Get Rid of Your Triggers, Part 2
Don't be a slave to your emotional triggers. Set yourself free!
In Part 1 of this series, we discussed what an emotional trigger is (and isn't), and why working to rid yourself of triggers is a better strategy than avoidance.
I promised that in Part 2, we'd look at some ways to actually free yourself from those triggers in order to enjoy easier interpersonal communication, lower stress levels, and improved emotional health. But as I wrote, I realized I had quite a bit more to say about the process of getting rid of triggers before moving on to technique. So Part 2 will be about preparing to do the work, and Part 3 will provide helpful techniques to actually do it.
Before we begin going over techniques to excise your emotional triggers, you should know that the process is different for everyone. For some, it's as simple as deciding not to take their triggers seriously any longer. They make a conscious decision to begin to view the triggers as silly or ridiculous, and just like those Hogwarts students in Professor Lupin's class (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, anyone?) the object of their fears instantly seems less frightening. For others, it can be a longer and more arduous process. It seems that the earlier in one's childhood a trigger was formed, and the more traumatic its root, the more attachment one has to the trigger, and thus the more difficult it is to banish.
Notice that word, "attachment".
It is a word that might raise feelings of defensiveness in some readers.
"How can you call it attachment? It's not my fault I have these stupid triggers! Someone/something else forced them on me."
That might be true, but still, I used the word very intentionally. It is precisely, exactly the correct word to describe what is happening behind the scenes once a person has identified a trigger, but is having trouble letting go of it.
Why would someone feel attached to these unnecessary, irrational emotional glitches?
The most common reason is that a person might have had their trigger for so long that they feel it is a part of who they are. They may identify with the trigger, or as someone who has this particular trigger. They might identify as a victim (or survivor) of whatever trauma caused the trigger to form, and they might see that victimhood (or survivorship) as an essential, core aspect of their Self. They might feel connection or kinship with others who have been victimized in the same way, and who have similar triggers. If the triggers go away, the victimhood (or survivorship) identity is threatened, and who will they be, then? How will they identify themselves?
It's important to know that you are not what has happened to you. While your life experiences have played a key role in forming the personality traits of the individual you've become, they are only an aspect of your Self. Along with many other aspects--your interests, your beliefs, your goals, your sense of humor, your quirky fashion sense, your love of animals, your taste in music--they help to form the whole. Working on your triggers will not change what has happened to you, and once you have successfully routed them out, it will not change the essence of who you are, though it might make it easier for you to live with that person.
Another reason someone might feel attached to their triggers is because they get a burst of intense emotion when their triggers are squeezed. Granted, it's not a very nice emotion; in fact, it's downright unpleasant. But sometimes when people have gone through extended periods of trauma, they respond by wrapping themselves in emotional numbness, like cotton. It is difficult for them to feel very much, either positive or negative, about much of anything in everyday life, and the only time they get to feel an emotion is when they are triggered, or reminded of the trauma they endured in the past. They probably won't admit it to themselves on a conscious level, but they may feel threatened by the prospect of working on freeing themselves from their triggers, because then they might never feel anything at all.
It's hard to explain how much richer and lighter your emotional life can be after you get rid of your triggers and make peace with the trauma that is in your past. It doesn't quite seem possible when you're mired in that old pain and fear that life could ever be different, but it is possible. There was a time when I wouldn't have believed what I am saying right now. All I can say is that it doesn't hurt to try it out, experiment and see what happens. If it doesn't work, you're no worse off. But if it does, you have a much freer, healthier, and happier existence to look forward to.
I'm sure you've heard or read many times from many sources that it's "good to face your fears."
That's part of what we're doing when we work on our triggers. We're confronting the things in our past that we want to run and hide from--the things and people that have hurt us and tried to control us--and we're taking back our power from them. They are merely ghosts and memories. They cannot harm us.
In Part 3, we'll finally get around to discussing ways to face those fears and get rid of the triggers once and for all. So check back tomorrow!