By Katherine Vilnrotter
Getting curious about triggers
Have you ever been going about your day, and all of a sudden… BAM!… for no identifiable reason, you are hurled back in time to an emotionally intense event from your past? It’s like you’ve time-traveled and are suddenly consumed by the emotions and feelings of that memory. Maybe the memory was scary or painful, and all those emotions came flooding back. Maybe your heart is racing, or beads of sweat collect on your forehead. Maybe your palms get clammy, or you feel a kind of anxious agitation in your body that makes you want to sprint a mile or punch something! But why?
Once you were able to calm yourself down and recenter, you find it difficult to find a reason for your reaction. Did you have this incredibly strong emotional and physiological experience for no reason? Were you going crazy?!
No. You’re not crazy. You experienced what psychologists call a ‘trigger.’ In my last article, Trauma Explored, I explored trauma through various lenses. A possible symptom of a traumatic reaction is experiencing emotional triggers like this. Let’s look at ‘triggers’ through different healing perspectives to understand them more fully.
Through the perspective of Neuroscience (unprocessed information and pattern matching)
Our brains are information processing machines. They take in about 400 billion bits of information per second and can only really process less than 1% of what comes in. So how do our brains decide which bits to process? Emotions.
Each bit of information processed by our brain gets an emotional ‘tag’ that helps it prioritize which information is most important. The more intense the emotion, the more important it is. According to our brain, information linked to our survival is the most important. Think of your most intense negative emotions: fear, anger, rage. These happen when your brain perceives your survival to be in danger. Think of your most intense positive emotions: sexual pleasure, eating foods with high sugar content, connecting with close friends and family. These happen because your brain perceives these as important to your survival (and that of the species). While some of these emotional blueprints can feel outdated in our modern society, such as our brain’s assumption that ‘more sugar is good for survival,’ you can see the evolutionary intention.
When a new bit of information enters the brain for processing, the brain tries to understand it by asking, ‘what is this new thing like?’ It sorts through old information and patterns to find something similar to this new thing. Once it finds the closest match, it assigns the new information the same emotional tag as the old information. As it does this, it activates the emotion to let you know how you should feel about this new thing. This is how our brains learn, through what Human Givens calls ‘pattern matching,’ With each new experience, we add more information and understanding to existing patterns. Therefore, our emotions about new things and experiences we encounter are based on previous experiences and how we felt about them.
As explained in Trauma Explored, when you experience something traumatic, the connections between your neocortex (thinking brain) and limbic system (emotional brain) get shut down so that information cannot pass between them. This separation traps traumatic information in your limbic system without being processed (since it has not reached your neocortex where processing occurs).
When you experience an emotional trigger, a new piece of information has been ‘pattern matched’ to an old traumatic bit of information stuck in your limbic system. This activates the traumatic emotions of the old information and tags the new information with that same intense emotion. Since trapped traumatic information has not been processed, it has not been organized or contextualized. Because of this, it can be difficult to know what is being triggered (or pattern matched) since it is not connecting to a processed memory.
Here is an example of what I mean: you are walking down the street on a clear day and you look up at the beautiful blue sky. All of a sudden, BAM!… you get triggered! What you are not conscious of is that the blue color of the sky happens to be the same blue as the t-shirt of the kid who beat you up one day after school when you were young. Your brain thought that since that blue color was present in a scary memory, that you might be in danger again. It doesn’t realize that the two blues have nothing to do with each other. The unconscious ‘pattern match’ activated (triggered) an old emotion. Your brain does not realize that the two have nothing to do with each other.
To help your brain process traumatic information and reduce triggers, consider finding a Human Givens practitioner to guide you through a rewind.
Through the perspective of Social and Experiential psychology (more on pattern matching)
Have you ever had a feeling about someone you just met for no apparent reason? Have you ever had a string of unhealthy relationships that feel similar? Even when you vow to stop the pattern, the next one is exactly the same! This can be due to pattern matching.
We experience pattern matching in our social and behavioral patterns as well. We learn how to behave from what worked for us in the past. If a behavior helped you get your needs met in the past, you will probably apply it to a new situation without even thinking. We learn to react to stimuli in our lives through our past experiences. We learn how to communicate through past communications. Therefore, if we learned how to behave, react, and communicate in an unhealthy home growing up, we might find a new, more healthy situation scary until we get used to it.
Our brains like to predict the future – it calms them down. Predictable situations and people can feel comforting because we know what to expect. Therefore, change can make our brains nervous because they cannot predict what will happen in new situations. An unsafe, predictable relationship can feel safer than a safe, unfamiliar type of relationship.
You might not realize that the person you just met has similar qualities to someone you already know. You may not be conscious of the comfort you get from being in a familiar type of relationship, even if it’s not healthy. Becoming aware of your social and behavioral patterns can help you change them.
