What triggers us and why?
Recently I have been doing a lot of research on psychological triggers — particularly on what triggers us and why. This deep dive has been sparked because of the work I’m doing with my spiritual mentor at the moment, which is very much focused on my triggers. Because yep, I’ve got them! I’m not ‘perfect’ (whatever perfect is), I still get triggered, and I’m still working on them… and will be for as long as I am in this earth suit.
So, what is a trigger?
In other words, it’s a stimulus — such as a smell, sound or sight — that triggers feelings of trauma from the past.
The reason I began exploring this work was because my triggers were getting out of control. When something triggered me, it felt like no matter how self aware I was, I couldn’t stop the reaction after the stimulus. I would get triggered, and the feelings of fear, sadness, anger or frustration would wash over me. I would feel cortisol flood through my cells and heat would rush through my entire body.
And the thing is, this reaction would happen SO quickly, like a flash of lightning. It was so fast, I couldn’t seem to catch it before it had wreaked its havoc. I’d end up reacting to it from a place of heightened stress and emotion. Put simply, I’d arc up… which — let me tell you — was no fun for me, my poor adrenals, or for anyone around me!
The aim, of course, is the opposite. To not arc up. To respond to the stimulus from a neutral place… That’s my goal. So if a stimulus happens (which they will), my intention is to feel it, but instead of there being loads of emotional charge around it, to simply take a deep breath and respond from a neutral place instead. #lifegoals
When you look into the brain science behind triggers, it’s endlessly fascinating…
For example, did you know that it only takes 0.0000001 of a second for a smell, sound or sight to spark — a.k.a. trigger — a physical sensation in your body? It’s so fast. But my goal is to become a highly attuned human being who is so self aware that in that tiny window of 0.0000001 of a second, I can choose to remain the witness, and respond and not react…
Because let’s face it: triggers are going to happen. You can’t go through your life wrapped in cotton wool, and you can’t control other people (much as this recovering control freak would like to!). Which means you literally cannot control the fact that as you’re walking through a shopping centre, someone walks past you wearing the same cologne as that shitty guy you once dated who cheated on you. And you can’t control when you’re sitting at cafe and a huge dog barks, instantly reminding you of when you got bitten as a child. You can’t control those things happening… but you CAN control how you react to them.
Like I mentioned, what most of us do when we get triggered by someone or something is we react from that triggered place and we may say or do things we regret. Or perhaps we blame the other person, but the truth is, that person is actually giving you an enormous spiritual opportunity to look at that trigger and heal it. They are the messenger. So instead of losing your s#@t at the other person and blaming them, I want you to put your detective hat on and ask yourself ‘What feeling is being triggered within me and why?’ It’s always deeper than we think. And there are always some awesome nuggets of wisdom in it for us, as well as massive growth on the other side.
It helps to see this approach in action, so let me share a personal example…
There is one person in my life right now (let’s call her Stacy) that I get massively triggered by. The other day I was on the phone to Stacy when she said something that got me all riled up and emotionally charged. After I hung up the phone, I turned to my husband — who could clearly see I was triggered — and said, ‘What the heck, she is always so triggering!’
Nick looked at me, and said ‘No honey, it’s not that Stacy is triggering… it’s that you yourself are getting triggered. She is just the messenger and there’s some gold in that for you.’
A trigger is an emotional flashback to something that happened in the past.
… Ouch! When you’re in that fired up, triggered state, NO ONE wants to hear that. Before I could get any more upset, I walked into the other room, sat down and closed my eyes. I used my breath to bring me back to the present moment, which is a great tool when you get triggered. I felt the air on my skin and the sensations under my feet. I breathed deeply into my belly and allowed the feelings of ‘being triggered’ to subside. Then I asked myself these questions….
What did Stacy trigger within me?
Anger is what came up.
Why did this trigger anger?
Because in that moment, on the phone with her, I didn’t feel heard.
Why does feeling heard matter so much to me?
Well, because I never felt heard as a child. I didn’t feel like my parents listened to me.
Can you see that my trigger actually had nothing to do with Stacy — who did actually listen to me — and everything to do with my past trauma of not feeling heard?
Triggers are a big topic and I want to dive deeper into it maybe in my next book, but I want to give you some tools that have helped me for next time you find yourself reacting from that space of instant upset. My goal is for you to become the witness and respond before you react. That requires cultivating loads of self awareness, so in the meantime, if a trigger comes up, I want you to use your sensors to come back to the present moment. What can you see, smell and hear? Remind yourself you are safe. You can even do some self soothing by placing your hands on your heart and saying to yourself, ‘It’s ok, you are safe’. Triggers catapult your body into the fight or flight response, which is not a healthy state to be in, so we want to bring you out of that red zone as quickly as possible. Then, if you can, take a seat in a quiet place and ask yourself these questions…
- What is the feeling being triggered right now?
- Why is this feeling being triggered?
- Why does this matter so much to me?
At this point you can get out your journal and do some uncensored free writing. No one is going to read this, so use it to help yourself understand why that trigger may have happened and what it means for you. There will be some nuggets of gold in this for you, so stay Open Wide to whatever comes through. And remember, you are NOT broken, nothing is wrong with you, and there IS growth on the other side of this uncomfortableness. I know it can feel icky… they don’t call them growing pains for nothing! But know, deep down, that you are on the precipice of something big. It’s exciting! So choose to see it that way, beautiful.
Now I would love to hear from you… Have you delved deep into your triggers before? If so, what did you uncover about yourself? Share with me below. And remember, millions of soul seekers come here every day to get inspired… so open your big, beautiful heart and share from there: your words might be the one thing that sparks massive internal shifts within someone else.