How to Think Better: triggered

This post is about being triggered.

I want to be very clear upfront: I’m not qualified to talk about triggers that result from trauma. This episode is not about PTSD triggers.

I’m talking about a more casual use of this term, such as when someone says, I didn’t get the job offer and that triggered all my old insecurity and doubt.

Because here’s the thing: Many of us are using the phrase “that triggered me” way too often—and in a way that isn’t useful.

Most of my coaching clients at some point in our work together tell me a story that involves them being “triggered”. Maybe being triggered by something someone said or did. Something happened at work or in a social setting, and they express that they were triggered.

So a client might share something like this:

  • I see others in my profession making so much more money than me, and it triggers feelings of inadequacy and lack.
  • Getting on the scale and seeing a number I don’t like triggers a downward spiral.
  • When my husband criticizes something about how I’m dealing with the kids, it triggers all these feelings of doubt about my parenting and worry about how the kids will turn out.
  • My boss questioned how I handled the project, and it just triggered me. I felt so annoyed and angry.

If you start listening—to yourself and to those around you—you’ll be amazed how often everyone is apparently being triggered.

What about you? Have you said you were triggered?

Do you frame circumstances in your life this way?

  • X, Y, or Z happened, and you were triggered.
  • She said this or he did that, and it triggered you.
  • The thing you wanted didn’t happen or the thing you didn’t want did happen, and you were triggered.

Now here’s an important point: When someone says they’ve been triggered, what follows is always a slew of negative emotions. In other words, X happens and that triggers some mix of low vibe emotions. Fear, powerlessness, anger, jealousy, resentment, worry, etc.

So being triggered, I think we would all agree, is unwelcome. Being triggered doesn’t feel good. Being triggered results in negative emotion.

When someone describes being triggered, they make it sound as if it just happens.

So being triggered happens to you. Being triggered is something external outside your control. You’re going along having your day, living your life, and—boom—you’re triggered. Right?

Being triggered blindsides you. It comes out of nowhere. You have not control over being triggered. X happens and Y is your automatic response.

So I guess we’re all walking around hoping not to get triggered, but pretty much accepting this is just a fact of life. At some point—today, this week, this month—you’re going to be triggered.

Well, here’s my question: Does believing this about being triggered serve you?

I asked myself that question a few months ago: Jennifer, does it serve you to be triggered—by anything? Does it serve you to believe that certain circumstances or conditions hijack your emotional state?

I knew immediately and intuitively my answer was no. Believing in being triggered does not serve me. In fact, it disempowers and undermines me.

A belief in being triggered means alignment is conditional on circumstances. That the world needs to behave just so in order for me not to be triggered and feel good.

So I’ll ask you: Does it serve you to be triggered—by anything? Or another way to ask the question: What belief would serve you about being triggered?

Here’s what I have decided to believe: Being triggered is a choice.

I believe external circumstances, people, events, situations, and things are always happening. And how I feel is always, always, always dependent on the thoughts I think about those external circumstances, people, events, situations, and things.

Now, I certainly may have conditioned myself to think certain thoughts in response to certain external circumstances. That’s why I’m feeling triggered, but it’s really simply conditioning. Because there are thoughts between the circumstance and my emotional reaction.

Here’s another way to say it: Being triggered is a choice. To say X, Y, and Z triggers me means I’ve decided to think certain thoughts when those certain X, Y, and Z conditions or circumstances occur.

The whole notion of being triggered really comes back to LoA 101.

  • Circumstances are neutral.
  • Your thoughts create your feelings.

Many of us actively practicing LoA believe circumstances are neutral. We believe our thoughts create our feelings.

But sometimes we act as if there is a little loophole.

Yes, this is how LoA works…except in this one really icky area of my past or this one complicated area of my present or this worrisome aspect of my future. Then suddenly certain circumstances are not neutral.

For instance, we often give childhood circumstances a pass. Meaning we believe other circumstances are neutral, but this event from my past, from my childhood, is different. Being reminded of it in some shape or form triggers me, triggers an automatic emotional reaction—and that’s just the way it is.

I can promise you this: There is no benefit to cherry-picking which circumstances are neutral and which ones are not. In other words, acting as if LoA applies here and here, but not over there. Acting as if sometimes your thoughts create your feelings, but not all the time.

  • Circumstances are neutral, always.
  • Your thoughts create your feelings, always.

Remember my earlier example of a client saying she was triggered when her boss questioned how she handled the project? No, her boss didn’t trigger her. Instead, she had a thought about his questions that made her feel annoyed. She gave his questions a meaning that made her angry.

