A Happiness Journey


Today I would like to talk about Triggers. With everything going on in society at the moment we are being bombarded with Triggers.


We all know what it feels like when we are triggered; when someone pushes our buttons. These days they even put trigger alerts onto TV programs and podcasts. Essentially a trigger is a wound; it’s the kind of wound that doesn’t hurt until you touch it. But like a child holding his hand out to mum with the thorn stuck inside, it’s going to get poked, and when it does, it’s going to bloody hurt. The problem with triggers is that no one teaches us about them or what they are, so when someone says something to us, or we see or read something that causes us pain, we mistakenly believe that it is something on the outside of us that has caused us pain. For example, my co-worker (partner / parent / child / friend etc) has said something to me that has caused me to feel something very uncomfortable or caused me to feel irritation or anger, therefore they have caused me pain, they have caused my anger. The problem is that person on the outside of us, has not caused us to feel anything. They have inadvertently (and on occasion intentionally) touched upon a wound we have that was already there, long before they came along.


How Triggers are formed

We are born blank slates, true authentic little beings, but along the way, we acquire baggage. Whenever we feel shame as a child, for a quality, behaviour or physical trait we have, or we witness our caretakers shame others, we develop what’s called a Shadow. A part of our personality that we want to dissociate from because we deem it a risky quality to have for our safety in our tribe or society. This is also true of shameful events that happen that we did not consent to. These wounds, shadows, get buried deep down, so we can’t feel the pain of them again, but they’re still there. The worst of our shadows are formed in those formative years when we are so impressionable, but it continues into adulthood as we go through puberty and new relationships and jobs. An aspect of us is shamed for something, or we create our own shame around an aspect of ourselves, and this aspect is forced into the depths of our subconscious and becomes shadow, a wound.


Shame comes in all shapes and sizes. Even if we had the “perfect” childhood, shame can show up on the TV, radio, from our classmates and teachers. It could be the kid who called you a name because of the colour of your hair, or witnessing an adult berate themselves for putting on weight. It can be a general gender related shame that affects all of society like boys don’t cry, or girls should be polite and accommodating. The list goes on. It doesn’t need to be something massive like childhood abuse or trauma, shame can come from everywhere, as long as you perceived it as being something that was a threat to your place in society. Whenever shame attaches itself to something, shadow is created, and wherever there is shadow, there is perceived pain.


When we are judging others, or we feel triggered by others, it’s because they are representative of something we had to reject about ourselves and place into our shadow. Essentially, something in our past has created a wound, and it’s a wound, that until healed, needs to be protected, so it can’t be touched.


How we protect our ‘ouchies’

In one of my favourite books the author Michael Singer uses a metaphor of your wounds being like a thorn. Imagine you have a thorn stuck in your arm that is touching a nerve. As long as no one touches it it’s fine, but the minute it’s knocked, it’s agony. It makes your life very difficult because you can’t sleep in case you roll on it and you can’t get close to people in case they knock it. You have two options, you can either decide that as painful as it might be, you need to remove the thorn, or, you can continue to make sure nothing touches it. Since the thought of touching it is too disturbing for you, the only option you can see is to protect it so it doesn’t get jostled and bumped. To protect the thorn we build all these safety measures and structures around it to make sure no one can come close to it. It’s not ideal but at least you can sleep and walk around. It’s really awkward having this scaffolding around your thorn, but if you really put a lot of energy into it, you can pretend you have adequately solved your problem. But as you go through life you get more and more of these thorns, so your apparatus to keep them protected becomes more elaborate. As long as you keep other people away from your body you can just about manage. So now you’ve got your whole life built around these thorns and you’re proud of your ability to keep them from being bumped too often. The closer you get to people the more your thorns get accidentally bumped and the more pain is caused, so you get more creative with your methods of protecting the thorns. You don’t realise it but the elaborate apparatus you have formed is running your life. It turns out that protecting yourself from the problem becomes a perfect reflection of the problem itself. You actually feel that because you’ve minimized the pain of the problem, you’ve solved the problem, but it’s not solved, all you did was devote your life to avoiding it. It’s now the centre of your universe, it’s all there is.


