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How Trigger Friends Help Us Better Understand Ourselves

03/03/2015 03:32 pm ET | Updated May 03, 2015

Trigger Friends. You know you have them. We all do. For instance, do you have a friend who is always one-upping or competing with you? One who is constantly telling you how advanced her toddler is (so by comparison, yours must be challenged), or how she just went on a $2000 shopping spree (which is clearly evident by the Louis Vuitton she just swung in your face) or how your dinner with your besties was pale in comparison to her girls' night (which auspiciously didn't include you), so that upon walking out of your lunch date, you're convinced that your 3-year-old needs a tutor, and you clearly need new friends.

Or how about the girl who is constantly complaining about something? Her life is filled with misery and crappy boyfriends, and she wants you to attend the pity party. "How is it that such bad things happen to such a good person!"she wails. Feed me with your attention! She subliminally screams. Get in this muddy emotional puddle with me! And so reluctantly, you do.

Oh yeah... those friends. And what do we do when we hang around those friends? When we scan their Facebook posts or Pinterest pages? We start to feel uncomfortable. We may feel jealous, or angry or disgusted. And then we ruin our day thinking about someone, who in reality has no bearing on or power over our happiness. Except when we let them.

So why do we do it? I guess there are lots of reasons -- and for each of us they're different -- but I believe that what triggers us to feel these primal feelings of anger, jealousy, pining, anxiety or disgust is because the trigger person is really highlighting a trait that we don't like about ourselves. Or they are reminders of some negatively poignant people from our past.

The girl who is constantly competing with you is trying to fill up her cup with the things that she thinks you -- and everybody else -- surely wants. The clothes, the bags, the cars, the kids and the vacations. If she has them, then she is worthy. Then she matters. The fact that she gets to you means, that yes, you may sometimes feel the same way. Who am I if I don't have the right things, know the right people and have the perfect kiddos? Am I worthy without all of my "ornaments"? If she has more, then she is more, so conversely, I must be less.

Or the girl who is perpetually in crisis? She's constantly begging for attention, for pity and in reality--for love. Each time she calls you in a panic of epic proportions, you tell yourself that you will not abet her neediness this time. But there's a chance that you too are striving to feel loved, to feel needed, and by helping her, by enabling her self-pity, you yourself feel needed, feel attentive -- and feel loved.

Here's how we can begin to understand ourselves, and in turn, understand them:

1/ Who are your Trigger Friends? Are there people that when you hang out with them--or more often after you leave--make you feel worse about yourself than before you saw them? Do you feel emotionally drained after seeing them or just feel wound up or unsettled (and not in a good way)? Yes? Then they may be mirroring some old pains and emotions from inside you, but you may not know exactly what they are. And now is the chance to figure them out.

2. Figure out what lies beneath. First things first: You're not flawed because certain people get you rattled. You're human, and thus you are a beautifully complex creature that just so happens to carry emotional baggage -- just like the rest of us. So, first identify what you're really feeling after seeing them? Sad, hurt, jealous, angry, anxious? How are these friends different from other friends who don't make you feel that way? Then, pinpoint certain things they said or did that made you feel, well...icky. By figuring out what about them is unsettling, you can begin to see if they're actually mirroring some of those same qualities that you don't like about yourself. Or if something in them reminds you of a certain person who played an integral role in your life -- namely, someone in your family -- you can see how they trigger some unwanted memories from your past.

3. What do you really want to say to them? If you could do or say anything you wanted to these friends without being labeled a total as*hole, what would you say? Quit pretending you have it all together, 'cuz we all know you don't, or Get your act together and stop being so needy, or Find your own identity and stop trying to be someone else? Hmmmm...now try telling those same things to yourself. What does it bring up? Any similarities? Focus on those as they might lead you to something.

4. Give yourself a break and stop rushing to their side when they call. Yes, it's ok to move away from someone for a bit. It's ok to take a breather, but don't do it in an attempt to punish this person. Trust me -- they've got a whole trunk full of baggage, so doing it out of anger or punishment will only eat away at you. Not them. Use the break to do a little soul searching. To think about why you're attracted to them in the first place, and what you're really getting out of the relationship. There's a solid chance they are only feeding your insecurities and you are feeding theirs. This ain't good for anyone.

5. Relax and enjoy the people that make you feel whole. Those people that make you smile and feel filled up with good stuff are the people that are complimenting the true you. The healthy and lovely side of you. And in them you can see all of that light and joy that you bring to the table. Give them your energy instead of giving your attention to the emotional vampires that suck you dry.

6. Trigger Friends are people, too. You may not be able to drop all of your trigger friends, and you may not want to. F'ed up people can still be amazing, and remember -- if they are triggering you, you are likely triggering them in return. So when you start to understand the reasons behind your reactions, and understand why they trigger you, you can begin to make the positive changes that neutralize their affect over you. And when you do, you're actually helping them to do the same. When the cycle stops, each of you can actually see what the other has to offer -- which may just be a whole lot of good.