Heading into the holiday season, with all the intensity that brings up, I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a bold claim. No one on planet Earth NEVER gets triggered. No one alive, unless they’re living so far away from other people that they don’t even get the opportunity to stomp away yelling ‘burn in hell Kevin’ (unless they have a feud brewing with Kevin the squirrel, who…let’s face it…is a major a-hole). Even the most holy among us probably have their moments, and definitely did before finding their inner peace with it all.
(Slightly triggered monk right before enlightenment)
We all get triggered from time to time. It’s a thing. It’s a very human thing. It’s when someone does something (I’m looking at you, Kevin) and although it might be a non-thing to someone else, it just ‘gets’ us. It pokes something painful inside us…it evokes MORE feelings, more reaction, more discomfort, than other things do. That’s hallmark number 1.
Number 2 is that we can’t shake it like we might be able to shake other things off. We can’t just forget it, can’t talk ourselves out of it, can’t use logic (frontal lobe) or reasoning to make this thing stop bugging us. You know what I’m talking about, right? Someone says or does something, and you FEEL it. You feel the poke, the jab, the sudden discomfort. You might dismiss it in the moment, but later on it comes back to get you. You try to talk yourself out of it, but it’s still there. You make excuses, explain it away, ignore it or try to drown it out, but this thing WANTS YOUR ATTENTION.
Often we try to solve that discomfort by jumping into a really satisfying story about how wrong Kevin really is. How could he have SAID that to me? Doesn’t he know my nuts took months to gather and I’m really proud of them? What’s his frigging PROBLEM man?
We focus totally on the other person instead of ourselves, because our Selves are feeling too anguished for our own comfort, and we don’t know what to do with them anyway. We like to involve other people at this point, to get agreement on how bad and wrong Kevin is. We tell other people the story and it feels so juicy and good to wallow in that, doesn’t it?
Yeah it does
Or, we might decide on an ACTION. Right, we will never, ever, ever discuss nuts with Kevin again. Actually, scratch that. We will never even speak to him again. He doesn’t deserve it. He can go climb a tree for all we care. We never really liked him anyway. Much too opinionated. Pushy. Very nut obsessed, now that I think about it.
But the problem is that the trigger is YOURS, not Kevins. The trigger is there with one purpose only, and that’s to be FELT. To get your attention, slow you way the heck down, and allow you to feel something that you really don’t want to feel. Kevin probably had no idea that his words would impact you in this way, and there’s a good chance they wouldn’t bother anyone else quite as they’re bothering you either.
All the things that trigger us, do so because they push on places inside ourselves where we decided we were bad and wrong a loooong time ago. Usually as very young children, way before we could verbalize it or see it rationally. Something happens with a parent, a friend, a teacher, and we come to the shocking realization that we are, obviously, unloveable. Or not enough in some way. And because that’s totally heartbreaking, we form it into a little hard ball that we can cope with, and we hide it. And then we then add layers to it each time we have a new experience that seems to confirm it.
(Not unlike the layers of an onion, which, coincidentally, also cause many tears)
Later on, when we’re grown, it’s the things that happen that match those judgments that trigger us so badly. I have plenty of layers of my own ‘I’m not loveable’ packed down in there, but the same things that trigger mine will not trigger yours. Mine won’t match yours because mine were created by the unique life experiences I’ve had, and how I reacted to them, just as yours were.
For example, if I have brown hair, but have no particular judgment layer stored around being unlovable because of it, it’s unlikely that someone saying "omg, your hair is so brown!" will have any effect on me whatsoever. It will roll right off me because it’s not tied to any particular judgment ball. I will toss my brown hair boldly over my shoulder as I sashay off into the cave, leaving Kevin lost and alone on the prairie. I will care not a whit.
However, if I grew up in a family full of blond kids, say, and at some early age I had an experience in which I felt unlovable and I somehow attributed it to being the only one with brown hair, EVEN IF I HAVE NO RECOLLECTION OF IT, someone saying that later on would probably feel like a bit of a stab to the heart. I might even have coped with it as a child by deciding that blond hair is dumb, or anyone who cares about hair is dumb, and so I am even MORE invested in the story of how bad and wrong the person who noticed my brown hair is. The person who said it might even be admiring the very brown-ness of my hair, but it will still hurt in a way that can’t be fully explained.
No, don't even try to make this better Kevin. You can't.
You see how that works? It’s easier to decide that people who care about hair are dumb than to let yourself feel the anguish of not being loved for having brown hair (when you’re 3 years old, at least), and then you grow up totally unaware of why you’re annoyed by all the hair-obsessed people in the world, and you can’t understand why that stupid comment that Kevin made about your hair color is REALLY upsetting you. You should be able to just let it go. It’s nothing. He meant nothing. Probably best to just avoid him from now on.
All of this is actually GOOD NEWS!
Because once you understand what is really going on when you’re triggered, you can do something about it. You can turn towards it and get curious. You can slow down and pay attention to yourself. You can forget all about Kevin for a moment, just one moment I promise, and do a very simple (but surprisingly challenging) little exercise that will neutralize your discomfort in a moment, if done right.
You can try this right now if there is a lingering thing that is still bothering you, even something from years ago.
Here’s the exercise:
- Bring the triggering situation to mind until you can feel the trigger activate. You know how that feels. It feels quite dreadful. Sorry, hang in with me here.
