Tracing Triggers to Their Origins

In last week’s blog, I discussed how our resentments and envy can be uncovered by our triggers – and vice versa. The reality is we cannot fully eliminate triggers, but we can work to understand the root of them. Why? Well, a couple of reasons. First, tracing the root of our triggers and uncovering our deep-seated unmet needs allows us to focus our thoughts and behaviors on things that will fulfill those needs, which is the true path to health and happiness. Second, by understanding the root of why we feel the way we do, we can work to reduce the level to which our stress levels arise when we do get triggered, and remind ourselves of the true underlying issues rather than focusing on the surface disturbance. There is so much power in simply naming and recognizing our feelings, but we cannot do that through projections and denial.

Last week we broke down how to funnel a trigger from a situation down to a word or two, and now we’ll go a bit deeper. Understanding triggers are projections of our unmet needs, we can further increase emotional intelligence by tracing those identified triggers to their root causes.

This can be a complicated process because we often think of our triggers as annoyances or frustrations, but they are almost always rooted in fear, which also includes guilt and shame. Further, these fears can be completely unknown to us; it isn’t necessarily like being afraid of spiders or heights where it’s obvious.

To delve into this, I created an exercise to piece together the universal threads within my triggers so I could trace them to their root causes and, subsequently to unmet needs, which I guess I’m calling my Triple F Method.


The first step of getting down to the root of a trigger is to figure out what fear is being triggered. A very simple way to do this is to continue asking why this trigger is scary until we get to the fear. Last week I used the example of a person who’s triggered by people who don’t use a turn signal, and that was broken down to the word “inconsideration”. So, the goal here would be to say: why does that trait of inconsideration scare me? What is the fear? Because obviously someone else’s inconsideration itself isn’t a fear, right? Perhaps this lack of consideration feels dehumanizing or disregarding of existence, which ultimately reduces to a fear of being unseen or invisible. 


Once we identify the fear, we must figure out why it’s there, which means going back to the beginning. I started trying to figure out the first time I remembered feeling that same sense of fear. This is where we are looking to our inner child. Remember, as children, we aren’t thinking in adult context so as a child, we wouldn’t be thinking “I feel invisible,” but there is a way to connect to that younger version of ourselves and ask them when they first felt this way. This can take a while. When doing this for myself, I went through a very long process where I kept thinking one situation was a first, and then I’d remember something earlier, then earlier. I eventually reached a point where I couldn’t go further back, and I knew that was the beginning. I still find things that tie in and reinforce my inner child’s unmet needs, but I generally know the beginning of it all having done this work over an extended period.


Now that we’ve traced our triggers into a primary fear and have figured out where that fear originated, we can begin to ask ourselves the really tough questions: What are we trying to adjust in our adult life to satisfy this deep-seated unmet need, and how can we adjust moving forward?

After identifying multiple triggers and tracing them to their origin, mine all boiled down to one unmet need. That one unmet need has shown up in very different ways in my life, so it would never seem connected without going deeper. It was when I started pulling at the threads of those triggers and situations that I realized I was able to trace almost all of them back to that specific unmet need with a known origin. It. Is. Wild.

Next week I’m going to offer methods to identify ways to mentally address unmet needs when triggered, as well as how to cope when we are in a position where we have little control. Sometimes we won’t be able to get our needs met through specific facets of life, so we need to find ways to cope that are productive rather than self-destructive.

All right, it’s getting intense up in here.

We deserve to be happy and fulfilled wherever we are in life.

But if it were easy, everyone would be happy and fulfilled.

Let’s keep doing the work; you’re worth it.



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