Have you ever had a conversation with someone and, suddenly, you felt aggravated? Or maybe you were watching TV and there was a topic being discussed that made you uncomfortable. If this has happened to you, which I can say with nearest certainty that it has, then that’s great!
Triggers are very useful for our emotional development. They are different for everyone, that’s why they are so helpful for us to understand our individual reactions and where they come from. For instance, when someone skips the line at the grocery store or if someone stops to look at an item at Costco and I can’t get around them, I tend to get irritated. The first thing that happens is the irritation which is a feeling of tightness in my chest and throat, followed closely by thoughts of blame, “what makes him think he can skip the line up” or “can’t she see she’s blocking the aisle?”. It used to be that I would remain upset until I was somehow distracted. It was all completely out of my control, or that’s how I felt at the time.
So what’s changed? I got super curious about my emotions.
Our emotions are indicators, big neon signs, about what we want more of in our lives or what we want less of. They tell us a lot about what we think, believe and value and, in knowing this, they can help us identify our best way of living. It’s easier to figure out which direction we need to move in when we know where we are currently.
Here are a few of the advantages of getting triggered:
1. Control (not surprising that this would be my favourite result as I am a recovering “control-o-holic”). When we get triggered and are not curious about why, we usually react in a defensive manner and, in doing so, we strengthen our “frustration muscle”. In contrast, our “muscle” that keeps us calm in these situations atrophies. If you’d rather not practice frustration, use this hot tip: next time you get irritated by an outside source, focus within. Become an investigator of what’s happening inside your body, where are you feeling it? Is it a heavy feeling or light? Is it still or does it change or vibrate? Do your best to find it’s edges. This is an example of mindful awareness and it is great at taking the “sting” out of a situation. Not only does this take the focus off of what’s triggering you, it often lessons your reaction over time, win-win if you ask me.
2. Our triggers are one of the best tools to figure out what we value most. Values-based living is the number one practice of emotionally mature individuals. When we know our top 3-5 values, we have a tool to measure how we are doing in living a life we can be proud of based on our individuals morals. Following our values, or not, is directly related to how we feel about ourselves. In this way, triggers are extremely valuable tools to help our progress in being better humans. How exactly does a trigger do that? A great example of how we can use these situations came this week from a coaching client. He was on a zoom call and a fellow co-worker shared a great way to improve future events but was interrupted by his leader and was chastised. This made my client feel triggered, he was then nervous to share his feedback. In debriefing this we discovered that the real reason he felt bad about the scenario was because he values kindness and his leader did not act kind. Our triggers will usually reveal what’s important to us. With the example above from my grocery market triggers, they are a signpost of how I value fairness. With this new found knowledge, we can make a contract or intention with ourselves to live each day based on these values which, when we’re successful, boosts self worth and appreciation.
3. Triggers give us an opportunity to discover past emotional wounds that we have not healed from. Sometimes something or someone does something and it hits us right in that “shame” spot. It feels like an arrow shot directly into our guts, or that’s how I would describe the reaction I feel in my body, it may show up differently for you. Instead of blaming the situation or person in front of us for making us react, we gain an opportunity to do some deep dive work into what we may have suppressed from our conscious but is stored in our body. These stored emotional wounds are believed by professionals in the holistic medicine field to cause disease, even more reason to take the time to uncover and heal them! Once we recognize our past wounds have been activated, we can take deep breaths in the moment, disengage from the situation and later we must take the time to sit and reflect and journal what came up for us. Journaling is the best way we can gain new perspective on an old situation. Keep in mind, some wounds need professional help to heal, most communities have an emergency phone number that you can call for immediate help with this, please do not keep to yourself if you feel overwhelmed 🙏
These are just a few of the ways that you can turn situations that normally sour your mood into something you can learn from and even celebrate!!! It’s exciting to turn something that we normally avoid into something we can get creative with. The key to handling triggers is to recognize that we can’t always avoid them but we can always choose how we react to them.
Your are love,