Triggers are painful. They happen in relationships (sometimes out of nowhere), at work and even during interactions with strangers. A trigger is a wound that hasn’t been healed. It might resurface as feelings of loss, rejection or shame. When we are “triggered” we act on emotion only. You may feel yourself either emotionally withdraw from someone or respond in an angry, aggressive way – which you may regret afterwards.
What if we were to treat triggers as an opportunity for growth? And in doing so, help to heal the wound.
First, what are emotional triggers? Here are some common ones:
- Feeling rejected.
- Being left behind or abandoned.
- Fear of helplessness or feeling powerless.
- Being ignored or overlooked.
- Feeling disapproved of or judged negatively.
- Someone blaming or shaming you.
- Feeling neglected or ghosted.
- Feeling controlled.
- Feeling smothered or trapped.
Do any of these feel familiar? Here’s how to treat each and every trigger as an opportunity for growth.
Write down what happened
What situation were you in, what was said and who were you with? Writing is a powerful tool in looking at situations objectively, with a little distance, and logging them. This ‘data’ is valuable because looking at past triggers will help prepare you for the next step – looking for the Why. Write down your thoughts and feelings around the trigger – and don’t hold back. If your ‘blood was boiling’ write it down.
Look for the Why
Where is the Why in what happened? Ask ‘Why did I react the way I did? Where is this coming from?’ Often our triggers stem from childhood traumas, buried deep. For example, if you are triggered by your partner playfully patting your stomach, and you have an emotional reaction like ‘Stop calling me fat!’ Were you told you were overweight as a child? Did it make you feel self-conscious, not good enough, ashamed? Or, perhaps your trigger is feeling controlled or smothered. Did you grow up with an overly controlling father? Did it make you feel powerless or unheard? Look for the Why and write it down.
Replace thoughts and feelings
Okay, so you’ve logged the moment you were triggered and identified the Why. Now, it’s time to replace those thoughts and feelings (because YOU have the power to think and feel as you decide). Instead of ‘I AM overweight and unworthy’ it becomes ‘I love my body and I AM worthy’. In order to use our triggers to grow we must look at the limiting beliefs that surface when they happen. And the words we use, in our heads, about ourselves. Do you instantly feel like that hurt child? You are NOT that hurt child. Replace your thoughts and feelings, pick a more positive belief and say it to yourself. Over and over.
Let go, and move forward
Each time you follow this process you should feel the intensity of your triggers less and less. It’s about self-awareness and taking a moment to watch your thoughts and emotions – like an outsider might. Remember, you are not your thoughts and emotions. See them, replace them with a more positive helpful mindset, and let them go.
How will you know when you’ve used your triggers as an opportunity for growth?
You’ll feel lighter and more in control. The more intense the trigger usually indicates how long you have repressed the Why behind it. Reflecting on triggers gives us an opportunity to heal. Try to always separate yourself from the trigger when it happens. You can even say to yourself ‘Oh, hello Trigger, yes, I understand where you’re coming from and what you’re about – but I’ll take it from here.”