“Everything you do is triggered by either desire or fear.” – Brian Tracey
In life we are all triggered. Triggers are far more complex than I have space in this article to go into, but in line with my coaching practice I seek to boil concepts down to their bare essentials. In my experience the sequence of events within us is: trigger -> (stress) response -> fear -> validating experiences from the past -> Original Sensitising Event (OSE). The OSE is where we experienced the fear in that form the very first time, it was then created as a defence mechanism and was there to support us. However, it was never supposed to get stuck within us, but, nevertheless, it does. Why does it get stuck within us? In my experience, we hold on to these “defences” because we think they help us, but we make a blanket choice for all fear driven emotions; we suppress them and cling to them. This then causes us to bring back the emotion, time and time again as we have experiences that trigger that defence mechanism/fear to protect us. Our response then is from the aspect of the emotion and the prevailing thought process triggering a stress response, causing us to act out of alignement with our authenticity. To use a Rogerian term; we are incongruent (Carl Rogers, 1902 – 1987). We act from the external locus of evaluation of ourselves, i.e. we look to the outside for a cause of our state of being from the point of how others view us. As we explore the process further, understanding the difference between feelings and emotions are important:
Feeling: “1. a self-contained phenomenal experience. Feelings are subjective, evaluative, and independent of the sensations, thoughts, or images evoking them. They are inevitably evaluated as pleasant or unpleasant, but they can have more specific intrapsychic qualities, so that, for example, the affective tone of fear is experienced as different from that of anger. The core characteristic that differentiates feelings from cognitive, sensory, or perceptual intrapsychic experiences is the link of affect to appraisal. Feelings differ from emotions in being purely mental, whereas emotions are designed to engage with the world.
2. any experienced sensation, particularly a tactile or temperature sensation (e.g., pain, coldness).”
Emotion: “n. a complex reaction pattern, involving experiential, behavioral, and physiological elements, by which an individual attempts to deal with a personally significant matter or event. The specific quality of the emotion (e.g., fear, shame) is determined by the specific significance of the event. For example, if the significance involves threat, fear is likely to be generated; if the significance involves disapproval from another, shame is likely to be generated. Emotion typically involves feeling but differs from feeling in having an overt or implicit engagement with the world. —emotional adj.”
In terms of the thought then, it precedes the feeling, but follows the emotion. This is a very important distinction since we can only control three things; our thoughts, our words, and our actions. Also, external triggers usually activate an emotion that then gives rise to the thought process that perpetuates the trigger response. Internal triggers usually activate our feelings that then triggers the emotional response. By this way of reasoning, we can use the control of our thought process to direct our feelings and emotions. But, how do we control our thoughts when we are embroiled in an emotional upheaval generated from a trigger? Below are a few tools to get started with.
In order to not become embroiled in your emotions as you are triggered, you can observe your experiences from a different perspective within yourself and practice to not engage with the emotion as it comes up. Rather acknowledge it and allow it free passage. As you observe it, allow it to reveal itself to you; colour, shape, texture, taste, smell, labels, etc. When you move through this process the emotion is given free passage to disperse out of your body, which is its desire. It is we, oursleves, who prevent the emotion from escaping becasue we hold on to and suppress it with our perpetuating thoughts. The more you release the less triggered you will feel.
When you observe your emotions, you can then direct your thoughts relating to that emotion, allowing your the feelings you generate to be more in alignment with your authenticity and desires.
Your emotions are your body’s way of communicating with you aspects of you that need attention. If you make friends with your emotional body and allow these emotions to do their job and release them, you will find that they are not nearly as painful as we have been condition to believe, they actually make you feel alive. Other results are that you improve your emotional intellience, you become more intuitive, you become more sensitive and compassionate to others, etc.
“Don’t waste a good trigger”, it sounds a bit contradictory and flippant, I am aware, but it becomes such a good reminder. We can spend many hours in therapy and meditation without realising our emotions, but one trigger can reveal a multitude of fears that, in turn, reveal their OSE’s. In my experience, once you are aware of the OSE, you can begin working on it and healing the experience by reframing it and realising the lesson and gift, i.e. rewrite the victim narrative to a heroe’s story.
With the conditioning of drawing from our external locus of evaluation, we persist in seeing our experiences as lessons about our external world. The problem is that the external environment and it’s props (people, places, etc.) are impermanent and ever changing, so our lessons become obsolete as soon as the experience has passed. It is when we realise that the constant is ourselves in every experience in our lives and we start moving our point of evaluation inwards and learning about ourselves in relation to our external experiences, that we can start evolving and healing. Once our core wounds are healed there is nothing left to trigger us, we have fully self-actualised.