It's important to recognize when somebody else's actions trigger you so that you don't keep your emotions bottled up inside or act on them irrationally.
I know that nobody has ever triggered me more than my best friend Dennis. Dennis and I adore each other, but we tend to inadvertently stick needles into each other's wounds. These triggered moments are both healing and painful. They create opportunities for us to heal, rather than avoid, our core wounds. But, oh man, can they hurt.
Our relationship has blessed me by teaching me to engage in conscious conflict. Here's a primer on how to do so in your own relationships instead of acting rashly in response to your triggers.
Put this eight-step plan into action the next time your significant other says something demeaning, your mother criticizes you, or your boss gets angry at you:
Step #1: Be aware that you are triggered.
Learn to recognize when you’re triggered. What happens in your body? Does your pulse race and start pounding your heartbeat in your ears? Does your solar plexus contract? Does your heart close? Don’t make your trigger wrong or beat yourself up. Just silently and gently label it “trigger,” then move to the next step.
Step #2: Pause and surrender.
Use your trigger as a cue to pause, get silent, and surrender the trigger to the Divine. With experience, you will learn to find the silent pause without leaving the presence of the other person, but when you first start practicing this, or if the trigger is very magnified, you may need to excuse yourself from the other person’s presence so you don’t lose your cool. Go to the restroom so you can be alone if you are in a social setting or at work. If you can, step outside and find a quiet spot in nature.
Step #3: Feel and inquire.
Allow emotion to arise. When the mind quiets, your feelings are likely to arise spontaneously, but if they don't, put your hand on your heart and ask, “What emotion am I feeling right now?” Let yourself be truly naked and vulnerable.
Do you feel angry? Sad? Hurt? Disappointed? Release all judgment. Welcome and feel deeply whatever feeling arises. Don’t resist it—allow it to take you over. Pay attention to the familiarity of the feeling. Can you pinpoint when you first felt like this?
Very often, when the trigger feels magnified, a childhood wound is being needled. See if you can recall an experience from childhood that made you feel similar to how you’re feeling in the triggered moment. If you notice any old memories that might be inflaming your emotional response to whatever just happened, be aware that you may be projecting some of your childhood wounds onto the current situation.
Perhaps something arose that triggered old memories and old patterns that are now playing out again. This doesn’t mean you don’t have a genuine beef with the person who triggered you, but very often, you can see that your emotions have escalated because you’re hooked into old feelings and patterns that may or may not have anything to do with the person who triggered them.
Step #4: Take a few deep breaths.
Once you’ve let yourself feel the emotion, see if you can turn down the volume on whatever story your mind is playing by focusing on your breath. Using a Heartmath technique, try visualizing your breath coming in and out through your heart. If it feels resonant, find a mantra that can quiet your mind, like “Om” or “Peace” or “Heart.”
While your mind might still be playing its story, actively remind your heart that you actually care for and love the person who is triggering you. Remember that we’re all connected on some cosmic level. While feeling love, you can now notice any tendency you have to blame, judge, or criticize. Notice any righteousness that casts you as “right” and the other as “wrong.” Listen to the person who triggered you from this honest, openhearted, vulnerable space.
Step #5: Let yourself be loved.
When you’re feeling, expressing, and clearing the raw emotion of the trigger, a vacuum is created within that draws in pure unconditional love and acceptance. Allow this vacuum to be filled by whatever force of love resonates with you—the Divine Mother, God, Goddess, an angel, an animal, your highest self. See this loving presence wrapping you in a bubble of bursting love and let this pure love fill your heart and wash you with radiance. Keep breathing through any resistance that might arise in the face of this sheer, unbridled love.
Step #6: Go deeper.
Go deeper into your inquiry about what happened.
Try asking yourself a few questions:
- What’s true and not true about my story?
- When did I first feel the way I’m feeling now? Can I recall a time in my childhood when I felt this way?
- Am I willing to put myself in the other person’s shoes and imagine that he or she may have a different story looping through his or her mind right now?
- Am I willing to get out of my self-focused perspective and open myself to the experience of the other individual?
- Am I ready to wake up to my projections about the other person? How might it be possible that I am the very thing I am judging the other for?
Step #7: Find compassion.
Find compassion for yourself as well as the person who triggered you. Remind yourself, “Everybody is doing the best they can.” Allow yourself to be with any emotions that arise within you, but always come back to compassion. Go even further and see if you can find it in your heart to be grateful to the other for teaching you a soul lesson, even if it is a painful one.
Step #8: Consider taking inspired action.
From a calm place in your heart; ask yourself whether you need to take any inspired actions based on what happened. You may feel guided to request something from the other individual or set a boundary between you two. It’s OK to even say, “This behavior is unacceptable to me. I need to end this relationship.” But now you will do so from a clean, examined state of inner calm.