Through the perspective of vibrational energetics (understanding resonance)
If you were to pluck the C string of a guitar in a room full of guitars, all the C strings in range would vibrate along with the string you plucked. This happens because of resonance. Everything has a resonant frequency. Your body, your organs, the table in your living room, as well as your thoughts and emotions all have specific resonant frequencies.
Just like the guitar string example, introducing a particular vibration into a system can activate (or trigger) the elements of that system that hold that same vibration meet up, they can both become stronger (or amplify).
Emotional triggers occur when you encounter an external stimulus that resonates with vibrations within your system. That stimulus has a specific frequency and energetic signature, as do all things. As it moves through your system, it activates (through resonance) all matching vibrations within your system. Therefore, you will be more likely to detect and experience vibrations that you already hold in your system. As you go through your day, you will be activated by elements of your life that match your vibration. This is why two people can have vastly different experiences of the same thing.
For example, have you ever noticed that if you’re in a low mood (low vibration), you are more likely to become aware of the negative aspects of your experiences? Conversely, if you are in a great mood, you may feel like nothing can get you down because you are resonating primarily with the positive vibrations in your environment.
If you find yourself experiencing lower vibrations, find something that resonates with a higher vibration within you and amplify it!
Through the perspective of Spirituality (guided by the universe)
Shamanic and spiritual teachings have employed resonance practices to connect with higher vibrations for eons. They activated resonant vibrations within themselves by mimicking different aspects and behaviors of animals, natural elements, and celestial bodies. To activate the vibration of courage within their system before going out to hunt, they got into resonance with animals they thought were courageous. To activate the vibration of speed and agility before going to war, they got into resonance with animals they thought held that quality.
Resonance is also the predominant principle behind channeling. Channeling is a vibrational and spiritual practice whereby the channeler uses their vibration to access external information. The connection between the channeler and the external information is possible because of resonance – just like the guitar strings. An important aspect of channeling to understand is that you can only access information with vibrations that match your vibration. If you are not in a good emotional or mental state, please do not attempt to channel. In that state, the only vibrations and information you will have access to are those that match the current vibration of your low state.
Everyone accesses and amplifies specific vibrations in their unique way. Singing is a wonderful way to access and amplify a vibration throughout your system. Notice how you feel when you sing along with a joyful song versus an angry or sad one. Have you ever turned on a sad song and before you know it, you’re balling? That is vibrational resonance, (emotional triggering) in action! When you sing along, you amplify those vibrations. This can be helpful to loosen up and release stuck energy in your system.
Shifting your experience – what you can do
To sum up, if you find yourself being negatively triggered, consider finding professional help to process through any trauma you may be holding. The Human Givens rewind is a great way to process trauma safely. For more information regarding trauma, see Trauma Explored.
Remember, you’re not crazy. You’re in resonance!
Here are some suggestions for dealing with triggers and resonance:
- Notice if you’re being triggered
- When you get triggered, notice if you can calm yourself down on your own (if not, consider finding professional help to do so)
- Notice if you’re experiencing unhealthy social patterns or patterns of behavior in your life
- Be patient with yourself as you consciously improve unhealthy patterns (your brain might get nervous)
- Notice how the world looks to you when you’re in a good vs. low mood
- If you’re feeling low, bring to mind something/someone that brings you joy and allow that joy to fill your mind and your body until the feeling of joy is bursting out of your skin!
- Get in resonance with positive, healthy people and situations – laugh, sing, and express those good vibrations in all the positive ways you can think up!
If any of the healing languages in this article resonate with you, you can contact me to schedule a free 15 min consultation. I would be honored to help you on your journey!
About This Series:
What if all perspectives were true? What if even seemingly contradictory perspectives were all true? What if objectivity and subjectivity, quantity and quality, physical and non-physical, logical and intuitive were all true? I have a unique perspective into healing through my seemingly incongruent wellness practices of Human Givens psychotherapy and vibrational energy work. From each different healing lens I look through, I see something slightly different, but with much overlap. Each lens has valid information to add to a body of understanding: different, yet compatible. My hope with this series is to encourage cross-disciplinary collaborations across physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual healing practices: a more holistic approach to healing. Let us not be threatened by other perspectives, but see that each is important and has something slightly unique to share. Here, where worlds collide, I will explore each topic through 4 different healing lenses in an effort to find a more complete understanding of healing.
About Katherine (in her own words):
I’m Katherine and I am a psycho-vibrational explorer. Through my wellness practice, The Love Cure, I help my clients navigate their healing journeys to heal themselves through exploring the many facets of their experience and finding balance. I do this by sharing tools that helped me heal from a life-shattering trauma almost 11 years ago. These tools originate from a wide range of perspectives: from neuroscience to social and experiential psychology, all the way to vibrational energetics and spirituality. I hope you enjoy this exploration!
Connect with Katherine:
The Love Cure website: www.love-cure.com
LinkedIn: Katherine Vilnrotter