Emotional triggers are the surprises that we get when someone we love, or a situation, causes us to have a reaction that we haven’t processed yet.
For example, if you were yelled at as a child and you attached being yelled at to fear, you might get triggered as an adult when you are near someone yelling.
Triggers are typically childhood beliefs that aren’t necessarily true anymore and need to be addressed to save your relationships. Once you release your old triggers you can view the world from an entirely different place instead of through the eyes of a fearful child.
(after you read this article, be sure to tune into the Love and Abuse podcast for more on emotional triggers in relationships)
In this article, I’d like to address eliminating emotional triggers in relationships. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know exactly what triggers are and the steps you can take to decrease or completely dissolve them in your relationships and maybe even your life.
Triggers are powerful and can be quite damaging to relationships. Unfortunately, they’re practically unstoppable when they arrive and they can be quite damaging too. When you’re triggered you make decisions from that triggered state. These decisions are usually different than the ones you make when you are in your normal, non-triggered state. Your behavior changes, your motivation changes, almost everything about you changes.
It’s like you have an entirely different personality.
I want you to be able to experience life with clarity and purpose, not cloudiness from being in an altered emotional state (which is basically what happens when you get triggered).
Think about a trigger as something that upsets you. For example, you might get triggered when you see a sink full of dirty dishes. You might get triggered when someone leaves their toys all over the floor. Or you could get triggered when you see the toilet seat left up.
When triggers happen they change our mood. They change our behavior and our state of mind. Many of us walk around in a continuously triggered state causing us to see the world through clogged filters. And when we can’t see clearly we find it hard to make decisions and do behavior from a place of clarity.
In 2006 I met who I believed to be my soul mate. A woman to whom I was attracted physically, mentally, and emotionally. We hit it off immediately and I fell for her within a few days. In fact, we fell for each other fast.
We both dove into the relationship head-first knowing that we finally found “the one” that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with. We both knew that this was our last relationship.
However, something happened in that first few weeks that set the tone for the next 8 years… I got triggered. She told me she was addicted to sugar.
At that time, I figured, “Who isn’t addicted to sugar?” Sugar is in a lot of food so I really didn’t take her comment too seriously. That is until I realized she truly had a challenge saying “no” to sweets.
At first, I disregarded her comment as unimportant but I soon started seeing the signs of her addiction: Her mood changes, her desperation for comfort food, and the times she told me she couldn’t remember purchasing sugary treats in the store, then downing them in the ca before she got home.
I got triggered badly. I didn’t take her admission of addiction seriously. Coming from a childhood with an alcohol-addicted parent, I didn’t want an addict in my life. I carried a belief that addicts were unsafe to be around. After spending 20 years in a house with an alcoholic I never wanted to revisit that kind of life again. But there I was back in a relationship with an addict.
I realize that sugar addiction and alcohol addiction are two different beasts, but to someone who’s been through the stress of an addictive household, I feared living in that kind of environment again. Her emotional eating triggered my fear that I was trapped with someone who couldn’t control their behavior. I also believed that when someone is addicted they couldn’t possibly love me. In childhood, I developed a perception that alcohol to my stepfather was more important than me. In the relationship with the sugar addict, I had that same feeling but this time with sugar.
My triggers activated and soon all my behavior was motivated from that triggered state. My attitude and behavior changed when her attitude and behavior changed because of her cravings. When she needed sugar or comfort food she was a different person. From my perception, she was nearly out of control when a craving came on.
In hindsight, had I known what I know now, I probably would have left the situation. Instead, I chose to stay.
I wanted her love, so I stayed.
I wanted the comfort she gave me, so I stayed.
I wanted everything a person could get from a healthy relationship, so I stayed.
The problem was that this was an unhealthy relationship in many ways.
One of those ways was her addiction, but the other was my reaction to her addiction. I could have responded out of compassion, supporting her, asking her what she needed from me, which may have allowed her to feel safe and find solutions on her own. But instead, I reacted out of ego, worrying about my needs not getting met, and upset that she loved sugar which meant that she didn’t love me.
This is the stuff that goes on in our heads sometimes though. We get into a situation, get triggered, then blame the other person for our triggers. In reality, my triggers were mine, and I needed to process and release them before ever having the ability to be there for her with compassion.
If I did get over my triggers, then I would have had a clear head on the best steps to take for me and for us. But I didn’t, not for a long time.
