What Really Happens When You Get Triggered

I do a lot of work with clients both one-on-one and in group settings. In both cases, clients are often triggered by an experience they had in the past which is causing them to react to the present circumstance with more destructive than constructive energy. If you can understand what is happening when you are triggered you can make the choice in the moment best designed to support you in creating the outcomes you desire in the present vs projecting the past on your current circumstances. So here is what happens when you are triggered:

You Stop Listening

Once someone has said something to you that is upsetting or triggering you move from listening to formulating a defensive response based on both what the person said and what the persons words triggered from the past. When you find yourself more focused on your response than what the other person is trying to communicate. Take a deep breath and follow the Covey principal of Seeking first to understand.

So what can you do to manage your triggers? It is my belief that our triggers are spaces and places in our lives yearning to be healed. If you can choose to view them that way and honor the messages they are trying to send, you may find you create much more joy, meaning and connection in your life without the conflict and strife you may be experiencing.

Once you are beyond the triggered moment here are some things to reflect on so you can leave the past in the past and deal with only the present moment:

Pause and surrender.

Use your trigger as a sign there is something you need to release. Initially you may need to take time away from the situation to pause, and release what has been triggered but over time, you will likely gain the “muscle memory” to do this in the moment of your trigger.

Feel and inquire.

Give yourself permission to actually FEEL the emotions from the past that have been triggered. A big part of WHY you still have the trigger is that you likely did not allow yourself to feel the full brunt of emotion connected with the experience. Make sure you are in a safe space where you can fully and physically process the emotion; yell, scream or cry if necessary.

Take a few deep breaths.

Typically, in the heat of the moment the first thing we stop doing is breathing. As you allow yourself to feel the emotions of your trigger you will likely stop breathing as well. Take a moment to focus in on your breathing and take at least three deep breaths. For many, this resets your breathing rate and pace and brings you back to the present moment.

Dig deep.

You have likely been carrying your trigger for some time. Each time you find yourself reacting in a triggered manner it is an invitation to do the internal work to understand and release the past.

Start with a few reflective questions:

  • What is the truth about the current moment – what actually happened?
  • What does the current moment remind you of (what got triggered) and what is the meaning you gave to the triggering event. (Here is a clue you usually had it ultimately mean something unkind about yourself.)
  • Come back to the current situation and try to examine it for what actually occurred. See if you can remember what was actually said vs what you may have heard in your triggered state. Determine what response you now want to communicate outside your triggered state.

Take designed action.

Standing in the truth of who you are and what you intend to create for yourself and your future, determine what is necessary for you to do now. Is there something you need to clean up? Is there a boundary you need to set? Is there a conversation you need to have to complete the past? Is there someone you need to forgive? Answering these questions aren’t easy, but now you will do so from a clean, examined state of inner calm.

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