Once a year I spend a weekend with a bunch of my mom friends on the coast. We talk, walk, eat, play games, sit in the hot tub, watch movies, stay up late, and sleep in.
Last mom’s weekend, we started talking about things (and people) that “trigger” us. But the conversation really deepened when I asked everyone a question about their own triggers.
I think of triggers as those “over the top” reactions that we have to something or someone…
But before I tell you about how to transform triggers, let’s talk a little bit about what triggers are and why it’s important to transform them…
What are triggers?
I think of triggers as having 2 parts:
1. An “out of proportion” reaction
2. A connection to something in my past (some unfinished business or unresolved hurt, usually from childhood)
It’s pretty easy to get triggered by your kids–more about this in a sec–however for the purpose of this discussion I’ll use a non-parenting example…
I got triggered recently when neighbor friend told me he didn’t like the wording in an email that I sent. I got so upset that I didn’t want to talk to him anymore!
Why are triggers difficult?
The difficulty with triggers is that when your emotions flare up you might act without thinking… you might say or do things that you later regret, or say something that just isn’t true. (With my neighbor, I almost fired an email back to him, without thinking first. )
Another difficulty is that people are more easily triggered by the people closest to them. For better or worse, your friends and family are the most likely to evoke your “big feelings”. (My neighbor friend affects me more than a stranger would.)
Lastly, when you’re triggered it’s easy to feel like a victim, like someone is doing something to you. When triggered you might think that the other person needs to change to solve your problem. When triggered it’s easy to turn the focus outward, rather than focusing on yourself. (With my neighbor, I wanted him to change. I blamed him for my upset, and I wanted him to say that he was sorry.)
So… How can we transform our triggers?
By asking one simple question:
“What unresolved hurt from my past am I reminded of by this current situation?”
When you focus on the part of your past that is being “triggered” by this current situation your emotions can shift.
(With my neighbor, his negative feedback hurt because when I was young I thought that I needed to be perfect in order to be loved. I felt sad about my neighbor's reaction to my email, because I was afraid it meant he didn’t like me anymore or value my friendship.)
After sharing with my friends, and hearing about their triggers and how they were connected to their past, I felt lighter and more at peace. (I see now that with my neighbor. His feedback was actually a sign that he DOES care about me… not the opposite!)
All of a sudden–in the context of my friends’ (and my) unresolved bits of the past–our triggers made sense…
When we understood WHY we reacted the way we did, to seemingly small things, our grip was loosened. The small things were no longer so prickly.
Keep in mind that triggers take time. My own trigger hasn’t gone away completely. It still hurts a little.
But it doesn’t have a strong hold on me.
After I see what is underneath the trigger, I can now respond with understanding and love to my family and friends, rather than respond with anger, sadness, or fear.
Now I’d love to hear about you. What did you discover when you looked underneath your trigger? What part of your past were you reminded of?
Share in the comments below. Your sharing could inspire someone else.
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