When I think of negative emotional triggers a vision of land mines appears in my head. I am sure you know what I mean but if not imagine a war movie. Soldiers marching across a field and one poor fella steps on a mine…BOOM! Or, if gore is not your flavor, a soldier notices he is against a trip wire and if he moves it will explode…
Emotional triggers: a person, event, or circumstance that sets off an emotional reaction. The person moves from the thinking (intellectual/control) part of the brain to the emotional (feelings/unregulated) part of the brain.
Negative emotional triggers are very much like a trip wire. Everything is ok until one is set off. Then hell breaks loose and there are casualties. The casualties of our emotional triggers are the trust in our relationships. Every time a trigger is set off we break trust with those around us. Even when our reaction feels justified we are damaging our relationships.
Everyone I know has emotional triggers. I myself have a few that come to mind. But what are emotional triggers really? In my experience, negative emotional triggers stem from a wound that has not been healed from our past. Generally speaking all wounds stem from a part of us that has been unseen or unheard. All of us have been wounded in our life at some point or another. The emotional trigger that is created is our defense to protect the wound so we do not have to go through the pain again. Note: the trigger does not heal the wound, it just protects the wound from getting further hurt. The wound remains intact with our defenses around it.
In an attempt to paint a clearer picture, this is an example of how the wound and emotional trigger play out. I am using my own childhood example here:
Growing up I had a learning disability due to my hearing. I was constantly behind in reading and writing. So for most of my childhood I felt I was not as smart as all of my friends. When picked on, or made to feel inferior, I would be triggered into anger (always a secondary emotion). Then I would want to fight or show some sort of dominance over the person that triggered me. I did this to prove my worth so I would not have to feel the pain of being inferior.
So with this being said how can we get underneath the trigger to heal the wound? This is a great question and the answer starts with becoming aware of the root cause of why you feel hurt or unseen. Once you have awareness of root cause, create a space where you can feel the emotions associated with it. For me, creating a space means to sit with the emotion. Sit with it and be with it as you would hold your child who is upset. Feel the painful emotion in its entirety. Allow it to be felt and be seen. Stay with the emotion until it leaves of its own volition.
Another example I just went through where I diffused a buried trigger:
Recently I came across a picture of an old flame that I had not thought about in years. Upon seeing this picture I was filled with mixed up sadness because I was really hurt when it ended. Even though I am married with kids and have found my match this wound was still alive inside. I sat there and held the part of myself that still hurt. I allowed it to be present and I reassured myself internally that I loved that old immature version of me when this old flame did not. After about a half hour the emotion left and I felt liberated. Since that time, I have seen this picture one other time and I smiled…no more pain.
The hardest thing about this process is allowing the emotion to be felt without taking action. That’s right….take no action to change, fix, solve, overcome, or to hide it. FEEL IT FULLY AND ALLOW IT TO BE. That is all that needs to be done.
There are two main pitfalls to watch out for in doing this:
- We avoid the emotion. As soon as we feel the wound we instantly distract ourselves to cover it back up. (Soldier avoids the field altogether and as such the mines remain)
- We try to overcome the emotion. This comes by way of trying to control external circumstances not to be triggered again. (Soldier points out mines and directs others not to trigger them…and as such, the mines remain)
The crazy thing here is nothing needs to be fixed. There is nothing right or wrong about feelings and the wounds we have. It takes some deep work to pull these band-aids off and heal the wounds. But let me assure you…it is well worth it! It may take a few attempts but don’t get too discouraged. Each time you work through the feelings the trigger becomes less powerful.
Imagine how awesome life would be if we eliminated all of our negative triggers? How cool would it be to be the person who is unshakable when emotions are running high? It’s a great goal to aim at. It does take some deep reflection but we can all get there.
Remember, don’t justify your triggers- just work to diffuse them. Your triggers are your responsibility to handle and not the worlds to avoid.
Photo by RKTKN via Unsplash