What are triggers, and do you know yours?
In this context i’ll be talking more about the day to day emotional triggers we all experience to varying degrees rather than anything related to PTSD or shock trauma.
Triggers can be all sorts of things, smells (think your ex’s aftershave), sounds (a particular song), sights, behaviours, words. It can be internal, like a feeling or a memory for example. Or they can be external like the sight or sound, even a particular person.
Often they come up when we watch something, read something, or someone says something in conversation and all of a sudden we’re in a super heightened emotional state.
Whether it’s sadness, anger, outrage or something else.
It’s usually totally out of proportion to what’s just happened. And even though to you it’s a big thing…other people may fail to understand why.
You’ve been triggered.
Essentially triggers are something that ‘triggers’ a response in you.
An increase of a particular ‘symptom’, anxiety for example.
Triggers are linked to our beliefs and values, it can be a trauma response, it can be an ego response. Often from unmet needs as a child where we don’t have the capacity to really process the emotion.
It’s a mental reminder of something that triggers an emotional response. Often a nice strong one leaving you with a bit of ‘what actually just happened there’. Often accompanied by good old shame!
Your brain follows patterns, and the familiar. Which is why we end up habitually repeating the same behaviour. And why it’s hard to change it, until you make it more conscious.
Essentially at the core, your triggers are trying to protect you.
They’re trying to protect you and help you manage life’s ‘big feelings’.
For example, something may trigger anxiety in you.
Like posting on social media, you may be totally fine one minute, you know you WANT to post, because you feel you SHOULD post but you GO to post and you just can’t press go!
Your body is flooded with stress hormones and you can’t for the life of you work out why something so seemingly simple is so hard for you.
But it could be that being ‘visible’ is something that is ‘unsafe’ to you. Perhaps you grew up with being told ‘children should be seen and not heard’ or being told off for being ‘attention seeking’ or something similar.
So you learn that keeping a low profile is what is ‘safe’. So your stress response is triggered when you try to step out from that. This might lead to avoidance altogether.
Not very handy when you want to have your own business!
It could also be, from the same childhood messaging, that people being super confident or ‘out there’ triggers a negative response in you. It could be you feel you don’t like them, or make negative judgements of them because you were taught it was ‘bad’ to be that way.
These things we learn in childhood will always have an effect on our behaviour into adulthood and how they show up is completely individual to us.
But the more you can be aware of them the better.
Triggers can be really pesky and unconscious so you just don’t see it, I mean why would you look if you don’t know to?!
Take relationships for example.
We can be very attached to being ‘right’ and ‘blaming’ when it comes to conflict.
Your partner does something, to your body it feels similar to something an ex had done in the past that hurt you, so you lash out before you even realise you have!
But you’re actually not reacting to what’s just happened…you’re reacting to what happened in the past.
Making sure you don’t feel the pain again.
We’re confusing, complicated and simple creatures all at the same time!
It’s your brain and body remembering something that it needs to protect you from. Safety is the name of the game here.
So it will trigger a response that DID work for you at some point, it protected you from something.
But it’s bringing something from the past, into the present moment…when it’s not really there.
The threat FEELS the same to your body.
The reason I want to talk about this today is that I was being triggered allllllll over the show recently and it was hugely interesting to me.
The more you can learn about and understand your triggers, what they are, where they came from and how to navigate them, the easier things get.
Occasionally you are thrust straight into the lions den of your triggers and it can be very interesting indeed.
So, I know that one of my triggers is around competition.
So in a recent situation where there were leaderboards involved and lots of other people shouting about successes I caught myself deep in one of my triggers for a moment.
Thankfully I caught it, had a chuckle and got over myself. But it still got me to start with.
Now, with a leaderboard I will go one way or the other. If i’m at the top I need to do everything in my power to stay there and have anxiety around being at number 2 or 3. It triggers my ‘not good enough’ around achievement which is linked to my relationship with my brother when we were young.
OR, I’ll go the other way, If I think I have no chance of being near the top, it gets interesting. For many people you can see the competition spurs them on and drives them and pushes them which is great. I’m the opposite. It makes me shy away and play small.
It makes me think there’s no point even trying. So there’s some anxiety either way but of course with the latter, that’s not going to get me anywhere really is it!
