When we’re triggered

We all know about being triggered by others, right? We’re sitting here, minding our own business, and Ms. So-and-so does something absolutely appalling. Or she just announces her abdominal viewpoint (which happens to be the opposite of our more “enlightened” perspective.) Maybe she backs up her dreadful opinion with ghastly action. Maybe she’s hurtful, negative, distressing, nasty, horrendous.

And we’re triggered big time.

Anyone ever experience this?

We might feel flushed. Anger arises. Sometimes it feels righteous. Other times it just floods with intensity and doesn’t feel particularly good. Maybe we’re just annoyed. Maybe we flip our middle finger skyward when someone cuts us off in traffic. Perhaps a vague feeling of distress arises. Sometimes it’s sadness. Or fear. Worry. Anxiety.

No matter what the result of triggering–I’ve discovered there are layers of possible exploration to more deeply examine and clear the energy. To me, this is a huge part of the spiritual journey. Transforming pissed-off-ness to compassion. Learning to sit with provocation and investigate with curiosity and attention.

Triggered by toilet not working?

What does the trigger teach us?

As humans we point our finger outward. You are bad, bad, bad, we chant inside our triggered thoughts and emotions. You are simply wrong. You are horrible. You are mistaken. You are really a bad person. What a schmutz! I never want to see or speak to you again. You are not a Holy spark of Being, heavens no, not a worthy friend or family member or politician.

This seems to the initial stage. We look outwards at the apparent cause of the trigger and blame, judge, label, moralize. (And I am not saying this is wrong. It just so often happens, at least for me and others I’ve talked with about this.)

Sometimes a question appears: Do we want to take this deeper? Do we want to discover why we’re so heart-pumping mad or frustrated or sad?

Open the door and turn the spotlight on ourselves, the triggered one. WHY is person bugging me? WHY is this experience causing such angst? Usually–in many cases as I begin this exploration–nothing presents itself. All the energy is still moving outward in opposition to the trigeree. (Made up word. Trigeree. The person who triggers us.)

By returning again and again to the contemplation and asking with curiosity, the Universe often begins to provide some possibilities. I am triggered because… and here I look inside…I am triggered because I don’t like this behavior. Have I ever acted in a similar way? Have I ever been triggered like this in the past? What is it inside me that is upset? The behavior of the other person might not be stellar–but why am I reacting with such a strong emotional fervor?

Is it the skunk’s fault?

Often we’re triggered because of something that happened long ago in the past. Something we unconsciously pushed away in our psyche from age two, or six or eleven. Something that was too painful to feel when we didn’t have the tools for healing. Energy has stagnated in exile beneath the surface of awareness without everyday access.

Because this energy is hidden and wants to see the light of day–Life itself will provide triggers which will poke the unconscious exiles. It may look like Ms. So-and-so is to blame. But on a deeper level it’s often our shadow-sides lurking in closed-off areas of the body seeking compassion, love, healing. Ms. So-and-so is only the catalyst to help heal ourselves.

I have stated before–it’s hard to remain in Presence and move in holy expression if these unconscious emotions are lying beneath the surface getting triggered. The trigger appears to pull us out of Spirit’s flow.

But what if the trigger is a gift? A gift to keep exploring what wants to come to the shining light of awareness? A backwards and upside-down gift from Spirit that whispers, “Let my children free”?

Sometimes sitting with triggers is enough. It seems to be about moving energy into any frozen and unconscious parts by just being with them with an open heart. Every time the energy moves back to rail and blame and judge–just return to what’s happening inside.

The anger almost always reveals itself to be fear or sadness. A deep fear or sadness that has not yet been acknowledged, not yet been welcomed into the fold of our wide-open arms. Not yet been hugged.

Interjection: Please do not get me wrong. The other person’s actions may be unconscionable. We may need to take clear decisive action to remove ourselves from their presence. We may need to set definitive boundaries. This post is not saying–everything everyone does is OK. A lot that happens in the world is totally not–in any way–OK. I am suggesting (from years of experience) that it’s almost impossible to try to change another’s behavior. What is possible is changing our own perspective and healing emotions. That’s where our true power lies.

There is even an eventual possibility of thanking Ms. So-and-so for annoying us so much. (Ha ha, this can be a long way down the healing road before we’re ready to do THAT!)

There’s even a possibility of birthing compassion for our nemesis. For glimpsing the hurt and sadness that Ms. So-and-so can not yet feel because it’s still unconscious in her. We might even be able to pray for our “enemy”. Our body slowly lets go of its contraction and we bask in the joy of an open holy heart.

