It’s time to string up the holiday lights, shop for gifts and start the countdown for… getting triggered by our family members?
The holidays tend to be a time when family members push our buttons more than usual. But here’s the great news: It’s possible to end—or at least greatly reduce— these triggers.
Let’s start by talking about what a trigger is. A trigger is when someone or something outside of us gets us angry or “hooks” us. But triggers aren’t actually about the person pushing our buttons—they’re about us. The person or situation who triggers us is simply reflecting an unhealed, unconscious wound that we already possess.
Our triggers illuminate a part of us that Carl Jung dubbed our “shadow.” As children, we form unconscious beliefs and ideas about ourselves that we feel so ashamed of that we bury them in our shadow— the unconscious part of ourselves. As children, when we feel ashamed, of like we don’t matter or we’re not good enough, we take those beliefs and push them down into the unconscious part of the mind. Aggressive impulses, shameful experiences, taboo mental images, immoral urges, fears, irrational wishes and unacceptable sexual desires are all common parts of our shadows.
Our shadow parts are like an Iceberg— we can only see the tip of the iceberg that pokes out of the water, but beneath the water lies a huge mass of ice. That mass of ice is where our shadows are buried in the unconscious mind.
When someone triggers us, that person is actually shining light on our unconscious mind. They’re giving us the opportunity to look at our own deep beliefs, and the opportunity to see more of who we are and find our lost or fragmented selves.
Ultimately, our goal is to integrate the shadow and stop rejecting parts of our personality that we hate, are ashamed of or embarrassed by, and find ways to bring them forward into our everyday lives. I’m not talking about posting your newly integrated shadow parts on Facebook—but I am inviting you to examine and own these parts within yourself for your own peace.
The shadow self can act like a disobedient child. We have to acknowledge this part of ourselves and stop projecting our pain onto others if we want to be free of our triggers.
When we work to heal and integrate our shadow, we stop living so reactively and unconsciously, and we build more trust in our relationships.
When we get triggered, we can choose to stop blaming and projecting our hurt onto others and take a look inside. We all have shadows—looking at them can set us free. In this light, a trigger is a gift and an opportunity for healing, transformation and freedom. Before you react the next time you’re triggered pause and take a breath, and ask yourself these questions:
- What does this trigger bring up? What comes up within me when, for instance, my mom says that thing she always says? What is stirring inside of me? Often our first thought is that we’re angry—but let’s go deeper.
- What’s underneath the anger? Anger often serves as a protective mechanism for a less mature part of us. Pause and go beneath the anger and see what’s there. Get curious. Let go of the blame about the other person or circumstance. If you’re really angry and you need to punch a pillow or stomp your feet, do it. Then venture under the anger.
- What are my shadow beliefs that caused me to be triggered? You may find inner beliefs or emotions under the anger like “I feel like a fraud.” In that instance, ask yourself if part of you feels like you’re a fraud. For instance, if someone made a comment to you and you felt like you didn’t matter, the shadow belief would be, “I don’t matter.” Find the shadow belief and own it—make it yours. This is where the healing and transformation happens!
It’s not your fault that you have a shadow side—we all do! The key to freedom is, instead of getting mad and gossiping about the person that triggered us, to go on a quest inside to find that shadow side and own it. Getting to know our shadows makes us more integrated and authentic—and it helps set us free from triggers.