March 1, 2019
How Can Mindfulness Help With Triggers?
By Dr. Manijeh Motaghy- Co-Founder of Perfectly Here, Founder of Mindful Business Institute and member of International Mindfulness Teachers Association.
Can we live a trigger-free life? We can do as close as possible!
So, how does it work? How can Mindfulness help with triggers?
What are some facts about triggers:
- Triggers contain Memory and Emotion related to life events in the past. You experienced something in the past that accompanied some kind of emotion. This could be positive or negative. Painful or pleasurable. Exciting or frightening. Loving or hateful. It matters not. The memory system record all our experiences. The main reason for this is learning, so that we won’t have to re-learn everything from scratch.
- The old brain (Amygdala), who is in charge of saving our lives, also keeps a record of all strategies we used in the past in reaction to threatening situations so it can use it again to save us. From the amygdala’s point of view, we are alive. Therefore, for example, the screaming we did as a 7 year old must have worked. The running out of the room we did when 26 must have saved our life. The laughing or joking around we did when we felt embarrassed must have been effective. Again, because we did not die during those unpleasant or threatening experiences, then they must be great ways of dealing with them.
- The old brain is not well-integrated with the prefrontal cortex, which is the rational, cognitive, attentive part of the brain. Therefore, it does not incorporate intelligence and rationality. It takes all unpleasant experiences as life threatening and releases cortisol or stress hormones into the body so that the person would act to save him/herself.
- Along with the emotion and strategy used, the brain also records thought or story (perception) related to the past events and brings it up to explain what is happening in the present moment.
- Another aspect kept in the memory system for future use is sense experiences, such as through our 8 senses of smell, sound, sight, touch, taste, inner experiences like pain in the back or other feelings and our sense of the outside world.
- Hence, the smallest component of any of the above parts could trigger (touch something from the past).
- Science tells us that our brain takes care of 95% of whatever we need to take care of in our lives. Therefore, we live mostly on autopilot, unaware of the process of our minds and where we are in time and place.
- Unfortunately, when we are not aware and unable to distinguish between the past and the present we fall trap into the unintelligent abyss of the memory system, the amygdala’s memory system and suffer the consequences.
How Can Mindfulness Help Disarm Triggers?
With Mindfulness practice, one can develop the skill to detach from painful past events. There is some space available to the one who experiences the present moment. In that space, the person can pull him or herself out of the vortex and back to the present moment. This ability can prevent major issues, conflicts and enable the person to be rational and calm. Not to believe all stories and emotions as if they were absolutely true, cause and justification for actions and reactions. There is where freedom arises. Freedom from the impact of the past. So, I suggest all therapists and mental health professionals to be careful when working with their clients. Therapists to use the term “trigger” with an explanation that the client is not stuck with triggers. And not to use “triggers” as permission to act unskillfully towards oneself and others.
I would love to hear your thoughts and questions.