How To Release Triggers and Past Pain
‘I’m sorry’ sounds pretty harmless, right?! But ‘sorry’ is a trigger for me.
I’ve never known why I hate (loathe!!!) sorry’s until this last week when I realized why it’s such a trigger.
I was having a conversation with a family member and the person became rude and controlling. The conversation was cut short. I literally thought to myself, here comes the ‘sorry’ text in 3…2…1. And to my dismay, I was right. Because it’s a pattern of behavior I grew up with.
Now, really, what makes this person repeatedly behave like this, then in just a period of 2-3 minutes, realize they were wrong? A book could be written about that, but I do know when I hear, sorry, the hairs on my back, bristle.
‘Sorry’, for me, was a worthless word in my childhood. It was used and abused as a dysfunctional replacement for someone lacking self-control, doing/saying what they want and being sorry later.
It’s led to creating my new term: “Shit and sorry”, because we know better than to shit on someone, literally of course, but figuratively too.
When people just dump on you or “shit” on you with their bad behavior, rudeness, or hurtful words, then they’re shitting on you. They lack basic self-control with you. They know it’s not right, or good, or useful, and still they do it, using sorry as their ticket out. They feel better, but you don’t so its what I call a, “shit and sorry”.
You wouldn’t let anyone shit on you literally and if they did, then apologized, that hardly cleans up the mess, so why let them shit on you in other ways?
If we get purposeful about our personal growth journey, we will eventually see patterns in our own behavior and others’.
The good news is, thoughts, words, actions, and behavior are usually wrapped up and packaged in patterns so we can more easily identify them and plan.
Look for the pattern in what triggers you. Look for patterns in relationships. Patterns leave clues!
It’s not every sorry that triggers me. It’s the repetitive sorry’s with no change in behavior that get my goat. After all, the best apology is a change in behavior.
Tragically, when someone doesn’t change, we take it personally or as a reflection of own our worth. I don’t need to tell you twice that this simply isn’t true. It’s a reflection of that person, but if we allow it to continue, we have to consider our responsibility to ourselves- we teach people how to treat us and that begins with noticing and addressing patterns.
When someone’s bad behavior or hurtful words are repetitive, even predictable patterns, and they usually are, you have a chance to plan- rehearse ahead of time what you will do next time (perhaps differently) or reflect afterwards and see what you can do to release the trigger/hurt.
The next day after this conversation with a family member, I journaled on this trigger then used a desensitization technique you can do too!
When we’re triggered, we’re suddenly whisked away on an emotionally charged journey back to childhood or to a time when we were likely much younger and/or in a position of having little to no power, freedom, or control. The idea is to give you back those things…
Wouldn’t it be nice to have some practices in place to empower you? The following is a checklist of things you can do/practice/reflect on.
1. Stress– First, when we’ve been triggered, it’s helpful to determine how much stress we’re managing or dealing with on a daily basis. If we’re overloaded and overwhelmed from daily stress, we’ll get triggered when the wind blows.
Sometimes, if we can better manage our stress levels then we can eliminate or reduce triggers.
Get to the bottom of what’s stressing you- for some people, I’ve noticed it’s daily stress from work, family, kids, chronic busy-ness. For others, it’s an accumulation of past pain they’ve shoved down, and it takes all their waking strength and energy to keep it at bay, but it turns out they’re ready to snap at the drop of a pin.
Managing stress makes life, in general, much easier.
2. Subconscious questions– You can ask yourself the following questions that access your subconscious and write down the answers.
- What happened that triggered you? How did you feel?
- What do you wish happened? How do you wish you felt?
- What will you do next time? How will you feel then?
These questions ultimately access subconscious solutions… from what happened (conscious state of mind) to what do you wish happened (subconscious state of mind using imagination) to what will you do next time (combo of conscious and subconscious- a solutions state of mind).
3. Wise Self (parts therapy)– Parts therapy is the concept that our personality is composed of various parts from our subconscious. For instance, if you always react emotionally to a certain trigger, you are only using the emotional self to cope with the troubling trigger.
To utilize more parts (AKA resources within you), I ask people to use 3 parts: 1. Emotional self 2. Intellectual self 3. Wise self or higher self.
You can do this a number of ways, but I’ll mention one here that is used in Gestalt therapy and IFS (Internal Family Systems).
Grab 3 cushions for the 3 selves I mentioned above- you can also just close your eyes and imagine this too. Sit on one cushion (emotional self), you can picture and imagine (imagination and imagery access the subconscious mind) your emotional self (mine is a mouse- you can analyze that 🙂 Now, become the image and list all the emotions you felt when you were triggered.
Switch to the second cushion, and become your intellectual and analytical self with an image (mine is Dr. Spock from the Starship Enterprise). This is where you can revisit the situation that triggered you (minus the emotions). Notice any patterns, note the facts.
On the third cushion, insert image (mine is Mr. Rogers) of your wise or higher self. The wise self represents perspective, intuition, insight, and maturity. It transcends fear and ego. Take a couple of deep breaths and ask wise self what you should do next. I can practically hear the calming voice of Mr. Rogers talking some sense into me.
Integrating your parts of self, helps you understand yourself better, change your internal dialogue, and help yourself feel calmer, safer, and freer.
4. Mindfulness– Mindfulness and meditation help give us that pause that can halt a trigger, especially when we know our triggers and patterns.
After a trigger has occurred, be an observer of the moment, and ask yourself if you are safe NOW. Right in the moment.
Determine what you can do right now to take care of yourself….and proceed accordingly.
The idea is to be present with yourself through a trigger rather than shove it down or get overly wound up about it.
5. Desensitization– This is a technique psychotherapists use to gradually reduce a fear or phobia for their patients. It’s also used in hypnotherapy for various crisis management.
In hypnosis, the client is taken through their day, step by step, leading up to various stressors or triggers. Once something is triggered, they raise one of their index fingers (using the finger is an ideomotor response, which is pre-determined before or at the beginning of the session) to represent the stressor/trigger.
Feel the stress…and gradually release it until your finger has lowered all the way back down. The control of feeling it, and releasing it, is all yours! This is repeated until you become desensitized to the feelings/emotions that cause triggers and also cause them to be exacerbated.
You can do this yourself by getting into a comfortable spot, undisturbed, taking a few deep breaths.
Bring up a triggering situation and the emotions attached to it. Imagine all that tension, anger, fear, sadness, etc. funneled into your index finger. Let it get stiff. Then see if you can gradually release some of that tension and emotion. Bringing it down from an 8 to a 4…gradually. Breathing and releasing. And if you stick with that emotion long enough, the subconscious gets bored and releases it so bring it up again and continue this process until you really have no need to lift and stiffen that finger.
It takes practice, but I’ve had sessions (with myself included) where people get emotional on the release and you KNOW that emotion/trauma/trigger is leaving the body and losing it’s effect.
Because emotions are the language of the body, you’re using the body to connect the subconscious with the emotion (in the index finger). It’s a beautiful process!
Past pain can rear it’s ugly head through triggers. That’s why it’s so important to use reparenting strategies if you’re dealing with pain from childhood.
When we were children we had no freedom, no control, no power so we were automatically in the position of being victims.
However, as adults we have freedom, control, and power so that we can begin to reparent by:
- Not doing what your parents did.
- Not putting yourself in situations that your parents did.
- Not repeating the words to yourself that your parents did. Find a new voice!
- Not responding like your parents did- now, when you hurt, respond to yourself with support and encouragement.
And eventually, you can restore your coping mechanisms and build new patterns!
Peace and Be Well,