You feel like you’ve lost emotional control and now you’re just sitting there thinking about it and wondering what the hell just happened. Somebody said something. Somebody did something. And you reacted. It was like an instant reaction that came out of nowhere. And now you’re left, feeling, ashamed, embarrassed, and wondering why you had such an extreme reaction to something that now… When you look back at it seems a lot less serious than it seemed at the moment.
Here’s something you need to understand… whenever you have an emotional reaction to something someone said or something that happened… And you later look back at that situation and think, “Wow, I totally overreacted. I reacted in a way that was disproportionate to what actually happened.” This is a likely sign that you were triggered by a past pain that has not yet healed. You have a festering wound within you and when bumped by an event or circumstance that is similar to what you experienced in the past, you are sent spiraling downward into emotional pain once again. And if this pattern is affecting your relationships negatively, you might be getting a little bit nervous about that.
In fact, here’s something interesting about most relationships squabbles…they are not entirely about the current circumstance you are even fighting about. The emotional intensity is actually due to the fact that you have just been triggered by past pain. That past pain could’ve either occurred within the relationship or in one or both partners’ pasts. That’s what makes it so easy to make up afterwards. Because after the flights are over, you start feeling bad and wondering why you reacted so strongly – and it just doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore.
You were triggered. And unfortunately, a lot of people don’t even recognize this negative pattern in their lives, and this tendency to be triggered by past pain is wreaking havoc and preventing them from finding happiness and experiencing peace of mind.
So I just want you to take a moment to think about the last time you feel you overreacted in a situation and ask yourself the following questions:
How do I feel I overreacted in the situation?
How does that situation resemble something in my past?
How did I feel similar or different in this current situation?
What would I like to do differently next time?
By asking yourself these questions, you are bringing self awareness and understanding to the situation that triggered you. And through the self-awareness, you can begin to move yourself towards healing and growth.
So how can you overcome these triggering situations so that you can react differently in the future?
Step 1 – Take personal responsibility
It is important that you resist the urge to blame other people or circumstances for the fact that you are triggered. This is a huge problem now in our modern culture. We are given the impression by the media that it is our responsibility to avoid triggering everyone’s past pain. Just think about how absolutely impossible this standard is! There’s no way you can know what’s going to bother every person that you meet or how to avoid bothering that person. Obviously, we should never deliberately speak or act in such a way that we would knowingly harm another individual, but it’s simply impossible to avoid offending everyone. And to be inculcated with the belief that it is both possible and necessary for you to avoid offending everyone you meet is going to create social anxiety.
So it’s important for you to acknowledge first of all that no one else is responsible to avoid your triggers. They can’t possibly know what they all are, and even if you tell them, it’s a very difficult burden for someone to remember every single thing that’s going to trigger you.
You are distinctly aware of them.
They are not.
And we have a personal responsibility to heal the past pain that is fueling our triggers. We all have wounds, but we must make the decision to heal them, so we do not bleed on others.
Think about times when you have accidentally triggered other people. You unknowingly said or did something and the person had a very disproportionate reaction and a very emotional response to the situation. It’s happened to all of us. We’re just standing there completely dumbfounded wondering what the hell we just did. There’s absolutely no way that you can have enough knowledge about what’s going on in someone else’s mind, to never trigger anyone. So there’s absolutely no way you can expect other people to know enough about what’s going on in your mind to never trigger you.
This is why it’s important to acknowledge that you are the one responsible for your emotional reactions and resulting behaviors.
You are the one responsible to heal the past pain so that you’re not continually triggered.
If you are now realizing that you have been blaming others for reactivating past wounds, you will find it liberating to let those people know that it wasn’t their fault, and that you are going to do what it takes to heal those wounds so that you can experience healing and greater connection in your relationships. Because what unfortunately happens if you are one of those individuals that is frequently triggered, is that people will begin to avoid you because it’s just too emotionally difficult for them to maintain a relationship with you.
Step 2 – Forgive yourself
If you’re just realizing that you are a person that is frequently triggered, you may be feeling ashamed because you are acknowledging that your tendency to be triggered so easily has caused issues in your relationships. Perhaps you said things or have done things that have hurt other people.
