This is part 2 of my article Why We Get Triggered and Spiral Out of Control: Stop Activation in its Tracks. This article is a continuation and speaks to what to do when you get triggered to contribute to increased self-awareness, more mindful behaviors, thus inevitably leading to more fulfilling and connected relationships.
As indicated, we all get triggered due to physiological and psychological factors. The best thing you can do is to increase your self-awareness in these given moments. This gets you in touch with what’s prompting the trigger (i.e., activation, hook, pushes your buttons, feel possessed, etc.) and how it’s negatively impacting you to shut down, overreact or act out. Self-reflection and slowing down the process can leave room for insight, flexibility and transformation.
Understanding what prompts the negative cycle and how it spirals and gets played out is critical. It helps us to avoid getting hooked by it and perpetuate maladaptive and unproductive behaviors. Getting stuck can lead to shameful and regretful decision making and acting in ways we would prefer not to.
8 Ways to Directly Transform Your Triggers
- Recognize that your brain functions on an unconscious level relatively easily because it requires less work and brain capacity. However, when you seek to understand and name what triggers and activates you, you want to act with conscious awareness so you mindfully process and strategize to ensure your behaviors align with your values and who you strive to be. Periodically check in with yourself to assess whether you’re focused, tuned-in and being in the present moment and now. You can do this by training your mind through mindfulness exercises and/or meditative practices which have been empirically proven to be beneficial.
- Gain more understanding and familiarity around your projections (i.e., someone unconsciously attributes their thoughts, feelings or behaviors to another person), negative core beliefs, narratives, impulses and values. When these are rubbed up against, you’re more likely to be triggered. Be curious and commit to studying yourself. All of these can be effectively assessed through therapy, self-exploration and referring to my book ACE Your Life: Unleash Your Best Self and Live the Life You Want which walks you through the barriers that get in the way of your acceptance, compassion and empowerment, and how to effectively facilitate and integrate it.
- Get keenly familiar with your adaptations so you better understand your triggers. Seek to understand what accommodations you made to “survive” what was challenging or difficult for you. Evaluate how this gets enacted/acted out in your general behavior and in your relationships. For example, if in your family of origin, if it was overtly or subliminally communicated that a difference of opinion or conflict was to be avoided at all costs, you may people please, avoid communicating your needs or become avoidant when you perceive conflict will ensue. These situations can trigger reactions and responses that perpetuates regressive and non-helpful or counterproductive behaviors.
- Understand the utility of your thoughts and feelings to better understand your triggers. Thoughts and feelings ebb and flow, which could be from moment to moment, contingent on perceptions, experiences, your coping, and many other factors. Within a given hour, you can flow through an array of emotions such as joyfulness, sadness and anger. Take pauses, be curious and study your thoughts and feelings. Notice if you have reactions or judgments about your thoughts and feelings. Commit and invest in being in whatever feeling state shows up based on your perceptions or judgments, with the awareness and understanding that you’ll come out of it with greater self-awareness, self-compassion and empowered to act in ways that align with your authentic self. Instead of reacting immediately, impulsively, and at face value, take the time to act from your evolved and cultivated adult self.
- Don’t believe everything that’s thought or felt. Trigger reactions happen in the limbic, or emotional center of the brain, so it can be irrational. It often elicits the part of us that cannot hear or listen to reason. Question the quality of your thoughts and feelings. How do they show up? Why do they show up that way? What does it mean to you? Recognize they’re not an evaluation of who you are, or a sign of your progress. They’re not set in stone and are often not factual but rather associations you make and can be disruptive because your mind is trying to protect you. Thoughts and feelings can be reframed and shift.
- Realize that not all thoughts and feelings, whether emotionally or somatically/physiologically need to be reacted to. We give too much credence to our thoughts and feelings and have the impression we must always react to them. They’re helpful in letting you know what’s meaningful to you, but that doesn’t mean you have to instantaneously react to them.
Perpetually keep in mind that your behaviors are a choice even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment. Take the time to gently and compassionately remind yourself that you are the CEO of your life and get to make decisions on your own behalf.
Take time to observe, name, contemplate and evaluate your triggers. Ask yourself, “What triggered me?” “Why was I triggered?” “What does this connect to (e.g., is a projection, is rubbing up against a core value, a negative belief about myself or a wounded part of myself, etc.)?” “How did I previously behave based on my reaction and automatic responses?” and “How do I want to currently behave based on my values, my best self and who I strive to be?”
- Thank your mind for its generosity and graciousness in making you aware of your unhealed parts or unresolved issues through your triggers. It’s your brain and body’s way of protecting you from discomfort and “danger.” When you are triggered it’s emblematic of your need to self-reflect and gain insight as to your wounded parts and/or the unresolved issues that you still need to attend to. You can create new neural networks in your brain and rewire your nervous system to perceive and react to things differently going forward. You can reframe things and notice your resilience, how much you’ve grown, and your ability to change.
- Recognize that your journey to act in the realm of your values will be an ongoing commitment and practice with slips and triggers along the way. Give yourself some grace. Remind yourself that you’re attempting to change years of conditioned behaviors and develop a compassionate relationship with yourself and others as you and they work toward healing and growth. You and others will be more open to change and recalibrating when it’s necessary when feeling free of judgment and are nurtured and supported.
When you learn to gain deeper awareness around your triggers, can self-soothe and act mindfully, then you can shift from self-blame and/or projection onto others, to accountability, sharing and connection. Triggers are little gifts enhancing your ability to notice unhealed or unresolved parts of yourself, and pointing directly to where you have personal work to do. These moments can be appreciated and celebrated on your journey toward growth and enhancement.
Here is a Manifesting Connected Relationships Guided Meditation led by me.