Let’s set the scene. You are having lunch with new friends at a nearby cafe. You have carefully looked over the menu and decided on the quinoa and black bean salad. You are also excited to see they specialize in a zesty cucumber juice that you are dying to try. So when the meal is served, you are baffled to see the juicy burger and French fries complete with chipotle mayo staring back at you. And who ordered the coke? Surprisingly, you did.
Somewhere in between exchanging hellos and chatting about your food preference your seemingly friendly lunch fellows launched a full blown attack. They needed a food friend to dive into their guilt and wallow in it’s unhealthy side item and you were the naïve newcomer that bellied up to the table.
How does this happen? Trigger friends.
Found in new friends, old friends and casual acquaintances, these are strong influencers that encourage you to default to a particular habit, way of thinking or action that you no longer engage in, enjoy or deem healthy. While many trigger friends may be aware that they are influencing someone, or even intend to, most often it is done as a way to relate to others, justify a behavior that is unhealthy, or appear easy-going with someone you’ve just met.
It could be as innocent as diving right into a weekend of nachos, beer and pizza with your best friend from college, because that’s just what you have always done together. Maybe it’s as simple as tossing your two cents into the gossip pool at the office because you want to connect with your coworkers. It’s also as casual as having a few drinks over your limit because friends demand you to relax even if you were quite comfortable with one cocktail.
In other instances trigger friends can create a detrimental and even contagious culture. Christie Dondero, Director of Development & Community Programs for Rock Recovery, a nonprofit that supports the journey to freedom from disordered eating shares, “The theory of trigger friends is absolutely accurate and not enough people recognize its power. When you are comparing yourself to your own very limited environment, your grasp of reality shifts. You think your behaviors are normal or necessary because those to your left and your right are doing it, but you forget that health and wellness isn’t based on comparison. It is based on fact.”
Here’s a look at 6 common Trigger Friends:
–Diet Sabotagers: These trigger friends may playfully shame you for your healthy food choices and even attempt to derail you from your diet to surround themselves with people who condone their unhealthy choices. You may find yourself adjusting your preferences to make them feel comfortable.
–The Gossip Gals: This infectious group may amp up the gossip, sharing secrets as a way to connect or relate to those around them. If they are in the know, they feel powerful. Most often it’s also used as a way to steer clear of being vulnerable and to keep things on the surface. This group can make you feel alientated if you don’t agree with their topic. It’s easy to find yourself nodding and agreeing with their comments when in fact you don’t at all.
–Self Deprecation Party: These trigger friends have developed the habit of constantly putting themselves down. It is easy to join in on the conversation to make them feel like they are not alone in their insecurities. More often this starts a full blown pity party that’s neither healthy or helpful and it makes both parties focus on their faults.
–The Party People: Somehow the culture that originated in high school doesn’t diminish as you age. This group will demand you drink, drink, drink and will not shy away from attempting to change your behavior to fit the mood of the night. It becomes their priority to get you to join in. And it’s easy to take another drink rather than listen to their taunts disguised as playfullness.
–The Oversharers: Many times acquaintances will overshare personal information and details of their life and trigger you to do the same. This is not negative, but the result is that most often this ends in a verbal unloading but no real conversation about how to help each other change. You may walk away feeling you’ve exposed too much information to someone you hardly know.
–The Spouse Bashers: These trigger friends unleash all the offenses in their marriage in hopes that you will relate and throw your significant other under the same bus. The motivation can quickly become a good old fashioned bashing session rather than a way to seek growth and change in the marriage. You may find yourself complaining about issues, in the sake of relating, that you have already resolved with your spouse.
–The Kid Complainers: This is a subtle trigger that is disguised under over worked moms who do it all. While the deep need is to be appreciated and valued it’s easy to talk about all the ways children are wearing them out. Instead of seasoned moms offering help, advice or humor, it’s easy to join in and share your own laundry list of complaints.
Don’t get me wrong. The idea of sharing the challenges of your life, the ups, downs and heartaches are absolutely necessary. We need community for friendship and to grow, thrive and learn how to navigate tough things in our life. However, trigger friends encourage you to default to the negative rather than the positive. It’s such an ingrained habit most of us don’t even know we bow to it often, neglecting ourselves in the process. The fact is, as we mature, we are more and more aware of ourselves, our preferences and our personal beliefs. So why do we toss them away once triggered? We may do it because it’s easy. Perhaps we want to avoid conflict. Maybe we haven’t stopped to think that we are even being triggered at all.
It isn’t enough to list off the various types of trigger friends and social environments that could encourage you into unhealthy behaviors. Such a list would make you want to stay inside and never engage! It is much better to consider the areas, friends, situations that do trigger you to change and think of healthy ways to respond that keep in line with your lifestyle, beliefs and convictions.
This practical advice can be used for all areas where we find that trigger friends influence us. I want to challenge you to give yourself permission to have a preference, opinion and belief that is different from those around you. I have found in times that I calmly stick to my belief, no matter how big or small, I am respected rather than rejected as I feared I may be. I believe something as simple as sticking to your meal choice in a sea of naysayers could release others to feel they can break out of the group and try something new. Your decision to be true to yourself and not change based on who you find yourself surround by, may be the very thing someone else needs to break out of a trigger point.