P.S. This pandemic year has brought forth many triggers for me. What a challenging year for working through reactivity seeking to transform its energy from annoyance to compassion. Every day that it’s possible turning inward to hopefully help dissolve the trigger.

P.S.S. Please share your own processes for working with triggers if you like. We can all learn from one another on this one.

Day 71 of a seventy-five day journey to connect more deeply with God, Spirit, Holy, Love…to explore “What the Heart Knows” during the waning days of 2020.

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
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27 Responses to When we’re triggered

  1. Susan D. Durham says:

    Your choice of pictures to accompany your posts is always so on point! I’m intrigued by the first one. Captures “being triggered” so well. What are those little guys?

    Oh, goodness, yes, we have talked about being triggered. It’s interesting to me how often it can take me by surprise, the sudden powerful, hot surge of rage. Yikes. And other times, I can react/respond with “Oh, there she/he goes again. Ho hum. You think how you think. See ya.” I know for me it is almost always fear underneath the rage. I personalize. The trigger has attacked my beliefs, my convictions. I feel negated, not heard, invisible. I give away my power. Hmmm

    This pattern goes deep – back to childhood when my expressions, opinions were dismissed, or I was told I was wrong, period. I have found ways over the decades of dealing with this and use reminders of “that isn’t true now. It wasn’t true then, but you were an innocent….”

    Sometimes, my urge to respond to the trigger person is intense. I have learned to wait three days. I don’t know how this came about, or remember when it started, but if something is still sticking in my craw after three days, I respond to the person. Usually in a calm manner, and it usually works. Though there are times when the trigger is reignited. Then, it’s time to leave it be and work on myself.

    So much more, so much to discover and explore, but will leave it as is for today. Thank you for your guidance and sharing ways to heal ourselves. Thank you!

    • Kathy says:

      Hi Susan! Yep, you and I have had many conversations about this over the years and I so appreciate that you resonate with this so much. Your reminders sound really helpful, where you’re able to see clearly that it isn’t true today. And it might not have been true back then.

      The three day waiting period also sounds like it works for you. Processing through what’s triggering before responding in a calmer manner. And I do know about how the trigger can be reignited and then it’s back to the drawing board…

      That first picture of little creatures was taken at a Fort Myers Beach sand sculpture contest–I think. It just seemed their little expressions were a perfect illustration for this post!

  2. leelah saachi says:

    I want to know more about that first photo too 🙂 and strongly agree with Susan about your choice for illustrations. Amazingly powerful in getting your point across!
    In ” The Way of the Heart” Jesus gives a chapter on Forgiveness – and his most potent exercize sound almost exactly like you are wording it here. I always find within me what I have not wanted to see and love. And then the perception of the other change – and THEY may even change ” their obnoxious behaviour”, is my experience.

    • Kathy says:

      I had to think where that picture came from, Leelah. It was taken several years ago down in Florida during a sand sculpture contest. The expressions on their little faces seemed perfect to illustrate this post.

      That is cool that “The Way of the Heart” talks about this in a similar way. Yay! And isn’t it utterly fascinating how the external world can change when we change? I love how that can happen.

  3. jeffstroud says:

    There is a saying, “if we are pointing a finger there are four more pointing back.”
    With my recent life experience of an apartment complex, management, etc, the ongoing stress while trying to do what is my responsibility to take care of what I can. That is reporting the problem, sending in a service request, beyond that I have no control. Getting mad, writing nasty reviews, getting into the bitch sessions for a few moments, than asking what is the solution?
    A few times in the last few days, I heard myself say, Why me, Why I am going through all this crap again, what did I do to deserve this, and so on?
    Time to center, time to let go, ask my Higher Power to guide me to the next right thing.
    We are human after all. Once we invite Holy to be with us, breathe through the disturbance, ask is there anything else I can do right now? If not go make donuts, go for a walk, email or call a friend to ask how there are and so…
    Every occurrence is an opportunity to grow.

    • Kathy says:

      Jeff, darn those four fingers pointing back at ourselves! *smile* I have watched you handling your apartment woes and admired the way you work through these situations. How you can get mad or bitch, but then you’re always moving toward Spirit, a positive solution, re-centering. And that you know that everything is an opportunity to grow. No wonder we’ve been friends all these years since Gaia!