You need to understand, however, you are not at fault for what happened to you in the past. The past can’t be changed, so feeling terrible about it only ruins your present moment. Perhaps you feel responsible for some of the negative things that happened to you in the past. Even if these past painful events were the direct result of bad choices you made, the truth is that you did the best that you could with the knowledge you had at the time. Maybe you feel like a bad person because of things that happened in your past.
But I don’t believe in bad people! There are no bad people, only bad beliefs, and when we believe the wrong things we act in ways that do not serve us, or the people we care about.
Here is a story to illustrate my point:
Jessica, was raised in a very strict religious home. Her parents taught her that their religion was the only true religion and the people outside of that religion were sinful and bad. She grew up, believing that the people outside of her religious group were dangerous and out to get her. They would look for every opportunity to persecute her for her faith in God. Jessica was programed to believe the world is a dangerous place filled with people that are hostile to her. Naturally as an adult, she continued in this belief system,. Later, even though she left the cult, she continued to have a negative attitude towards many people around her. She always felt like people generally had a bad motive behind everything they said and did.
How do you think that affected her relationships?
Do you think Jessica is a bad person because she was easily triggered by the behaviors of others?
Of course you don’t! You understand that Jessica has been doing the best that she could with the knowledge that she was given. You would give this compassion to Jessica, but you also need to give it to yourself.
You have done the best that you could, with the knowledge you have.
Let that sink in. Write it on your mirror. Say it to yourself at least once a day. It’s time to let go of past shame, because when we hang onto past shame, it often drives us back to the very behavior that we are ashamed of. Remember this phrase…
Shame is a down payment on future behavior.
Step 3 – Don’t avoid triggers.
It has become trendy in the last decade for trigger warnings to appear on nearly everything. I’m not being critical of this approach, because it is an attempt to be compassionate and considerate of other people. We all know we need more loving kindness in this world. However, avoiding triggers can create many problems in our lives. As you attempt to avoid triggering people and circumstances, you begin to narrow your world. What this does is make your window of stress tolerance smaller and smaller with the passage of time. Instead of increasing and expanding your stress resiliency, you find that you are less and less able to handle stressful situations. And by focusing on eliminating and avoiding triggers, you can even find yourself more easily triggered because that’s where you are placing all of your attention. You are training in your mind to be afraid of triggers instead of dealing with them as they arise. With the passage of time, the situation does not improve, but worsens, as you attempt to protect yourself from these triggering events in your day today life.
Step 4- Recognize that being triggered is an opportunity to heal.
Just live your life. Understand that you will be triggered because you’re a human being on a journey of healing and growth. As you walk your path, you are going to be tried and tested, and you need to recognize that as an inevitable part of living in the world. Instead of getting upset and angry, when you are triggered, change your perspective and look at it as an opportunity to heal. Triggers are a way for you to recognize past pain that is not healed. Instead of seeing triggers as your enemy, begin to view them as your friend. They provide you with an opportunity for growth, and help you gain emotional strength and resiliency.
Step 5 – Heal your past pain
The most important step in overcoming the tendency to be easily triggered, is to heal your past pain. Taking personal responsibility is the first necessary step. Having done so, it’s now imperative that you actively work to heal your past pain. But I’d like to offer a couple warnings here…
There are many therapeutic modalities out there, and it’s important that you choose those that actually moves you from a place of emotional pain to empowerment. Many therapies are operating on the false premise that the best way to heal past pain is to talk about it… over and over and over again, week after week in therapy. Often this type of therapy has two negative effects. First, the constant, repeated rehearsal of past events only hardwires a false perception, limiting beliefs, and emotional pain deeper within the subconscious mind. Second, individuals undergoing this type of therapy often end up with what is called a “trauma identity”. They begin to identify themselves as a traumatized individual and see this persona as the entirety of who they are. They see themselves as rendered hopelessly broken and defective by their past suffering. They believe that they will require years of therapy to solve the problem and all of their life becomes colored by past trauma.
You need to shift the beliefs and change the thinking that developed as a result of your trauma!
Any therapy that you choose should lead you from a place of emotional pain to a place of empowerment and peace. Of course, I believe the best way to truly heal is to address past pain in the deep places of the mind where the issue now resides. By discovering the root cause of your current struggles, you can heal and create permanent last time change within the subconscious mind. You will be shifting your beliefs, and as a result, your thought processes will change.