When it comes to triggers there have been times in my life when I have just wanted to run for the hills to avoid the discomfort that was rising in me. We have all experienced an emotional trigger reaction in our lifetime, it is what makes us human.
There is so much power when we lean into our triggers and explore the wisdom they hold.
Beyond our edges and in our shadows lies an opportunity to question the emotions that come up in certain situations. Using this we can guide ourselves to heal and learn more about what makes us tick.
Have you ever experienced: Feeling taken advantage of, frustrated, jealous, where you were being controlled, someone crossed a boundary, moments of anxiety or even just feeling self-conscious?
These are the feelings that come when we get triggered and in this post, I am going to share how triggers come to the surface along with how to work with them instead of resisting them.
So, what is a trigger?
A trigger is an emotional reaction to an experience, word, person or event. Our emotions come on suddenly and are usually an unconscious reaction due to our past conditioning. For example, when someone slams a door it can often cause us to jump. The door slamming closed is the trigger while the body’s reaction to jump is the response we are having to the trigger.
Triggers are not all bad, we also have triggers for good things like, when someone gives us a hug the response is usually to melt in the arms of the other person while feeling held, loved and safe.
The triggers we are going to explore are the ones that bring up discomfort, unease, shame, guilt, fear or despair.
When we are triggered, our bodies often slip into survival mode fight or flight. Our sympathetic nervous system is activated, doing everything it can to save us from harm. We might experience our heart racing faster, our stomachs churning, breaking out into a sweat, we might go cold and numb, or even start to shut down.
Catching our triggers is a whole new game, they happen so fast. Yet with practice, we can identify these little moments where we are unconsciously reacting and transform them. Instead of it being:
Trigger → Emotional Reaction = Our normal behaviour
Knowing this, we now have the opportunity to practice choosing our response. Instead of falling back towards what we have always known moving from this place of familiarity. A better way to look at a trigger is to become aware of what is occurring at a physical, emotional and mental state so we can get clarity on the best way to respond.
Trigger → Pause: Self Check-In → Resource Pull → Response = Our new way of living
A pause allows us to observe our body’s reactions, then we can pull on our resources to respond instead of just letting our emotions run wild.
How to Embrace our Triggers
Be Intentional and Open
When we decide to do the work to heal ourselves and learn more about our true selves, it doesn’t just magically start to happen. We need to show up openly with compassion. Each day we need to set our intentions on leaning in to the discomfort. When we start each day with the clear intention that we are creating change it is far more likely to take place than waiting for it.
Call it what it is
When we react or feel ourselves about to react, name it. Call it out. If what is running through your mind is “I’m pissed right now because that car just cut me off” for example as if you were driving late to work. This first stepping point is about finding where we have triggers and acknowledging that they really do exist. Yes, even the smallest of moments count where we feel an immediate change in our bodies. Naming our triggers also helps us to check how frequently they are occurring.
Ask the Big ‘WHY’ question
Yeah, it’s hard sometimes to ask this one, but it can uncover so much. When we are feeling all those feelings the last thing we want to do is ask ourselves why? Yet when we do we can see what is making us change, moving us away from who we are into a heightened state? Then ask yourself again, why? Dig deeper and deeper to see where this bad boy of an emotional reaction came from. At first try to get through a few rounds of ‘why’ so you are learning to find the cause.
With practice, it will become easier and easier to find the answer to why you are being triggered. Question everything.
More often than not our responses to a trigger were created during our younger years. Explore that. Ask yourself is it a natural response to what is happening right now or is it something I have always done?
PRO TIP: Get yourself a journal to record events down that triggered you. Write down the situation, what happened and then how you reacted. Then perhaps look at why it played out that way. What was it about the other person, the situation, the environment that made you react? (think who, what, where, why, whom, etc)
Feeling the Feels
When we react we are internally driven to respond from unconscious patterns that we have accumulated. These big feelings are what we want to focus on for a moment. Sometimes it’s important to allow a feeling to be moved through. A big life moment like the loss of a loved one can trigger all the emotions and in this case absolutely it’s important to recognize the feelings that come with that experience. They are not to be rushed. Yet the feelings of anger, frustration, fear are the cue signals for triggers that mean something to us, feel them, understand how they play out in your body so next time you are more prepared for when they arise.
Respond instead of Reacting
When we feel the familiar pang of discomfort from a trigger we now have the opportunity to choose the way forward. Do we keep the same reaction as normal – like blowing up because we are frustrated with the traffic today or do we decide to respond to the situation, take the next turn and go the long way home or change the radio channel so we can sing along to our favourite album?
Responding to our emotions with internal guidance comes through by us pausing for a moment to see what is coming up, not letting our minds jump to all the conclusions while our body is signaling the alarm bells. Here is the perfect opportunity to pull on our internal resources to observe ourselves and question what is the best way forward. Would this situation benefit me blowing up with anger, frustration or fear? If not, how could I show up as a true representation of self?
Honour the Lesson
Each time our emotions get the better of us there is often a lesson hiding just beneath the surface. It could be that we need to set some personal boundaries, it could be that we need to take a different approach to how we are handling a situation. Our triggers are the invitation to revisit how we want to be showing up in life, pointing out single events or those that are reoccurring. Life lessons are a beautiful unfolding of relearning who we are and what we stand for. Triggers are not to be something we want to avoid but merely become aware of. Enabling us to explore deeper what makes us tick, who we are and how we can show up to life as our best self.
Identifying our triggers is just one part of the process the other part is checking in with ourselves with a graceful pause to evaluate the situation. Pulling our resources together to make informed decisions, possibly with new outcomes that honour who we are. Trialing new methods takes courage along with plenty of practice.
Once we realise that our triggers are not all ours to keep, we can play with them to see which ones are worth correcting, the lessons they hold and how to embrace them for the wisdom they hold.