Emotional triggers: a journey back in time
Updated: Sep 8, 2019
What does it mean to be triggered?
Someone says something that pushes a button, which sends us into a response of fear, anger or grief.
Michael Brown says that people are sent into our lives to mirror to us the unresolved emotions that need our attention. He says that these triggering situations are a set-up, created by our souls, and they have the purpose to highlight these unintegrated emotions, so that we can learn and grow from these experiences.
The people who trigger us are only the messengers, and they are only there to show us what needs love within ourselves.
We can blame people for what they have said or done to us, but if these people are messengers, then blaming them essentially means shooting the messenger.
This is futile, because life will continue to send us messengers for the same lesson that we need to learn.
"When you learn the lesson, the lesson will stop showing up." - Unknown
I'll give you an example: in my first job, I had an awful boss. That person was a bully and was belittling me quite often. That triggered me massively and I'd often hide in the bathroom crying because of some thing that she said or done.
I left that job.
And guess what: in my next job, I had a fantastic boss, but the structure of the team quickly changed and I started reporting to.... you guessed it, a new bully who was belittling me.
This pattern happened for me a few times and I was wondering why I keep "finding" these people.
It was only many years later that I realised I have an old emotional wound related to authority and being bullied/belittled. It was only then when I allowed myself to look at this old wound. People will belittle you if you don't know your worth. I didn't know my worth.
We must not confuse learning the lesson with pardoning the messenger. If people cause us harm, abuse or betray us, that doesn't mean that we must continue to expose ourselves to the harmful behaviour.
Don't fall into a trap of thinking like this: "Ohhh I see, so people who trigger me are just the messenger of my own crap; if I had my shit together, the lesson would stop showing up, therefore if I heal my emotions then this person will stop abusing me."
NO. It doesn't work that way. We must clearly separate these two things. While it's true that the messages are important to show us our old emotional wounds, if a person is causing us harm, then we have the right - in fact the duty towards ourselves - to say "This isn't working for me. Goodbye."
Feeling triggered is a journey back in time.
A journey to that first moment in our lives when we felt that exact emotion we are feeling now. By feeling the emotion in our childhood, we imprinted it in our brain, and by repeating that emotion over and over in the course of our lives, it has become automatic.
That child (you) who felt that emotion for the first time, did so based on the limited information they had at that time. We learn to feel emotions through the lens of our parents or adults in our lives who, in turn, carry their own unintegrated emotions.
This is how intergenerational baggage gets passed on.
As children, behaving authentically and expressing all our emotions was not safe.
We had to feel what we were taught. And if we didn't feel it, we learned that we had to fake it, in order to preserve harmony, safety and security, to avoid drama and ultimately - being abandoned.
So how do we heal ourselves of our triggers? And how do we "get the message" that we're being invited to learn?
Pointing the finger at the messenger and feeling entitled to be triggered will only perpetuate the drama. Instead, connect with that young part of ourselves who is triggered.
Remember and visualise yourself in your childhood, when you felt that same emotion. That child who is scared and needs a parent to show them love and to make them feel safe. But it may not be realistic (or even possible) now to call your mother and say "mum, this person triggered me at work, can you love and protect me?"
The good news is that while our parents may not have always been there for us (or haven't been there in the way we wanted them to) we do in fact have a parent. Our inner child's parent is always there for us.
Your inner child's parent is you.
Through this realisation, you can start to look at every memory and emotion where perhaps you didn't have the support you needed.
Meet your inner child as the parent you needed.
Have a conversation with your inner child and ask them what they need. The answer might come right away, or it might appear after days, or weeks. The key is not in the answer, but in asking the question. Almost always, our inner child needs to feel safe and loved. So even if we don't know precisely what our inner child needs right now, simply by giving them attention and asking the question, we are showing love and nurturing care towards them.
It's never too late to go back in time and rewrite your childhood.
The more you make this a regular practice, the easier you will connect with your inner child. With love and compassion, we nurture our relationship with our inner child, and over time, we can quite literally rewrite history. By making a commitment to our inner child to always be there for them and love them unconditionally, we can begin to transform those memories when we felt unloved and unsafe.
So the next time you feel triggered, before reacting to the situation with fear, anger or grief, wherever possible take some time to connect with that early emotion and support your inner child through it, as a loving and nurturing parent to yourself.
You may still decide afterwards that the person who triggered you (the messenger) no longer serves your growth.
Know that it's okay to walk away from situations that don't serve your growth. And when these situations also involve abuse, it's not just okay - but also mandatory.
When we make a commitment to be there for our inner child, we must talk the talk and walk the walk. We can't promise our inner child to keep them safe, yet constantly expose ourselves to abusive situations. The parent and the adult in us must make those decisions that we need for our inner child to feel supported and safe.
This starts with getting clear on our boundaries, communicating them effectively, and knowing when it's necessary - for our own safety and well-being - to walk away.
Can you recall the last time you were triggered? Can you connect the dots back to when you first felt that emotion back in your childhood, and offer your inner child what it needed from a parent back then?
I work with emotionally intelligent, self-aware people who want to heal their inner critic. If my work resonates with you, get in touch for a free, no commitment consultation session.