I’ve got a story for you. It’s a bit silly on the surface, though totally speaks to the depths of our survival instincts. A few days ago I was sitting in my backyard scrolling through Facebook on my phone. All of a sudden, I saw something posted that instantly triggered my emotions. I quickly scrolled to something else in an effort to act like that didn’t just happen, but the damage was done. Suddenly, my heart rate was increasing, my chest tightening. And my thoughts? They were swirling around with all kinds of nonsense.
I could sense the emotional pull to go down a dark hole of assumptions. All I caught was a glimpse of an interaction online, which left a whole lot of information unknown. And our brains don’t like to sit with the unknown. Our brains want to fill in the blanks. We have a negativity bias that keeps us inclined to think worst case scenarios for protection on a basic level of survival. Past experiences also play a part, so if we’ve been in similar situations before, we’re likely to associate this time with the last.
Triggers look different for each of us. Maybe it’s when you’re stuck in traffic, when the hard work you put into something is overlooked, or when you never hear back from a friend about making plans. The common theme in these examples is not the triggering event, or even how we outwardly respond. It’s all about our patterns of emotional reactivity within. We each have something called a “window of tolerance”, which is our ability to regulate emotions. Some of us have wider windows than others, but we are all able to practice tools that help us hang out in calm emotional states more easily.
My Facebook story only has two possible endings. I could have let my mind run wild with conclusions based on my skewed and limited perception, or I could have utilized my inner resources to build resiliency. Which one do you think I picked? That’s right, picked. As in, the choice we have after we get triggered. Most of us don’t realize this choice point. There was a time I fell victim to my irrational mind, and it has caused plenty of unnecessary emotional suffering. With much self-awareness, though, I’ve improved my ability to slow down and widen the space between trigger and reaction.
There is a three-part process we can implement at any time to reclaim our power:
*Recognize ~ Identify you’ve been triggered. This often doesn’t take much, as our body works hard to let us know something isn’t sitting right with us. Get familiar with how different emotions show up for you.
*Acknowledge ~ Before we can move through the discomfort, we’ve got to know what we’re actually working with. What is the rationale behind the emotional trigger? What kind of conclusions are you making about your perceptions? However “out there” our mind takes us, we can still validate the part of us that feels irrational. If we try to ignore, minimize, or deflect what is triggering us, we’re just transferring the pain from one area to another.
*Release ~ This is where we can shed old patterns and develop new ways of responding. Remember, your mind creates stories that you, as a non-judgmental witness, can observe coming in and out of your awareness. If you say to yourself something like, “this is just a story my mind is telling me. I can choose to detach from listening to it now. I can choose a different story to follow”, you’ve moved into a place of empowerment. You’re no longer victim to the drama your mind wants to suck you into. Next, see if you can drop out of your head, and into your physical body. We tend to keep energy stuck when we’re in storyland. If we focus on the physical sensations of our emotional pain, we can notice it moving and dissolving.
This process builds one of my favorite words: resiliency. Resiliency is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, and is the true nature of the human spirit. We are not meant to excessively dwell in our pain. We are meant to experience difficult situations to help us learn and grow. The next time you feel triggered, I invite you to consider how you may rewrite the story you tell yourself to increase your resilience.