Whether emotional triggers are friend or foe depends on what you do when you’re triggered by something that someone says or does. Commonly, people blame the “triggerer” and, unfortunately, miss a golden opportunity to learn something valuable about themselves that’s currently unknown. For example, you overhear a derogatory comment about women with careers being “bad mothers.” You happen to be the mother of two small children and also have a satisfying career. You immediately want to give that person a piece of your mind along the lines of “Who do you think you are; what do you know about it anyway?” Some version of that is the usual response.
Something very important to know before you lash out at that person is that if you weren’t feeling somewhere inside yourself that that maybe you are a “bad mother” (perhaps even feeling guilty that you’re away from your children many hours during the week), you would have no emotional reaction to what was said. For a triggering comment or action to elicit a reaction, there has to be a “hook,” basically what you’re already feeling about it although nearly always unconsciously.
Panache Desai expresses it beautifully in his book Discovering Your Soul Signature (© Panache Desai, 2014):
“If we have anger, we can be sure we will encounter someone who will piss us off. If we’re sad, we’ll come across a person who will set off our sorrow. Ultimately, what these encounters do is to provide us with opportunities to feel whatever it is that is unresolved within ourselves.”
So, in reality, that person is giving you a priceless gift although s/he may be unaware of it. That person is mirroring back to you what you haven’t allowed yourself to see or feel about yourself — an unresolved issue (almost always from the past), a belief you have about how something should be, i.e. “women with small children shouldn’t have a career” or “I’m being selfish.” If you were consciously aware of what you’re feeling in this area, you wouldn’t need a mirror, would you?
All too often, we judge ourselves harshly for what we think we should or should not be thinking, feeling or doing. Those “shoulds” and “should nots” are almost always rooted in conditioning we’ve received primarily from family, school, church and peers. It’s someone’s else’s idea of how life should be, how we should be. We are all prisoners of this conditioning to some extent. We’ve internalized it as the “truth” about us rather than what it really is: someone else’s view of us. We have a choice to believe or not believe this conditioning as the truth — and that does require allowing ourselves to be aware of and experience our emotions as they arise.
It’s not as difficult as you may think or fear. Trust me on this — I’ve been there. Just try it and see what happens.