Emotional triggers can be intense. They’re like hidden pipe bombs in the minefields of our emotional lives, or like snipers hiding out in the shadows of our subconscious.
With all our efforts in to heal, live virtuous lives, and to forgive those who harmed us, one snide comment, a disrespectful remark, a glance, a smell, or a rejection can ignite fuses on our deeper emotional wounds. Even with long years of therapy, reading self-help books, or journaling, when a trigger goes off, the person in front of us turns into the parent who abandoned us, the perpetrator who abused, the partner who cheated, the person we lost to a tragedy. Suddenly the lens through which we see becomes like a movie projector, projecting onto the screen of our present lives, the pains and phantoms of our pasts.
Without emotional literacy and psychological tools, we might snap, scream, rage, crawl up into a fetal position, or sink into despair — even if we’re strong, successful, evolved, healed individuals. Although we suggest working with a skilled trauma counselor when dealing with triggers related to trauma, here are a few ideas you can include in your emotional well-being tool box to gain control of your emotions before triggers are ignited:
*Next time you’re triggered, try to identify what person or situation from your past reminds you of the emotional trigger. I like to call these ‘trigger sources’. Learn to observe and be mindful of your triggers and trigger sources. Be like Jane Goodall observing the behaviors of gorillas. Study them well, spend time with them, write about them, chart their patterns in your journal. The more you become familiar with the triggers, the less power they’ll have over you.
Also, as you get familiar with the triggers, if they show up again, you can take a deep breath, detach, and say ‘there it is again, this person reminds me of my abuser’, or ‘gosh, I feel abandoned like I did most of my life by my mother’. This ‘labeling’ of the trigger brings you back to the reality of the present situation. From there you can make a better choice about the current situation. It may be the situation isn’t safe regardless that it reminds you of a past event. This ‘labeling’ of the trigger can help you to choose to remove yourself from an unhealthy situation.
*Identify what’s most important to you. For instance, is being listened to important? Being safe? Is loyalty important? Being acknowledged? More often than not, we’re more triggered when these needs aren’t being met. Spend focused time identifying the qualities most important to you.
Yet you might also ask yourself, “since this need I have is so important, am I expecting too much of it from this particular person or situation”? Is there a way to loosen hold on this need, or have the need met elsewhere, or meet it in a more productive manner. For instance if being listened to is a key need, rather than yelling at our partners that they’re not listening to us, we might consider sharing with them that it’s important to be heard, and ask if they’d be willing to set aside some better time to listen. Or, we might call a friend who listens well.
Here are a few resources to help you with understanding and managing triggers:
Releasing the Somatic Responses to Trauma by Paul Lindon
We love to hear from you, so leave a comment! Any ways you can share how you deal with triggers?