So… You’re Emotionally Triggered
Have you ever had one of those moments when something happens that triggers a powerful emotional response? We don’t always know the roots of these visceral reactions. And we don’t necessarily need to. But we do have to keep our heads.
I had one of those reactions the other evening. Understand, I’ve had years of training in managing my emotions. I meditate almost every day. And I still flipped into an instant fight or flight reflex. But I kept my head—that’s where all of the training really pays off.
I was at the dinner table with my family. We’d finished eating and my younger children were goofing off a little. I was talking to my wife intently when, WHAM! Something slammed into the table right next to me, startling me. But it didn’t just startle me. It scared me. I was instantly fight ready because I thought I was being attacked. I spun in my seat and saw my 13 year old son looking at me. Startled by my reaction, his eyes were wide as saucers.
It Was Instant Fight or Flight!
I didn’t know then why I was reacting the way I was. It’s hard to recognize the cause when we’re in the middle of a triggered response. I figured out later; it had to do with childhood trauma, like a PTSD reaction. But at the moment I only knew I was overreacting on a massive scale. And that’s key. I understood that my reaction was way out of proportion to the event. So I got up and went to my room. Then I started meditating.
A few minutes later I heard my wife calling my name. I didn’t want to stop meditating. My reaction had morphed from fight or flight to fury. I could see that I was still hip-deep in over-reaction to the situation but I was working through it. Still, something in her tone compelled me to pause.
I opened the bedroom door and told her where I was and that I was there so I could cool off. She thanked me and then asked me to get rid of a bug that had snuck in the house.
Really? A bug? She was interrupting my meditation for a bug?
As I went downstairs to deal with the bug, my first thought was I’d smash it with my foot. I’d show that creature what happens to uninvited insect interlopers in my home!
But as I came upon the little creature I asked myself, “What did this beetle do to you?” Sure it was in my house. And yes we spray for bugs, so it would have died anyway if it stayed inside. But to smash it in anger? A death sentence for interrupting my mediation? That wasn’t right. It was an innocent bystander or maybe it was a gift, exactly what I needed at the time to put everything in perspective. In either case I scooped the beetle up on some paper, carried it outside, and set it free.
Then I went back upstairs and meditated using Ho’oponopono for about 10 minutes. But this time I was able to quickly calm down. That’s when I saw that my reaction at the table was linked to abuse I’d suffered as a child. That also when I truly understood that my 13 year old son was also an innocent bystander in the situation. He hadn’t meant to startle or scare me. He was just playing around and accidentally knocked a heavy water bottle over on the table. Granted, he smashed it over is more accurate. But it was still a mistake. Besides, even if he had done it deliberately, his behavior never merited my initial reaction. Period.
I finished meditating, went downstairs, and apologized to my son and family for overreacting. I explained that I’d realized I was overreacting and had left the room so I could calm down.
What Does Getting Triggered Mean?
Let’s take a moment and discuss what it means to get triggered, ways to recognize that you’ve been triggered, and some things you can do to keep your head and get back to normal when it happens.
Getting triggered means your subconscious mind plays an instantaneous, scripted response to a situation. These responses are patterns your subconscious mind stored in answer to painful, traumatic, or otherwise (emotionally or physically) dangerous events in your past. They are pure mental-reflex reactions. When a similar event occurs your subconscious mind fires off what it deems the appropriate pattern for the situation. Think of it as an emotional flash-bang grenade.
The problem is these triggered reactions are almost never appropriate to future events. As soon as your subconscious mind thinks it recognizes the pattern it created the reaction for, it gets launched. As you know, many things have similar parts and still aren’t the same. It’s like saying all sports cars have tires so all vehicles with tires are sports cars. We know that isn’t true consciously but our unconscious mind sees the pattern of tires and says, “I know just what to do when faced with tires!” How ridiculous does that sound?
You understand how damaging triggered reactions can be. But how do we know when we’re having one?
Ways to Recognize You’ve Been Triggered (How do You Know When You Get Triggered?)
If You’re Having a Triggered Response, You might experience one of the following:
- Feel anger like a flash-fire or become overly emotional
- Have trouble thinking clearly
- React without thinking
- Either want to, or actually behave in a way you normally wouldn’t
- Say things you’d never normally say
- Fixate on the person, event, or thing that upset you
- Feel like you have to get even
- Feel physically threatened when there’s no actual danger
What You Can Do When You Get Triggered:
- Recognize you’re overreacting
- If appropriate, tell the people involved that you know you’re overreacting
- Leave the situation
- If appropriate, come back when you’ve calmed down
- Take a few deep breaths
- Ask yourself, “What else could this mean?”
- Use Ho’oponopono on the feelings you’re having
- Avoid making major life decisions
- Never harm yourself or others
- Never discipline when you’re in the middle of a triggered reaction
For more ideas on breaking patterns in your life read: Break Your Mold: The Art of Overcoming Patterns and Behaviors That Hold You Back
You Are The Master of Your Destiny!