Almost from the very beginning of the relationship, I was triggered. While triggered, I couldn’t feel open and free to love and be happy. Being triggered was like being held back from happiness.
When I was triggered, I wasn’t able to fully express my full passion and love for my partner. I wasn’t there for her, I was only watching out for myself. And for about 7 years, I was continuously triggered. And for about 7 years, she closed off from me bit by bit.
That’s what happens when you’re triggered in any relationship. The person whose behavior you’re triggered by closes off little by little, because they feel less and less safe around you.
We got married in 3 years, then got a divorce 4 years after that. She closed her heart to me because I couldn’t open mine. And a year before she left, I was able to release my major triggers and became more open and free, able to love from a whole new place inside. But by that time, she could not trust me inside her heart again, so I was closed out permanently.
This is what happens when we get triggered, we slowly and surely cause the other person to take one more step back away from us so that they can protect themselves from us, even if their behavior is the cause of our trigger!
In other words, I got triggered by her addictive behavior, causing her to back away from me, closing the door on our relationship forever. I mean, no one can really cause our hearts to close, we actually do that ourselves out of protection. But there is usually a direct cause and effect in play, and it works both ways!
When she would eat emotionally, I would get triggered, and when I got triggered, she would sense it, and then eat emotionally. It was a vicious cycle, and there was no way out until one of us stopped the behavior.
I finally chose to address my triggers, but it was obviously too late to repair the damage that had been done. So we broke up, got a divorce, and went our own way. Lots of pain, lots of lessons. And we both needed a whole lot of growing and healing afterward.
So what does it take to process, and maybe even release a trigger? Let’s go there next.
A trigger is what happens when someone says or does something that causes a negative emotion to suddenly arise in you. It’s the fear and anger you get when getting cut off in traffic. It’s the sadness and maybe even rejection you feel when watching someone you love pick up a drink when they promised you they’d never drink again. It’s what happens inside you when you find out your business associate stole from you.
Triggers are those sudden, negative reactions that rise up within us when, what we hope or expect, is not met. Triggers are stored deep in our subconscious mind, just waiting for a familiar situation to appear so that they can be activated.
Think of triggers as old emotions being re-awakened when your brain senses what it believes to be a threat. A trigger can also be something positive too, like laughter. But in this article, I’m referring to types of triggers that feel bad.
A trigger is usually created once, then repeated over and over again throughout your life, until you release it. A trigger is usually created because of a survival need, and most often when we are children.
For example, one of my triggers was that when I sensed an addictive behavior in someone, I felt fearful and sad. This started as early as I can remember when the alcoholic in the house drank. As soon as I saw what he did when he was drunk, I became fearful and just wanted to survive. So my trigger about addictive behavior got created at that time.
This was extremely beneficial in the sense that it kept me safe from other addicts and their unpredictable behavior. By developing a survival behavior, or a trigger, I stayed safe. I knew what behavior to avoid, and kept that trigger throughout my life.
The drawback of having that trigger was that, in some contexts, it was inappropriate. In the context of living in an alcoholic home as a child, it was appropriate. I knew when to feel fear and when to be hyper-aware of everything going on around me. It was useful.
In the context of a more “normal” relationship, if I detected possible addictive behavior, and I got triggered, it may not have been appropriate to be triggered in that situation. The triggers can lie dormant in us for years until something happens that, well, triggers it.
That’s why it’s called a trigger. They are emotions and feelings that get shot out from our subconscious mind like a mousetrap gets triggered. The mousetrap of our mind is very sensitive and could trigger under the right circumstances. And a mousetrap could sit for years, with nothing to trigger it, until one day, Snap! It goes off and the bad emotions rise to the surface.
These bad emotions are usually from long ago. They were appropriate for a certain time in our life, but may no longer be applicable anymore. They were based on different circumstances and when we were younger and less capable of handling ourselves.
We brought them with us into today, where we are no longer children trying to figure out how to survive, but we’re adults relying on childhood beliefs to get us through some very adult situations.
Imagine that, we rely on childhood beliefs to get us through adult situations! We take how we learned to respond and survive as children into our careers, relationships, and other areas of life, and we wonder what’s wrong with the world because our only filter is what we see when we are triggered.
If you’ve ever been abused in any way, I know you know what I mean. Triggers come out of nowhere, and soon you’re wanting to run away. And the people exhibiting the behavior that is causing your triggers may not even know what’s happening to you. Their behavior could be completely unrelated to your triggers but have similar qualities or components that you find disconcerting or threatening.