The good news, in fact the really great news, is that means we can all stop being triggered and start managing our minds so we feel better.

Let me go back to believing being triggered is a choice.

Of course, you remember that beliefs are simply thoughts you keep thinking. And the reality that shows up for you can only match your beliefs.

Which means you want to choose your beliefs with intention, right?

  • You want to choose beliefs that feel good because like attracts like.
  • You want to choose beliefs that reflect the reality you want to create.

All that is to say, I want you to be intentional about what you choose to believe about being triggered. I personally have chosen to believe being triggered is a choice.

I’ve chosen this belief because it feels more empowering than believing I’m being acted upon by circumstances and have no control over whether I feel good. And I’ve chosen this belief because it underscores circumstances are neutral and it is my thoughts that create my feelings.

If you can be triggered right and left about this and that, it really puts you at the mercy of circumstances and your emotions. Bottom line: If you are constantly being triggered, you cannot be a deliberate creator.

Here are five steps to help you have a new relationship to the concept of being triggered.

  1. Notice whether you say X, Y, or Z triggered you. And if you don’t actually say those words aloud, notice if that’s how you characterize what’s happening—your emotions being hijacked by certain circumstances or conditions.
  2. Decide what you want to believe about being triggered. Intentionally deciding what you want to believe is so empowering.
  3. Choose to believe all circumstances are neutral and your thoughts create your feelings. As opposed to some circumstances are “special” and they—not your thinking—create your feelings automatically.
  4. Replace I’m being triggered with I have conditioned myself to react in a certain way to this circumstance. I now choose to respond differently.
  5. Identify your “triggers” and decide in advance what thoughts will allow you to feel differently. In other words, what thoughts will allow you not to be triggered in that scenario?

Your “triggers” are typically just repeated patterns.

So you’ll find it easy to identify the external conditions or circumstances that in the past you would have said are your triggers.

For instance, let’s say clothes shopping has been a trigger in the past. Trying on clothes that don’t fit or didn’t make you feel fabulous triggered negative emotion. You experienced feelings of insecurity and frustration. Maybe you felt unworthy. You were jealous of those who seemed to be able to try on anything and have it fit.

You might say to me, your coach: I went shopping to get a new outfit for the job interview next week. I didn’t like how anything fit. Nothing looked good. It was an awful experience that just triggered all my body image issues and insecurities. I felt so discouraged. Now I’m not even as excited about the job interview.

Notice how framing it that way makes an external circumstance—clothes shopping or an outfit not fitting—the reason for your emotions. Rather than attributing your emotional reaction to the thoughts you were thinking about shopping and about an outfit not fitting.

Let me say that another way: The dress not fitting and the pants not zipping—those circumstances are not why you feel insecure and discouraged. Those conditions are not what rob you of the excitement about the upcoming job interview. It is your thinking, your thoughts about the dress not fitting and the pants not zipping.

And that distinction, my friends, is everything.

So once you’ve identified your “triggers” for negative emotion, you’re going to decide ahead of time what thoughts you want to think on purpose when this situation comes up.

In my earlier example, if clothes shopping is a trigger, you could decide ahead of time to think thoughts like these:

  • I love and respect myself.
  • My body can do awesome things.
  • My worth is not defined by my weight.
  • I choose to do and say kind things for and about myself.

Now the thoughts I just shared may or may not resonate with you. It’s fine if they don’t. The point is to decide ahead of time the thoughts you want to think on purpose. To be prepared to shift from being triggered to thinking on purpose.

When I experience a situation where it feels like I’m being triggered, I remember I don’t believe in being triggered.

And then I slow it all down. I slow my thinking and shine a spotlight on my thoughts.

Rather than stay on autopilot and skip from external circumstance to negative emotion, I slow down and shine the spotlight: What thoughts took me from the circumstance to the negative emotion?

I want to know what thought caused me to feel bad. Because there is a thought in there that’s creating the negative emotion. It’s not the circumstance. When I slow down and bring awareness to my thinking, I can spot the thought that is causing me to feel bad. And then I can reach for a thought that feels better.

Instead of going down the path of being triggered, which is often a downward spiral that gets a lot of momentum, I can slow my thinking, bring awareness to the thought creating negative emotion, and then find relief in thinking on purpose as opposed to being triggered.

I’ve yet to come up with any upside to buying into the belief of being triggered. It feels really low vibe to me. Whereas believing being triggered is a choice feels so different and way better.

“You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.” —Wayne Dyer