The day is going smoothly. Feeling good, sometimes neutral. All is well, more or less. Then something happens! We hear or see something, maybe even smell something. Sometimes nothing specific happens but a certain thought pops into the mind for whatever reason and we spin out of control. The body feels contracted and in a blink of an eye, it’s fight or flight. As if someone hit the red danger button and we feel threatened. We’re triggered!
Triggers are typically destructive when we act upon them in the heat of the moment. More often than not, we regret how we acted and realize that our perception when triggered was not real. We were acting out of fear/anger/sadness…etc. i.e. we were unconscious.
Triggers are, also, important signals that point to something that needs attention. A shadow side that we’ve been ignoring, dismissing or unaware of. Triggers are the cry for attention.
Instead of ruining our relationships and peace of mind, triggers can help us learn, grow, become more resilient and transform our shadows into love and light.
Before acting upon my trigger (i.e. perception of danger), I practice what I call my “Best BET” to transform my Triggers to Teachers. What’s the “Best BET”?
Pretend to hold a gun. Point the forefinger 👉. That’s the trigger judgement. Underneath every trigger there’s a judgement. When triggered, we relate to our judgement as the only reality and we fail to see that it’s merely a judgement. It’s typically “someone is bad”, “something is screwed up”, “something bad is going to happen”…etc. Instead of focusing on the forefinger (Trigger), let’s focus on the 3 fingers pointing back at us (Teachers): pinky, ring and middle fingers. They represent 3 layers to examine in order: Body (B), Emotions (E) and Thoughts (T). That’s your best BET!
Pinky: Body (B):
Am I physically comfortable? What does my body need? Do I feel pain? Do I need rest, food, water, movement, touch, sleep, sex, sun, bio break, temperature change…etc? If the body is not comfortable, everything becomes potentially triggering. On the contrary. Think how triggered you feel after a nice nap, a satisfying meal or a great orgasm? Scan your body and note your physical sensations. Any pain or discomfort? If yes, that’s the first thing to address before acting on your trigger. Even if you can’t fix the issue right away, make note that it’s your body, not the situation that triggered you, that’s causing your reaction. Ask your body what it needs and learn from it. That’s your first teacher.
Ring finger: Emotions (E):
Let’s say your body is quite good and you’re still triggered. The next level to examine is your emotions. What am I feeling?
Am I scared/upset/angry/sad/happy…etc? Whatever you’re feeling, allow yourself to feel it fully. Go deeper into it, as scary as it may feel. The only way out, is the way through. Don’t try to belittle, deny, ignore, numb, suppress, rationalize or mask any feelings. The emotions are there to heal us. If we don’t release them, they remain in the body and become toxins in our cells. Trapped emotions cause disease sooner or later.
Find a healthy way to release the emotional charge without hurting yourself or others. Sad: cry. As much as you need to. Keep imagining the sad situation and cry it out. Angry: scream (into a pillow if you need to), stomp your feet, fight with an imaginary opponent, throw a temper tantrum, move your body…etc. Afraid: contract your body, run, cry, wail…etc.
When released, emotions pass like clouds in the sky. When ignored, suppressed or numbed, they keep controlling us and cause sickness; mentally and physically.
Write down a list of ways that help you return to your centered, rational, loving self. Keep this “Back to Love” list handy and pull it out whenever you feel triggered. Pick whatever is feasible from the list and do it to help you release the charge and calm down. My centering tools include: slow breathing, dance, movement, Nature, cry, sleep, self pleasure, talk with a friend…etc. Make your own list and keep it at hand.
Most triggers disappear, or at least feel less intense and more manageable after these first 2 steps: BE! Now, you can take action and deal with the triggering situation from a conscious, loving position. This will have a much better outcome for everyone involved.
After taking care of your body, releasing emotional charges, and possibly taking some positive actions, the most growth can occur from tending to that pesky middle finger: Thoughts (T):
What are my thought(s)? What story am I telling myself about what happened?
First question: am I reacting to something in the here and now? Or am I reminded of a past experience? Or worried about something that may (or may not) happen in the future? If it’s NOT something that is true in the here and now, remember that you cannot change the past and that you have no control over the future.
We often keep reliving our past traumas unnecessarily by projecting them into our present and future. The past will keep repeating itself until we face it, heal it and leave it in the past. Before acting on a trigger, ask yourself: am I reacting to this person/situation or to my parent/ex/past relationships? This requires self reflection, honesty and inner work that is necessary to live free from past traumas. It can take years to heal.
What if I’m afraid of what may happen in the future? If you assume the worst, you are actively causing it to happen. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. No one can predict the future for sure. Anything can happen at any time. By visualizing, expecting and preparing for something, we’re actively creating it and bringing it into consciousness. Why not create something beautiful and desirable? We’re programmed since childhood to expect the worst. We’re mostly driven by fear and scarcity. That’s why our global human civilization keeps regenerating more fear and scarcity. Again, it can take years of retraining your brain to think positively, but you have the power to create love and abundance in your life by changing your thought patterns.
Those who are not afraid of death, die once. Those who are, die a million times over.
Second question: is the triggering thought mine or inherited?
Growing up in human societies, we inherit lots of beliefs, traditions, habits and social behaviors that we repeat unconsciously. If something keeps triggering you, it’s worth examining if it’s a belief/tradition that is authentically yours or inherited? Ask “Is this my authentic belief?”. It’s always good to take inventory of your driving forces and examine them every now and then to stay true to yourself and your loved ones. Change and evolution is natural, healthy and inevitable. Embrace it and live in harmony with your true nature instead of trying to fit in a mold that doesn’t fit anymore.
It’s also very important to differentiate between what happened, as if a neutral video camera is recording, and the story and meaning that I’m attaching to what happened. Ex: did my boss “raise their voice while talking” (objective) or were they “angry and agressive” (story)? Did my date “arrive at 6:30 instead of 6” (objective) or do they “not love and respect me” (story)? Our stories come from past experiences and traumas. What fear/unmet desire is underneath the trigger judgement? What lesson can this fear teach me about myself? Staying in the present moment, scanning our bodies, feeling the physical sensations and breathing slowly can extinguish most triggers. Once we’re out of the triggered state (fight or flight), we can deal with the situation at hand more consciously.
Sometimes I’m not exactly sure, so I write, meditate or move. Usually, something shifts. The most important thing is not to identify with the negative trigger judgement as “The Truth”. It is, like everything, fleeting. If we simply breathe, witness, listen and let go, it passes. And we’re left … a little older, a little wiser and a lot happier!
May your Triggers become Teachers! Happy Holidays!
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* Photos are recent moments in Cyprus and Egypt. November – December 2022.