When early childhood trauma gets triggered

When early childhood trauma gets triggered
September 20, 2017 Ann Weiser Cornell
What to do when triggered by past trauma

Focusing Tip #577 – If you’re triggered by what people say, and you know it’s from your own past, what do you do?


Sally writes:

I’m curious if you can talk about what it means when your emotional reaction seems to be out of proportion to the event. I am very aware how often things that people do or say trigger me, and that makes it difficult for me to engage in relationships because I’m often not really reacting to the present. I’m reacting to something from long ago. But I don’t necessarily want to “go back in time” because there are overwhelming feelings back there that feel worse. Suggestions?

Dear Sally:

You’re already a step ahead of the game just by being aware that you are being triggered and that those triggers are in the past. Look how many people are acting out of old emotional hurts without being at all aware that that’s what they are doing!

So you are aware you are being triggered… you are upset, or feel disrespected, or you’re angry, or you’re full of shame… and you know that the emotional force of it is from the past. Of course something is actually occurring in the present time… but if it weren’t for the past, the present wouldn’t be bothering you this much, and you’d find a balanced and effective response.

The first step is to pause… and notice what is happening in you. Use the language “something in me is feeling…” to acknowledge the part of you that is so upset (or whatever word fits for you). Imagine yourself turning toward that hurt part inside you. You are shifting from being that triggered part to being with her.

When we can be with what we feel instead of being caught up in the feelings, the part of us that has the feelings now has company. How big that is, to have company! There is so much healing contained in this simple move, turning toward the part that has the triggered feelings instead of being the feelings.

Do you have to go back in time? A very important question. Let me answer it this way:

The past is already knocking on your door. Every time you get triggered, it’s like the pain of your past is saying to you, “I’m still here!”

So at least say back to it, “Yes, I know you are there.” And to the part of you that doesn’t want to go back there: “Yes, I know you are there, too.”

From acknowledging what is so, the wisdom of your body will find its way.


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