Disarming the triggers

If you’ve read the previous page about the mechanism of triggering, you’ll know that I emphasized the unconscious and automatic nature of the triggering process. This is so fast, so unexpected and so distant in its origins that it is hidden even from ourselves. The first step in defusing the bomb, then, is to bring the light of awareness to our experience, and to do that with our conscious minds, which are much slower than our unconscious, we need to slow it right down. Try to notice exactly what happens when you are triggered, and don’t just brush it all back under the carpet after the incident. Of course it’s much easier and possibly safer if you can process your triggers in a workshop situation, or with a loving and understanding partner who is able to trigger you with getting seriously triggered himself. It’s a great help if someone you trust can observe you and remind you of what happened. And that’s not always available, but it need not stop you gathering awareness when the triggering happens messily anyway.

Fighting with yourself not to be triggered just makes you more tense and the explosion worse when it does go off. Instead, I suggest you allow yourself to be triggered more easily! Let yourself be annoyed, frustrated, upset, not just when something really disastrous happens but at the slightest provocation. Allowing yourself to be slightly annoyed will prevent you becoming raging angry, both by releasing pressure and giving you chance to observe yourself before you totally lose control of your behaviour. As soon as you can, allow your feelings to arise before they are even so big that they have to be expressed. This makes the problem manageable so that you get to work on it. You can mop up a dripping tap as you go along but you cannot staunch a full-scale flood.

At the same time as allowing yourself to feel, become aware of what you are feeling. You need both the emotions and the awareness. Start observing yourself in detail as you go through the day. You will forget, you will be triggered again and you will explode or fall into a pit of despair or self-loathing or whatever your particular thing is. It may be all over before you remember you were supposed to be observing yourself. It’s OK, there will soon be another occasion, especially now you have set the intention to take the lid off this jar! Also, many different situations and people may call into action the same internal triggers. It becomes clearer and clearer that the problem is not ‘the other people’, it’s ourselves. Even if, yes, they have their own issues too; but the issue we can do something about is our own one. Next time, it will be easier to climb out or even to walk around the hole you’ve fallen into, but don’t stop at that. Take a good look at that hole while you have the chance. Observe yourself dispassionately. See your pain for what it is: a cry for attention from a part of yourself that was not heard before, that was neglected for years maybe.

So, when you can remember what the external trigger was, start trying to form an abstract picture of it and thus identify the internal trigger. For example, suppose I was triggered by my girlfriend sitting watching TV while I was struggling to bring in the shopping in the rain. The abstract version of this, the general pattern, might be: “I was triggered by not getting support when I was longing for it”. Identify the need, in other words, and make sure you are getting that met in other ways – in this case the need was support, so I would want to stop expecting my girlfriend to be my main source of support and put systems in place to support myself. Of course that could include making an agreement with the girlfriend around who does the shopping and when, etc, but it’s important to remember that the trigger was not about the shopping! 

This preparatory work may take hours or months, depending on your situation and energy levels. Be patient with yourself and chip away at it whenever you can. As you gradually change the focus like this, you will free up more energy to tackle the root of the problem, which is the core belief. What do you say to yourself, what story do you tell yourself when you don’t get that support you want? Is it that other people don’t care about you? Or that it’s not fair that you have to do everything yourself? Or maybe that you’re somehow incompetent or useless because you can’t manage without help? These are all examples of core beliefs which might be related to this kind of situation, though you will need to track the details of your own personal psychodrama, even if your case sounds similar. Detriggering ultimately means transforming your negative core beliefs into positive alternative beliefs.  Changing core beliefs is quite an intensive process, but once you do it, the trigger is disarmed, as the internal mechanism it connected to has been replaced. Instead of seeing my girlfriend ‘ignoring my wish for support’, I now see a tired person who simply needs to rest at this moment in time!