Your grandmother asks you about your weight.
A coworker makes an offhand comment about someone you know.
Your boss sends you a cryptic question leaving you hanging on a Friday afternoon.
You smell something that reminds you of a bad experience.
It could really be anything. We all get triggered at times. Depending on the original connection, our response might be minor or could be as big as a full-blown panic attack. Usually triggers bring up unexpected thoughts and emotions that wash over us and sometimes drag us down a path of intense feelings, actions or even conflict with others.
Triggers are completely personal. That little thing that triggers one person has absolutely no effect on another. While my partner is busy freaking out about the moldy blueberries hidden under the gorgeous ones in the package, I feel nothing. When I bite my partner’s head off for making an innocent request to bake homemade rolls that I’ve made before, she just looks at me as though I have five heads. Not an issue for her, but clearly an issue for me.
I’m guessing you might know the feeling. You shift from a completely relaxed state one minute and then are overcome with emotion in response to some external thing the next. It’s like getting taken from zero to sixty in seconds flat.
What is going on when that happens? The interesting thing about getting triggered is that the reactions we have usually have little or nothing to do with the circumstance at hand. They have everything to do with some past experience that is still unresolved.
So what do we do when this kind of thing happens? How can we handle feeling triggered?
Here are some steps that may help at these times…
1. Find a way to be alone.
If possible, extract yourself from the situation, even if just for a few moments. Go outside or to the washroom, or just close your eyes if you can, depending on your situation.
2. Tune in to your feelings and really notice them.
How intense do you feel? Are you in the midst of a flood of emotions or only mildly affected? See if you can simply observe your emotional state without judgment.
3. Give yourself permission to feel those feelings and do some tapping.
Feel it. Feel it all. Be present with it. Let it flow through you rather than run away from it. If you know how to tap on yourself, it’s a great thing to do while you are tuned into the emotion. It helps the emotions clear rather quickly and in the process, naturally clears some of the underlying issue even if you don’t know what it might be.
4. See if you can feel the feeling without building a story around it or pulling up old stories.
If you are being triggered, it’s pretty likely that this has to do with something from the past. It’s okay to have those memories come up, but see if you can acknowledge that those are not happening NOW. What is happening is that you have an emotion that’s come up that needs to be felt. As the temptation to hold on to and repeat thoughts that give meaning to the emotion emerge, just notice them and go back to feeling the feeling. Tap through your points as you notice all of this, especially the emotions and any desire to go into a story.
5. Once the feeling has passed or cleared, think again about the triggering situation.
Notice your thoughts about this. Was your emotional charge actually appropriate to the thing that happened? Was it an overreaction? See if you can view the current situation for exactly what it is, not through the lens of the past or through the lens of your old emotional states. Notice that it now feels a bit different. If it still feels cloudy and emotional, go back to tapping on the emotion until it is down to zero intensity.
6. Take a breath and ask yourself some questions.
What it is about this situation that I want to be different?
What it is about this situation that I cannot accept?
What would it take to accept it as it is, since that’s what is here right now?
What if it’s time to feel those emotions so that I don’t need to keep playing this out?
What if it’s time to let go of those old memories and beliefs?
What if this situation is a gift to show me exactly that?
What would it take for me to let this go completely?
7. Finally, relax and just notice your thoughts.
Become aware of your thoughts – you know, that sea of thoughts that is always there. See if you can choose a new thought, any thought, that is lighter and more joyful than the ones you’d just been having. Feel it. Then choose another and let that one wash over you. Continue to do this, reaching for higher, lighter thoughts, until you feel really great. If a troubling thought comes up, just let yourself think it and then let it go and look for the next one. All thoughts are fleeting, so there’s no need to hold on.
8. Make some peace with it all.
If you’ve been in a situation that involved someone else, perhaps take the time to either apologize or explain to that person what was really happening for you. Be sure not to blame them and to take responsibility for your end of things. If your experience was all within you and had no connection to others, see if you can forgive yourself and the trigger and let it all go by continuing to breathe and tap until you feel at peace.
Practicing some or all of these steps when you are triggered will likely lessen the time it takes for you to ‘recover’ and may really help your relationships. Give it a try and I’d love to hear from you about your results.