When I was 20, I decided I would conquer my fear of alcohol.
I had recently recovered from a debilitating medical condition that had forced me to take an emergency medical leave from college. Considering the pain and fear I’d experienced, I was amazed that the source and cure of the problem turned out to be so simple. Within 6-8 weeks of finding the right doctor and a proper diagnosis, I was healed.
Afterward, I asked myself why it had been such a scary experience, recalling a stretch of time in which I thought I might be dying. I realized it didn’t have to be. Not knowing why I was in pain had inspired a snowballing fear that had made the experience far more traumatic than it needed to be. Recognizing this inspired a life-defining decision: I was going to systematically look for and conquer all those fears that I felt were controlling my life or robbing me of choice.
First I decided to confront the fear of turning into an alcoholic. I grabbed a beer, prepared my close friends to take note of any potential signs of addiction, and sat down at a table to take a sip.
My head screamed. My fear of becoming an addict came up roaring, but I was ready. The screaming subsided, my heart calmed, and a huge sense of accomplishment washed over my body.
I was going to be OK.
Since then, I’ve become less of a “conqueror of fears” and more of a growth-oriented explorer. I see reactionary fears as less of something to fear themselves (sorry, F. D. Roosevelt), and more as button-pushers, triggering the part of the brain with limited access to higher-level consciousness and choices (“fight or flight” response, anyone?). A trigger is something that automatically brings up certain emotions for you – typically anger, disempowerment, fear, or frustration – and causes you to react instinctively from that emotion to protect yourself from a perceived threat, whether that be to your body or to your sense of self, or anything in between.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with triggers. In fact, they may save your life. The key issue with triggers, however – particularly when there isn’t likely to be a physical threat to your life – is that they rob you of the choice to respond from a place of peace or balance. You react instead of respond. By releasing triggers, you gain access to those higher-level choices, self-agency and power.
The journey of releasing triggers is a gradual process, however, as there tend to be layers of triggers that one can uncover over time. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
This mentality, and the set of tools that have been developed out of it, have come in very handy in every area of my life.
If you asked me about my relationship a year ago, for example, I might have answered with uncertainty and frustration. My relationship was witness to many fights during that time. Instead of running, though, I decided to apply a growth-oriented mentality to the relationship and the issues we were facing. After a few pointed “a-ha’s” I realized the real reason why I was yelling so much had far less to do with my partner and more to do with an unresolved layer of fear of commitment. With that awareness, as well as his own “a-ha’s,” came liberation and the transformation of frustration into easy laughter and an uncanny connection.
At work, this mentality has transformed not only my relationships with my co-workers and supervisors, but also my relationship to the idea of “work,” itself. Once a self-professed doormat, my identity at work has shifted dramatically over the last three years, to the verbalized surprise and awe of co-workers. The issues underlying this identity have peeled away in layers, with more waiting to be transformed. Here is how to release triggers and become freer:
Create a Circle of Influencers and Role Models
According to author Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” This includes your favorite authors and TV shows. Surround yourself with those people, things, and ideas that live the type of life or mentality that you would like to adopt. Notice how they approach triggers, how they deal with anger, disappointment, uncertainty, fear. Ask them about their journey, or look for cues on it.
Some recommended five-ers: Paulo Coelho, Oprah, Dan Millman, Esther Hicks, Brené Brown, Corey Booker, Marianne Williamson, Neale D. Walsch, and Rev. Michael Beckwith.
Reflect on Your Triggers and Your Response to Them
In order to unhook from triggers you first have to recognize that you are being triggered. Become acquainted with the art of slowing down and tuning into your body, particularly in moments of high stress or emotion. How is your body reacting to the situation? Are you feeling automatically pushed in the direction of disempowerment? Frustration? Annoyance? Anger? Do you wish you’d reacted differently? That choice of reacting differently in the moment is something you can give to yourself, gradually.
Once you’ve unearthed a trigger, whether it be dirty laundry on the floor or snide comments, understand that your reaction has nothing to do with the other person, and to assign them that role gives away your power of responding. If something is someone else’s fault, what power, right, or responsibility do you have to affecting change around it?
Once you accept that you have the ability to choose to respond independently of what is happening around you, you give yourself choice. With that choice, you can view those triggers more objectively and reflect on what within you may be causing you to react automatically. When you peel away those layers, then those same people, situations, etc. no longer have the power to trigger you in the same way. You’ve taken back your power in putting away the blame.
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