And that’s the hardest part about triggers. They are typically old, negative beliefs that probably don’t apply to current situations. This creates havoc in what could otherwise be a healthy, happy relationship.
But the good news is, once you figure out that a trigger is based on old beliefs you can take a step or two toward eliminating that trigger if it no longer serves you. We’ll go there shortly.
When you’re triggered, old programming takes over. It’s that part of you that still believes it’s younger, and can’t handle what’s being thrown at you. You believe that what used to be true, still is.
For example, I used to believe that people who drank alcohol were dangerous or scary to be around. I also believed that when they drank, they didn’t like, or even love me. The reason I believed that is because when I was a child, I never got love or attention when my stepfather drank alcohol. I took this belief into my adult life as a trigger. This trigger contained within it all sorts of emotions like sadness, fear, loneliness, and I’m sure a few other things.
When I was around someone, especially a romantic partner, and they drank, I suddenly felt sad, afraid, and lonely. They would rather be with alcohol than with me. Of course, this is a thought from a child’s perspective. And that’s an important point:
Emotional triggers are almost always a child’s creation
Your triggers were most likely created when you were a child. When something happened that caused you to be upset, the more impactful it was, the more likely a trigger was formed. And the more it repeated, the more the trigger was reinforced, causing you to be really sensitive to circumstances similar to what created your trigger in the first place.
On top of that, when we’re children, we don’t realize exactly what caused us to be upset, so we make associations that aren’t always true.
For example, if as a child you dropped a glass in the kitchen that caused it to shatter, and your mom or dad came in and yelled at you for being so clumsy, you might relate fear to being yelled at. If you got yelled at multiple times for doing things like that, you would eventually develop a trigger that correlated fear with being clumsy or careless. This might cause you to become a super perfectionist, or super responsible.
Children are never clumsy, as they’re still learning the basics of coordination, but being a child, you believed it.
But, another trigger that might have been created at that time was that you fear being yelled at. You might cower, or just want to get away. Yelling could mean a number of things, but being triggered and fearful when someone yells is not a fun place to be, especially if you ever want to go anywhere where people are yelling and having a good time!
But childhood triggers like this play out when we’re adults, which can cause problems in our adult relationships. Emotional triggers are almost always created when we were children. But the problem is, they rarely get evaluated in the current circumstances. In this example, someone could be yelling, but it could mean anything. But the trigger still kicks in, causing you to feel a certain way.
It’s this feeling that usually gets us down. It’s this trigger, this thought association between what’s happening now and what happened long ago, that clouds our mind so we can’t think straight. Once we’re triggered, we start to believe things that may not be true. The person yelling may not be mad. Or they may be mad, but not at you. Or they may be mad at you. But the trigger makes you feel a certain way, and you react as if their yelling is always about you. And your fearful reaction is something you felt when you were a child.
One of the first and usually most difficult steps to take when wanting to avoid coming from a triggered place is to recognize when you are being triggered. This step is difficult because a trigger is an unconscious response. Meaning, you are not conscious of it happening and just suddenly feel a negative emotion come on.
In order to recognize when you’re being triggered, first ask yourself if anything in your relationship triggers you. Just think of a bad feeling you get when so and so does something.
For example, “When John smokes, I get triggered.”
Or, “When Mary puts me down in front of other people, I get triggered.”
Think of something that comes up for you.
Do you have something in mind? If not, just think of your intimate relationships. There’s always someone who triggers something in you. I have a relative that obligates me to do things for other people. It’s actually annoying and triggers me. It’s not a strong trigger, but it is there.
So when you have someone in mind, think about the trigger. What emotion comes up? Is it anger? Sadness? Fear? Think of the emotion or emotions (plural) that come up for you. What are they?
Just notice what they are. This is the first step:
Recognize the trigger and identifying the emotion that comes up.
What triggers you, and what emotions come up for you? There may be other thoughts mixed in there too. If so, that’s okay, but figure out what emotions are attached to those thoughts, and just realize what triggers you and what emotions come up because of that trigger.
Now that we have something to work on let’s move onto the next step.
If you’ve identified the trigger and the emotion, the next step is to ask yourself an important question:
“What is the earliest memory I have of feeling this way?”
What is it? What is the earliest memory you have of feeling this way? Think about way back in your past to recall what your earliest memory of this feeling is. Can you come up with anything?
