December 30, 2015

What to do when We’re Triggered.

Flickr/Tess Mayer

Especially at the holidays, people can come belly to belly with trigger situations.

A trigger is an event or something that is said that brings up an old emotional tape. It can be an innocent joke that reminds you of something your parents said when you were a kid. It can be going to a familiar place where something of emotional significance happened. It can be a scent, a book, a movie, song or show.

When we are triggered, it is easy to become reactive and believe that we are responding to what is actually happening rather than something that happened in the past. However, when we react, we often create more pain and painful situations. There is a better way to respond when we feel triggered.

First, recognize that we all have a tape (or many tapes) that play in our minds. As children especially, we take our emotional cues from our parents and significant adults in our lives. When those adults lacked in the ability to relate well emotionally, it can cause lasting harm and carry with them certain messages. Those messages may be that you are unlovable, unworthy, not important, or that you will be abandoned. It is easy to jump into that old river of pain but it will serve no one, least of all you.

Here’s how to respond when you are triggered. First, recognize the source of your wounds and the messages attached to them. When you do that, you can then begin to see when old wounds are being rubbed raw. Then, when a trigger situation happens, do this.

Breathe. When you are triggered, it’s quick and easy to retreat into old patterns, run away or want to fight. Don’t. Take a step (or many steps) away from the situation and breathe. If you can’t physically walk away, close your eyes and breathe deep into your solar plexus. Sit with deep breathing for at least a count of ten.

Relax. Allow your body to release any tension you are holding in that moment and deeply relax. See the air you are breathing in go deep into the tension spots and unwind the clenched muscles. Keep breathing and relaxing as long as it takes to get you ready for the next step.

Detach. See your thoughts and feelings as if they are on a river, passing you by. Watch them as they pass and recognize that just because they beckon, you don’t have to jump in the river with them. Acknowledge their presence—it’s even helpful to have an internal dialogue like this one: “oh, hi, fear, there you are. I see you. I know you are here because you want to warn me about something or you feel threatened in some way. I acknowledge your presence.”

Sometimes, the act of simply acknowledging our feelings without engaging with them is enough to diffuse what can easily become an emotionally volatile situation.

Finally, take responsibility for your feelings. While you can’t change what has happened in the past, you can change how you respond to it currently. Remember, you can choose the truth you align yourself with. You can choose to believe that you are unworthy, unlovable or destined to be alone or you can revise those old beliefs that don’t serve you into something else. You can choose to believe that other people’s treatment of you is a reflection of them and not about you.

You can choose to be an openhearted warrior of love in a world that desperately needs it by falling in love with yourself and consistently engaging in actions that affirm your worth.

When we are triggered, it’s easy to fall into old patterns but those old patterns will not further your souls evolution. Learning how to manage your emotional triggers will help you to keep your life clear of old emotional debris that can poison the wells of now.




When we’re Triggered: How to Stop Reacting Defensively.


Author: Lisa Vallejos, PhD

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Tess Mayer/Flickr

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