Managing Triggers

One of the most frustrating things in the world is that explosion of rage when our kids (or partners, or friends, or colleagues) exhibit ‘undesirable’ behaviour. We THINK it’s because they are ‘behaving badly’ and that means that we need to work harder to CONTROL the situation. Then comes the shame and, for some, the dark spiral into self-bashing. This explosion is quite possibly a trigger and the trigger probably stems from unprocessed trauma.

Triggers come from:

  • unprocessed trauma trapped in the nervous system,
  • overwhelming and ongoing stressful circumstances (overwhelm), and/or
  • chronic feelings of helplessness (burnout).

Unprocessed traumas show up in our lives as open, gaping wounds that are sensitive. We seem to ‘over-react’ or ‘over-think’. We are quick to anger. 

Trauma is a psychic wound that hardens you psychologically that then interferes with your ability to grow and develop. It pains you and now you’re acting out of pain. It induces fear and now you’re acting out of fear. Trauma is not what happens to you, it’s what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you. Trauma is that scarring that makes you less flexible, more rigid, more feeling and less defended.

Gabor Maté

An Example

In my case (many moons ago on a daily basis, and now more like once in a blue moon) this would be a typical trigger:

  • it starts here → I see kids’ socks on the stairs → I think kids aren’t responsible for their own stuff → I worry they don’t care about their responsibilities →  
  • the spiraling happens here → I label they are irresponsible and incorrigible and lazy →
  • the time travelling begins here → I project they will be terrible at school and at work → I conclude they won’t be able to function in society → I panic they will be homeless →
  • the judgement/shame kicks in here → I think this is all my fault → I decide I need to teach them responsibilities → I argue I’ve been teaching them this every day → I blame them, what part of “this is their responsibility” do they not understand!? →
  • the helplessness feeling grows here → I struggle with I don’t know how to change this if they are too stubborn to change →
  • the unprocessed trauma wounds trigger an emotional flashback → I think I’m helpless → I feel like I have no control → I worry that this overwhelming feeling will never go away → I’m angry at the source of this trigger bringing up very unbearable thoughts causing my body to think that I’m in physical danger

The reality is that this descent into rage and explosion really didn’t have anything to do with the socks on the stairs and everything to do with my own stress, overwhelm, and unprocessed childhood wounds. It’s about how my feeling of helpless reminded my body of a time when I really was helpless to change an overwhelming situation. (That feeling got trapped in my nervous system’s memory.)

So…. What to Do? What to Do?

Managing triggers is not an easy thing to do.

It can involve removing stressors from your life (avoidance can provide some temporary relief, but is not always a feasible sustainable option), turning to coping mechanisms (alcohol, meds, massage, eating, etc., also not always a great longer term strategy), lifestyle adjustments (sleep, exercise, self-care routines, which can be helpful), processing trauma (counselling, therapy, trauma recovery coaching, somatic experiencing, etc.), reframing (checking our narratives, practicing self-compassion) and grounding exercises (breathing, mindfulness, pausing, etc.).

Everyone’s journey is different. We all start the healing journey in different ways, depending on our goals, values, circumstances, and resources. It’s about aligning our mind, body, and spirit.

Processing your trauma feels a bit like unleashing your authentic self back into the world with courage, curiosity, and compassion.

It’s about finding peace with the past, hope for the future, and flow in the present. It’s about living life the way we were meant to.

Click to link to these articles for some quick tools to start your healing journey:

Listen to short grounding exercises to help calm your nervous system enough to respond rather than have a knee-jerk reaction.

If you would like to dig in a bit deeper (or know someone who might need to), feel free to book an Informational Chat with me to develop a trauma recovery plan. In private one-on-one sessions, we can co-create a safe place to think your thoughts, feel your feels, and unpack the moment, process your complex trauma, and manage your triggers.

Published by Sherry Yuan Hunter

Sherry Yuan Hunter is a certified trauma recovery coach and certified parenting coach. Taiwan-born American-Canadian Chinese, married, working mother of two, Sherry identifies as a Sandwich Parent, Third Culture Kid, an untigering Mom, and Recovering Shouldaholic. Based in Toronto, Canada, Sherry has been working in student success programs at University of Toronto for 20 years, supporting students, young professionals, new managers, working moms, and new immigrants to success.

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