Even if you can’t, sometimes you can come up with an age or a certain time in your life. Getting to the earliest memory can be a crucial part of the process, as that is typically when the trigger was formed.
What’s interesting is that by just recalling the moment you first felt this same feeling and these same emotions, you actually decrease the impact the trigger has on you now. Remember these triggers were created at one point in time, you weren’t born with them. Though, if you think you were, then go back to that moment either when you were born, or even before.
I know that may sound strange, and I’m not here to debate whether we have memories before a certain age, but I will say that how our subconscious stores these memories is what’s most important. If your subconscious mind thinks that the very first time this feeling or emotion happened was sometime before birth, or even sometime before conception, then that’s what you go with.
Whether the memory is really during or before birth or not doesn’t matter. Again, the subconscious mind organizes memories in the way it wants to organize them. So if there’s a belief in there that the first time you felt this way was a time that you weren’t even born yet, then let it be!
If you listened to the episode on “Repressed Emotions Cause Harm to the Body”, you may remember I said that thoughts need to flow, not be resisted, otherwise you create obstacles in your mind and body. Flowing thoughts keep your internal systems moving. Resisting what you think can’t possibly be true slows your systems down.
Thoughts are creations in the mind to help you process information. They are what happens inside to help you remember things, organize, prioritize, and even learn, grow, and heal. So no matter what form they come in, there’s always a message in every thought.
So just like there is a reason and moment in time when a trigger is formed, there’s also a reason and moment a thought is formed. So if your mind thinks you were 6 when this trigger was created, go with it. If your mind thinks it was created in a past life 20 generations ago, go with it.
It doesn’t matter what’s real, it matters how the brain stored the information. I once had a friend remember meeting me 21 lifetimes ago when she went to visit the moment her asthma started. I didn’t question whether it was true or not, I just had her go with it.
Once she did her asthma, at least in that moment, disappeared.
How did that happen? The answer is going beyond to remember what happened just before the trigger was formed. I’ll get into that next.
Now that we have some sort of age or period of time where we believe the trigger started, the next step is to recall what happened just before everything that led up to that event started. In other words, if you remember what happened that caused the trigger to form, do you remember what happened a day or a week, or even a year before that?
You see, what happens in our mind, and why triggers are so powerful and pervasive, is because we tend to never go beyond and before the trigger in order to get triggered. Wow, that sounded confusing. Let me explain that a little better:
Let’s say the trigger formed at 6 years old. When you are triggered today, the thoughts and emotions that come up are from the time you were 6 years old. If you’re at work and someone looks at you funny or says something that triggers you, the reaction you had at 6 comes out. Isn’t that interesting? We actually regress in age and behavior when we are triggered.
Let me repeat that, we regress in age and behavior when we are triggered. When my ex-wife would reach for sweets, I regressed to about 5 years old to a time when I was scared, felt alone, and felt unloved, because my stepfather reached for alcohol instead of reaching to give me a hug.
When I got triggered by my ex-wife just a few years ago, I felt like I was 5 years old again, as if it were the same situation. This is the old belief I carried with me well into my 30s.
Triggers cause you to repeat the emotions and behavior that you had when you were younger. They are time machines for your mind!
My point is that because we regress to a time younger than who we are now, we get stuck at the point that the trigger was created. In other words, I never regressed to 4, or 3, or even younger, because my brain knew that the way to respond was created at 5. My brain knew that when I come upon a similar situation that I had in the past, to refer to how I responded at age 5.
It’s almost a straight-forward stimulus-response behavior. Like when you’re driving along, see a police car, and immediately check your speedometer. Unless you’ve never had the experience of getting pulled over for speeding, you are likely to check your speedometer every time you see a police car on the road. Or at least get your foot ready to press the brakes.
That’s also a trigger. You see a police car on the road, you get triggered. A reaction occurs, and you press the brake or check your speedometer, or if you’re really scared, turn around and hope he never saw you!
So what we need to do is tell the brain to refer to a time in the past that is before your trigger was formed. We need to say to our brain, “Okay brain, the next time I am triggered, go before 6 years old (or whatever time period it is for you), and look for your response there.”
So when you get triggered today the brain has the ability to travel to a time before the trigger was ever formed and figure out another way to respond.
This exercise is to help you remember the time period that you believe that trigger was formed, and recall what happened before that event. Or at least go back in your mind way before that event got created, before your trigger ever happened. For me, I’ll do my best to remember what is was like before the age of 5; before anything even remotely close to that event happened.
