People, situations, words, events, ideas, etc. can trigger us. By “triggering,” I mean something that invokes an almost instantaneous negative response, which could be subtle, like when we feel stuck behind a slow driver in the fast lane, or significant, as when one experiences severe post-traumatic stress. We all experience triggers, and though they can be uncomfortable and unwelcome, I invite you to begin seeing them as teachers that come into our lives.

I used to think of triggers as something to avoid by trying to stay clear of whatever was causing the trigger. This can be difficult though when it’s happening within a relationship. I also used to think of triggers that happened within a relationship as a sign that the relationship was broken or in some way not working, and was quick to ask, what is this person doing that’s triggering me, and how do I make them stop? But the truth is that if my inner peace is dependant on me controlling something or someone outside of myself, then I’ll never have real peace because the only thing that I do have control over is myself. The root of triggers is within yourself, so look there.

Let’s face it—being triggered does not feel good, especially when it results in strong emotions or happens with any degree of regularity. Rather than avoiding whatever is causing the trigger, or placing blame on something or someone outside of ourselves, what if we instead embraced it as an opportunity for introspection, healing, and self-mastery?

When triggered, inquire within yourself, what emotions are arising? What are you feeling in your body? What values are being challenged or fears stirred up? Triggers point to something deeper within ourselves that needs to be examined. Though it can be easy to respond that we’re being triggered because someone did or said something, because something happened, or just because, the reality is that the same circumstance, when experienced by another person, may have no effect. So it begs the question, what is our relationship to this experience? Is there something within yourself that needs healing? Is there an opportunity for you to shift your perspective? How is allowing this trigger to affect you serving you? How might you change your relationship to this trigger so as to release it for good?

The next time you feel triggered, try taking a slow, deep breath and grounding yourself rather than reacting. Without judgment, acknowledge to yourself whatever emotions are arising and that you’re being triggered. If you were triggered by a conversation, be mindful that you may be in a heightened emotional state and prone to confrontation, defensiveness, or shifting the blame to the other person, all of which can exacerbate the situation. What would it look like to instead show up from a place of love at that moment?

Commit to yourself to make time when you can to revisit this experience, especially if it’s one that continues to show up in your life. Sit in a quiet place, free from distraction, slow down, and relax into stillness. Close your eyes and re-envision the scenario that triggered you. If the feelings that arose before do again, allow them to. Ask yourself, where is this coming from? Remember, all answers lie within. What is your inner wisdom telling you?

Be grateful for this beautiful gift that has presented itself to you.