What If Your Triggers Were An Ally, Not A Problem To Fix?
By Marshall Burtcher.
Triggers, activations, emotional hijacks – these are terms that bring up a lot of shame, fear, frustration, and panic for many survivors of abuse and neglect.
For me, they brought up intense shame and a sense of being damaged, broken, or flawed in some intrinsic way.
Being triggered was met with anger, judgment, correction, and punishment by others. I was “immature” or “acting out and should get it together”.
This kind of treatment and feedback came from peers, partners, friends, family, and even therapists.
No wonder I felt intense shame and fear of my triggers.
This began to shift about 10 years ago when I started a committed practice to gently, warmly receiving all my triggers. This was not a simple task at the time. I was in the middle of a total collapse of my life with my marriage ending, financial bankruptcy, and having extracted myself from the toxic religious cult I was raised in.
My triggers and activations were plenty, often causing a temporary sense of arrest and paralysis emotionally and physically. This would be followed up with weeks of shame spirals and self-loathing.
I was desperate for a change in how I felt about myself and about my life. I took a radical leap and committed to learning love for myself regardless of my circumstance or what I felt to see what would change.
This is where triggers became a guide back to myself. They began to teach me about my needs, the boundaries I needed, the fears I had, and the wants and desires shrouded in those fears.
And I began to experience what I had been needing the whole time: a sense of being valued and cared about.
You see, triggers, activations, and emotional hijacks are actually the voices of inward parts of ourselves (I call the Aspects of Self). They speak through the pain and distress they are carrying, hoping to warn us of an impending danger (real or perceived).
This happens because the brain detects something similar to a past threatening situation and then reacts as though it is real right now.
When this really clicked, I started to comprehend that triggers were never the enemy, the problem, or a flaw expressing itself in me. It was actually a brilliant survival response showing up trying to protect me.
I find that this is universally the same for each of us.
Triggers speak for the trapped parts of ourselves that are reliving a terror in the past.
They give us moments to lean in, acknowledge, and legitimize our past lived reality.
They invite us to add sanity to our reality through our listening and validation of what is there.
And as we love and care for them through warmth, curiosity, and inquiry, their trapped energy begins to cycle into completion bit by bit.
They’re not signals that something is wrong with us or that we’re crazy.
They’re the voice of unprocessed, unacknowledged, unmet parts of ourselves.
Meet them. Care for them. Love them. And the terror they carry will ease.
The first step you can take in this process is to acknowledge how triggers feel for you. It is normal and ok to not like them, to want to avoid them, and to try to fix or change things so they don’t happen.
Acknowledging this empowers you to meet yourself where you’re at right now with care and kindness. These feelings don’t need to be changed. They need to be warmly received. Here’s how I do that with myself and my students:
“I see you. I thank you for being here and sharing this with me. You matter to me. Your fear and pain and resistance are all accepted here.”
This was one of the first responses I used towards my triggers and my feelings about those triggers. I didn’t feel the warmth and care at first, but as I persisted, it came. First in short, brief moments, and then longer and longer in duration.
It became especially strong when I decided to believe my own words and trust them a bit.
My friends, it is ok to acknowledge how hard this work is and what it takes. You’re doing daring work, courageous work, and you are not alone. I and my community are here to support you.
Go gently and I’ll see you in our next article.
By Marshall Burtcher, Codependency Healing Expert. Codependency is how you survived. Now it is your turn to thrive. Start today my free workshop here: https://workshop.freetheself.com