Good morning friends,
You can all imagine how many people walk into my office crying, enraged, and in total fear just from listening to NPR on the way here in their cars. Whether it's a sexual assault hearing, a Donald Trump speech, or something on someone's Instagram feed - triggers abound!
Understanding what a trigger is and what to do with it is life changing. It shows us what's left in us, what's unresolved, what residue still exists from past trauma and stressful experiences that is rising up to be heard and resolved.
A trigger is anything that stimulates a feeling, emotion or thought we're already carrying around. For example, many women in my practice are finding the president very triggering because, to them, he represents all the oppressive and painful experiences that they have had with men. A trigger is an opportunity for an outside stimulus to bring something up in you that has yet to be fully dealt with. Essentially, until the trigger vanishes you're carrying it around.
This is not to say we put up with abuse or blame ourselves for our reactions. What I am saying is the reaction is ours and it's informed by our own traumas that deserve attention. Triggers are our bodies trying to communicate and connect with us, but it's easy to turn them into a projection onto another entity, which literally translates into giving your energy, your power to someone else.
So what do we do? I have found 4 steps that work really well for me and others in my practice:
4) Uncouple & Re-organize
Feel the trigger. Notice where it lands in your body, what it feels like, if it spreads or if it stays in one area. Is it the same area every time? Notice how your body physically responds to the trigger so we can make it less about the trigger and more about you. After all, that's the most immediate and practical change that can take place - the war within the self.
Identify what's being triggered. Feel the tension in the belly, the heaviness in the chest, the tightening of your jaw and send your breath into it. Use the sensation to identify its origin. Find the phrase that triggered the sensation, the thought, the fear. Often times a memory or a person will come up, just follow it without linear reasoning or intellect. It's your body showing you information.
Understand why this is your trigger. Why does a phrase make you nauseous? If it's a phrase that triggers you, try to find out what part of your life or yourself it brings up. If it's a person, try to find where a person like this has been in your life. If your body showed you a memory or an image, understand why that visual or memory is associated with this stressful sensation in the body. Take your time. This can take days to weeks.
Uncouple the triggered feeling/emotion/thought from the trigger. A real life example: I had a client the day after Trump was elected and they felt completely frozen, hated Trump, were totally traumatized by his Presidential win. After doing these steps with me, their body showed them that Trump triggered memories of abuse from their father. It was so deep and, once we uncovered it, we were able to uncouple and re-organize the body's complex emotions around all of this. The result was their ability to, when triggered by Trump, relocate their emotions back to their own father and do therapy around that. Gradually, healing around the father trauma took priority and now this person doesn't even flinch when they hear a Trump statement or rally because they know it's about their father, not the president.
I know from my own traumas and doing this work that there is a depth of freedom that we all have the ability to experience. Questioning our triggers, using self inquiry, and listening with a humble curiosity as to why does this person or thing cause me pain instead of "knowing" that this person or thing is my pain is the difference between disempowerment and empowerment.