Trauma, for the sake of this article, is defined by any event from which we still have unprocessed emotions. It can be a major event like a car accident or personal assault, these events are easy to identify. But it can also be something seemingly insignificant. A small comment someone made to you offhand at a party, a slap on the hand when you were a child. A minor event or incident that for whatever reason you were not able to process in the moment. These smaller moments can be harder to identify and we often experience shame around having emotion connected to something that looks minor to our rational mind.
We must remember that it is not our rational mind that is in charge in trigger mode. Our body feels and remembers down to the smallest detail and can call up the full state with any number of sensory memories. A smell, texture, light quality, physical sensation, can all bring up full body recall and our conscious mind may not even be aware we have shifted from the present moment into the past. The rational mind is just along for the ride at this point.
When there are other incidents in our life that remind us in some way of the original incident, we are returned to that moment in our body and experience the present from the same state of disempowerment we had in the original. If the event was from our childhood, then we return to a child state of awareness and helplessness.
When we return to those moments of suffering from our past we call that being triggered. When we are unaware that we are in trigger mode our emotions feel out of control, overwhelming, confusing and irrational. I’m sure you can recall an event when you or someone you were with reacted strongly to a seemingly minor event. It feels scary and is often confusing to feel or witness big emotion that seems out of the blue.
When we are in trigger mode we express strong emotions (usually anger, sadness, or deep shame) that come up instantaneously. Often the return of unpleasant feelings makes us see whatever the trigger is as the cause of these emotions. That car that just cut in front of you, or the person who offered you a suggestion seems to be at fault for these strong feelings. But really these feelings are all you reacting to a long ago story.
When triggers go unacknowledged they fuel self limiting beliefs. It can cause us to get into repeating cycles or stories. It can cause us to miss new opportunities. It often can elicit the same behavior we were triggered by in the people around us who are acting unconsciously to the subtle cues we put out when we are in trigger mode. If you seem to have the same fight over and over again with someone you love, one or both of you have unprocessed triggers.
Because triggers are stored in the body with the same feeling that you originally experienced, many people will act immature when they are triggered. They might start to whine or yell like a child might have or express their emotions in tantrum like behavior. Often body language will shift into protection mode; clenched fists, slumped shoulders, furrowed brow, arms or legs crossed and held tightly.
There are many ways to process these stuck emotions. I want to offer you one simple method that you can do in just a few minutes that is very successful at helping rewire our emotional tripwires.
First you need to induce a triggered state. If you were already triggered then bingo! You are already in that state. If you know a particular trigger you have then you go into the last incident in which you noticed the trigger happening. Recall the incident down to the smallest detail, really get into the feeling of the event and don’t get stuck in the “story”. We want to focus on getting out of the thinking mind and into the physical and emotional body.
Bring your awareness to your physical body, what sensations are happening there? Do have pain anywhere, tightness, are you shaking, is your heart pounding or fluttering, are your shoulders hunched? Don’t try to change anything just notice and feel. Take a mental snapshot of the full body sensation in this trigger, we will use it later in the process.
Now bring your awareness to your emotional body. What feelings are coming up for you? Can you name them? The emotions are things like sadness, fear, anger, guilt, shame, unworthiness etc. Emotions are not feeling like you are being taken advantage of, that nobody cares about you, that you don’t get enough respect. These are judgements, when those come up, great, but go deeper. What is underneath that? Get specific and there is often more than one emotion at a time surfacing.
Now ask yourself when the first time you remember this combination of feelings/sensations happening. Don’t filer or judge what comes up here, just go with it. It may go back to your childhood, it may be from yesterday, it may not even seem related. If it is coming up there is a connection so just ask and accept.
Watch that scene unfold in your memory. Feel what it brings up in your body and emotions. Notice other details, light, smells, textures, sounds, etc. Don’t try to rationalize or make it rationally accurate. Our body registers things in a feeling level not a rational level, let it be your guide.
When that scene gets good and juicy for you, saturated with feeling both physically and emotionally then temporarily set it aside.
Take that information and rewrite the story. You get to pull out all the stops here. Wave your magic wand and make that story one of empowerment for you. Include any elements that assist you, fairy godmothers, other family members, unicorns, superpowers, nothing is off limits. Create the scene in which you get exactly what you need, you may even need to go back a few times and tweak the story as you find ways you can make it even better.
When you feel satisfied with your new story really take it in. Feel how it feels in your physical body, in your emotional body. Remember back to the snapshot you took earlier and note the differences. This exercise can be repeated until you feel the trigger shift. Soon you will have created a different memory in your feeling body (the combination of physical and emotional).
Congratulations, you have just rewritten your personal history.