Are triggers real? What do they mean and how do they work? Why are political factions discussing triggers? How can I deal with my triggers?
Part One—The Power and Scope of Your Subconscious
Picture a cruise ship.
If you successfully pictured a cruise ship just now, ask yourself where that image came from. Where was that mental image 30 seconds ago? If you’ve taken a cruise, then surely your own memories were involved when you conjured up an image. If you have never taken a cruise, then you’ve likely seen pictures of cruise ships, or recall seeing “Titanic” or “The Love Boat” or some other program about a cruise ship.
If the ship you brought up in your mind was not in your conscious thought immediately prior to reading this article, then you have just experienced a powerful proof that you have a subconscious mind. How much of your mental “storage” is taken up by your subconscious? Imagine a large balance scale, with the weight of all your conscious thoughts on one side and all your subconscious or unconscious content on the other side. Which way would the scale lean?
Can you see that the amount of content in your subconscious mind far outweighs that of your conscious thoughts? You have a very comprehensive, emotion-filled subconscious “world” within you. Your entire history of memories, experiences, perceptions and beliefs resides largely in your subconscious, not in your conscious thoughts.
Your mental life is really divided into two different realms—on-stage and off-stage. Living and thinking is like producing a Broadway play. Most of the scenery, props and actors are off-stage waiting for their cues to perform. At any given moment, only a small percentage of the staff is on-stage reciting lines and interacting with the environment. Occasionally, an actor on stage says or does something to prompt another actor to enter “stage left.” The new actor might bring additional props or baggage from backstage with him. The new actor then recites his lines and acts out his part. Sometimes, an actor says or does something to prompt an entire change of scenery.
How do you access this hidden, powerful dimension within? Or metaphorically speaking, how do you prompt someone or something to emerge from backstage? In your conscious, everyday world there are certain objects, words, thoughts, people, music, smells, feelings and sounds that act as little cues or “triggers” to bring things forward from backstage. This might sound mysterious, but it is the mechanism upon which the entire skill of reading is based. We train young children to associate a visual, conscious symbol (letters and words) with something in their subconscious mind. Because you are trained in that skill, when I wrote the words, “Cruise Ship” above, you opened a doorway to your subconscious. You could say that by simply writing the words, “Cruise Ship,” I “triggered” you into bringing thoughts of a cruise ship into consciousness.
A trigger is simply a stimulus leading to a doorway or portal into an internal dimension of subconscious content. When triggered, long-lost thoughts and feelings emerge to interact with your current environment. When summoned, portions of your subconscious world ideally come to the forefront–on stage to offer up the lines you need in your daily story of life. However, when those backstage characters represent trauma, shame, pain or grief, something often prevents them from coming all the way on stage. Instead, they can muck around behind the scenery, creating chaos just out of sight. The audience might hear noises or see onstage props being knocked around from behind. They might wonder what is happening to the play.
In our lives, triggered negative emotions and thoughts can cause chaos, taking over our lives as they sit just beneath the surface causing disease, anger, depression, or other problems. And because we are just as much a part of the audience as anyone else, and don’t understand what is happening, we feel blindsided by strong, chaotic feelings that seemingly come out of nowhere.
[Stay tuned on this blog for Parts two and three. You will have a better understanding of triggers and learn ways to turn triggers into opportunities for growth.]