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Identifying and Healing Triggers: Part I

Updated: Feb 28

 


As a couples therapist, I have seen how triggers can significantly impact a relationship. This topic comes up so frequently that I decided to split the post in two parts. In this portion, we will look at individual ways of dealing with triggers while the second part will focus more on how you can help your partner.

 

Let’s think of triggers in this post as emotional reactions to past events that are reactivated by current events, people or situations. For example, a partner who has been betrayed in the previous relationship may feel triggered when their current partner has to work late or cancels plans last minute.

 

When a person is triggered, it can be really difficult to control their emotions, as they may feel overwhelmed, flooded, anxious or angry.  

 

Are you thinking, hey, why don’t we just avoid those triggers, let’s not step on those landmines, and everything will be fine? Sure, that could work in the short-term but it will take more mental energy to avoid than to heal and be set free. It will also impede your growth as a person, and I just can’t have you do that, sorry.

 

Healing happens when you are triggered but also able to move through the pain, the pattern, the story, and create a different ending. Recreate your narrative around the trigger by being more in control.

 

It can be difficult to even notice what triggered you but you can totally get better at this with practice. Go back and try to find a moment when you went from being fine to suddenly flooded with negative emotions. What was upsetting? A certain tone or look from your partner? A post on social media? A text from a family member?

 

Start by understanding the trigger on a rational level first as that is often easier for a lot of people. Ask yourself some questions: When in my past did I experience something similar? What does it remind me of? What thoughts are connected with the triggering event?

 

Next, see if you notice any internal shift in your body, any physical sensations (nausea, increased heart rate, sweating, a pit in your stomach, etc.) This can help you connect the thoughts and sensations with feelings. Try to name them. How did you feel when you felt triggered? Sad, anxious, scared, ashamed, angry?

 

I find the emotions wheel and scales to be helpful for couples that struggle with identifying emotions. Feel free to look them up online!




 


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