Dear Privileged White Spiritual Person (PWSP),
Isn’t it frustrating when you’re listening to the radio or scrolling through facebook and the feelings of overwhelm begin to creep in? Don’t you wish your hands and armpits didn’t get all sweaty with feelings of anxiety in the midst of conflict with someone else? Maybe you are feeling verbally attacked and there’s a lump in your throat so big that words feel impossible to make happen. The feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can be too much to hold some days. It can be easy to feel too sensitive for the world we live in, which is equally as frustrating because you really are a good person and want to help make a difference in the world.
The feelings of sweatiness, anxiety and overwhelm are physiological responses to your nervous system being activated and believe it or not you can in fact expand your capacity to be with these frustrating, and sometimes scary feelings which increases your ability to be an effective agent of change in your life and in the world.
What do you do when you’re emotionally triggered? What do you do when the hot burn of emotion floods through your body, your breath sticks and your heart begins to beat faster? Do you run away or are you able to turn towards the sensations within your own body?
I’ve noticed a phenomenon in privileged, mostly white spiritual communities where triggers are looked at as something to eliminate and avoid; I have even seen them used as an excuse to do nothing because “intuition”.
PWSP is triggered to feel an emotion such as fear or shame when another person shares a controversial facebook post or their skin begins to prickle and heat rises up the back of their neck when a disagreement among friends occurs. Instead of getting curious about and breathing into the sensations they are experiencing, they blame the person “causing the emotion” and the nervous system spins out into a fight, flight, fawn or freeze scenario. I have also seen this happen in yoga classes; if PWSP begins to tremble and cry within class the teacher automatically did something “wrong” and is not trauma informed. FYI, being trauma informed protects people who have experienced trauma from being retraumatized by acknowledging that trauma exists while holding the container for emotion to be present. It is not so that PWSP, or anyone else, doesn’t have to feel.
The above scenarios, while legitimate nervous system responses, are detrimental to the person experiencing the trigger AND society as a whole. If you are having an internal response to something that is happening on the outside it is no one’s responsibility other than your own to tend to. You are responsible for what is happening.
Don’t like the way you’re being treated or spoken to? Set a boundary.
Do you feel intense feelings when you read about oppression and the horrible ways we humans treat each other? Learn to accept reality as it is with presence and breath.
Don’t like what you’re reading or seeing on social media? Delete or scroll past and then dive into those feelings and get curious about how you can help.
The triggers are here to point you towards another way; they’re like a dashboard light in your car signaling that something needs to be addressed. Being human is hard, it’s painful, it can be ugly and you have the ability to expand your nervous system so that you are not thrown into a triggered response every time shame, fear or another uncomfortable emotion bubbles it’s way to the surface.
Now, to be clear I am not implying that trauma survivors should just “suck it up” and learn to be with their triggers...although I know many more of these than I do PWSP who know how to handle discomfort.
I’ve witnessed privileged white people protecting other privileged white people from their emotions for far too long and I’m done being quiet and “compassionate” about it. Guess what? My silence isn’t compassion it’s enabling. By being complacent in your limitation to hold sensitive subjects like slavery, child labor, sex trafficking, wealth disparity, the health care crisis, homelessness, etc. YOU are a part of the problem and it is YOUR responsibility to create a relationship with your nervous system so that it doesn’t hinder your ability to use your privilege where it’s needed; you really do have the power to create change in our world through your actions alone.
You are enabling your fragile privileged nervous system if you say the following and use them as an excuse to BYPASS:
“That takes so much awareness”
“I’m just too sensitive”
“I am an empath; I FEEL everything”
“I am a star child and I am here to change the world through my thoughts and meditations”
“I am on a path of ascension and everything is an illusion”
“But it’s not me doing that”
I am here to tell you that all of those things can be true AND you can create a healthy relationship to your nervous system and your triggers. Doing this allows you to be the change you wish to see in the world. Yes, it takes a lot of awareness. Yes, it takes practice sitting with discomfort. Yes, it means you have to get comfortable with feeling all sorts of unpleasant feelings. And yes, it is the most powerful thing you can do right now. Privileged White Spiritual Person, there is power in your privilege and the world needs your privilege NOW.
Want to know how? Breathe and observe more than you react. Get intimate with your emotions; learn how anger, fear, grief, and longing show up inside of you. Learn practices that strengthen your nervous system and give you space between feeling and reaction, practice them every day with people who can hold a safe container for you. This means having difficult and uncomfortable conversations with people who won’t judge you or attack you as you expand your ability to be with your triggers. Just like it’s important to keep showing up at the gym when you’re trying to increase your strength and endurance, it’s important for you to keep showing up and allowing your nervous system “muscles” to gain strength and resilience. Feel your feels and keep going; there’s power in your privilege and the world needs you to use it.