Do you know what triggers you and why? What do you do when a person or situation triggers your stress response? We create conflict and unhealthy communication when we act out in response to our triggers. Discover how to heal your triggers so that you can stay centered and connected rather than reactive.
Most of us have at one time or another been ‘triggered.’ A trigger is an event, situation or interaction with a person or group of people that activates the fight, flight or freeze stress response. A trigger is often related to a past event, interaction or situation that was very painful or traumatic.
Have you ever found yourself suddenly feeling angry or scared or shut down when a moment ago you were feeling fine?
People or situations can trigger us into rage, anger, blame, compliance, caretaking, resistance, withdrawal, numbness, dissociation, explaining, complaining, lecturing, righteousness and so on. These triggered feelings and reactions are generally attached to previous traumatic events, such as:
- Emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse, and various forms of rejection
- Loss through the death of a parent, grandparent, sibling or someone else who was close to you
- Abandonment through a parent leaving or giving you up for adoption
- Events such as war, natural disasters, rape, mugging, or murder of a loved one
Often, the triggered reaction comes from unhealed PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – where an extreme stress response occurs due to a thought or situation that triggers the original trauma.
For healing to take place, it’s generally important to identify the original trigger. If you don’t understand the original trigger, the reactive feelings can seem to come from nowhere. While it is not difficult to identify the original trigger when the traumatic event happened as an adult, it is often elusive when it occurred as a small child. It might also be difficult to identify the trigger when it wasn’t a particular event, but rather the general abusive environment in which you grew up.
When you find yourself frequently triggered into an unwanted feeling or reaction, but you have no idea what’s being triggered, it’s vitally important not to judge yourself for being triggered. You need to accept that there is always fear, and sometimes terror, behind your own protective, controlling reactions, just as there is always fear behind others’ wounded, controlling reactions. Being aware that fear, or even terror, is usually the root cause of anger or blame or other controlling behavior, can make it easier not to judge yourself or others for unloving reactions.
Once you can identify the original situation, it becomes much easier to embrace the underlying feelings with compassion for yourself, rather than act out on others. If you can remember the original terror, heartbreak, loneliness, helplessness, grief, or feeling crushed and shattered, then you can understand why you want to protect against and avoid feeling these extremely painful feelings.
Even if the trauma occurred as an infant, it’s possible to retrieve the memory. When people feel very safe, it’s easier to open to remembering deep old trauma.
Safety can be created both internally and externally.
Internal safety is created when you have done enough Inner Bonding work to develop a strong inner loving adult. Your inner child has the memories but will not let you in on them until he or she feels safe to do so. This means that your inner child needs to know that you, as a loving adult, have the strength, love and compassion to remember the trauma and manage the deeply painful feelings.
External safety is created when you are in an environment where another person, such as a therapist, is able to be the loving adult for you when the traumatic memories come up. In fact, even if you have a strong loving inner adult, if you believe that you have some deeply traumatic memories, such as sexual abuse, it’s best to do the memory work in the presence of a person trained to help you manage the pain. Often, at my Inner Bonding Intensives, participants feel so safe that buried memories emerge – memories that have been triggering them for most of their life, but that they were completely unaware of.
Instead of judging yourself for getting triggered and for reacting in protective, controlling ways, move into compassion for the fact that you are being triggered. Compassion creates the inner safety that begins to open the door to memory.
One of the major experiences that triggers many of us is feeling helpless over a person or situation. If you were left to cry as an infant, the feeling of helplessness can trigger the infant trauma that you could have died if no one came to feed you or attend to your other needs.
It’s very common to get triggered into anxiety and react with anger, irritation, frustration, and blame in an effort to move beyond feeling helpless. Anger and blame give us a feeling of control, even though we don’t have control over others or over events. We can currently see this throughout the world in reaction to the pandemic with all the acting out with anger and violence and an attempt to control others into doing what the angry people want others to do. The hate crimes that have proliferated are also an indication of the fear of helplessness and an attempt to control, as is the violence on airplanes over masks. The pandemic has triggered a huge amount of helplessness, for good reasons, but while we are helpless over the fact of the pandemic, we are not at all helpless over our reaction to it.
As a loving adult, you would accept your helplessness over what’s happening externally, and do all you can to be safe and healthy, including eating well to make sure that your immune system is functioning well, and doing whatever you need to do to be safe in public.
Helplessness can easily get triggered in relationships with a partner, children, parents, close friends, or co-workers.
What do others do that triggers your acting out with annoyance, irritation, anger, blame, judgment, criticism, victim tears, explaining, defending, lecturing, shutting down and withdrawing your love, giving yourself up, or going into resistance?
- Are you triggered when others act out in any of these ways?
- Are you triggered when others don’t do whatever you want them to do for you or for their own health and well-being?
- Are you triggered and act out when others don’t agree with you or have different values than you?
Take a moment to think about what triggers you into your various ways of acting out.
Why? What do you hope for in behaving in any of these protective, controlling ways? And if you act out in reaction to your trigger, what do you hope for?
