for myself, I would attract partners who would partially reject me in the same way.
A second layer of this was that I was subconsciously living vicariously through my partners’ aliveness and passion because I was missing that in my own life. Once I developed my own passions and started doing work I love, the need to feel this joy vicariously faded away and I started desiring partners who are more balanced and can have multiple priorities.
The change may be uncomfortable, but usually quite rewarding in the end. And the discomfort we feel moving into the unknown is better than the despair we feel when repeating the same pattern over and over and staying miserable in the ‘known.’
2. Our triggers can help us discover unmet needs, and meet them.
Oftentimes we feel triggered by certain people, qualities, or situations because they represent ways we feel consciously or subconsciously uncared for, attacked, neglected, and rejected.
For example, let’s say your boss gives you some constructive feedback regarding your work, and you feel like it’s a personal attack or a criticism instead of feedback intended to support you to help you succeed.
In this scenario, instead of feeling attacked or rejected by your boss, you could ask yourself why you’re feeling such intense emotion. Is it because you’re hypercritical of yourself? Or do you feel shamed for not getting praise or approval because that’s a pattern you were taught growing up? In this instance, the trigger might teach you that you need your own approval.
The more we can meet our own needs and lovingly re-parent ourselves, the more these triggers will fall away. So the inquiry becomes the key to moving through this spiritual drama.
We need to ask why to understand our triggers more deeply, shift the immediate emotional response to curiosity, and eventually release the trigger by clearing past baggage and learning the lesson to show up for ourselves differently.
Whenever, I’m feeling particularly triggered by a person or behavior, I take a few minutes to sit quietly, go within, and ask myself what it’s about and what I need to do to take care of myself.
Maybe my inner child needs some reassurance that she is safe and loved.
Maybe my body needs some relaxation because my nervous system is over-stimulated or stressed.
Maybe I need to play, dance, and move energy through my body because I’ve been too much in do/go/on mode.
Once I take care of my own needs, I’m not focused on the other, the prop, the trigger anymore. I am peaceful and present.
This realization has served as a helpful reminder as I’ve moved through my life and felt the range of emotions that have come up. It’s never all about the other person; on some level, it’s about me. It serves me well to keep the focus on myself, what’s going on for me when the triggers come up, and what I can learn and process so that those triggers no longer live inside my body, mind, and soul.
As we own and clear what is within us, the props in our spiritual drama fall away and we become lighter and can live more peacefully.
May this serve you and may you be free.