What can we do when we find ourselves emotionally triggered? It’s kind of the bazillion dollar question isn’t it?
I am going to answer this question, posed by three of our wonderful readers in today’s post. (And hopefully win that bazillion dollars – payable in the currency of greater inner peace – which we can all then use to chill around poolside in The Happy Dream.)
“My biggest obstacle is being triggered. I’ll be doing great and feeling complete joy and happiness in the thought system of love… and then when I hear specific words from my loved one, my deepest fear is triggered and I lose my peace… I’m not sure what the best practice is to release these fears, so I can be free of them. Any suggestions?”
And from an anonymous reader:
“My question involves the 3 Biggies: Fear, Guilt, and Anger – and they are quite a challenge when in the middle of a situation where one or all three are triggered. Dealing with a health challenge, for example. Recently I had minor surgery, and a not-so-nice side effect occurred and I had to be hospitalized. That was the last thing I wanted to have happen, and Fear, Anger, and Guilt, hello. I am responsible, BUT I truly don’t want this situation, NOT at all. I have learned to not resist – as that makes the situation more real – and to just look at it as passing, as an effect that will be replaced by an overdue “happy dream”. So, how to empower myself so I am not triggered by these strong emotions? …the challenge is when in the middle of them, not to let them overtake me – and just maintain the true reality and not the appearance.”
And from another anonymous reader:
“Could you do a talk on ‘being triggered’? I don’t like it when I am ‘shushed’, even when I clearly haven’t listened and was interrupting.”
First, I want to remind us all that we are spirit, having a seemingly human experience. Emotions are part of the human jam. So, you aren’t bad for having an emotional reaction, and it does not mean you are getting an F in A Course in Miracles.
But, it can certainly be sabotaging to ourselves to have extreme emotional reactions, particularly because they often result in our projecting said emotions onto another person, aka energetically punching them and ourselves in the face and then having to explain to everyone how we gave ourselves those two black eyes.
What can we do about it?
How can we help ourselves not to go off the deep end when we are emotionally triggered?
I looked up “trigger” in the dictionary and found these definitions:
- “Something that causes someone to feel upset and frightened because they are made to remember something bad that happened in the past.”
- “A trigger is something that sets off a flashback, transporting the person back to the traumatic event.”
- “The part of a bomb that causes it to explode.”
- “To fire or explode.”
- And my fave – “The projection that actuates the mechanism that discharges the weapon.”
True that. These definitions address two different meanings of the word trigger, and yet they are all completely accurate and applicable to what we seem to experience.
I am a psychotherapist, and one of the conditions I treat is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. In the world of form, this is a severe anxiety reaction that happens to some people as a result of either experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or violent event. Symptoms include having intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to the experience, such as fear, anger, sadness, guilt, and shame. There are often distorted beliefs about one’s self or others, such as “I am bad” or “I can’t trust anyone”. Hypervigilance – a sense that danger is everywhere, and one has to be constantly on guard or on the defensive – is common. As is feeling detached, estranged, or isolated from other people. Those with PTSD often relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares. They often avoid situations, places, and people that remind them of the trauma, and experience strong negative reactions to triggers.
Gee, is this sounding kind of familiar?
That’s because any traumatic event that appears to happen in this world is actually a flashback to the biggest trauma we, in our one mind, have ever seemingly experienced: our separation from our Creator. In that sense, we ALL have PTSD, except I think of it as us having Post Traumatic Separation Disorder.
The most effective treatments for PTSD are those that teach you how to gain control by facing your negative feelings. They involve processing by talking about the emotions associated with the trauma and working toward “exposure” – doing some of the things you have avoided since the trauma occurred. Some treatments focus on teaching you to recognize the thought patterns that keep you stuck, and help you to reframe negative thoughts about the trauma, and to reality-test the thoughts you do have for accuracy and rationality. Other treatments identify the negative beliefs you have formed about yourself as a result of the trauma – i.e. “I’m not safe” or “I am guilty”, and help you to reprocess the event in such a way that you replace the negative belief with a positive truth.
Ummm… yep – check, check, check, check.
Duh. OF COURSE this is the treatment plan that is required for us, prescribed by the Greatest Physician of the Mind Ever and written on His Rx pad in the form of A Course in Miracles. After our traumatic experience of the seeming separation from God, where our awareness went from constant, all-encompassing, changeless, timeless, sparkling, blissed-out, joyful, swaying-to-the-music-of-the-spheres LOVE, to…
Feeling FEAR – separated, alone, abandoned, afraid, unlovable, and – because we thought we did it to ourselves – wracked with guilt that we ruined our lives for all eternity and it was ALL OUR FAULT.
That is what we in the psychology field refer to as Big T trauma.
Even though the separation never occurred, and we in reality are all still at home with God in that ongoing state of ecstatic, mind-blowing, orgiastic, yummy awesomeness of always, that is out of our awareness. Kind of like a person with PTSD could be sitting on a beautiful, tranquil tropical beach –light-years away from the perceived danger of the original trauma – but can be triggered in a nano-second as they are transported in their minds via flashback to a violent “reality” and no longer aware of the beach at all.
