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When my friends asked me if I was going to Laura’s holiday party, I responded with a blank stare.
It turns out I had not gotten an invitation, and they had gotten theirs two weeks ago. I was suddenly triggered. Where was my invitation? Weren’t we friends? I felt angry, excluded, and left out. I felt like I didn’t matter.
Thanks to the tools I’ve learned as a therapist and holistic life coach, I was able to work through the trigger and get back into balance quickly. But the benefits I gained from this experience stuck around for much longer.
You might be wondering how there could be any sort of benefit in being triggered, but I believe that, as bad as they feel, triggers can be a great thing. They help us to see our unhealthy beliefs and parts of ourselves that are buried in the subconscious mind.
Because of this invitation (or lack thereof) and my trigger, I was able to find an unhealed part of myself that I couldn’t see unless I was triggered. This is why I love triggers!
Let me explain how triggers give us the opportunity to grow and how to work through a trigger so as to use our “I’m so triggered moments” to heal.
What is a trigger?
A trigger is when someone or something outside of us gets us angry or “hooks” us. But triggers aren’t actually about the person pushing our buttons—they’re about us. The person or situation that triggers us is simply reflecting an unhealed, unconscious wound that we already possess.
Our triggers illuminate a part of us that Carl Jung dubbed our “shadow.”
As children, when life experiences happen that cause us to feel “bad” (like when we feel like we don’t matter or we’re not good enough), we take those beliefs that make us feel ashamed, and unknowingly push them down into the subconscious part of our mind—the shadow. Aggressive impulses, shameful experiences, taboo mental images, immoral urges, fears, irrational wishes, and unacceptable sexual desires are all common parts of our shadows.
Our shadow parts are like an iceberg. We can only see the tip of the iceberg that pokes out of the water, but beneath the water lies a huge mass of ice, buried from view. That “mass of ice” is where our shadows are buried in the subconscious mind.
When someone triggers us, that person is actually shining light under the surface on our unconscious beliefs. They’re giving us the opportunity to look at our own deep beliefs, see more of who we are, and find our lost or fragmented parts.
We all have shadows—looking at them can set us free.
Ultimately, our goal is to integrate the shadow parts, and stop rejecting parts of our personality that we hate, are ashamed of, or feel embarrassed by. We heal by bringing these parts forward into our everyday lives and into the light. I’m not talking about posting our newly integrated shadow parts on social media—but I am inviting everyone to examine and own these parts within themselves for their own peace.
When we get triggered, our natural reaction is to blame the person who triggered us and react outwardly, but we heal when we choose to stop projecting our hurt onto others and take a look inside.
Finding our shadow beliefs.
Before you react the next time you’re triggered, pause and take a breath, and ask yourself these questions:
1. How does this make me feel?
What comes up within me when, for instance, my mom says that thing she always says? What emotion or feeling is stirring inside of me? Often our first thought is that we’re angry—but let’s go deeper.
2. What’s underneath the anger?
Anger often serves as a protective mechanism and blocks us from feeling our pain. Pause and go beneath the anger and see what’s there. Get curious. Let go of the blame about the other person or circumstance. If you’re really angry and you need to punch a pillow or stomp your feet, do it. Then venture under the anger. Sit with the anger and get curious about what comes up after you feel it.
Did you know it only takes 90 seconds of sitting with an emotion before it processes through? Notice what other emotions you feel after you sit. You might be surprised at what emotions and beliefs are buried under the anger.
3. What are my shadow beliefs that caused me to be triggered?
Keep digging. You will find inner beliefs under those painful emotions such as, “I feel like a fraud,” or, “I don’t matter.” The shadow belief is rooted in the thoughts and feelings that rise up when triggered. For instance, if someone made a comment to you and you felt like you didn’t matter, the shadow belief would be, “I don’t matter.” To find these, ask yourself, “How did that comment or experience make me feel?” Keep digging until you find the core belief. You will know when you get there.
Healing our triggers and shadow beliefs.
Once we’ve identified our shadow beliefs, the real healing begins. We can work with the parts of ourselves that hold these beliefs and integrate them into the whole self.
Here are two steps to do this:
1. Own it and claim it as part of you—make it yours.
This belief is not all of you. It’s simply one belief or one of the many parts that make up your whole self. Think of yourself being like a puzzle of 500 parts that make up the whole self. Only one part of you feels like you’re not enough, you don’t matter, etcetera. Claim that part without judgment or blame—own it. This is where the healing and transformation happens.
2. Work with that part and have compassion for it.
These inner “lost” parts don’t know you. They are running the show behind the scenes. Healing happens when you get to know these parts and have compassion for them. It often helps us to find compassion for ourselves when we remember that these inner beliefs are typically formed by the age of three. There was no discernment back then to say, “Mommy was having a bad day and didn’t mean to yell at me.” We instead take on and form a belief like, “Mommy yelled at me today, so I must be bad.”
When we can tune into these parts and get to know them, compassion happens. To do this, close your eyes and ask yourself, “Who in me feels like (insert your shadow belief here)?” You will hear a voice or get an image of the part that is saying this. With compassion, connect and listen to that part. Introduce your adult self and let them know that you are here now to guide your life as an adult. Let that part know that you love it and are here for it, but you no longer need it to run the show. Working with parts helps to integrate these lost or unknown shadow beliefs.
It’s not your fault that you have a shadow side—we all do!
When we work to heal and integrate our shadow, we stop living so reactively and unconsciously, and we build more trust in our relationships. It’s where true healing happens, and when we practice this, we become less triggered.
The key to “trigger freedom” is instead of getting mad and gossiping about the person who triggered us, to go on a quest inside to find that shadow part and own it.
In this light, a trigger is a gift, and an opportunity for healing, transformation, and freedom.