How are you feeling about your next big family get-together? Is the thought of seeing Aunt Helen causing you to break out in a sweat? Is your heart racing? Are you experiencing shortness of breath? Would you rather stay home and read a book?
You may be feeling emotionally triggered. Dr. Judith Orloff, in her book The Empath’s Survival Guide, describes emotional triggers as those “super-reactive places inside you that become activated by someone else’s behaviours or comments.” If just the thought of seeing Aunt Helen is causing you stress, then she may represent an emotional trigger for you.
Marcia Reynolds, author of a number of books including Outsmart Your Brain, explains that as adults we all have emotional wounds that we carry with us from childhood. These wounds represent those painful, toxic or traumatic experiences that our younger selves encountered but simply didn’t have the cognitive tools to deal with sufficiently.
There are really only a couple of strategies that a young mind can formulate to manage the stressors that they may encounter. According to Reynolds, a child under stress may opt to push down their feelings and hope that Aunt Helen is going to leave soon, or they may develop compensatory habits that help them to avoid the feelings Aunt Helen tends to evoke. These may be anything from nail-biting, to more addictive habits that evolve into much more complicated problems down the line. The other response is to become emotionally reactive; cry, yell, make demands and possibly become physically aggressive.
Our younger selves were doing the best they could with the information they had on hand. However, as adults it is now up to us to modify and in some cases, reshape those early strategies into processes that are going to transform us from triggered to terrific.
Many professionals agree that the first step to accomplishing this task is simply to recognize that we have been ‘triggered’. This sounds a whole lot easier than it is. Many of us may not recognize that we have been triggered until we feel physical symptoms like; our heart beating fast and loud, a shortness of breath, a flight or flight response and a myriad of other emotional options.
Once we understand that our body is reacting or being triggered by something then we can begin the process of investigation. What was it exactly that elicited the physical response that was your indicator that you had been triggered? Was it a comment, a facial expression or possibly a feeling?
Sam, grew up with a super-critical parent. As a result, she became very sensitive to any suggestion that her work was less than stellar. A frown from Sam’s Boss elicited a host of insecurities that began with feelings of shame and humiliation. These feelings sent her running to the gym to work out like crazy or to the fridge to drown her feelings in chocolate. Then typically she would become quietly angry and decide that she was done working for this unappreciative person who clearly could not recognize what a prize she was to the agency. Sam typically stayed at a position for about a year before she felt this familiar and uncomfortable need to move on.
Was Sam’s Boss really frowning at her? It doesn’t matter! All that matters is that Sam thought her Boss was and this elicited a whole host of strategies that she had developed over time to avoid criticism. Now that Sam has discovered her emotional triggers she can choose what she wants to feel and choose how she is going to respond when her trigger is activated. As Sam practises this, she has discovered that she is reacting to stressors less and is instead responding with thoughtfulness. This has been incredibly empowering for her.
One last item to mention, it is critical to take responsibility for your emotional state. Once you do, no one else can usurp your power. No longer are you the victim of a traumatic event that happened in your past. Instead you are in control and moving forward. You have been transformed from triggered to terrific!
If you would like to discuss emotional triggers; how to discover them and how to dislodge them from your emotional repertoire, experience increased success and to live a life of your own design, please call to book a 30 minute phone session with Simone Usselman-Tod, Dynamic Visioning Coach, Certified Life Coach & Business Coach and Certified NLP Master Practitioner. Learn more about Dynamic Visioning.