  4. debyemm says:

    This touches on an intense holiday in my household. My youngest son appears to be going through a phase not entirely appreciated by all members in our household. We have a tradition of watching the Christmas themed movies we own in the late part of December. This year, it has become an ordeal for my oldest son certainly, who almost becomes angry in irritation but doesn’t destroy or hurt anything, just stomps off. My husband tries to be tolerant but also makes jokes about it that aren’t entirely appreciated. I am probably the most patient, sensing there is a need in this behavior and even benefitting at times from the attention to details that I would honestly miss otherwise.

    Just the other night, a question about age from a comment by Clarence (angel second class without wings) and the tombstone of George’s brother Harry in the classic It’s A Wonderful Life was a huge issue. Turns out there is an IMDB for character errors that settled the issue. So it is not only my son – there are other movie fanatics who focus more on details than those of us simply vegging out for entertainment. I continue to believe that somehow this focus on details will serve my son in his lifetime.

    The behavior is such a deep dive into “details” that any video is re-wound and re-played several times, even almost a dozen times but that extreme is rare. It can take 2 or 3 days of 2+ hours of watching per night to get through a typical length movie. I’ve grown increasingly concerned about my youngest son’s mental health. Mostly because his father and brother’s lack of acceptance stresses him greatly and the more stressed he gets the worse the behavior becomes. At times, he seems to feel it is not in his control nor his desire but he is OCD and admits he does this while watching YouTubes alone.

    We are trying to work through it as a family in a manner that honors each of our needs and supplies better harmony. Currently, the plan is that if the video isn’t owned by us and we’ve not seen it previously – then the youngest is not allowed to control the remote (which he seems unable to control his backing up actions, if he does have it) and we all can watch it straight through, as most people do. Then, I have promised to watch it a second time with him, if he feels he has “missed” things and/or wants to do a deep dive.

    Yes, Christmas has felt a bit triggered but so far, we are surviving. The thing is, at 16, he finally even has an interest in family viewing movies together, instead of being off on his laptop or iPod doing his own thing. He has always been a bit more independent, though always welcome to participate in family activities. He doesn’t generally eat what we eat, for example, but does eat with us for Sunday night dinner what he prefers for himself. He does not usually eat any other meals with us but of course, at restaurants and again food of his own choosing. He is healthy – he just goes his own way.

    • Kathy says:

      Oh my dear friend, I am feeling for you. Those teenage triggers can be SO challenging! I remember those years with trepidation–and fondness. Their hormones and growth curves and experiments can really trigger even the most patient of souls. I like how you keep looking at the larger picture (like the details may serve him well in the future) but also keeping your heart open to possible mental health issues. (((Big hug ))) this morning, Deb. You’ve had some rough bumps lately.

      • debyemm says:

        I’m so happy to give you an update today. Last night, we tried the “new” method – dad, older brother and mom watched the video straight through. The youngest one could have but he didn’t want to do it that way. He went into the only “private” room in this little farmhouse – our library – slamming doors, making loud noise, etc in his unhappiness.

        The movie would have been difficult under our previous mode of watching with him – strong Scottish accents for one. He started out with us but within minutes wanted us to back up because he couldn’t understand what the character said.

        Anyway, after the movie, I helped he get situated in the library. There is a stand-alone dvd flat screen upright player that he can plug his ear buds into. Also he is learning to watch with subtitles on, so that he misses less dialogue and needs to back up to catch it less often.

        Well, miracles of all miracles. This morning he told me (I had gone to sleep while he was in there watching), it was GREAT, NO stress, he could back up as much as he wanted without feeling judged or like he was ruining the movie for everyone else. He also told me about something I had missed completely. He said I don’t know why I got so upset about it. (Probably only because he had not had the experience yet and felt judged that we didn’t want to watch the video the same way he does.) I offered to watch a second time with him but he told me he didn’t need me to (which is good because I needed my sleep to get up early for my yoga class today).

        Happy camper son and mom today. No more resistance going into the future because it was that much better for him. Phew !! Until the next teenage crisis. LOL

        • Kathy says:

          That is a great update, Deb! Phew–success! How wonderful that this new adjustment worked and he so enjoyed watching the movie by himself. He could do what he wanted and not felt judged. AND the rest of you could have the joy of watching an uninterrupted movie. Everyone wins! Yep, until next time, and hopefully another solution like this will help next time, too. Thanks for reporting back.

  5. Val Boyko says:

    Oh yes indeedy 💕 So much to explore with a ready mind and open heart …. and letting spirit bring compassion. It isn’t about the other or the trigger. It’s a wound within ourselves that comes up. As soon as we talk about “them” or blame “him” we must embrace our own fragile wounds self. The answer isn’t in solving their problems or fixing them … it’s about acknowledging and nurturing our own wounds. When we can do that, our heart opens and spirit can shine.

