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Are you feeling triggered?

Updated: Jul 11

emotional triggers

So what exactly are triggers?

Emotional triggers are specific situations, events, people, or memories that cause strong emotional reactions or feelings of distress within us. Triggers are often related to past experiences, beliefs or personal insecurities. Triggers can bring up past traumas, fears, or anxieties, and they often lead to intense emotional responses, like anger, sadness, or fear. Triggers can vary significantly from one person to the next. So how do you know when something has triggered an emotional response within you? Any time your emotional or physical response is bigger than the situation calls for, lets you know you've been triggered.

How does my body respond when I feel triggered?

You may experience physical sensations in your body. These physical sensations often vary, depending on the individual and the nature of the trigger. What do you notice in your body when you're feeling triggered? Is your heart racing? Are your muscles feeling tense or tight, especially in your shoulders, neck or jaw? Maybe your tummy is churning? Or maybe you are breaking out into a cold sweat? You may be feeling cold or numb, or starting to shut down mentally or emotionally. Has your breathing become more rapid or shallow? For some, it can lead to nausea or digestive issues, like tummy upset. Dizziness, lightheadedness, tingling or numbness can be other physical signs of emotional distress as well. Think about times when you've felt triggered. What did you notice in your body?

What's happening in my nervous system?

When we feel triggered, our bodies will move into survival mode of fight or flight. Our sympathetic nervous system becomes activated, trying to protect us from harm. If we are regularly exposed to triggers or stressors, maybe at work, conflict with a friend, or distress within our primary intimate relationship, our nervous system can become overactive, which can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and other negative effects on our physical and mental health.

Take a moment to do a body scan. What's happening in your mind? Is it racing, calm, obsessing? What's happening with your breath? Is it shallow, fast, slowed down? What about your energy? Are you fidgeting? Pacing? Or maybe you want to hibernate and you can't get off the couch?

Paying attention to what's happening within our bodies and learning to name our triggers without judgement or criticism helps us become more in tune to what triggers us and how we respond. Ask yourself why. What's happening in the moment that is taking you away from your calm self and leading to a heightened emotional state. Keep asking yourself why until you get to the root thought/feeling/belief that triggered your response. Identifying our triggers gives us the opportunity to recognize what's happening within us emotionally, mentally and physically. From there, we can decide how we want to respond.

So why do some things bother us more than other things? And how come something that might trigger me, doesn't trigger my best friend, partner, or workmate? Well, feeling triggered often happens when the triggering experience has touched upon a core belief.

Ok, so what are core beliefs?

Triggers are a great way to uncover our core beliefs; when we feel triggered, it is likely because one of our core beliefs has surfaced. Core beliefs are deeply rooted beliefs that we hold about ourselves, others, and the world around us. These beliefs shape our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and define how we feel about ourselves. For example, if someone consistently becomes defensive or angry when criticized, it may be a sign that they hold a core belief that they are not good enough or not worthy of love and respect. Likewise, if someone feels intense anxiety in social situations, it may be linked to a core belief they hold about not being likeable or socially competent.

Where do core beliefs come from?

Core beliefs are formed in childhood, and are based on experiences, upbringing, and societal influences. They can be influenced by a variety of factors, including:

Family Upbringing: Core beliefs are often influenced by the beliefs and values shared by our family of origin. Messages we receive from well-intentioned parents, caregivers and other family members can contribute to the development of core beliefs about self-worth, relationships, and the world.

Early experiences: either positive or negative, in childhood and adolescence can shape our core beliefs. Traumatic events, neglect, abuse, or consistent patterns of validation or invalidation can all contribute to the development of core beliefs.

Cultural and societal influences: such as cultural norms, societal expectations, and messages from the media and society as a whole can influence our core beliefs. For example, society's standards about beauty, gender roles, and expectations for success can impact how we see ourselves and our personal value and self-worth.

Personal Interpretation: how we make meaning and interpret our experiences shape core beliefs. If a child consistently receives negative feedback from a teacher, they may develop a core belief that they are not intelligent or capable.

Because core beliefs develop so early in life, they may not always be balanced or informed opinions. Core beliefs can be positive or negative, they are rigid and inflexible, and they affect our mood, relationships, jobs, health, and even what we do for fun!

Positive core beliefs

Some examples of positive core beliefs are: I am lovable, I am a good person, I can trust others, the world is a safe place, I deserve happiness, my needs are important.

Negative core beliefs

Some examples of negative core beliefs are: I am unlovable, I am inadequate, I am a failure, I am worthless, I can't trust anyone not to hurt me, I am a burden, I am powerless, the world is a dangerous place, I am not deserving of happiness. Do any of these messages resonate with you? You are not alone!

What do negative core beliefs sound like?

"Better stick to this job, I would never be considered for a promotion anyway"; "What's the point of even trying?I'll never get it right"; "I'd feel better about myself if I could just lose ... pounds"; "I'll just keep quiet, my opinion isn't worth much/no one is interested in what I have to say"; "Love never lasts anyway, it's better to just stay single".

The Good News about Core Beliefs

Core beliefs can be modified! By first learning to identify our triggers, then uncovering the corresponding underlying core belief, we can work towards challenging these long-held beliefs and begin the process of choosing to reframe them to something more positive and empowering. Mindfulness, self-reflection, therapy, journalling, and learning to let go of the beliefs that hold us back can lead us to increased resilience, positive mental health and well-being, and closer connections with others.

Be grateful for triggers - they provide valuable information about our inner emotional landscape, and they show us where we are not free!

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