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How to Let Triggers Be Our Teachers

You just arrived at work, having visited your favorite coffee shop, and you feel excited and hopeful about this finally being an easy day. And then once you sit down and open your email, you see a startling email from your boss, saying the piece of work you handed in needed lots of work. You get a text from your roommate, asking you to please keep the kitchen tidier, and then you see a Facebook status update that your ex just got a new girlfriend. 

There goes your great day. Three triggers in a row. 

According to PsychCentral, a trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of his/her original trauma. You may or may not even be aware of that original trauma, or the negative belief attached to it, but something inside you snaps. You may feel it in your belly, you may feel your palms start to sweat, heart race, and you may feel shameful, sad, angry, annoyed or confused. ‘This again?’ you think. 

Triggers will keep coming into our lives until we actually acknowledge them as ways to let go of that original trauma.

So, take for instance, the straightforward email from your boss – maybe you feel like you’re not good enough. From the roommate text, you may feel that you’re not doing enough. And from the surprising Facebook status about your ex, you may feel abandoned or that you don’t quite measure up to this new person. These are all valid feelings that only want to be felt. 

When we see or experience something that is a trigger, the easy thing to do is to drown out the pain with TV or alcohol…  the brave thing to do is to sit with that emotion just like a parent would sit with their upset child, and let yourself feel it while simultaneously supporting yourself.

In any situation of life, especially hard ones, there’s always the question of, ‘Why is this happening to me’? To positively reframe (and shift our thoughts from fear to love), we can think instead, ‘What is this situation teaching me? Where is the wisdom in this?’ So after we’ve sat with the emotion, we can ask what is trying to come through so that we become aware and make changes in our physical lives. Maybe a trigger (or lesson) will return again and again until it doesn’t ‘trigger’ us anymore; or until we’ve learned the lesson. We must practice sitting with the underlying emotion(s), acknowledge our pattern without judgement, and then, we let it go. Note: this is not an overnight process. 

Triggers can also be more subtle; such as smells, sights, places, or sensations. If you grew up in an abusive household and go back to the town or house you were traumatized in, you may become extremely triggered. You may begin to experience old symptoms in the present because the space or the situation has not yet been cleared or healed. Our amygdala is also not aware of time when it gets triggered (fight or flight). It can immediately take us back to the time we were 5 years old and it may have no idea it’s 2019 and we are 30 years old. Just like an alcoholic can’t even have one sip of a drink, traumatized people may not be able to revisit old sights and smells due to a breakdown or panic attack possibly occurring. This can be an extreme version of a trigger. 

Triggers will keep coming into our lives until we learn the lesson we are supposed to learn.

We all know that friend that continues to get the same lessons over and over, yet never seems to learn from them and move on. They’re with ANOTHER boyfriend that’s cheating from them. They lost their wallet again after a night of being drunk. That’s because they didn’t learn the lesson, and the Universe is watching. If we don’t learn the lesson, we will stay stuck in that lesson / trigger. We may says things like, “Poor me. Why me? This is Bullshit!” and the Universe will say “Hey, I guess they didn’t get the message! Let’s try again,” and continue to give us similar situations over and over. These situations also tend to get louder and bigger over time, until it turns into a lightening strike, a horrible accident, or something truly traumatic.

Once we can indicate that we’ve learned the lessons we are supposed to learn based on our circumstances and challenges, and make positive changes accordingly to take care of ourselves, set boundaries, love ourselves, or do whatever it is we need to do. When we do that, we are saying to the Universe, “I hear you, I see you. Thanks for the lesson, I really needed that.”

Next time you feel triggered, try this process: 

  • Sit up straight, take a few deep breaths, go to the bathroom, or go outside for a couple minutes. Remove yourself from the situation to ground before snapping back to someone with an aggressive response.
  • Ask, ‘how does this make me feel?’ and fully acknowledge that feeling/emotion, letting yourself feel it for a few moments. Give yourself time before responding or taking action so you feel you’re in a more grounded place.
  • Once the initial emotional response has passed, asked, ‘Where is the wisdom in this? What is this teaching me?’ Once we gain clarity and awareness of how we’re feeling about a certain situation (and usually it’s repeated themes that arise), it softens the situation and we can come up with a constructive solution.
  • Instead of snapping back at your boss, take a moment to see how you could have read things more carefully or could have taken more time with the project, and apologize with better work.
  • For the roommate, take a moment to acknowledge how you could have been cleaner, and say you’ll be sure to keep things tidier next time.
  • And for your ex, after the initial emotions pass, send them well wishes (even if just in your mind), and say ‘This is possible, for me too. I trust it will happen for me in the right timing.’ 

When we shift from reacting to responding to our triggers, we will finally be in a place that is conducive to transformation, growth and healing. And we are showing the Universe that we have learned the lessons we need to learn so we do not need to keep repeating them in our lives, and can move on to the next lessons.

Now I’d love to hear from you.

What are common triggers / lessons in your life? Have you felt stuck in any? How do you respond to them? Do you ignore them, judge them, or get angry at the other person that caused the trigger? What steps can you take to take ownership of yourself and shift? 

Triggers are never easy. Give yourself time, space and breath (and even help from a friend or mentor), to unwind these triggers. 


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