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How to Handle Emotional Triggers (Especially the Ones You Thought You Already Worked Through)

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I personally know how frustrating it is to feel as though you’ve fully worked through something, processed a trigger, and handled your emotions… only for you to get triggered again later. This is something I’ve been dealing with a lot this last year and talking with many people about. Why is it that we do all this work, only to be surprised by a triggering event later on?

It’s so frustrating when this happens, especially if you’re anything like me and you want to think through things and not feel through them. Sometimes it’s not natural to feel, so when you’ve put in all this emotional work, it can be pretty discouraging to realize there’s more work to be done. 

But why is there more work necessary? How do we get that work done? Why do triggers keep happening? Don’t throw in the towel. We’re going to dig into this aspect of handling emotional triggers right now.

Trauma is Complicated

If you haven’t done it yet, it’s so important that you recognise you are no longer the same version of you who was triggered by that thing in your past. If your triggers stem from traumas in your childhood, realize that you are no longer that child and you are no longer in that situation. This is necessary for moving forward because it gives us so much more respect for ourselves and a better perspective.

You have to start thinking (and feeling) for yourself now, not for anyone or anything else. Once you’re able to do these things, you also must recognize what causes a trigger which is most often some type of trauma.

A trauma is something that happens unexpectedly. You feel helpless in the moment because you can’t stop it and you’re not able to process through it completely because you don’t have the awareness or coping mechanisms. A trauma can be anything: abuse and abandonment, but it can also be something much smaller like watching a movie at the wrong time in your brain development. Just because you dealt with one piece of your trauma and cleaned up a bunch of issues doesn’t mean you don’t have other triggers laid down in your brain and subconscious.

That’s why it takes a while to fully clean these things up, and that’s why you have to take time and deliberate effort to clean up. If you don’t, you’ll keep yourself trapped in your suffering cycles for years.

This Work is Like Peeling an Onion

I just had a conversation with someone the other day, and we were talking about all the work we’ve been doing within ourselves, for ourselves. At one point, the other person looked at me and said, “Jules, sometimes I feel like I just want to take it all and shitcan it. Because you know what? I’ve been doing all the work and it’s not getting any better!”

That hit me hard. I can relate to that feeling because of how much I keep facing triggers lately… but I have to be honest with myself, and when I’m really, really honest, I can’t say it hasn’t been getting any better. The truth is that sometimes we don’t realize how deep our wounds are or how many triggers we have. So while it can feel in the moment as though you haven’t gotten better, you actually are doing much better. You’re just not all the way done yet and you still have some work yet.

I need to remind you that doing this type of work is like peeling an onion. We have to realize it’s necessary to keep peeling and peeling until we get to the core of it all: the core wound behind our triggers. Even if we’ve peeled off ten layers, if we’re not at the core wound yet, then we still have triggers and layers to work through. Dealing with triggers you thought you already handled doesn’t mean you’re not making progress. It just means you’re not quite done getting through all your layers.

Don’t Overcomplicate It

If you’ve recently been triggered and are feeling frustrated, or are thinking, “All of this work I’ve been doing isn’t getting me anywhere,” it’s time to stop and take a deep breath. Instead of getting yourself worked up about still having a trigger, wondering why something keeps happening, or feeling discouraged that you still have work to do… just accept that you have a trigger that needs to be reversed. Then go reverse it.

Don’t overcomplicate it. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t throw in the towel. Just take half a day—or a couple of days, or even hour segments across several days—and decide you’re going to set some purposeful time aside for yourself. In a safe place, trigger yourself by remembering the instance that upsets you—or turn on some music that triggers your emotions or wait for life to trigger you—and consciously make the choice to do something loving and nurturing for yourself to replace that trigger. 

You’re rewiring your brain to heal and release a trauma that’s been bothering you for years by replacing the trigger and trauma emotions with something loving, kind, and good. It’s okay if it takes time. It’s okay to do it layer by layer. You are so worthy of the love it takes to get through this.

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