I don’t like competition, I steer clear of comparing myself. I don’t tend to put myself in situations where I will compare myself to someone else. It’s a fruitless task anyway so i’m very conscious of it. So because i’m aware of the trigger, I can manage that pretty easily. But there are some situations in life where it can’t be avoided right?
THANKFULLY I caught myself playing small for a moment. I felt that familiar ‘retreat’, recognised what was going on. Took a breath. Gave myself some compassion, called it out and kept moving.
We all have these triggers. They’re very individual to us.
But you can get to know them. Not see them as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. Thank them for looking after us in the past but let them know they aren’t needed right now.
Business is a hugely triggering thing for a huge amount of people.
Left right and centre there are opportunities for our inner child to be wounded. To need to protect.
This could show up in jealousy for others’ success.
It could be obsessing over what other people are making financially.
It could be comparing yourself.
It could be perfectionism.
Our ‘not good enoughs’ can be triggered.
Our ‘you’re too much’ can be triggered.
It’s all wounded inner child and ego trying to protect us.
Some of mine include anything that might make me feel stupid or unintelligent. Competition. People telling me what to do.
Urgh…sure fire way for me to get into reaction mode.
Even my name said in a certain way is a bit of a trigger for me! When I was a shy 11 year old I went to a new school and a girl decided she didn’t like my nickname. Which to me was a term of endearment, a name I loved, which was Frankie.
That’s how everyone knew me.
But this girl decided she didn’t like it and said ‘i’m not going to call you that, i’m going to call you Fran’ which I didn’t like. But because I was shy and she was dominating I just put up and shut up.
I didn’t stand up for myself. I felt shut down. I felt less than and I felt unable to speak up. I felt like a little piece of my identity was taken away.
So then I’ve been Fran ever since. So weird as it may seem it’s a trigger for me.
It’s actually very rare that people I’m close to call me Fran.
I’m Frannie, Franola, Franalicious, Franbi, Francesca (I’m actually a Frances so this is a weird nickname I see that ha!) But very rarely Fran.
So when it’s used It feels very official and I always feel a tiny bit submissive when someone calls me it.
So, what triggers strong emotions for you?
What makes you angry, sad, jealous, feel guilty?
Start to notice what goes on for you.
Are there certain topics that are really uncomfortable to you? Money is a big one for a lot of people, for example.
Where did it come from?
Can you remember the first time you felt it?
Who was involved?
Where do you feel it in your body?
What physiological responses can you recognise?
What’s your go to response when you’re triggered? Shouting? Arguing? Hiding? Crying? Defensiveness? Stamping your feet? (Literally, hello inner child!!)
Pay attention and ask what need isn’t being met for you in the moment. Is it safety? Autonomy? Being liked? Disregarded? Unheard? Do you feel rejected?
The more you can ‘get to know’ your triggers, the more you can catch it and the less they control you.
So what can we do?
Firstly, notice you’ve been triggered. How triggered on a scale of 1-10 are you?
Learn to regulate your nervous system, my stressed to success meditation is amazing for this. It’s 3 of my favourite techniques to help calm your nervous system down and out of the stress response so don’t forget to grab yours.
Pause! Do you need a time out?
Breathe! Deep belly breaths. The 4-7-8 technique is also great.
Call it out and recognise it. Stay consciously aware of it.
Learn the ‘in the moment’ strategies that work best for you. We’re all different. For me It’s deep belly breaths. Also noticing tension in my body and relaxing each muscle one by one.
Try to work out where it comes from. Can you remember anything similar in your childhood from a parent, caregiver, sibling, teacher?
When you can work that out, all of a sudden so much makes sense. You ‘get it’. Then you can work with it!
By recognising our triggers we take some of the control back over our emotions. We are less ruled by them. We lead with curiosity rather than judgement. Our self talk becomes much nicer. We can choose to not put ourselves in certain situations.
So start to notice these things for yourself. What is triggering you? Why might that be a trigger in the first place?
As always…awareness is key!
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Fran Excell, Mindset & Productivity Coach – Helping Business Owners Overcome Self Sabotage & Get More Done In Less Time at www.franexcell.com
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© 2023 Fran Excell. Success mindset mentor for entrepreneurs & executives.