How to manage situations that trigger you
Almost everyone has triggers. Moments where we find ourselves reacting heavily to a situation. Few people have lived a life without traumas, moment of hurt, worry or fear. These traumas or painful experiences are so deeply embedded in our memory that when similar circumstances or situations arise, we react strongly towards them as an internal warning system “watch out, you might be getting hurt again like you did before”. The moments awaken a strong, emotional reaction and we often can’t even explain why or how we are reacting. We just do. A primal, instinctive reaction to an external trigger.
Most of our own personal triggers are formed in childhood. At a time where we are extremely conscious of our surroundings and subjective of the world around us in order to understand how it works and how we fit in so our needs are met. So recognizing them in the first place in order to manage the triggers is really difficult. Often too, they have become such a staple part of us that we confuse them as external triggers to our own traits, such as “I’m a firm believer in justice, when I see injustice I just winds me up!” or “I’m such an emotional person – but only when I watch movies. When people get married it just makes me cry so hard, I’m a sucker for romance!”. We tend to see our emotional reactions as personality traits, rather than learned behavior. Here are some examples that might help you understand what a trigger is:
- Someone you don’t know tells you off and you are shocked and outraged. How dare they tell you what to do.
- Your boss makes a joke about you and you are hurt. Everyone else laughs but you just feel sad for the rest of the day, the feeling sticks with you.
The “issue” with triggers is they are so personal and private. Few people have the same triggers. Triggers being so subconscious and at the same time such a deep part of us, we often forget why we have them and how they became a part of us in the first place. Often the initial experiences that caused them are so painful, our minds even block ourselves from remembering. Here are three ways that can help you recognize them:
- A feeling sticks around. No matter how many hours later, you still feel the same. You can’t seem to shake it.
- You react to something much stronger than anyone else. People don’t notice something at all, but for you it really stuck out and you can’t understand why other people are not reacting the same.
- You change. Usually you are a relaxed person, or usually a happy or quiet or loud person. But this time, for this topic or in this situation, you just can’t seem to be relaxed or happy.
Take some time to think about it. Has there been something in your recent past that sticks out when reading this? Or perhaps, keep an eye out for triggers in your future, for situations when you recognize one of the points above.
As mentioned earlier – these triggers have a self protection purpose. They are rightfully a part of you because technically, it’s just you protecting yourself. That is an honorable thing to do. But there is a flip side to it. These triggers often cause a lot of suffering in us. It ignites a response really difficult to recover from or too let go. It prohibits us from living the life we deserve. While triggers are meant to be useful, they often limit us from leading a life of ease. So what can you do about it?
First of all – note them. Realize these reactions within you and just label them. Give them a neutral label.
When you feel ready later in the day, away from the triggering situation, try to remember other times you have felt this way and see if you can recognize a pattern. Is it something someone said, is it a certain kind of situation, what are the characteristics of the circumstances?
And lastly, try remembering back into your childhood where there were times you felt that way too. It might take longer but you will remember. These triggers are so imprinted in you that deep down they have become impossible to forget.
Note that I am not, at no point at all saying you should get rid of these triggers. If you can, perhaps work towards it. I personally believe that it might take a lifetime to do so. It’s more important to accept them and understand that they are your scars, your tidbits for survival. It’s just important to know why you have them and at a later stage in life to find out how they can serve you – which is the reason why they are there in the first place.
Own your trigger.