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unpacking emotional triggers for deeper understanding - surviving my past

Unpacking emotional triggers for deeper understanding.

by Matt Pappas

One of the most important things to embrace in a healing journey, is the ability to look at our past and unpack all of the memories with an open mind. Being able to break them down, and really examine them in a deep, intricate way is crucial to understanding what our healing journey is all about.  The same is true for recent events that transpire that can cause us to be emotionally triggered.

I wrote previously about “Dealing with a taco shell moments in our recovery“. That post talked about how an evening of cooking tacos for dinner turned into a situation where I experienced an emotional trigger, and I snapped; losing my temper because we were out of taco shells.

Those emotional triggers can hit out of nowhere, one minute we are completely fine, and in an instant everything goes sideways and we lose it. It happened and now I’m doing my best to examine it and learn from it. It’s one of the best things we can do for ourselves in healing; work to understand what our emotional triggers are, so we can gain a deeper understanding of how our minds work and how we react to situations.

When working with a professional, we learn that we need to sit with our feelings and emotions, rather than minimize them. The last thing we should do is shame ourselves for what we feel, or just brush it under the rug; chalking it up to a situation that will never happen again.

Ignoring a problem never makes it go away; it comes back more powerful, and with a greater vengeance later on down the road. Often when we least expect it.  This is especially true in trauma recovery.

I was challenged to unpack that situation more. For that matter, to unpack triggers, flashbacks, memories, and all parts of my healing journey more. Don’t just talk about it and then move on thinking I have it all figured out. Not that I ever think I have it all figured out, but rather don’t give up on the potential to learn more from it happened now what can I learn from an emotional trigger - surviving my past dot neta situation that went down.

It’s good, and very important to break down a situation after it happens; when we’ve had time to chill and get into in a good mental space of evaluation. Conversely, trying to figure it out when we’re still highly emotional can be even more frustrating.

The best way to do this is to simply start asking ourselves, “why”? What else can I learn from that taco experience?

Why did I feel angry over the taco shells? Did it remind me of something from my past?

By simply asking myself those two questions I uncovered a whole new layer of understanding about myself, and how my mind reacts based on past trauma.

I learned that this incident reminded me two things:

  1. It reminded me of a lack of communication that was present in my growing up years. The inability to freely communicate with my parents, brushing things under the rug, invalidation, the whole 9 yards.
  2. It made me feel like people were hiding things from me. This reminded me of times when I got bullied, people talking behind my back, and my parents keeping things from me as a kid and when I got older. 

By analyzing openly and without self-shame, I was able to put it into perspective. In the process, I also added another tool in my survivor toolbox that I can use in the future. There’s no substitute for experience that we can fall back on when needed.

Being able to relate that situation to something I experienced as a child was enlightening to say the least.

Triggers, flashbacks, random thoughts from the past, whatever it is, always be kind to yourself when unpacking a traumatic moment. When you’re ready, look at what happened and ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way, what does this remind me of”?

It’s entirely possible that perhaps a situation was just a “one-off” random scenario. Perhaps it doesn’t remind us of anything from our past. If that’s the case, so be it. The key is that we give ourselves the opportunity to examine it and discover the additional hidden revelations.

But, if we do find that the situation caused us to be reminded of something, then unpacking that and understanding it can be extremely beneficial.

  • Why am I angry, why am I sad, why am I scared?
    • Did this remind me of something my mother or father (caregiver) said to me?
    • Did it remind me of a time when I had no food and I was hungry?
    • Did it remind me of a time when I was abandoned? Bullied?
    • Did it remind me of a time when nobody cared about what I thought?
    • Did it remind me of a time when I was embarrassed and made fun of?
  • Really dive deep and explore every possibility to unlock what this all means and why you reacted the way that you did. No judgments, no blame, no self-criticism, just understanding.

So, I encourage you, and like always also encouraging myself, to unpack every situation that you can and learn from it.  Because more often than not, if we react a certain way, it likely can be traced back to some type of invalidation in the past.



Pictures courtesy of Pixabay, social media images created using Canva

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sherylburpeedluginski January 9, 2017 - 10:42 am

Sounds like you’re making good progress, Matt. Rarely easy, but always totally worth the effort I the long run.

L Wool January 9, 2017 - 11:45 am

This is very relevant to where I am at in my recovery process. Those dang flashbacks and triggers!….They used to put fear in me, and now it’s more of a “C’mon flashback… I’m not afraid!” This part of my recovery seems to have helped in my life-long reaction to triggers by dissociating (I never understood dissociation or why it was happening, but I do now) Thanks for sharing!

Charlie Jaxx January 9, 2017 - 1:33 pm

I can’t even tell you how much I can relate to this post. I really needed to read this today. Especially since this is “session” day.

I can remember a time just very VERY recently I blew up because I wanted chocolate milk. I poured the milk into a glass went to get the chocolate syrup and there wasn’t any. I just bought that bottle a couple days ago. So I KNEW we had to have some. I checked everywhere for. And nothing. I already had the milk poured so of course I couldn’t pour it back into the gallon jug. I started yelling at the kids and just going off on a tirade. About chocolate syrup. Really?? I could have easily drove the 3 miles to Giant to get some. But I chose to go off on a tangent. And of course there was NO WAY I was going to drink regular milk. It was awful.

Afterwards, I felt so terrible for yelling and screaming at the kiddos I HAD to apologize to them. I had to do some grounding myself. And think about the events that took place and why? It was stupid. But something triggered it. It’s the most horrible feeling when others are involved. Especially if it’s your kids.

Thanks for posting this Matt.


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