- Now slow down. For a moment, forget about the story, whatever it might be. Let it fade far away into the distance. Here, in this moment, it’s just YOU. The story will still be there whenever you want it to be, but for now just let it go.
- Move from your head (where all the discussion about it is happening), and pay attention to your body. Locate the feeling in your body. Where do you feel the agitation? Even without the story this should still be there. (Unless you are a very unusual human, it is likely to be in one of 3 places: your heart area, your solar plexus, or your stomach. These are the main energy centers for the three main self judgments that triggers tend to…well…trigger.)
- Once you have found where in your body you are feeling it the most strongly, consult the following table to determine the likely self judgment BENEATH the trigger. The thing you were feeling about yourself to begin with that made the trigger so effective.
|WHERE YOU FEEL IT||WHAT THE JUDGMENT UNDERNEATH IT IS|
|Heart||"I am not love-able"|
|Solar Plexus||"I am not powerful"|
|Stomach||"I am not enough"|
Found it? Good. Now…just for a teeny, tiny moment…allow yourself to feel the judgment. If your sensation is in your heart, allow yourself to drop fully into a moment of ‘omg, I am NOT loveable!’. FEEL IT. Just feel the tiny moment of searing pain as that splinter gets pulled out.
Don’t think about it. Don’t come up with all the reasons why it’s not true and you actually ARE loveable, because in this layer of your being you don’t believe it. You believe the opposite. So you are giving that belief a moment to be fully felt so it can come out into the light and get integrated back into your whole being. Fancy that! Your mind will want to think a TON about it all, but just keep dropping the thoughts, if you can, and focusing back on your body sensation.
LET THE SELF JUDGMENT BE TRUE, JUST FOR A MOMENT. Surrender to it and say yes. You might have to say to yourself 'wow, I really AM unlove-able', or whatever the judgement is for you. Say it to yourself and FEEL IT.
If you do it right, there will be a split second of pain - it might feel like grief, sadness, shock - and then a subtle shift into relief. That layer will have lifted off you, for good. Forever. Yes, there might be others under there, but this one that has bothered you forever, will be forever gone. I have coached enough people through this process for enough years to be able to tell you that with absolute certainty. It works. It just works.
[NOTE: I know the popular opinion in our world is to avoid feeling negative things at all costs in case that somehow brings misfortune down upon our heads, but forget that story for a moment too. These sensations and judgments are here because they are ALREADY true, they already exist in you. We’re not MAKING them be true by feeling them. We are allowing them to be FELT and to DISSOLVE].
If you do the exercise right, and you feel the slight shift that happens, know that your mind will immediately want to jump back into control when you’re done. It has been left aside for the duration of the exercise and will probably make itself felt by immediately THINKING. Hard and fast and about anything it can. You can just notice and allow it. Notice and allow. Nothing to do but notice and allow.
An effective way to test whether you have done the exercise right is to pay attention to the thing that triggered you again. It should feel much more neutral to you now, with all the charge gone. You might find yourself feeling moved by compassion towards yourself or the other person. You might even shed some tears. There’s a great heart openness that comes from feeling some long held, painful belief about yourself and letting it dissolve. It’s almost magical.
Don’t be distressed if it takes a few goes, or if you don’t manage to fully feel it and release your trigger. This takes practice and is often easier to do with someone else guiding you. However, if you are really committed to it and choose it again and again, you will find at some point that it happens. And then it’s a little easier the next time, and the next.
After years of practicing this I can often clear a trigger on the fly and almost instantaneously, but it took me a while to get there. The feeling of relief was enough to make me keep coming back though, and all these years later I have watched so many people get relief the same way that I trust the process fully. And the more triggers you clear, the fewer you have to clear as you go along, which is a reward in and of itself!
And talking of which, I have seen many magical outcomes happen when people do this exercise with their triggers. Because that layer isn’t IN them anymore, situations that have seemed stuck suddenly resolve, or people that we thought would never change suddenly do. Outcomes shift, a loosening happens and life gets to go in a different direction. It’s weird but true.
And if nothing else, every layer you clear helps you feel better and better about yourself. Imagine not carrying around all of those layers, not having all those background programs running as you go about your daily life. Can you see how that would make EVERYTHING better? Your relationships, your career, your life choices, your friendships...you can be much more who you REALLY are, instead of who you judged yourself to be when you were too small to know what you were doing. Much more authentic, much more present, much more available to yourself and everyone else. Free, really, from beliefs and self judgments that hold you in a locked pattern and make you feel quietly miserable about yourself no matter how many nice things other people might say about you or how much success you achieve.
If you feel like you need more support around feeling better about yourself, definitely check out the Self Hypnosis for Self Esteem session here at Clear Minds. The sessions there are incredibly valuable on so many levels, but primarily they give us a way to learn to slow down and pay attention when our habit is to ignore ourselves whenever we can. It’s an effective and speedy way to open to what is going on inside you, without so much mental chatter and ‘story’ in the way. A fast track to feeling better, basically.
You can do the exercise and then the hypnotherapy session, or the other way around. Let us know which works better for you, and whether you make it through this trigger-happy holiday season without going down a squirrel hole of despair.
Talking of which, you won’t BELIEVE what Kevin said to me the other day!
Terri Beuthin, MA, is a certified Family and Life Coach and mother of 3 boys. She currently lives in Ireland and is trying to persuade the Clear Minds team that a session about squirrels would be very helpful, thanks.