The Shouldaholic’s 5-Step Approach to Dealing with a Trigger (AGAIN)

Part of being a RECOVERING Shouldaholic is understanding our triggers. That means Awareness, Grounding, Analysis, Identifying Needs, and Navigating the next time (or AGAIN). I don’t think that we will be able to get to a point where we will not longer have triggers. I mean, maybe that could be a goal, like enlightenment or self-actualization, but making that a goal when it feels unattainable may create more stress than we need at the beginning of our healing journey.

So I’m just really focused on some simple ideas for a practical approach for dealing with our triggers. No pressure, no judgment, no shame. Just a simple 5-step tool to help us get through a trigger AGAIN!

Step 1: AWARENESS

For many of us, we don’t actually realize we got triggered until after it happened and someone reacted badly to what we did or said. That could send us into spirals of shame or guilt, but really it’s just a starting point. If you can be aware after a trigger, you can learn to slowly bring that earlier into the process. The next step is to be aware while it’s happening. For me, I realized that I could do this when I caught myself mid-yell. Oh, I’m triggered and this out of control rage is my reaction to a trigger. Okay. Try to just be aware that it’s happening rather than trying to fix it. Trying to fix something when you’re not ready is like pulling up sprouts so they can grow taller.

Over time, you will find your awareness happening earlier and earlier until you can feel it tingling right before you get out of control. It takes time and practice. Don’t forget to celebrate your improvements, rather than shaming yourself for imperfect execution.

Step 2: GROUNDING

We all need to develop our own toolbox for grounding ourselves into the present reality. That is to say, when we are time traveling (e.g. regretting the past or freaking out over the worst case scenario in the future), we just aren’t based in the physical present reality. For me, it’s slowing down my breath, closing my eyes and listening, or patting my heart help bring my attention to the here and now. What I use may will depend on my mood, the intensity of the trigger, and the stage of my healing. It used to take a lot more than it does now to bring myself to a stable resting state.

Over time, you may need less to ground yourself, but if you always have a well stocked toolbox, you can always find one that works for the specific situation or circumstance.

Step 3: ANALYSIS

Skip this step if your nervous system is completely overwhelmed and you are unable to regulate yourself into a calmer, safer state of mind. And if the word ‘analysis’ is triggering, just think of it as checking in to see if you know where this trigger comes from. When you are feeling the emotional flashback, are you able to pinpoint where you developed this learned response of fear (or shame or anger or hurt, etc.)? You don’t have to go into it. In fact, best to jot it down and work through it with your therapist.

Over time, you will be able to feel less shame about the emotional flashback, because you know that your brain got wired to respond this way and that it will take time to heal and to shift. Less shame makes it easier to shift. If possible, try to have compassion for yourself. That can be very hard if you are not used to doing it.

Step 4: Identifying Needs

If we can reframe ‘bad behaviour’ as just a symptom of having an unmet need, we can slowly shift how we see other people as well as ourselves when we are having temper tantrums. Temper tantrums happen when a child (or adult) feels helpless about getting a need met. It’s just frustration that something you need is out of your reach. So, when you are over-reacting (or even under-reacting) to something, just ask yourself, do I need something right now that I’m not getting? It could be as basic as food, water, sleep, or quiet. And if you go up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it could be more psychological or self-fulfillment needs like love, belonging, being creative.

This step of identifying isn’t easy to do, but if you listen to yourself, it could sound like “All I want is…” which indicates that it’s something that you wanted, expected to get, and didn’t.

Step 5: Navigating the Next Time

I like this step. Because it’s not about giving ourselves a hard time for something that already happened and more tweaking and prepping and setting ourselves up for a better next time. It’s helpful to think of it as: we know it’s going to happen, so how can I make it easier on me to get through the next time.

I find that if I think of this way, I can see improvement over time rather than just focus on blaming myself for not getting it right this time.

Published by Sherry Yuan Hunter

Sherry Yuan Hunter is a certified trauma recovery coach and certified parenting coach. Taiwan-born American-Canadian Chinese, married, working mother of two, Sherry identifies as a Sandwich Parent, Third Culture Kid, an untigering Mom, and recovering shouldaholic. Based in Toronto, Canada, Sherry has been working in student success programs at University of Toronto for 20 years, supporting students, young professionals, new managers, working moms, and new immigrants to success.

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