Have you ever been triggered by something or someone and felt a surge of emotion that you couldn’t quite explain? You’re not alone. We all have shadow energy within us, and one of the fastest ways to understand it is through our triggers.

What are triggers and how do they work?

A trigger is an external or internal event that activates a chemical process in our bodies. It could be something we see, hear, feel, taste, or touch (external) or a thought, memory, stress, illness, or even a gut feeling about something (internal).

The event sets off a chain reaction where a past event may surface in our consciousness, but most likely in our non-consciousness. The craziest thing is that the trigger event appears to be about the present moment, but it never is. Like an invisible thread, that event is somehow tied to a wound that goes back who knows how long, and may even belong to lineage and not necessarily just you.

The event-triggered thought process activates a chemical chain reaction within us, which in turn creates a physical response to that chain reaction. Event – thoughts/reaction – neurotransmitters (a type of protein) get released to the body – a chemical process that manifests physical sensations.

To make it clearer, let’s look at an example.

Your friend is late for a meeting with you. Ten minutes past the set time, you get anxious, angry, and frustrated. She knows how important being on time is to you! Another ten minutes go by and no sight of your friend. You’re now twisting in the twister that is your thoughts:

And she hasn’t even called! How disrespectful! It’s the last time I’m agreeing to meet her. She doesn’t deserve my friendship. Maybe something bad happened?! Did I get the wrong date? No, I’m not important enough to her, otherwise, she wouldn’t do this.

All these thoughts have created neurotransmitters to be released in the body which in turn cause a stress response: cortisol, adrenaline, and nor-adrenalin, as if your life is on the line – you have physical reactions such as tingling in your fingers, shallow breath, pacing, etc.

It seems like it’s all about a friend being late. But in reality, you’ve gone to survival mode over the minutia of life. When you express your frustration to your friends, what will they say?

You’re overreacting. I bet you’ve heard that a few times in your life.

But in actuality, you didn’t react to your friend being late, but to a deep wound of childhood abandonment by your primary caretakers. It was, and still is, a matter of survival to you. But how are others to know if you yourself cannot fathom the extent of your reaction?

Our triggers are more often than not connected to childhood experiences and trauma. They represent unresolved energy that we still hold onto.

To understand yours better, take a piece of paper and write down three moments from the past week that triggered you. How did you feel in these instances? Write down five words to describe each. Then a minus sign next to the negative ones, a plus sign next to the positive ones, and a zero next to the neutral ones.

Are they 90-100% negative? And 0-10% neutral? Yes, that sounds about right. If even 1/5 is negative, you’ve discovered the loose end of the thread that can take you back to the original wound.

There are 3 primary sources for all wounds:

1. Sometimes we pick up triggers from others, and we experience them as our own. For example, when a spouse comes home after a bad day at work, it can affect us too.

2. Other times, we may experience sensory overload and react defensively or aggressively to protect ourselves.

3. Most triggers, however, come from a handful of life events, often from early childhood (ages 0-10), and can be traced back to what I call a “mother wound” – 1-3 events that left the most significant trauma into the non-conscious programming.

To release the energy buried under our triggers, we need to get to the bottom of it.

The rule for releasing triggers is simple:

  1. We can let go of energy picked up from others;
  2. The energy we’ve generated ourselves requires deeper introspection. We need to let go of this energy we caused in the moment of trigger, AND the energy of the original wound.

Triggers are universal opportunities to see and begin to understand our shadow energy. Greet them with gratitude, for they guide us to gaining insight into our deep wounds and hurtful non-conscious programs. Only awareness of their existence can take to healing and releasing the wound energy. The rewards are magnificent – full and authentic lives, in alignment with our true selves.

Photo by Eva Fanari, Camping in Jemez Mountains