    • Kathy says:

      Val, my goodness, yes. That wound that just wants embrace. That simply wants to be noticing. Sometimes I still forget and try to fix or solve…but it’s shown, over and over again, that “being with” is what is really wanted. Thank you so much!

  6. Stacy says:

    Oh yes. Triggers abound this year. I can’t really recall specific triggers in my.life until this year.

    In a talk I recently listened to, Vinny Flynn said that where you find your fear, therein lies your sin. It made sense to me because my greatest fear stems from Mr. So-and-So, and because he causes me (and others) such great pain, I have very strong negative feelings for him. Hatred is my sin, and the source of my fear. Soooooo, if I can at least recognize the source of my fear and its effect on me (physically, mentally, and especially spiritually), then I can begin to reconcile it and start the path to healing, to becoming holy in the sense of strengthening my relationship with God. I don’t know of I answered your question, but this is the only revelation that has made sense to me in this year of triggers. XOXO

    • Kathy says:

      I know it’s been so challenging with Mr. So-and-So this year, Stacy, and feel for you so much. It would be so hard for me, as well. I love what you say here: If you can recognize the source of your fear and its effects, then you can begin to reconcile and start the path of healing.

      May it be so, Stacy. May it be so. For all of us, too. ❤

  7. That’s one of the first things I learned in therapy all those years ago, that we cannot change another’s behavior or opinion. Only our response to it. I appreciated your interjection because most of what triggers me these days is the unconscionable actions of a few. (Like the man who married someone I know — he is in prison now — who was abusing his stepchildren.) But for someone I know who I disagree with, or who annoys me with their habits, I shift my focus to their “good” points, the things I appreciate about them. And with strangers who are rude, I give them the benefit of the doubt, assuming that they’re probably having a bad day, or maybe suffering a loss. Most of all, what helps me is to not take things personally! I may not like what someone is saying or doing but it’s likely not about me and that helps me to keep it in perspective. I like your point about investigating with curiosity and attention, though, especially if the feelings triggered seem very strong.

    • Kathy says:

      Barbara, I wonder why we become so convinced we CAN change another’s behavior or opinion? That is suddenly striking me. Where does this come from? And thank you for appreciating the interjection. I had written this already and was suddenly struck that a huge part had been left out. Unconscionable actions do need to be addressed. But perhaps there’s a way of coming at them from a centered place instead of a triggered place. That’s the hope at least. I got triggered yesterday after writing this post! Back to the drawing board…

  8. Beautiful thoughts. I agree, it is only through reflection that we are able to sort our enduring vulnerabilities or trigger points and reactions. Hopefully one day we will be free.

    • Kathy says:

      Markus and Micah, here’s what I’m thinking now. (May change later.) I am not sure if triggering will ever end, or even if I want it to end. I used to think the ending would be the freedom. Now it feels like the freedom is allowing the trigger to come but not be capsized by it. It’s just another Rumi’s visitors coming to visit.

  9. Robin says:

    It most certainly has been a year of triggers. Some of them have led to learning. I’m still laughing at myself over one of them which I might have mentioned here before. My youngest brother and I have been butting heads on Facebook (for years!) and one day, a week or two ago, I had this flash of memory from when we were kids. The only difference between then and now is that he’s not physically poking at me and I’m not sitting on him and yelling that he should just shut up and/or stop annoying me. (Lest you think I hurt him, I was quite a lightweight back in those days and no annoying little brothers were physically harmed in any way. lol!) So, what I’m saying/writing, is that I find it hilarious that we have managed to carry this behavior (without the physical aspects) through to our adult lives. He’s still doing everything he can to annoy me (even taking an opposite side to something just so he can laugh at how angry I get) and I’m still reacting to it. Or I was. I’ve given it up now that I see how we kept that energy going all these years.

    I’m glad you added the interjection. There are some things that require a righteous rage. (Annoying little brothers aren’t one of them. lol!)

    • Kathy says:

      Oh my goodness it does sound like a challenging sibling triggering event. I so get it. I DO so get it, in ways I can’t share publicly. It’s great that you can laugh about your trigger with your brother. And it truly is amazing how we can carry these familial relationships into our adulthood. What’s up about that? I did have to laugh at the image of you sitting down on top of him though!!

Thank you for reading. May you be blessed in your life...may you find joy in the simple things...

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