What this does is force your brain to create a new pattern. Our brain is so used to returning to that same event, but never before the event, before all the bad stuff might have happened. The brain stops at that place, and recreates the scenario today, producing the emotions today as if they were one in the same event.
I know this sounds really abstract, and I apologize. But even as you read these words, new patterns are forming in your brain. Even if you can’t understand or follow everything you are reading, your confusion actually creates new patterns.
Sometimes healing needs to take place at a deeper level of thought, where your conscious mind gets out of the way so that you can have a happier, more productive, and fulfilling life.
Anytime someone triggers you today you respond from yesterday, so to speak. That’s because the brain loves to remember patterns. Once the brain stores a pattern, it refers to it every time so it doesn’t have to spend the energy creating a new pattern. But, what’s interesting is that the brain also loves to create new patterns!
The brain follows existing patterns of behavior. You know, the kind you created when you were young, so it always responds the same way. But it also likes to learn new patterns, which is exactly what we’re here to do today.
So let’s get back to the original event that caused the trigger. How old were you? Was it even during this lifetime? Remember, the brain doesn’t care if that’s a silly question or not, just ask and see what comes up for you.
Once you have the time period, as I said before, go back a day, a week, or a year before the original event ever happened and realize that the thoughts and emotions aren’t there. Does that make sense?
The thoughts and emotions you felt from the original event, the ones that caused the trigger in the first place, aren’t further back in the past, way before the original event.
Where are they? Have they disappeared completely from your mind?
If you still feel anything when you go way back before that original event, go back even further. In fact, go back to a point where you are nowhere near those thoughts or bad feelings.
This is just in your mind remember. It’s actually a journey you take through your subconscious mind to return to a time before the sequence of events took place, to realize that the emotions weren’t there at a certain point in time. The trigger was formed at a moment, but way before that moment is when there wasn’t that trigger and you can’t seem to find where those bad feelings went because you are way before any of that ever started?
If you’re a little lost by all this, don’t worry, you’re in the right place! Your brain is creating a new pattern.
The pattern is the connection between getting triggered now, and what it refers to in the past. And if something triggers you today, imagine if you didn’t regress to that period in your life when the trigger was formed. Imagine if your brain referred to the time before that trigger was formed where the bad feelings and emotions didn’t even exist?
That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
If you think of a trigger as a belief attached to a set of emotions, and when you get triggered today, you are just accessing an old belief, what will happen if your brain tries to access a new belief with new, good feelings and emotions? Will you feel good instead?
The brain loves patterns, so we’re doing what we can to break patterns that are no longer useful. Once we break the association between getting triggered today and what you feel because of the trigger, you can make decisions from a place of clarity. When you are clear, you can respond to situations without the cloudiness of bad feelings and old triggers.
That means that if there is a situation where someone used to trigger you, you can still determine if you want that situation in your life anymore. An example of that is, let’s say you don’t want your partner or someone close to you to do drugs. Then you find them with drugs in their pocket or catch them doing them, or whatever. You might normally get triggered, then respond from that triggered place. You might feel sad and hurt, but because you may still love them, you make decisions from a sad and hurt place instead of a place of clarity.
You don’t like to feel sad or hurt, so you stay in the relationship hoping you’ll soon feel happy again when this particular event passes. This scenario could replay over and over again, as it often does in toxic relationships.
However, if you don’t get triggered, at least with the same intensity as you normally would, you could respond from a place of clarity. If you weren’t emotionally triggered, do you think you would be more confident in what you want for yourself? Do you think you could stand up and tell the other person what you want in your life and in your relationship?
When you aren’t in trigger mode, you have a clearer perspective of what you want in your life. You’re not coming from a place of hope and desperation, you’re coming from a place of conviction and certainty. You lay your cards on the table and wait for a response. In other words, not being triggered when you catch them doing drugs, you could say, “Hey, if you want to do drugs, you can be alone until you’re ready to grow up. When you get to that point, let me know.”
I’m just using drug use as an example. For me, I stayed in trigger mode almost my entire marriage. This affected my compassion for my wife. It also affected my sex drive, my mood, my support for her, almost everything. I was triggered whenever she reached for sweets. So that meant I had my radar on all the time. I used to be very judgmental about it. But once I dropped those judgments by doing exercises like this, I came to a new place inside myself and accepted that as her issue, not mine. I became compassionate towards her and stopped judging her.
