What triggers you?

Who would you be if you weren’t triggered?

[Triggered: (of a response) caused by a particular action, process, or situation.]

Recently I was flying down to Plettenberg Bay for the weekend. The flight had been booked for me and I didn’t check on the airline, assuming it would be one of the bigger ones.  Boy, was I wrong!

Turned out it was a small plane… a nineteen seater, which is really small in my book! As much as I wished it, I couldn’t exactly turn around and say ‘ No thanks folks,  I’ve changed my mind!’

The situation was clearly a trigger for my anxiety and made me think of a time when a supervisor of mine presented me with a question:  ‘Siobhan, who would you be if you weren’t triggered?’  

The situation was clearly a trigger for my anxiety and made me think:  ‘Siobhan, who would you be if you weren’t triggered?’

The flight began and – Murphy’s Law – we hit bad weather. A pilot friend had once tried to put my mind at ease about the safety of flying by explaining to me that turbulence is not, in fact, dangerous, but simply air pockets in the sky. “Think of it as driving on a bumpy dirt road,” he’d said.  I‘ve called on his words for reassurance on many flights since. He did add, however, that storms are more of a worry, but that pilots usually make an effort to avoid them. On this particular flight, I noticed storm clouds up ahead and that’s when my anxiety stepped forward big time.

I spent the next few hours in a state of pure, unadulterated terror convinced that something dreadful was going to happen. My eyes constantly scanned the pilots for even the slightest hint of distress indicating we were in trouble. I was aware of the adrenaline and cortisol pumping through my veins, my racing heart, the ‘catastrophizing’ circular thoughts playing out in technicolour in my mind.

I tried negotiating with myself… after all, people do this every week, don’t they? And they come out unscathed! It didn’t help.

My supervisor Sarah-Anne’s words echoed in my mind: Siobhan, who would you be if you weren’t triggered? As I thought about this, an interesting thing happened. It was as if the question spoke to a different part of me… the part of me that was NOT triggered, the part of me that knows, inherently, that I’m safe and that all really IS well.

I exhaled.

As my awareness grew, it felt like my trusting, whole and healed self was able to step forward and embody more of me in that aeroplane seat. The triggered, fearful part of me eased and diminished. The realisation dawned that just because I am feeling fear and anxiety doesn’t mean something bad will happen. It’s simply a trigger. I felt myself begin to calm down. I was able to notice the other passengers, to think about having something to eat. For the rest of the flight, if I felt the anxiety creeping in, I simply redirected my attention to that part of me that the question had accessed… the settled, trusting part of me.

Being triggered is part of being human. Knowing what our triggers are is the first step to being free of the knee-jerk reactions and responses that leave us disempowered, drained and overwhelmed. When we understand that our triggers are in place as our ego’s way of trying to protect us, their power over us is diluted. We can get back into the driver’s seat of our lives,  draw on untapped inner resources, and begin to live more freely and fully in the present moment.

So, who would I be if I weren’t triggered? For one thing, I would certainly enjoy travelling more! I would be filled with anticipation at the beginning of a journey, I would have more courage, be more spontaneous and adventurous; relaxed and free to fully enjoy the present moment.

That’s certainly something worth pursuing! Don’t you agree?