This week I want to bring up the topic of triggers. What are they, where do they come from, and what we can do about them.
A trigger is something that happens spontaneously and out of the blue, as a reaction to something having occurred in our environment. It comes on instantaneously and activates a very strong emotion. So, what exactly is a trigger and why does it happen?
When we undergo a trauma, especially in childhood, which can range from being involved in a car accident to our parents yelling at us for misbehaving as children, the event creates a pocket in our energy field where this trauma gets stored. Over time, that pocket gets tucked away and forgotten, until such a time when an event brings upon the same emotions we had once experienced and stored away. When this happens, we suddenly feel all the emotions we had felt once upon a time.
Let’s say when I was a child, my father yelled at me over something I did. In that moment, I felt fear, shame, stress, and maybe some anger as well. Those emotions merged together and created a pocket. Fast forward to my adult life… The other day, I had a heated conversation with my mother and our voices rose a few octaves. I was being yelled at. Albeit, I was yelling back, but this activated the same emotions I felt as a child.
Ok, ok, here is a more personal example: When I was growing up, my mother would, rightfully, teach me how to do certain things. In this example, I will introduce loading the dishwasher. Everyone has their own system and my mother, of course, had hers. Which I’ve known for years, as she taught it to me when I was young. Today, after having loaded the dishwasher a million times over, I can practically do it blindfolded. Still, my mother sometimes has the urge to tell me where the plate should go, or why I should make more space for this or that. And I completely understand that she has her own way of thinking, and she is most likely sharing with me (in her own way) how she wants things done at this time. However, I absolutely get triggered by that. Why? Because it brings me right back to teenage hood and feeling young and in need of showing the world that “I know what I’m doing”. It brings me back to a time where I didn’t want to be told what to do. So, naturally, I tell her “mom, please don’t tell me what to do!” And I’m right back in my teenage body. Feeling angry, annoyed, small, and even a little humiliated that I can’t be trusted to load the dishwasher “properly”. It’s important to note here that all of this is happening entirely in my head, and all my mother did was tell me what she wanted me to do.
How can we release these pockets of energy, you know, the ones that hold these emotional triggers?
It’s hard to catch ourselves when we’re experiencing the trigger, because it comes on so fast and so strong. Often, however, we can reflect back and identify it for what it is. This way, the next time we know we’ll be in a space with a potential for an incoming trigger, we can be a little more prepared. I.e, next time I load my mother’s dishwasher, I will have an opportunity to observe myself and catch the trigger as it comes.
What to do when we feel a trigger coming?
Stay with it! Breathe into it. Identify it for what it is; A trigger! And then, and most importantly, let yourself feel the emotion to completion. What I mean by that is, if my trigger brings up emotions of anger and frustration, in order to release that pocket of energy, I will need to allow the emotion to come up, and be felt. If I end up crying or yelling or screaming, so be it, so long as it’s done with awareness. If my mother tells me to put a plate in a specific place, I won’t spontaneously burst into tears, but I can go to a quiet place, think about what happened, breathe deeply, and allow whatever I’m feeling to be felt fully.
Many of us suppress our emotions. Some of us aren’t even aware we’re doing it. We just turn the other cheek and go about our days like nothing happened. Maybe we don’t want to feel the pain. Maybe we convince ourselves there is actually no pain at all. But imagine having a nail in your shoe, and it pokes your foot just a tad. But you decide to ignore it, well let me tell ya, it definitely won’t fix itself. It will either stay slightly poking your foot, just enough for you to feel it and continue to ignore the discomfort, or it will start getting deeper, and more painful. How long do you think you can walk with a nail in your shoe?
That’s what living with unhealed, unattended, “un-nailed” trauma is like.
One thing I’m feeling inclined to share here is… We ALL have trauma! We ALL have triggers! It doesn’t make us weak. There is no shame in experiencing emotion. There is not a single person on this planet, who has not experienced a trauma on some level, in some way, shape, or form, that created a pocket in their energy body, which will, one day, or has already, manifest in the form of a trigger. This is just something I feel to be true. I didn’t read this in a book someone wrote because they felt it to be true. To me, it’s absolutely a fact. Why? Because we’re human!
So, next time you feel super annoyed by that guy waiting at the bus stop and blowing his nose really loudly, ask yourself if this is a trigger. Is this related to a past occurrence where you felt helpless or humiliated or angry or whatever it might be? Maybe this anger rising within has nothing to do with that poor guy with a blocked nose, and entirely to do that one time you didn’t have a tissue and your nose leaked all over your face… just as an example, of course.
With love and kindness, always!