This helped me stop being so self-centered, and more open about her process. I spent so many years being clouded by my own bad feelings and judgments that I never saw beyond my fears. Once my triggers were gone, and I didn’t have any fears to draw from, I was able to move forward in the relationship.
She recognized this. And I remember the first time she really recognized this because she wasn’t sure what she should do now. She was so used to me being triggered, that she developed responsive behavior to my triggers. Now that I was no longer triggered, she didn’t know how to respond. I felt bad for having put her through so much of my own crap, but it was kind of funny watching her figure out what to do now that I wasn’t being triggered, because much of her behavior was dependent on my triggers.
This is why it’s important to recognize that when one person changes or evolves in the relationship, the other person has to change or evolve too, because their behavior is always dependent on the other’s behavior. One person no longer gets triggered, the other person has to learn new behavior.
It was freeing to lose those triggers, but at the same time, there was an adjustment period we had to go through. If you know my story, you’ll remember that after I learned to let all my triggers go, she had already decided she wasn’t returning to the relationship, so it was too late for us at that point.
That can happen. Your triggers can push someone away to the point of no return. Being triggered all the time doesn’t have to be a way of life. Your triggers can stop and you can have a more rewarding life with the ones you love.
So when you think about what it was like way before the first event that caused the trigger in the first place, and can’t find those bad feelings way back when you create a new pattern in your brain.
But how do we know this? We have to test it. We have to “try on” the trigger and see and feel if we have the same response. So let’s start our journey back to the present, through all the years, back into where we are today.
We thought about our triggers, or at least one of them, and took a trip back in time to the point it was created. We may or may not have remembered exactly what created the trigger but that’s okay. Then we went back further in time to make sure that there were no other times before that where that trigger could have formed. And once we figured out when that first time was, whether it was during the entire time you’ve been alive here, or before that, we went back even further to experience what it was like to not have those bad thoughts and feelings. Now we’re coming back to today.
Right now I want you to think about that trigger again, and what causes it nowadays. Really imagine yourself in a scenario with someone where you would normally get that old trigger. Go right into that moment with that person in your mind, and make it real. See what you’d see, hear what you’d hear, and really make the experience real.
Are you there?
Now put yourself in the old trigger moment… does it have the same effect? Is it more powerful, or less, or not there at all? Has it disappeared, or is it completely gone?
We’re not one on one so I can’t tell what you’re experiencing, but you may experience less of a trigger now, or even nothing at all. Regardless of what you experience, this exercise is also helping you create a new pattern in your brain as well.
After all, thinking about real scenarios that bother you in any way, then going through the process in your mind step by step, is how to follow the pattern your brain knows. Then to change that pattern, we do the exercises we just did. And we can even visualize a different response to something that triggers us, over and over again in an attempt to write new patterns as well.
Visualizations can work when repeated time and time again, but in my experience, they usually don’t overwrite an old trigger. They can, but you must practice them a lot in order for old triggers to disappear. And even then, the emotions are hard to overwrite.
If you noticed little or no change when replaying the trigger in your mind, go through this process again but go back even further in time, way before anything began that had any relevance to the time when the trigger was created. I’ll walk through the process quickly during the summary.
If this made sense then you’re probably used to doing this kind of mind-work. If you had trouble following along, that’s actually even better, because it helps you form new patterns in your brain, making new habits and processes stick better.
Either way, there’s a new horizon for you along your journey to a stress-free life.
Here’s a summary that you can use as a quick reference:
- Triggers are like old cassette tapes that play old programs. You get triggered by someone or something that happens, and that old cassette plays once again.
- When you’re triggered, you are regressing to a younger version of yourself that learned how to react or respond to your environment.
If you had something happen to you when you were younger that caused a significant impact to your nervous system, where you felt high emotional stress, then that’s most likely when a trigger was formed.
- We take these triggers that formed years ago into our adult relationships.
This causes problems because most of what happens today is not the same context of when the trigger was created so long ago. If you formed triggers when you were a child living with your parents or other guardians, then that situation is different than your current situation, most likely. Though, you do have to be aware that some situations are similar.
If you had an abusive mom or dad, then you married an abusive person, you created the same context in which your old triggers will stay active. This is why it’s so important to break the pattern of old triggers so you can think from a place of clarity.
- Thinking from clarity gives you more options, and allows you to see what you can’t see when you are triggered.
When you can disengage trigger moments from the bad thoughts and feelings, you are empowered to engage your assertiveness, confidence, and conviction to state what you want and don’t want in your life.
