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Triggers are mirrors to an unresolved trauma buried deep within.
When you experience pain or discomfort, your brain shifts to survival mode, and you armor up; you get ready for battle. Your body surges with cortisol and adrenaline—you are on high alert.
You are ready to fight, freeze, flight, or fawn.
According to Brené Brown and Dare to Lead, section three: The Armory (I can’t summarize this because it’s so beautiful. It is written, word-for-word from pages 71-75 in her book):
“At the center of this elaborate personal security measures and protection schemes lie the most precious treasure of the human experience: the heart. In addition to serving as the lifegiving muscle that keeps blood pumping through our body, it’s the universal metaphor for our capacity to love and be loved, and it’s the symbolic gateway to our emotional lives. I’ve always talked about living with an unarmored heart as wholeheartedness. I define wholeheartedness as ‘engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave, and worthy of love and belonging.’
Wholeheartedness captures the essence of a fully examined emotional life and a liberated heart, one that is free and vulnerable enough to love and be loved. And a heart is that is equally free and vulnerable to be broken and hurt.
Rather than protecting and hiding our heart behind bulletproof glass, wholeheartedness is about integration. It’s integrating our thinking, feeling, and behavior. It’s putting down the armor and bringing forth all the scraggly, misshapen pieces of our history and folding in all of the different roles that, when falsely separated, keep us feeling exhausted and torn, to make a complex, messy, awesome, whole person…integrate in Latin is integrare, ‘to make whole.'”
When we are triggered and imprison our heart, we disembody our emotions from ourselves to the point that we literally don’t recognize which physical feelings are connected to which emotional feelings; we don’t gain control, we lose it. Without our understanding or consent, emotions start driving our decision-making and behavior, while thinking is tied up in the trunk.
On the other hand, when the heart is open and free and we’re connected to our emotions and understand what they’re telling us, new worlds open up for us; including better decision-making and critical thinking, and the powerful experience of empathy, self-compassion, and resilience.
“Without our understanding or consent, emotions start driving our decision making and behavior, while thinking is tied up in the trunk.” ~ Brené Brown
I imagine cruising in a convertible down the road. Top-down, jamming out to some music. Staying in my own lane. I am driving toward this awesome new adventure. I’m not sure what it will bring, but wholeheartedly (fully resourced) I know it is going to be life-changing. Inspiration hits me, and I follow my intuition. I feel alive. Excited. Ready for new and different. Ope. What’s that? It looks like a block in the road ahead. A trigger. I’ve been here before. Woah. Danger. I start slowing down. I turn down the music so I can see better. Oh my. There are red lights everywhere. It looks like something is blocking the lane. I can’t quite make it out. I’m almost stopped.
So much information is flooding my experience, and I doubt everything. Why am I here? Why did I choose this? Why would I put myself in this “danger?” I feel the familiar sinking feeling of my heart and my stomach dropping. Fear. Discomfort. Bad idea. Unknown. Not safe. My head tells me in order to survive we need to turn around so fast and get the hell out of here. My heart tells me to take a deep breath and lean into what I know—not what I think.
Five years ago, I could never breathe in a charged situation. I spent my energy on surviving; I could only see the pain, discomfort, and unknown. Fear, emotions, and reactions drove the car—usually toward self-sabotage, burnout, and depression. Meanwhile, presence, growth, and processing were locked in the trunk.
Pausing is a skill. It is a muscle that, when consistently flexed, becomes stronger. When you’re threatened, you are able to step away from emotional reactions and get curious about the cycles.
Sit with that anger and discomfort. Listen to it. Get curious about what it is trying to tell you. No matter how often you want to get up and walk away or shove it down—remind yourself it is temporary. That you are safe. That you can do hard things.
Lean into your light and respond to the situation. No lashing out. Not allowing thinking to be locked in the trunk. Stay online and resourced, honoring your past while anchored into the present and future.
“Ego is an eager and willing conspirator when it comes to locking away the heart. I think of my ego as my inner hustler. It’s the voice in my head that drives pretending, performing, pleasing, and perfecting. The ego loves gold stars and craves acceptance and approval. It has no interest in wholeheartedness, just self-protection and admiration. Our ego will do almost anything to avoid or minimize the discomfort associated with feeling vulnerable or even being curious – because it’s too risky.” ~ Brené Brown
Ego fears and feeds shame. Shame is the feeling that washes over us and makes us feel so flawed that we question whether we’re worthy of love, belonging, and connection, and it paralyzes. It leaves us spinning in the mud. Spending a lot of energy, but not getting anywhere.
Ego and shame are the cards I play when I self-sabotage. My line of thinking: welp, sh*t’s going downhill anyway soooooooo I might as well fix the outcome, fail myself, take the blame, and not allow anyone else the power to do so. I cage my heart, my spirit, and my creativity. I live small. I live in fear. I live exhausted.
Awareness about triggers is a tricky b*tch because some of the time I’m not ready to take accountability and take my power back. It is just so much more comfortable and familiar to place blame and to feel shame. It’s known. It’s “acceptable.”
I have been rumbling with this vulnerability while processing and integrating wholeheartedness into my life the past few weeks. I am just about to reach another level and as we become truer versions of ourselves—the past always comes up—whether we are conscious or not of its hold on our decision making.
I learned that it is our responsibility to get curious about the trauma/trigger—to cycle through the feelings and witness the emotions, but don’t become them and don’t relive the trauma; observe it from the badass you are and know that you have survived.
Life, now, is about thriving. Release the pain. Grant yourself the permission to be human and forgive—the full messiness, complicated, dynamic, and beautiful imperfection that you are!
From page 74:
“While ego is powerful and demanding, it’s just a tiny part of who we are. The heart is giant by comparison, and its free, wholehearted wisdom can drown out the smallness of needing to be liked. I love how the Jungian analyst Jim Hollis describes the ego as ‘that thin wafer of consciousness floating on an iridescent ocean called the soul’. He writes, ‘We are not here to fit in, be well balanced, or provide exempla for others. We are here to be eccentric, different, perhaps strange, perhaps merely to add our small piece, our little clunky, chunky selves, to the great mosaic of being. As the gods intended, we are here to become more and more ourselves.'” ~ Brené Brown