When you understand the power of the caring Universe to serve you up the lessons you need, the instructor you’ve been waiting for is standing right in front of you—it is the person or the event you are most reactive to. That interaction shows you—every time—that the way out is in.
As Shawn Mashie, developer of “The Symmetry of Happiness Theory,” puts it, “Whatever is upsetting you is actually holding your path to peace—100 percent of the time. The shift from pain to peace does not have to be random guesswork, and it does not require a lifetime of hard work."
Your commitment to learning can create a massive shift in the way you see and meet life’s challenges. Inevitably, when you are in a difficult situation and you ask, “What is the lesson here?” you’ll find a profound answer. And in the honest exploration, you grow into a better version of yourself, and life changes in a positive direction.
An African proverb reminds us, “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”
Our triggers hold the answers. If something upsets you, there is unfinished business inside of you, wanting your attention. As you commit to growth, your emotions will reveal where you are wavering, where you have a “charge,” and, therefore, where you need to grow. Triggers point to the specific areas where you want healing.
So, what do I mean by a “trigger?” A trigger is any input that stirs you up inside and sets off a reaction. A fear trigger creates mild butterflies in the stomach or agonizing gut-wrenching pain. Depending on you and the situation at hand, a trigger might crank up your anxiety or insecurity, ignite your anger, or send you into an emotional tailspin. Triggers might also intensify sadness or feed an illusion of loneliness. It is as if a lid on a pressure tap was opened and the feelings bottled up inside of you fizz up and spillover. Or think of a trigger as unlocking a gun loaded with bullets. The bullets are your painful feelings; and if the trigger is pressed, boom!—outcomes your pain.
What does a trigger look like? A trigger might be a passing comment, a complaint aimed at you, a perceived criticism about something you did wrong (or something you did not do that you should have), or it might be a public insult or rejection. Let’s say your friend makes a comment about how your outfit is inappropriate for an occasion. Well, if you are insecure about how you look, that small comment can set you off into a rage and result in a rude reaction, or it might be internalized within and lead you to stew in self-doubt and self-condemnation. Either way, the “I’m-not-attractive” trigger button has been pushed.
Any time we have an insecurity, we are vulnerable to a real or imagined attack. If we don’t disclose our sensitive spots to the people we trust in our lives, they might poke at them without meaning, too. When we are ultra-sensitive to a particular childhood wound, we get triggered even when comments are light-hearted and minute. We sometimes misinterpret reality.
A trigger can also be less direct. The storyline of a book or movie might trigger you. Let’s say you see a would-be heroine make a terrible mistake in love, which reminds you of how you blew it in your last relationship—thus, triggering regret or self-loathing. Or let’s say you hear a song on the radio and you flashback to your high school prom when the love of your life left you and broke your heart. Inadvertent triggers cause hurt, just as much as direct ones when they hit your sore spots—your unresolved issues.
Triggers can show you where you need to grow and where there are lessons to be learned. What triggers you? What bothers you about others? What gets you unexpectedly angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed? These observations become your very own training grounds for personal evolution and emotional awareness.
Once you notice the things that set you off the most, once you catch the themes, you stop blaming the people or circumstances around you and take responsibility for your growth. At your best, you see that every trigger is gifting you with a prescription for freedom. This does not mean you put up with abuse or excessive criticism from others. Not at all. Speak up or get out if you are being treated aggressively or being exploited in any way. That is inner-honoring. You deserve love.
When you are in supportive relationships, you have a choice to use triggers to grow together. You can share your trigger spots with the people you love so that they can help you heal them. Kirk and I refer to our emotional-chronic-pain points as “broken toes.” For example, I know that any comment I make that suggests that Kirk is not contributing enough is like stepping on a broken toe; it hurts like nobody’s business. And he knows that the slightest indication that my belly is bloated can rile me up into a fit. We are careful in order to heal them. We affirm our care for each other, giving room for each other to challenge the fears. I appreciate how Kirk contributes, and he admires my belly. Over time, the toes heal: Kirk feels like he is giving and worthy, and I feel loved for who I am, not how I look.
As you find the lessons within the triggers, you heal your pain. You realize that your reactivity comes from an old wound—likely a pattern that extends back into your childhood. On the journey to a soul-inspired life, you are in the business of aborting old, outdated, and fearful programs and interference while nurturing new stories of love.
So now, as the empowered, self-aware, soulful you, when you are triggered, you have a choice.
When you let go (be it through shadow work, emotional release, or spontaneous remission), you de-charge yourself of the pain. Over time, when your old triggers reappear, you won’t feel activated. The painful emotional charge that propelled the hurtful retaliations will have been defused.
Eckhart Tolle reminds us, “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.”
Are you ready to welcome your triggers?