How Our Emotional Triggers Can Actually Be Great Gifts

“Be grateful for triggers, they point to where you are not free.” ~Unknown

Your triggers are your responsibility. I know, it doesn’t land so nicely, does it? But it’s the truth. The moment you truly understand this, you let others off the hook and you’re able to actually see triggers as gifts pointing to where you’re not whole.

I’ve heard this many times before and felt like retorting with, “But, he/she/they did….” Just because your triggers are your responsibility doesn’t mean that others won’t do hurtful or infuriating things. It just means the only thing you can control is your side of the street. EVER. That’s it.

Recently, I was out of town and my husband stayed home with our two younger children. I was at my oldest daughter’s softball game when he texted pictures of sushi and asked me to guess where they were. I could tell right away. It was a restaurant near our old house that we used to go often that had shut down during the pandemic.

I found myself so triggered by the mere memory of it that I responded with, “I remember THAT place quite well.”

That’s the place we ran into someone my husband knew. Someone I would eventually dislike, maybe even momentarily hate. Someone who years after this innocent run-in would, along with my husband, participate in causing me great hurt.

It stung, the blindness of it all, the complete disregard for my feelings just as if it had happened yesterday and not close to a decade ago. Interesting how this was the image in my mind’s eye and not the dozens of other times we enjoyed sushi as a family.

My husband then proceeded to tell me they had reopened and the kids were enjoying themselves. Well, here I was, triggered, feeling this anger rising from my gut and moving into my heart, and they were stuffing their faces with sushi. How nice. I wondered if he even knew, if he had picked up on that sly remark. Did he even remember? Could he sense the change of energy from afar?

Normally, when I’m triggered, I will lash out, say something snarky, and maybe say or do something that would only lead to a fight. He would absolutely know I was triggered, and I would graciously remind him it was hisfault.

This time, I walked myself off the ledge, reminded myself that my trigger is my responsibility, took a breath, and made a mental note to dig in at a later time. For the time being I would sit and watch softball and shove this firecracker of a trigger to the side. It seems silly that a sushi restaurant could trigger so much underlying anger, but let me tell you, it did.

The following day I took the four-hour drive home. I had two teenagers in the car with ear pods in their ears and their faces glued to their phones. This was the perfect time to dig in, as there was nothing but road ahead of me and time to kill.

I started a mental conversation with myself about this trigger, the same process I would undertake with a client in this same predicament. What about this place was so triggering?

The memory of being in the restaurant and running into this person flashed in my mind’s eye. There was a back and forth of questions and answers, like a ping pong match happening inside of my head. The mind asking away and the answers rising up from below.

I peeled layer after layer, until I found myself at the bottom of the dark well, the root of it all, “It’s my fault. It’s my fault I trusted someone enough to hurt me.”

There it was, this decades old root that had enough charge to take down an entire city, enough charge to strike back and hurt someone deeply when provoked. The present moment so tightly wound in a much deeper, far more ancient wound.

Aah, it was never about the sushi, never about what anyone else did or didn’t do; it was only ever about me. It was only ever about this false belief that was wrapped in responsibility and armored with guilt and shame. The map is absolutely not the territory.

Tears streamed down my face. I tried to hide them behind my sunglasses and keep my composure in the silence of the car. I grabbed from the stack of Chipotle napkins in the center console (I know I’m not the only one), dabbed my face, and blotted my nostrils.

The tears kept coming; they were the release of trapped emotion and relief. They were the realization of the amount of ownership and responsibility for the actions of others that I had decided to take so long ago in order to self-protect.

When someone’s actions hurt me in either benign or malignant ways, I blamed myself for not having armored up enough to prevent the “attack” from happening in the first place. I should have known and done better, but I hadn’t and, hence the trigger, the subconscious reminder of the pain and shame. It’s unrealistic; there’s no amount of armor one can wear to prevent themselves from ever getting hurt by someone else.

Our triggers are our responsibility. They point to where we are not whole, where we are wounded, and if we have the courage to unravel them, we find liberation. Our liberation. We find the truth beyond the story or the incident.

It’s not easy to let others off the hook. It’s not easy to turn the tables on ourselves, to ask what is this bringing up in me? What belief lies buried deep in the unconscious yet, ultimately, has immense control in my life? Oftentimes, it something painful we’ve kept ourselves from looking at—something we, more than likely, have no consciousness around.

Triggers are a gift only if you have the courage to unravel the tight hold they have on you, only if you choose to uproot the belief that holds the charge. Awareness is everything.

What I now know is that if I ever hear this restaurant mentioned or brought up again, I won’t be triggered in the same way I was that day on the softball field. The charge will have dissipated. I would know that I am only ever responsible for my circus and my monkeys, not the hurtful actions of others.

I am also aware this process isn’t a one and done. It may take continual reminders until the trigger ceases to carry any charge at all. Healing, after all, is a journey and a process.

So, next time you find yourself triggered, I invite you to stop, take a breath, and ask yourself a series of “why” questions followed by “because” statements to see if you can’t get to the root of it all, which is where you’ll find your gift.

About Rosalie Davis

Rosalie Davis is a transformational life coach, reiki master, and storyteller guiding clients to come home more fully to their true selves. She helps them unearth the beliefs, stories, habits, and patterns keeping them from living life consciously and in alignment with their most authentic selves, moving them toward empowered choice. She also facilitates women’s circles aimed at creating community, connection, and sisterhood. She works 1:1, in groups, in-person and virtually. rosaliedavis.com / Instagram / Facebook.

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