- Do you hope to convince the other person to change?
- Do you hope to avoid the pain of helplessness, and the loneliness and heartache that you might be feeling in response to another’s choices?
- Do you hope to feel safe, rather than anxious or panicked?
The basic motivation of the wounded self is to feel safe by trying to have control over getting love and avoiding pain. When someone does something that triggers your feelings of helplessness, loneliness, or heartbreak, your wounded self moves into action.
Most of us are unwilling to even know what we are and are not helpless over. Most of our controlling behavior toward others comes from our unwillingness to accept our helplessness over other’s being open or closed, loving or unloving. We do not want to know that we are helpless over whether another chooses to be loving to us or judgmental toward us.
If we truly accepted our helplessness over others, and over situations and outcomes, would we continue to act out? Would we continue to blame, to judge, shame, criticize? Would we continue to comply, or to be overly nice instead of honest? If we truly accepted our helplessness over whether others loved us and accepted us, would we work so hard to prove our worth to others?
You will find that you are much less triggered by others and by situations, and that it’s much easier to move beyond your controlling behavior, once you fully accept your helplessness over others and over situations. You will find that you can choose your actions rather than be reactive with acting out behavior.
Paradoxically, accepting our helplessness over others and over challenging situations and events, leads us to our personal power. Once we fully accept that we cannot have control over others loving us and over painful events, we may then finally turn to our spiritual guidance for help in loving and taking care of ourselves. This major step moves us out of being victims of others’ choices and events, and into control over our own lives, which is what we do have control over.
What would you do differently if you accepted your lack of control over others’ unloving behavior, and your lack of control over situations such as the pandemic? Can you imagine that you would not be nearly as triggered by others and by situations if you were showing up as a loving adult, devoted to your own healing and growth?
Here is what I do when I can feel that someone or a situation is triggering me. I open to compassion for myself – for the very painful feelings of helplessness, loneliness, grief, and heartbreak. I dislike these feelings as much as anyone, but, due to my years of practicing Inner Bonding, I no longer get triggered into my infant panic and controlling behavior. It’s still challenging at times to not to be reactive when someone is violating or mean, or has betrayed my trust in a profound way, or over all the violence and pain in the world, but I know that I can maintain my peace when I accept the reality of these situations and my lack of control over them.
As soon as I’m aware of being triggered, I move into compassion toward myself, lovingly helping my inner child feel the intense pain of helplessness, loneliness, and heartbreak. I surround myself with the warmth and power of my spiritual guidance, so that I’m not alone with these feelings.
If I see that I can be of help to someone who is being unloving, then I do all I can to be of help to them. If they are not available for my help, then I lovingly disengage from the situation. Sometimes I cry because crying helps me move the feelings through me so that I don’t get stuck with the pain. Sometimes I need to do an anger process to further release the feelings. Then I do further inner work to fully accept that I have no control over the other person or the situation.
To what extent are your conflicts, fighting and disconnection from loved ones the result of acting out on your triggers and of not accepting your helplessness over others?
It’s important to understand that when you are triggered, you can either act out or act in.
When we act out in response to a trigger, we do what we naturally do when the stress response is activated: we get angry, blaming, agitated, impatient, annoyed or irritated, or we shut down, withdraw, numb out, go away, or disassociate. These are the natural actions of the wounded self during a threat to survival.
Acting out often creates even more trauma. For example, if your usual stress response is to get angry, another person may also get angry. You might each say things that are very hurtful. If your usual response is to shut down and withdraw, you might end up feeling alone and depressed.
When you are in real and present danger, the fight, flight, or freeze response is vitally important; however, it is not a healthy response when you are triggered, and not in actual danger.
Acting in is very helpful when you are triggered by a situation that is not actually dangerous to you but is bringing up strong emotions that are associated with old, unresolved experiences of danger. Acting in means that you utilize the trigger to go inside with an intent to learn about the intense feeling. The feeling that is triggered might be anger, agitation, fear, terror, anxiety, numbness, loneliness, heartbreak, grief, helplessness over another or over a situation, disorientation, emptiness, aloneness, or physical pain somewhere in your body. These feelings are telling you that something inside needs to be attended to.
Attend to the feelings by putting your hands on your heart, breathing into the painful feelings, opening to your higher guidance, and bringing compassion to your feelings. Reassure your inner child that he or she is not alone with these feelings, that you and your guidance are here right now. Then move into an intent to learn about what the feelings are telling you.
When you have practiced Inner Bonding long enough to have a strong and present loving adult, then you might have the consciousness to act in, rather than automatically act out from your wounded self in response to triggers.
It’s not easy to have this much consciousness. Most of us get triggered so fast that before we know it, we are acting out with a fight, flight or freeze response. It takes a lot of practice to not go on automatic pilot. Yet this is what our inner child needs in order to feel safe when we are being triggered by a person or a situation. When we go into an automatic stress response when there is no real and present danger, we often re-traumatize our inner child. When there is no loving adult to manage the situation, we re-create the original trauma by abandoning ourselves, which only serves to create more fear.