That is exactly what did happen to us at the time of the perceived separation, and what happens to us again when we become emotionally triggered in this world. We are sucked unceremoniously out of, as Julie said, “doing great and feeling complete joy and happiness in the thought system of love…”
Into the Pit of Despair.
So for you, beautiful Julie, and our two other amazing readers, and everyone else who finds themselves being emotionally triggered, here is the process that has been very helpful and effective for me.
Simple 5 Step Process To Help You When You Are Emotionally Triggered
As soon as you are able to be conscious of the fact that you are having an emotional reaction, put some space between yourself and other people.
Excuse yourself for a moment, go to the bathroom, go outside, say you have to run upstairs or walk the dog or get something from your car. If you are in a car with others, get quiet and proceed with the next step.
Start deep breathing, taking one slow, deep breath after another for as long as possible. Focus only on breathing deeply. Do not talk, just breathe.
Acknowledge to yourself the fact that you are having an emotionally triggered reaction. Put your hand on your heart, and see yourself from the you that is the observer, as in,
“Wow, you got REALLY pissed off about that. Just see the power of your reaction. Look at how you went from 0 to 60 so fast. Feel how hard your heart is beating. I wonder why such a strong response?”
As you calm down, you will eventually be able to say,
“This is not real. This is just my projection.”
Ask Spirit to help you to see the situation differently.
In your mind, say to the triggering individual or situation,
“I forgive you, because I remember these is nothing to forgive. You are spirit, pure, whole, and innocent. All is forgiven and released. I am spirit, pure, whole, and innocent. All is forgiven and released.”
Sometimes it is helpful, calming, and soothing to say that statement over and over, like a mantra.
SPACE. BREATHE. OBSERVE. ASK. FORGIVE.
Do this even if you don’t believe it – even if you are saying it with teeth clenched and eyes and fingers crossed. You are building musculature. Even if it doesn’t feel like it. It’s better to say it and not mean it than to not say it and not mean it. Giving attention, energy, and voice to that forgiveness prayer will eventually lead to strengthening you, because the act of repeating it will, over time, lead to meaning it as you keep experiencing the positive effects of forgiving.
Engaging in this process when I have been emotionally triggered has helped me immensely. I know I have circumvented fights and arguments, refrained from saying things I would later have regretted, and definitely dodged the bullet of sabotaging my relationships and therefore myself, and probably headed off jail time and/or community service. The whole point to doing this is for the purpose of avoiding an immediate attack on another person, for which you will then suffer and eventually feel guilt and shame and punish yourself for, and have to start the whole projection cycle over again.
A Course in Miracles states,
“If you accept the remedy for a thought disorder, and a remedy whose efficacy is beyond doubt, how can its symptoms remain? You have reason to question the validity of symptom cure. But no one believes that the symptoms can remain if the underlying cause is removed. The continuing will to remain separated is the only possible reason for continuing guilt.”
The forgiveness part of this process is the activating agent. The rest is just to get yourself there with all of your limbs intact and – I mean this in the kindest sense – not doing anything stupid on the way. Yet it is very common to resist the forgiveness aspect or skip it altogether. Why? Because in that moment we want to be mad, we want to hold on to our anger, and we think that forgiving the other person will let them off the hook (which it will) and they don’t deserve it (except that they do). We think they need to know how upset we are and why (they don’t). We believe that they need to be punished, or feel shame and remorse – or the guilt trifecta of all three (they don’t) and that it is our right and possibly our duty to make that happen (it isn’t).
Except that there is no “they”. They is you. They is me. They is us as the perceiver, who believes that things outside of our minds are really happening.
A Course in Miracles reminds us:
“Turning the other cheek does not mean that you should submit to violence without protest. It means that you cannot be hurt, and do not want to show your brother anything except your wholeness. Show him he cannot hurt you, and hold nothing against him, or you hold it against yourself.”
We are not doing this process for the other person. We never are. We are doing it for ourselves. Because it is impossible to feel a negative emotion toward another and not equally feel it toward yourself. You are doing this in order for you yourself to not have to be punished, or feel remorse. So that what you end up projecting onto another person is your own innocence, which brings you to the truth of seeing them, and therefore you, as you really are.
As The Course reminds us,
“How can you who are so holy suffer? All your past except its beauty is gone, and nothing is left but a blessing.”
YOU are the beauty, and the blessing. As you offer it to your brother, you will see it in yourself. As you see in him the light of the world, you behold it reflected in your own heart.
I hope this post has served to shed some light on why we have the emotionally triggered reactions that we do, and offered you a tool that feels light enough to carry with you, and substantial enough to bust out and wield in the moment when you need it to be your ally.
Question: Are you ready to apply this process the next time you feel emotionally triggered? I would love to hear your thoughts, so please leave me a comment I promise to read every one. You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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I love you.
Rev Kelly Russell
Spiritual Life Coach, Psychotherapist,
& Teacher of A Course in Miracles