“It’s good to do uncomfortable things; it’s weight-training for life.” ~~Anne Lamott
“The day she let go of the things that were weighing her down, was the day she began to shine the brightest.” ~~Katrina Mayer
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” ~~Confucius
#1 I have a life-threatening problem that once had me.
I now take charge of my life and my well-being.
I accept the responsibility.
In our current state of world events, it is critical for women in recovery to keep sobriety as our number one priority. Yes, the daily, ever-changing news can invoke intense feelings of uncertainty, unease and fear but with Statement #1 in action we take charge of our lives and well-being. We accept the responsibility.
Now is the perfect time to examine what your triggers might be. Emotional triggers can change and evolve in our lifetimes, investigating what activates these feelings is essential. When we identify what bothers us, we can take responsibility for our balance and well-being. From Kerry Campbell, founder of the Academy of Well-Being:
“When we don’t recognize our triggers and our unhealthy reactions to them, it can lead us down a long, tortuous path.
Part of my recovering from a debilitating substance abuse problem involved understanding how triggers work and also learning healthier ways of responding to them. This is why now when I feel dismissed or rejected, I give voice to those emotions. I open my mouth and say, “You know, that hurt my feelings because…”
I have found that by giving my pain a voice, I no longer have to turn it inward upon myself and suppress it with alcohol. This helps keep me sober to this day.
Let’s go over a few other emotional trigger examples:
- A person who felt ignored and dismissed growing up might start yelling whenever they feel they aren’t being heard.
- A person who had emotionally unavailable parents (or partners) may get insecure whenever someone isn’t there for them.
- A person who felt controlled in the past might get angry when they think they’re being told what to do.
- A person who felt helpless for years might panic when they’re in a situation over which they have no control.
Do any of these emotional triggers resonate with you? Ask yourself, “How do I handle it when this occurs?” Many of us turn to food, alcohol, or other substances to dull our pain when faced with unresolved anger or other emotions.
A trigger is simply a stimulus that evokes upsetting feelings, which may lead to problematic behaviors. We all have triggers, and we all have unhealthy ways in which we deal with them. But we have the power to stop our automatic responses and re-route. The challenge is learning to identify our triggers and then recognizing them when they are happening.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~Viktor E. Frankl
Often, our triggers are experiences, situations, or stressors that unconsciously remind us of past traumas or emotional upsets. They “re-trigger” traumas in the form of overwhelming feelings of sadness, anxiety, or panic.
The brain forms an association between the trigger and your response to it, so that every time that thing happens again, you do the same behavioral response to it. This is because what fires together, wires together.
This means when neurons fire in the brain, they wire together the situation, emotions, and responses that caused that firing of the neurons in the first place. Sensory memory can also be extremely powerful, and sensory experiences associated with a traumatic event may be linked in the memory, causing an emotional reaction even before a person realizes why he or she is upset.
Habit formation also plays a strong role in triggering. People tend to do the same things in the same way. For example, a person who smokes might always smoke while he or she is driving; therefore, driving could trigger an urge to smoke, often without the smoker’s conscious thought.
Because our responses to triggers usually occur at the subconscious level, and we are completely unaware of the firing and wiring we have created, we are doomed to repeat self-destructive behaviors until we identify our triggers.
Once we know our triggers and begin to recognize them when they happen, we can see them for what they are—over-reactions to a perceived threat. Then, we can learn to respond in ways that are more life affirming, useful, and healthy for us.
There are two different types of reactions to triggers:
We get stuck in negative emotions such as anger, sadness, or anxiety and react in extremely emotional ways—getting violent, yelling and screaming, withdrawing completely, etc.
We crave certain substances (food, sugar, alcohol, drugs, etc.) This happens because the emotional pain triggers our habitual way of indulging in some kind of physical activity that we are using to suppress the emotion or dull the pain.
When it comes to physical reactions, it helps me to create space by doing something else, for example, taking a walk.
For emotional reactions, it helps me to clearly communicate my feelings. Mostly I had to learn to understand my emotions, acknowledge them, and then give them a voice.
Instead of unconsciously reacting to a trigger/stimulus, you can learn to consciously respond to them by doing what I call The Trigger and Response Exercise.
Start by taking a sheet a paper and creating three columns. Title them: Trigger, Current Reaction, and New Response.
In the Trigger column, write each one of your triggers. You can think of these as things that “push your buttons.”
In the Current Reaction column, list how you normally react when this button is pushed.
In the New Response column, write what you could do as a conscious response instead of your normal knee-jerk reaction.
Below are a few examples:
Trigger: When I feel that my spouse dismisses my comments or feelings about something
Current Reaction: I get angry and yell at him.
New Response: I’ll tell him my feelings were hurt.
Trigger: When I feel insecure about my body
Current Reaction: I eat a bag of cookies.
New Response: I’ll go for a walk around the block.
Trigger: When I get overwhelmed and stressed
Current Reaction: I binge drink.
New Response: I’ll practice deep breathing.
Now that you’ve written your list of triggers and changed how you’ll respond; you’ve got to learn to make these responses your habitual way of being.
Keep this list handy and use it as a guide. You can add new ways to manage your triggers as they come to you.
Don’t get discouraged if you falter, as it takes time to learn new ways of being. Just keep practicing them, until over time, they become your new habits. In this way, you are powerful in that you consciously own and choose how you respond to people, situations, and circumstances. You aren’t blindly reacting anymore.
Life is full of triggers, know this. But, also know you have the choice and the power to respond to those triggers in ways that are healthy and achieve better outcomes. In this way, you transform your life for good.”
These are excellent suggestions to practice Statement #1 while moving through our triggers and increasing our well-being.
Hi 4C Women,
Such great suggestions for learning healthy ways of coping in uncertain times. It reminded me that it’s not enough to know our triggers but to have new ways of responding. As Dr. Phil says, you have to replace an old habit with a new one. It’s finding the new healthy one that requires introspection and a plan. I was thinking of all the lists I have made over the years of what gives me joy and perhaps I need to incorporate those joys into my action plan. Of course, then there is the time I now have to clear out my office and closets but somehow those were not on my joyful lists!
I will say that I am grateful that we live in a day of technology where we can speak and see each other on many devices. I grew up in a time of only landline phones, no face time, zoom or google meetings or echo devices. Heck, we didn’t even have computers, answering machines or more than 3 tv stations. Yes, I am that old! So, as we wait patiently or impatiently (depending on the moment), there are ways to cope as we uncover and discover those ways that are individually ours. I wish for each of you to find your path and always remember that we are definitely in this together, supporting and encouraging when we have the strength to do so and to ask for it when we don’t. Bonded in accepting the responsibility for our lives, Dee