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How to manage being triggered by your ex

19 Aug

A trigger is an emotional response to a situation. Here are 5 steps to handle control your emotions and manage being triggered.

Man and woman arguing

Our brains are truly remarkable and by far our best asset, they work faster than conscious thought. In fact,  95% of our thoughts are subconscious, which means reactions, our behaviour and our habits are not conscious; they are based on past experiences and not necessarily reflective of what is actually happening now or helpful for what we want in the future. 

These subconscious thoughts are often created by triggers. A trigger is an emotional response to a situation – something occurs, you react, and then your brain instantly creates a reason for your reaction to justify your behaviour; even if the reason makes no sense. This can often result in placing the blame elsewhere, and in terms of a divorce, who better to blame than your ex? I know I was certainly guilty of this when I went through my divorce. But unfortunately this approach can lead to victimisation. In the short term, you may feel better, it may even release much needed hormones you have come to rely upon. However, as a long term strategy this can be extremely damaging:

  • It keeps you stuck
  • Your behaviour shapes your children and who they  grow up to be
  • It stops you being happy, as it puts your perceived power in the hands of your ex. 

So how do you get past this? Here are my five steps to taking back control of your emotions and not being triggered. 

Step 1 Acceptance. 

Remove the veil of self-deception and accept yourself as a powerful intelligent being instead of as a victim. When you seek to identify what is triggering you and how you feel in the moment, you give yourself the chance to feel differently. You will also have more clarity on what you need to do in order to change your circumstances.

Step 2 Recognise 

Your mental and physical state are intrinsically linked when we are triggered. We go into survival mode which causes a fight, flight or freeze response that has a physical impact.  Notice how your breathing is shallow. Has your vision tunneled? Is there tension in your muscles, do you feel any tightness or pain? This is your brain pumping oxygenated blood to your arms and legs ready to fight or flight. These are all signs you are in survival mode. Unfortunately, whilst in this mode your brain is being deprived of much needed oxygen required for rational strategic thinking. Therefore, the sooner you recognise you are triggered the better. 

Step 3 Identify 

Now you have interrupted the trigger you can look at identifying it. The most common cause of triggers are: 

  1. Feeling self-conscious
  2. Being discounted or disregarded
  3. Feeling we are controlled / taken advantage of/ smothered
  4. Feeling vulnerable
  5. Feeling lonely
  6. Boundary concerns
  7. Feeling uncomfortable about what is happening i.e. someone is not respecting or meeting our values. 
  8. Fear of what might happen, perceived danger

The quicker you notice an emotion is triggered, the sooner you can discover if the threat is real or not.

Step 4 - Make a choice 

With practice, the reaction to your emotional triggers can subside, but they might not go away. The best you can do is to quickly identify when an emotion is triggered and then choose what to say or do next. That is what leads to emotional freedom and control over your own life and outcomes. 

In order to do this, ask yourself are you really losing this need or not? Are you taking the situation too personally? If it’s true that someone is ignoring your need, can you either ask for what you need or, if it doesn’t really matter, can you let the need go?

Step 5 - Shift your emotional state

You can practice this step at any time to help  you determine what you want to do next, by shifting into the emotion that will help you get the best results. In order to do this here are some tips:

  • Breathe. This releases the tension in your body.
  • Detach. Clear your mind of all thoughts, this is not easy to do and takes practice. I find bringing your awareness to the center of your body helps.  
  • Focus. Choose one keyword that represents how you want to feel at this moment. Breathe in the word and allow yourself to feel the shift.
  • Stop trying to manage your emotions. Instead, choose to feel something different when an emotion arises. This is how you gain emotional freedom.
  • Change your environment. Get outside,  in nature if possible. It releases feel good hormones that will help bring down the stress levels, and bring clarity. 
  • Move  your body. Your mental and physical state are intrinsically linked. Changing your physical state will release endorphins which will change your emotional state.

I know from my own situation, these five steps really help. I’d love to hear your thoughts or if you have any other ideas that help - do contact me on email.

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