Have you ever felt triggered out of the blue? Perhaps someone said something—which he or she presumed was innocent—yet it rocked your world, causing you to erupt into an array of unwarranted emotions.
I remember being in this exact situation. We were working with an individual regarding a home improvement project. I’d opened his email, excited to see his plans. Yet, when I read the proposal … which included using materials I had emphatically said we did not want, I became incensed. How could this person have so clearly disrespected my wishes? I had been extremely precise on what we wanted.
While I now understand he did what he thought best, even if he ignored our request, in no way did his actions merit my response. However, I’d been triggered—felt as though this man disrespected me, snubbing my request on purpose.
Recently remembering this experience and my overreaction, I became curious, wondering what caused my spontaneous explosion. This man, who is extremely nice and very respected in his field, was merely doing what he thought was in our best interest. Still, I took it as a personal attack, causing me to behave in an inappropriate and somewhat embarrassing manner.
Whenever we’re triggered, it’s as though someone pokes an open wound, something from our past that has never fully healed. Sometimes we’re aware when another’s words enflame us. While realizing what is happening doesn’t lessen the hurt, we understand why we’re behaving as we are. Our overreaction doesn’t cause confusion. We get someone hit a nerve.
Of course, you’d think we’d always be aware of our Achilles heels. However, while our weak spots may appear obvious to those who know us well, often we are the last to acknowledge our raw wounds. It’s human nature to ignore them, pretending these pains never occurred.
If we unexpectedly experience an unanticipated emotional reaction to another’s words or behavior—like I had—most likely they’ve prodded an open, unhealed sore we don’t even know exists. Suddenly, we’re confused, unsure of the flood of feelings inhabiting our body. Nevertheless, these unexpected sensations indicate there’s something deep inside—hidden in our subconscious—that we fear acknowledging.
When I took the time to pause and ponder about my extreme behavior after reading that email, I realized it had very little to do with that situation or person. Sure, I wasn’t happy with his proposal. Yet, there was a great deal more beneath the surface that stoked my anger. It was as though a hot poker seared an unhealed gash—one involved being disrespected in the past. His words only reminded me of this former pain, one that I’d intentionally kept in the dark.
We all have shadow wounds. Some are no surprise, yet others are buried deep within, intentionally hidden because accepting they hurts too much. Maybe something happened when we were young, and we chose to suppress it because we didn’t fully understand the reason of our pain. Or perhaps it’s a trait we’re not so proud of, a characteristic we’re embarrassed to own.
Often, these shadow wounds cause unexplained fears, impacting us in inexplicable ways. Perhaps they present as an anxious feeling, an uncomfortable sensation, or an irrational fear. Surfacing when least expected, we cannot figure the cause, yet the trauma cannot be denied.
But how do we fix them, make these shadow wounds go away?
The best remedy is to shine the light, meaning we see—and accept—these shadows exist and are indeed part of who we are. This may be the most difficult step because who wants to own something that makes us feel cruddy about ourselves? However, until we illuminate these wounds, they remain stuck in the dark and cannot be healed. But once we own our shadow wounds, we can begin to nurture these hidden aspects of ourselves, restoring our inner peace. Below are helpful steps to help lessen our unexpected triggers:
1. Forgive — Whatever caused the wound, it’s time to forgive the behavior, action, words, or character trait that we disowned, causing the pain to become a shadow. Until we can grant ourselves grace, we cannot proceed with healing.
2. Accept — None of us are perfect. That’s what being human is all about. We’re here to learn, grow, and expand. If we had it all figured out, we would never have accepted the challenge of showing up in this lifetime. Now is the time to fully see what occurred, accept it’s done, and move on.
3. Be compassionate — We all require love and reassurance. Remember getting in trouble as a child? If you’re like me, I just wanted someone to tell me everything was alright, that I could let go of any guilt or shame. Well, just because we’re adults doesn’t mean these needs are no longer there. Let’s show some self-compassion.
4. Encourage — Often we need a “You go, girl” or “You’ve got this, man.” Perhaps others in our life can offer comforting words, but why wait to hear it from someone else when we possess the ability to give ourselves props, propelling us forward?
5. Be open to change — Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result? If we don’t make changes, then we’ll just remain on the hamster wheel, soon finding ourselves in a similar situation, though most likely with higher stakes. That’s the thing about the Universe—it keeps providing lesson after lesson until we finally get the message. Unfortunately, the cost of missing the point seems to escalate every time. It’s as though someone above is saying, “When are you finally going to get this?”
6. Trust — Often we want to change, but we lack faith, causing us to remain stuck. If we want to see a shift, we must be willing to leave our comfort zone. But taking this leap requires courage and trust.
7. Surrender — After we find it in ourselves to trust, we must then surrender our need to control the outcome. After all, what we want may not be in our best interest. That’s why it’s critical to surrender and release our tight grasp, trusting all will be well.
8. Allow — When we are not attached to an outcome, we allow what is to be. This is the ultimate act. If we trust and let go of the need to hold the reigns, we permit the Universe to operate in alignment. Allowing can be extremely difficult, but only because we make it so. Our need to be in charge, control outcomes, and fix others creates unnecessary problems which often form wounds. I say this from experience.
Shadows are not meant to haunt us. Their purpose is to teach, showing those pieces of ourselves that require attention, love, and light. Instead of ignoring what we prefer not to see, let’s shine the light—brightly—to heal the pain within.