These shadows come in a myriad of forms. It can be unworthiness, loneliness, unlovable, too much, not enough, too big, too small, too loud, too quiet, the list goes on. We can amass trauma from a bad relationship or a bad breakup that causes us to develop thorns that we take into the next relationship, or from a job where we were working with a boss who had too many thorns of their own. The problem is that we are all walking around like porcupines, covered in these thorns, big and small, and so it stands to reason that they will get bumped pretty often. When we’re in a close relationship with someone, or we meet someone new that doesn’t understand us in depth yet, then we get triggered even more often than usual. It would be tempting to say, he/she just doesn’t understand me, or they’re so insensitive, or they meant to hurt me when they said that, but the truth of the matter is that no one can make you feel anything. Only you can feel something, and what you feel comes from the pain and trauma that you carry buried away. When you squeeze an orange in your hand the juice comes out of the orange, it doesn’t come out of your hand. So when someone pisses you off, the anger is yours, it’s already there inside you. They didn’t give you the anger, you carried it with you.


Too many times we are triggered by things extraneous to us and the natural victim inside us wants to blame that other thing for causing us the pain. It’s so much easier to throw out blame than to take responsibility for our own stuff. Throwing out blame takes a hurtful second, sitting down with ourselves and trying to work out why that hurt when they poked it takes time, effort and discomfort.


But I put this to you. What if you could rid yourself of that shadow, that pesky thorn stuck in your body? What if you could take radical responsibility for all your stuff, and do the work to get rid of it? Imagine how amazing you would feel not to have the pain. Imagine how awesome it would be to have someone poke a sore spot of yours and to feel absolutely nothing. Imagine how much more fulfilling your life, job, relationships would be if it really was all water off a ducks back? It wouldn’t matter what had happened to you as a child or what was said to you growing up, no one could rain on your parade. You would go through life feeling whole and complete, deserving and worthy.


Looking into the mirror

When we are triggered by another person what is actually happening is that they are holding up a mirror to us. They are showing us the shadow that we have tried to extract ourselves from. So the trick to identifying your shadow is to look into the mirror. When someone says something that causes a negative response in you, instead of reacting, take a step back and think about it. Ask yourself, “why did that hurt”? Did what they say touch on my nerve of being unworthy? Did they dismiss something I place a lot of personal value in, therefore make me feel like I am not valuable? Did they make a disparaging remark about something that I personally carry some shame about? Did them talking about their weekend away with their family touch on my nerve of loneliness? The list is as infinite as we are!


What to do when we’ve discovered a shadow

Once you have examined which of your wounds the person is accidentally poking, then you can look at how to heal around that. Firstly, you don’t actually have to do anything if you don’t want to. Just noticing that it’s there will significantly reduce its sting. If you recognise that you have a certain shadow you will slowly become more aware of all of the times that people have potentially triggered you around that issue. Then you will become aware when anyone triggers it in the future. Having this awareness will mean that when it happens again you are less likely to react from a place of pain (which will often result in a fairly caustic exchange between two people) and more likely to be able to self sooth, knowing that they didn’t mean to hurt you, they just accidentally poked a shadow wound they didn’t know was there. This can go a long way to keep the love between you and the other person.


You don’t necessarily need to go back to the point in your life where the shadow was first formed although I have found this very helpful in certain instances.


You can choose to use techniques such as meditation, hypnotherapy, EMDR, talk therapy (all kinds of therapy) etc to go back into your subconscious to find where it came from if you choose to. The benefit of this method is you can then choose to use to re-program the emotion at its core level using all the techniques I’ve just mentioned. Or, you can just accept that it’s there and use techniques such as positive self-talk, positive affirmations and positive action-steps to weaken the shame and replace it with a positive emotion. All of the things I talked about in my Motivation blog around changing limiting beliefs work here.


Essentially, we’re not looking to cut away any parts of ourselves. Our shadows are part of us and deserve as much love as the rest of us. So whether you choose to do anything about it or not, it’s important to love all the parts of ourselves and try to integrate our shadow selves, not push them away with shame.


Remember, what a person says to you should never be taken personally. Their words say everything about themselves and nothing about you.



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