Emotional triggers are when our reptilian brain is activated and we go into survival mode and our reaction is to go into fight or flight. Our brain is perceiving that we are being attacked in some way as it thinks we are in physical survival still. This attack can come in words, body language and tone and volume of voice. Our thoughts and beliefs are what are triggered and come from the past and pain from our past painful experiences. These triggers are particularly around rejection and abandonment. I learned a great deal about emotional triggers in a past relationship where I did a lot of training with Scott Catamas from the Love Coach Academy and I am referencing some of his teachings in this article.
In this relationship I felt as though I had to defend myself constantly from my partner’s accusations. These accusations came from underlying feelings and beliefs that he had around trust and his belief that women are liars who cannot be trusted. I would go into defence and fight mode initially to try and prove and justify myself to him. I felt like my self-worth and integrity was under attack. I would get quite upset because I felt he wasn’t listening to me so I would raise my voice and yell to try to get through to him! He would be then reacting to this and would get angry to the point he would get really violent and controlling and I would usually end up lying on the floor in tears feeling trapped and scared. This is an extreme version of how emotional triggers can play out. This relationship ended up being constantly blaming each other and defending ourselves which lead to a lot of fighting, anger and resentment. It would greatly affect my ability to sleep and work and it was destroying me inside. In my eyes I thought he was being ridiculous making all these assumptions. However in his perception of reality based on his beliefs and past experiences this is what was true for him. We want to blame the other person when we really need to take responsibility for our own feelings. It is this blame, shame and criticism that leads to significant problems in relationships. If we don’t learn how to manage our emotional triggers it can ruin our relationships, our work and any possibility for joy and happiness.
RECOGNISING YOUR TRIGGERS
Before this time I had never really thought about triggers and I really got to a point of desperation where I needed to seek help. I wanted our relationship to work and I never been this way in a relationship before. In the past I would have used alcohol or cigarettes or sex to simply numb the pain. But because I had an understanding now around my belief systems and the beliefs that limit me I knew that we were triggering each other’s deepest wounds. I knew there was an opportunity for healing here and it was all the parts of me that felt rejected, abandoned, unworthy and not good enough that were being triggered, as it was also for him. What you need to initially recognise is what mode you go into when you get triggered. Is it fight or flight? Fight can be the defence and anger. Flight can be running away or ignoring the person or situation or turning to alcohol, drugs or sex or even to facebook… you are ‘checking out’ of having to feel the pain.
It’s taking a step back and looking at is as an observer whilst giving yourself empathy and compassion. You need to look at changing the neurological pathways on the brain by recognising that you are just in a story based on your past pain. What is happening is not actually real. What Scott taught me was to pick a painful thought that you have been having and feel that through your body and say to yourself ‘I am telling myself that (fill in the blanks) and ‘I am in my story that (fill in the blanks). So for example for me it was that ‘I am telling myself that I am being accused and blamed for something I haven’t done and therefore who I am is being attacked’ and ‘I am in my story that there must be something wrong with me and therefore I am rejected.’ The more you do this the more your brain will realise it is just a story and you will eventually stop being so triggered. It’s bringing to your awareness what your stories, beliefs, shadows are and helping you manage them and heal them. This can actually be seen as a real gift. It is a huge opportunity for healing and growth.
TOOLS TO STOP REACTING
- BREATHE - As soon as you start to feel triggered the first thing to stop and just breathe! When we go into survival mode it is questioning whether we are still alive or not. If we breathe then we are telling the brain that yes we are still alive. Taking slow deep breaths in through the mouth and out through the nose (yes, I have said that the right way) as this activates that part of the brain more quickly. This will also calm you down.
- YELLOW AND RED LIGHT - A great exercise I was shown by Scott is when with a partner is to call out ‘yellow light’ to make your partner aware that you are starting to feel triggered. Then breathe together and make contact in silence if you both can do that authentically which means holding space and empathy for the other person. If not, then call ‘RED LIGHT’ which means taking a time out. The time out is until you both feel that you can care about each other’s needs and feelings.
- WHAT I AM FEELING AND NEEDING – When you have calmed down look at what feelings have come up for you. Then look at what is the need underneath this feeling. So for example the feelings I would have were disconnection, upset, frustration, anger and fear. What I needed was understanding, respect, empathy and compassion. Then you can seek this for yourself or from your partner if they feel they are in a place to do so.
- TELL ME MORE / WHAT ELSE – This is great for when we are being blamed or feel under attack. We can’t be attacked if we acknowledge the other person’s perception of reality. It’s about getting really curious about what the other person is feeling and needing. Ask them to tell you more and use the phrase ‘what else?’ and keep asking them ‘what else’ every time there is a pause in their conversation. Acknowledge them for sharing and say that you understand what they are saying as you are validating their feelings and their experience. Say something like ‘it sounds like (fill in using their words) that must feel… (fill in the emotion), I’m really sorry that feels that way for you and then you can ask ‘what do you need from me?’. Then they will be able to express their underlying need. You can read more exercises like this in the book ‘Communication Miracles for Couples by Jonathon Robinson’
- EMOTIONAL RELEASE TOOLS – When we are triggered it is the body also telling us that there is some anger and frustration that needs to be vented. We have so often avoided feeling pain or not getting angry because we have been told ‘anger is bad’ so we have buried it and when triggered it then takes hold of us and runs rampant! This is actually a great opportunity to release it, just don’t do it at another person. Before you do start the breathing and then take some time out on your own. Go to your bedroom and throw a temper tantrum – stamp your feet, scream into a pillow, punch the pillow over and over, thrust your hips into it, as though you are taking back your power! Get it all of your system and shake your whole body! As the song goes… Shake it Off!! That is a great song to play whilst releasing too! Do this until you feel you are done.
I recommend to do this daily to start releasing any rage, anger and grief that you may have bottled up. What I like to daily is to pump up some music (heavy metal is great!) and then throw that temper tantrum for the whole song!
GIVE YOUR TRIGGERS A VOICE
Underneath our triggers are just our needs that haven’t been met. It is about recognising that need and find a way to fulfil it which can be done with or without the other person. Don’t judge yourself or the other person when they get angry and reactive as this will only fuel it and make it worse. Compassion will help put out the fire. Learn about your triggers and the other person’s triggers. Recognise them and give them a voice by making a list of the things that trigger each other. Tell your partner what these are and ask them just to be a little bit gentle with you in these areas. Get curious about what each other’s triggers are and practice acceptance for each other. Accepting our darkness is the first step to transforming them. By being open and vulnerable about your pain points will create more connection and intimacy. It’s really importance to practice empathy for self and one another. It is not about apologising, it’s about being able to sit in each other’s reality and the feelings and needs that haven’t been met. Most of all go gentle on yourself and have self-empathy and self-compassion.
I share about this on the Soul TV Episode ‘Managing Emotional Triggers’ which you can watch at http://bit.ly/1UMTnuC along with other great episodes.
I really love helping anyone who are may be going through struggles in their relationship, so if you would like a free 15 min coaching call please go to http://ejlove.leadpages.co/call/ and you can also reach out to me at www.ejlove.com, facebook at www.facebook.com/ejloveangel or email email@example.com.