Why am I being triggered?
As we go through life, the relationships and events around us shape our view of the world. From our time in the womb, we learn if there are plenty of resources available to us or if we need to ration our resources. In early childhood, we learn if the world is a safe place or if we can’t trust those around us. All our experiences create an internal model by which we view the world. It is absolutely normal to feel upset, anxious, angry or uncomfortable when we come across difficult situations. These emotions are healthy and dealing with them helps us to learn how to regulate ourselves. Trauma triggers are different. We essentially time travel back to the time of the original trauma which can feel overwhelming.
If something bad has happened to us in our past, that can tell us something about how we view the world. This can either be from one traumatic experience such as a car accident which makes us anxious about driving again or it could be a cluster of seemingly less impactful incidents. An example of this is if your experience of your primary carer is that they never have time for you. Anything you ask is an inconvenience or is too much effort. This can lead to an internalisation of the message that you aren’t worthy of attention or you aren’t good enough in some capacity. This is not always linked to the reality of the situation, maybe your primary caregiver was an only parent who had to work full time and care for multiple children so simply didn’t have time to attend to your needs even though they would have very much liked to. This message is stored with the meaning making abilities of the child who experienced this. So when, as an adult, you maybe don’t feel good enough, you may not relate this to your childhood because the adult part of you can rationalise that your parent was doing the best they could. However, the memories and internalised messaging were stored with the meaning making abilities you had as a child. As such you don’t have access to the adult meaning making which tells you that you were good enough but your parent was just very busy trying to make ends meet.
What does this mean for you? Maybe if you feel like you aren’t good enough in a relationship or maybe at work. You may not be able to view this from an adult perspective, instead your inner child may be triggered. The first clue to being triggered is when the strength of your reaction does not necessarily match the situation. So maybe your partner, who you are in a committed and loving relationship with, says that they are too busy and can’t see you tonight. The adult part of you knows that they have a work deadline and that they need to work that evening. If they could see you, they would. However, the inner child feels rejected and those feelings of not being good enough come to the surface. The inner child is the part of you that responds to this perceived rejection with an angry or upset response which feels out of place for what has happened. This leads to an argument which could have been avoided with hindsight when the adult part of you takes back over and understands why your partner couldn’t see you that evening.
If any of this feels familiar, time in therapy may help you to unpick what your triggers are and how to heal those wounded internal parts. Therapy can be a deeply healing experience and can help to give you back control over how you respond to situations in life.