How to disarm a trigger

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 the process right down.

Fighting with yourself not to be triggered just makes you more tense and the explosion worse when it does go off. Instead, allow yourself to be triggered more easily! Allow yourself to 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 the plot. 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’s OK. Climb back out and take a good look so you don’t fall into the same hole. Next day it will be easier to walk around the hole, but don’t stop at that. 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.

Of course it’s very much 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, and it need not stop you gathering awareness when it happens messily anyway.

The first time you try this 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 resolved to take the lid off this jar! Also, many different situations and people will call into action the same internal triggers.

So, when you can remember what the external trigger was, start trying to form an abstract picture of it and so identify the internal trigger. For example, I was triggered by my girlfriend sitting watching TV while I was struggling to bring the shopping in in the rain > I was triggered by not getting support when I was longing for it. Identify the need and make sure you are getting that met in other ways – in this case the need was support, so stop expecting your girlfriend to be your main source of support.

Changing this habit will free up some 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 example of core beliefs which might be related to this kind of situation, though you will need to track the details yourself for each case.