Feeling triggered means something unresolved from the past has come calling. An invoice that is left unpaid from an earlier transaction. An old injury that aches whenever it rains. Loose ends that need tying up. A trigger always feels unpleasant, and always lingers.
My latest triggered happened unexpectedly, and lasted a few days.
I have co-authored a book and what a project it’s been! It has been worthwhile, demanding, exciting, frustrating, exhausting, amazing, fun and now, I can add, disappointing. In writing these words, I realize this describes most things we encounter in life.
We may succeed beyond our wildest dreams, or we may crash and burn. So, what?
Life for me, is one big classroom, and what is most important is what we learn and how we grow. Do we make the same mistakes over and over, hanging around middle school like a bad case of acne, or are we able to learn over time, moving on to college, even graduate school (this has nothing to do with book smarts or actual educational achievement, but what we set out to learn in this life). It would even seem, if we stopped judging ourself, in reality, our failures and challenges are what helps us to move forward, enables us to grow up, and graduate, or at least move on to the next level of life school. When we move out of our comfort zone, get off the couch, we take risks. And unlike a romantic comedy, we never know how it will turn out.
This past week, I was gently reminded of what can happen when I am triggered. Let me take you back a few days to explain.
In hopes of receiving a testimonial for our book, I had sent the manuscript off to a well- known spiritual teacher, one who enjoys a hefty following of devotees. Although I do not follow him as closely as I used to, his words can still bring my body to a state of blissful relaxation, and the rush of insights within my mind.
I received a “no” when it came to his testimonial. He was too busy to read the manuscript with his third book in the works, plus his hectic schedule of speaking engagements.
I got it. I did. But still, an unpleasant feeling emerged, and then lingered. I knew I was triggered.
I had grown accustomed to rejection, and each time, it hurt less and less. It seemed, that rejection was part of the writing process. And a part of life. Yet, this felt different. It felt more personal. The feeling was unpleasant, and was not going away. I needed to resolve it.
In the past, I had always gone to my head when triggered. I would try to reason myself out of it, which would only lead to ruminating, lack of sleep and the repetition of the incident to anyone who would listen. It was like banging my head against the wall to get rid of a headache. It did nothing; in fact it makes it worse.
For breaking through old patterns, often feels like I am busting down thirty year-old kitchen back splash with a hammer. It’s gratifying, and hard work. Yet, it takes time, and effort. In the end, not only can we rewire our brain, but we have a brand new tile as a reward. The more we admire and look at the new tile, the less we remember the old. But we must stay awake.
It appears, in dealing with this past trigger, I fell asleep, and went back to old patterns.
I told three people about the teacher’s “no” and each had a different response. One uttered, “What as ass!” Another said, “Oh well, keep in touch, you never know.” A third replied, “Maybe you can offer to endorse his book!”
I nodded. I pondered. I laughed.
We do need others to share our unhappy moments, to feel less alone. This can soften the blow, yet, this does not make a feeling go away. If we avoid the feeling when triggered, it will fester, and settle into our being, only to arise again at another moment. Feelings can even become stuck in our bodies leading to imbalances and dis-ease. Once I realized I did not want to lose sleep, to go another round in the ring, I stopped. I knew what I needed to do.
I knew the only way to resolve this feeling, was to get out of my head. I knew I had to let my heart win.
Once I stopped banging my head, I remembered I had unknowingly created these 6 steps which seemed to work much better.
- Prepare or regroup. Since life is one big school, what better place to do that, than going back to Kindergarten. In this first step, I enjoy snacking, napping, gettng my hands dirty. (and of course, binging on Netflix). Especially when we are in the throws of a higher education term paper. I not only feel it is necessary, but good for my soul. For me, it is the reward before the work. And that works.
- Move. In order to get out of our head, it helps to move our body, change our state. We can go for a run, garden, walk, or simply go outside and get the mail. Do a load of laundry or go to the store. Create some distance so you can do the next four steps. We often need this space in order to work through a feeling.
- Locate the trigger. It may be obvious what triggered us. As in the case of the testimonial, the news, or if we are cut off in traffic. We also may need to search for what set us off. It could be an off-handed comment by our significant other or we may wake feeling irritated, having dreamt something unpleasant.
- Name the feeling. Knowing what we are feeling is not as easy as it sounds. For me, sometimes, it is obvious, but not always. Irritation can feel the same as anger, but with closer observation, irritation happens when I am not listening to myself and my needs. Anger occurs when I feel betrayed by another person. I often need to ask myself what I am feeling, then wait for an answer. One feelings may even be a cover up for another. We can start feeling anger, and then realize underneath the anger is sadness. Be patient, you will know sooner or later.
- Pin Point where this feeling is in our body. Once you know what you are feeling, see if you can figure out where you are feeling it. Our hearts are inside our bodies, but a feeling can lodge itself many different areas of our body. I often feel fear in my gut, grief in my chest. Stress can give me stomach ache, and change can result in a headache.
- Focus our attention on this area. When we put our attention on a feeling in our body, a number of things can happen. We help move it through, which may bring forth tears, insights, a memory, or all three.
These steps may need to be done once through, or repeated, depending on how deep the trigger. You may be able to jump right in, or take a detour first. Do whatever you need to gather the courage, as this work is not easy. If it were, none of us would ever become lost in our minds.
Here is what happened with me, when I took on these 6 steps.
- In preparation, I watched a few shows on Netflix. Afterward, I felt ready to look at why I was triggered.
- I took my dog for a walk to get space.
- I knew the trigger was about the “no” I received for the testimonial, and didn’t need to linger on this step.
- As it turned out, the feeling of rejection, morphed into disappointment.
- Surprisingly, I felt the disappointment in my throat, the feeling lodged itself there like a bad case of strep. No coincidence, I used to get Strep all the time as a child.
- When I focused my attention on it, I realized the disappointment came from an earlier time in my life when the adults were too busy, too wounded, too self involved to help me. To even see me. Over time, this stifled my voice.
As I moved through the steps, I became depressed momentarily, which is simply the space for healing, then felt sadness. I was now in the heat of the trigger, the fire that needed quenching.
For every tear shed, we will enjoy a deeper moment of joy.
Don’t let your scars fool you. It seems if we ignore an old wound, it always comes back. Life always gives us another chance. Like a seed planted in the soil that innately moves towards the sun, we are always growing, moving towards healing. All triggers are gifts, and all challenges, rejections or failures, are opportunities for healing.
My co-authored book, Living Beyond Fear, will be available soon from both amazon, and fine book stores. These 37 letters, stories about life and death, will take you on a journey that is both healing and inspiring. Details to follow!