Identity Crises-Part 3, Triggers

In the last 2 blogs, we discussed The Identity Crisis as it relates to attachments, the ego, self-image, the differences between the left and right brain and labels. Hopefully, you were able to identify yourself in these areas to better understand and realize the benefits in the practice of mindfulness. The primary purpose of these discussions is to bring awareness to the inner self. Here, in Part 3, we will look at ‘triggers’ and how we all have them as well as where they come from and how to approach and heal through them.


All of the discussions and views on this site are approached from a holistic perspective as it relates to the practice of mindfulness from a coaches point of view. Medical advice and treatment should only be sought and provided by a licensed Counselor, Therapist or Doctor.

To start off with, we all have triggers, both positive and negative and triggers are not always a bad thing. In fact, the energy from the most negative trigger can be utilized for some of the greatest improvements in a persons life. All triggers are directly associated with emotion and every functioning human being has emotions. We must not confuse triggers with reactions or responses. A trigger is like a switch and the result of this switch from one position to the other can have unlimited outcomes. Just as a light switch can only turn a light on or off because of the wiring from the switch to the source of power and to the light. The switch is not the light just as the trigger is not the emotion or the reaction.

Let’s use the light switch as an example. You must have a power source going to the switch and the switch must also be connected to a light. The power source and the light are completely independent of the switch. However, the light requires power in order to provide light, the only purpose of the switch is to connect or disconnect power to the light. The power source does not need the light or the switch, it is an energy that is available for anything that requires power like maybe a motor. The basic function of a switch is for control of the outcome, in this case, the light being on or off. The switch, itself, is completely useless without the power source and the light. It must have a connection on both ends with the purpose of connecting or disconnecting power to the light depending on its position. You don’t have to fully understand all of that in order to follow along. Just simply remember ‘switch on-light on’ or ‘switch off-light off. Also, remember that if there is no switch then there is no control over the outcome.

From the perspective of an emotional trigger, the basic concept is the same as the light switch. A trigger connects the emotion (energy) to the reaction (outcome). Emotions are the power source that feeds a reaction. The trigger can be an experience, a memory, a person or a thing that serves to connect the emotion to the reaction. Remember, the trigger can be just as positive as it can be negative. A trigger is only a switch that controls an outcome. In this discussion, we are only staying within a small area surrounding triggers, emotions, and reactions. The study on this subject is far more advanced than what can be included in a blog.

My Mindfulness Journey: A Personal Journal of Awareness

Let’s discuss attachment in relation to triggers. In the example of the light switch, you have a power source and a light with the switch in the middle. If the wires are not connected to and from the switch, you will have no light, no outcome and the switch becomes useless and unnecessary. Note here that the power source is still there, only now it can be used in another way or to provide power for something else. A trigger, as well, requires a connection or attachment. There is a slight difference with emotional triggers versus a light switch. When we become emotionally attached to an experience, memory, person or thing, a trigger is created. However, the outcome of that attachment is not always definable as it is with the light switch. The reaction from a trigger could range from joy to anger or even an aggressive reaction causing harm to someone. To complicate this, even more, the same trigger can be attached to more than one emotion with no set reaction from one to the other.

Now, just like the power source with the light switch can stand alone without the switch or the light, emotions can be experienced and exist without a trigger or a reaction. Emotion can also be attached directly to a reaction without any trigger at all. For example, we have an experience, maybe just a meeting with someone and we really had a good feeling and enjoyed the time we spent with them even if it was only a short time. That emotional energy created a memory that we will always have without any triggers or reactions or the reaction may have been the warmth we felt in our heart, with no triggers. Simply stated:

“Reactions are the outcome of a trigger attached to an emotional experience”

Now that we understand a little more about triggers, how they are created and how they control reactions, let’s look at a simple approach in order to identify and start a healing process. First, the only way to fully know if a trigger even exists is normally when we are in the middle of a situation where a trigger has been attached to an emotion and a reaction is pending. The practice of mindfulness allows us to increase our awareness in all situations of our life. The inward awareness of the ‘self’ is a key component in recognizing emotional triggers. This obviously will require practice and commitment because triggers become a part of our being and existence as well as survival. Awareness and control of a trigger may involve some sacrifice and denial of a part of who you thought you were.

The first step is identifying the existence of a trigger and the next step is to just pause and breath. If you are unable to pause at this point, a reaction will be automatic. However, even if you are unable to prevent the reaction in this situation, the key would be that you were able to recognize the trigger. That alone can be the biggest step towards healing from an emotional scar with an attached trigger. Remember, this is not a pass or fail process, it is only a process, so be patient.

“The true self is already there, the healing is already there, and is not something that needs to be found, but only accepted”

Once you have recognized the existence of a trigger, if you are in the middle of a situation, you should step away. There is a term used with a nuclear reaction called ‘critical mass’. When ‘critical mass’ is reached in a nuclear reaction, there is no turning back, a chain reaction of explosive energy is released and cannot be contained. If we are unable to step out of a highly emotional situation with triggers, the results may not be pretty.

As we discussed, recognizing the emotional trigger in a situation is key and maybe all we need to begin a healing process. After recognizing a trigger we need to bring our awareness to everything that happens after that.

How did it make you feel?

What emotions were involved?

Can you pinpoint the source of the emotions?

Why were you triggered?

Who was involved in the situation?

These are only a few questions we can begin to ask ourselves as we investigate the source and reason behind our triggers. I sincerely hope your healing process is rewarding and without too many challenges.

“Avoiding your triggers isn’t healing. Healing happens when you’re triggered and you’re able to move through the pain, the pattern, and the story – and walk your way to a different ending” -Vienna Pharaon

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