Your Triggers Are Your Teacher

The empowering and daunting awareness that it's all about YOU.

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Sergey Mastepanov / Shutterstock
Sergey Mastepanov / Shutterstock

Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.

If I told you that nothing is inherently good or bad, the voice inside your head would immediately pipe up with many objections. “So, you’re saying it’s not bad to commit a crime” or “You think, it’s not good to care for my mother.” This is the nature of the mind, it likes to label and categorize things; avoid the bad, chase after the good, and anyone who disagrees is the adversary.  

But language is simply a tool we have to externalize our perception about what is going on in and around us. If we didn’t automatically label our experience in light of the culturally conditioned and accepted patterns of what is good and what is bad, we would be more open to seeing what our body is telling us, what knowledge or guidance we are receiving from the our experience and what inner knowing we have about it; the only universally agreed upon aspect about our experience, is that it’s temporary, always shifting, with different highs and lows.

We have been conditioned by the external world to believe that the cause of our good or bad feelings is outside of ourselves and our inner world is simply reacting to that which is around us. We then think that the only way to avoid negative emotion is to fix what is going on outside of us, to tell that triggering person what they said is wrong, or to avoid that thing that causes us to feel negative emotion. But evasion of what triggers is what keeps that emotion trapped inside, resurfacing again and again, as we try to wrestle anything or anyone to the ground who activates something in us in this way. This is the root of human’s desire for control, which manifests in unhealthy ways; addiction, perfectionism, eating disorders — we all want to control our external reality, when really all we can control is what is going on inside of us.

Our triggers are simply alerting us to what already exists inside. It’s not the person. It’s not the words. It’s an emotion we have harbored inside, and as we continue to relate to our triggers with anger, or sadness, or frustration; rather than compassion and curiosity, the more we will manifest experiences in our life that will continue to alert us of these emotions that are trying to escape and teach us of our true nature, our true nature beyond what our mind believes we are, but the unconditional love and light that underlies all beings.

This is not meant to excuse other people’s hurtful behavior, not at all. Experiencing your triggers and learning about what they are teaching you will allow you to take your own inner power back and understand that no one outside of you can control the inner peace and love that is within you. Showing these things you hate compassion will not make them grow, but will prove that you aren’t the thing you are releasing. If someone you love is sick, and you feel triggered by their state of health, learn to love that fear, that fear that is teaching you about your own fear of death, or fear of being alone, or attachment to the past, and love that this fear is not who you are, but is allowing you to grow and expand. Instead of saying “I’m scared,” you can say “I am experiencing fear” and relate to the experience in a new, open way.

We can live unconsciously, and believe that “time heals all wounds” but really it just gives it time for our emotions and beliefs to grow and develop a home in our bodies, lying dormant until a sudden person or comment pokes it awake, sending rage and hurt through our body and leaving us victim to our past. After following the rules of rational and logical thinking for years, we’ve become non-responsive to that which is the guidance from our intuition, our inner knowing. Our triggers awaken us to the strong inner guidance inside of us that is pulling at us to heal the parts of ourselves we still haven’t learned to accept. The problem is never what is going on outside of ourselves, but the things we won’t face inside of ourselves. We don’t have to be afraid of experiencing these negative things, they are simply our teachers and invitation to respond in a new way.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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