Updated: Dec 28, 2020
We all have a past, no matter if it was good or bad, it's there. You will have random moments where a smell, a song, or for me even a time of day could be a "trigger" of a past memory. However, the triggers that make you run scared or immediately throw you into self protection are the ones you want to be most aware of. If something unpleasant happened in your past and it continues to show up by your reactions to current situations you've got to do you work to discover the why from the inside out.
You're possibly causing yourself more harm than good if you are not well aware of what your triggers are and being intentional in how to work through them is key. I was on the phone with a friend of mine recently and she used the word "trigger" several times and laughed at herself because she didn't know why it was essentially her word of the day. With that being said it was funny because I personally did some really deep soul diving this year into what being "triggered" means for me. I am a person dedicated to truly improving myself and I try to revisit things from my past so that I can be sure I'm not repeating cycles. I was a project manager for over 10 years and there are these things you do when a project completes called a retrospective, I like to apply the rule of the retrospective to my life in order to help me grow, it's essentially a break down of what happened throughout the lifecycle of the project. When I go through a break up I sincerely dig deep to know what I contributed in an adverse way, what I contributed positively and what I would do better next time. My overall goal is to grow, do no harm and to ensure that I'm not treating someone in my present as though I'm dating someone in my past because of my triggers.
Triggers are almost unavoidable for humans and even animals for that matter. We adopted a rescue dog in 2012 named Roscoe who had had been abandoned. His owners literally moved out of their house and left him. Can you imagine watching your family pack up, the people that had been providing food and shelter for you, and they just leave you there? You're a puppy and wondering when they're going to return for you and they never do. As you can imagine, moving is his trigger. When we moved out of the house we brought him home too he was so nervous, you could see it. We kept saying to him over and over, we promise we are not going to leave you and we obviously did not. However, when my son left and went to college which essentially is Roscoe's person he began to act out. My younger cousin who lived with us for awhile had moved out, there was a divorce and then my oldest son went off to college. He went from a home with 3 kids and two adults to one adult and two kids, to one adult and one kid and that kid was only there only half of the time. Roscoe felt "abandoned" and this triggered him. His anxiety kicked in and he began tearing up things in our home because the one person he really took too the most was now gone 95% of the time.
In a lot of ways, we are like Roscoe when triggered. If someone does something to you that reminds you of your past you may react and begin to "tear up things in your home". If they say a word or do something that reminded you negatively of an ex you're now treating this person as though they are that ex and most of the time they didn't even know what they did that could have caused the reaction they received. If you also are not aware of what you did, how can it ever change? The only way you can change this is through self awareness, which I'll cover in next weeks blog but for today let's just touch on it. If you don't know yourself how will you ever grow? The best way to discover your triggers is to think about times you were angry or upset recently, write them down and your associated reaction. This is your self discovery moment to how it made you feel overall.
Once you begin to discover your "why's" you need to ask yourself did it remind you of something from your past and next is the hard part, you've got to now make a conscious effort to control your emotions as you don't want to continue repeating cycles. You're inevitably going to be put in that situation again, what you do next time is where your "work" comes in. You don't want to live your life controlled by "triggers" or controlled by your emotions, you have to actively become aware of when you feel a shift in your emotions and change your response. You may even have to tell your significant other or whomever it was that triggered you that you need a moment, basically your cooling off period. This will allow you to work through your process of redirecting your responses.
Lastly, don't beat yourself up. Holding yourself accountable does not mean to do harm to yourself by being overly critical. We are all human and it's natural for us to feel things as we grow. However, it's pretty counterproductive to use your newly found self awareness to criticize yourself over and over. Instead acknowledge the emotion, forgive yourself and make a pledge to do better. Your goal is to make sure that if and when you're presented with the situation again the only thing you need to do next is use your tools so that you may move forward in a healthy way. My final point I will make here however is that if you have a person you're in a relationship with that is constantly triggering you, this may be another situation. You have to be sure they are not keeping you from your progression because of their own lack of self work and awareness. You have got to remember that while working on yourself to grow and do better, this may also include eliminating factors that hold you back as well, but that is a topic for another time. Your goal now is growth and doing your work on you for you.