Living without the cloudiness of triggers is living with passion and purpose. It is a healthy, selfish state, instead of an unhealthy, self-centered, fearful state.
There is a difference, as selfishness can contain compassion for others, while self-centeredness is more about your own ego – your own wants, needs, fears, and desires.
Remove the cloudiness, become healthy, and make decisions that positively affect you and your well-being.
- The steps to this entire process are as follows:
a. Think of something that triggers you now.
b. Identify the emotions that you get from being triggered.
c. Go way back in your mind and think about the very first time you felt this way. If you can’t figure out what caused the trigger in the first place, just think of an age or a time period when it might have happened.
d. Once you think of a time when it might have been created, think about a time long before that, when you didn’t have those negative feelings.
Think about a day or a week, or even years, or maybe even lifetimes before that first event ever happened. This is just your brain’s way of storing information. Just allow it to go where ever it needs to go to find a place when all of those emotions are completely gone now.
e. When you are way before any of those old feelings, come back to now, and imagine a time when you might get triggered in the future. Does it have the same impact? Are the emotions completely gone?
I didn’t say this before, but if they have disappeared completely just lock that feeling into place, sort of like a safe with a combination lock. This safe is your safe and whenever you have an experience where that old trigger used to happen, your safe has locked into place what you’ll be feeling instead of those old feelings.
This doesn’t have to make sense. You can just let old feelings go and allow yourself to feel safe. That’s something you want for yourself, right?
- Finally, remember that triggers are almost always the creation and belief system of a child.
When you were young, you learned how to respond to the world. Imagine if you kept all your childhood beliefs? Having a childlike playfulness can make life enjoyable sometimes, but having a childlike fear can be intrusive in normal life. It can wear you down and make you see the world through filters that aren’t necessarily telling you the whole truth.
Triggers are normal responses from our brain, but they don’t have to stay in our lives if they are causing problems. Learn to recognize your triggers, and start looking inward for the solution, not outward at the world.
The first step towards the solution is realizing that you are the first step in the process. Learning that my triggers were the actual cause of the problems in my relationships, and not my partner’s behavior was what changed everything for me. And once I was able to address them within myself, my relationship changed. It had to! I was a different person from that point on.
If I wasn’t behaving the way I used to behave, they had to respond differently as well. Every relationship is a dynamic machine that works off of each component. Change one component, and the whole machine changes.
When my stepfather moved out of the state, that one change made the entire family more relaxed and at peace. One component of the system changed, and everyone in the family changed along with it. Once you recognize and process your own triggers, the other person changes, or the relationship doesn’t evolve.
What would it have taken to save my marriage? What if I started looking at my triggers a few years before it ended, would that have helped?
I think if I caught them early on, maybe about 3 or so years before it ended, the marriage probably would have slowly worked its way back into a healthy place. My wife would have started trusting me more and more, seeing that I was no longer reacting to her behavior. When that happened, she would have felt safe around me and started exploring options to help herself out of the situation she was in with her eating issues.
Or she may have still had the issues for years or forever, but the most important part was that I reached a place where her issues were not my issues. Once I made that realization, I could make a choice about the relationship that I was comfortable with. After I dealt with my triggers, I was able to comfortably decide that her challenges with comfort food were not my challenges in loving the person I was with. This changed everything.
But because she was already worn down, she chose to leave.
I share this story with you because you have a chance, right now, to think about the triggers that cause problems in your relationships. Whether they’re romantic or with friends, or relatives, or whomever.
The triggers you have can destroy relationships because they are yours. The other person may not even know why you’re getting upset because your childhood belief system is kicking in and it’s probably not even related to what’s happening right here and now.
When you can release those triggers, or at least diminish them so they don’t consume you when they happen, you will see positive changes in your relationship, feel better because you aren’t consumed by other’s behaviors, and you’ll open your heart to compassion and maybe even a little bit of unconditional love.
Triggers sneak up on us, they arrive like an old relative we didn’t expect, and stay longer than we want, and really start to stink up the place when they’re around. Just recognizing you have a trigger is the beginning, but remembering what it was like before you ever had those emotions is the first connection to make to a part of you that was once not triggered.
When you can connect with that part of you, where you felt good and maybe even happy (and it may have been a long time ago I realize), then you are making a new association. You are associating the trigger of today with the good feelings you had so long ago.
I hope this has been helpful.