Developing our conscious loving adult is neither easy nor fast. It happens over time as we consistently practice Inner Bonding throughout each day. When you can act in, with compassion for your feelings and an intent to learn in response to minor triggers, such as feelings of annoyance or irritation, then it becomes easier to remember to act in when facing more challenging triggers.
Don’t give up. No matter how many times you forget you can still keep learning, even AFTER you have forgotten. As compassionately as you can, open to learning with your guidance about what you wish you had done instead of acting out in response to being triggered. Rehearse the action you come up with, so that maybe next time you will remember.
One of the eventual results of practicing Inner Bonding is that, over time, we develop a strong loving adult self capable of being aware of when we are triggered, rather than acting unconsciously in response to a trigger. Our consciousness of when we are triggered gives us the choice to act in rather than act out.
I used to work hard to get myself into a centered and loving place, and then something would happen and suddenly I’d be triggered into my reactive wounded self again – feeling angry, depressed, anxious, or hurt. It didn’t seem fair that I would work so hard to get myself into a good place, only to have it ruined by someone else’s unloving behavior triggering me into my wounded self.
If someone I was close to was angry, distant, rejecting, shaming, blaming or disconnected from themselves and me, I would get triggered into my wounded self. Their wounded self triggered my wounded self. I would be triggered into unhealed old pain from childhood. Unhealed old pain is like an unhealed wound – it hurts when touched. My old wounds kept getting touched.
Through my Inner Bonding practice, I learned that when someone important to me got angry at me or disconnected from me, I felt like I was going to die. I was able to trace this back to losing my beloved grandfather at 13 months – the only person I was connected with as a baby, and to my mother’s frequent rage at me. But simply knowing about this did not heal the trigger. I was very aware of the deep pain of loneliness, heartbreak and helplessness from childhood that fueled my triggers. And due to my Inner Bonding practice, my inner child felt safe enough to let me in on the deep pain I experienced as a baby and child. But, again, knowing all this was not enough to heal me.
The key to healing my triggers was to remember to immediately open to connection with my inner child and my guidance,the moment I feel a painful wound being activated inside.
Your triggers will never get healed by being reactive – by going into your wounded self in reaction to another’s wounded self. In fact, the more you get triggered into your wounded self, the more abandoned your inner child feels and the more scared you become of others’ anger and unloving behavior. Being reactive feeds your triggers.
The only thing I’ve found that actually heals triggers is learning to stay connected with myself and my guidance in the face of others’ unloving behavior or a painful situation – learning to bring compassion to my core painful feelings rather than abandon them.
My little girl is so thrilled when I stay connected with her rather than abandon her and become reactive with another person or a situation. She is so grateful when I stay with her with love, bringing to her the compassion of my guidance. This is what makes her feel safe. Sometimes she also needs me to speak my truth to someone – in a kind and gentle way, but much of the time she doesn’t even need this. As long as I am fully with my own feelings, tending to them with deep kindness and compassion, not leaving my inner child alone inside, she is happy and feels safe. It’s amazing how powerfully healing it is to stay inwardly connected with myself and my guidance.
I want to encourage you to stop focusing on how to react to another person who is angry, blaming or distant, or to a painful situation and focus only on staying present with your own feelings with deep compassion. My little girl no longer feels shattered when someone close to me disconnects from me. She felt shattered and helpless as a baby and a little girl, by the anger and disconnection. But once I was an adult, I had to learn that, although it is sad when someone is angry or disconnects from me, I am no longer helpless over myself. I can feel the sadness and go on. As an adult, those terrifyingly shattered feelings were actually being caused by my own self–abandonment – disconnecting from my own true sad feelings. It’s such a relief to no longer get triggered and act out. It’s such a relief to no longer feel shattered in the face of others’ unloving behavior or by challenging and painful situations!
You can heal your triggers. You don’t have to continue to be a victim of others unloving behavior or by painful situations. You can learn to show up as a loving adult and lovingly manage your pain with the help of your higher guidance. I encourage you to learn and practice Inner Bonding throughout the day, learning to stay present in your body with your feelings in Step 1 of Inner Bonding, so that you know instantly when you are triggered and can attend to your painful feelings rather than abandon yourself by acting out. Your inner child will be so grateful to you!
We offer many ways to learn to heal your triggers.
You can take my 30-Day course, “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”
You can learn from our very in-depth online program, SelfQuest, at https://selfquest.com.
For an in-depth and inexpensive way of learning Inner Bonding, see my book: “The Inner Bonding Workbook: Six Steps to Healing Yourself and Connecting With Your Divine Guidance.”
Also helpful is my book, Diet for Divine Connection: Beyond Junk Foods and Junk Thoughts to At-Will Spiritual Connection
And, of course, we have much to offer you at our website at https:www.innerbonding.com.
I’m sending you my love and my blessings.