Cultivate Neutrality in the Face of Triggers
We all have triggers: situations that bring up old feelings that are out of proportion to the current experience.
There are two ways to deal with triggers–go into them more deeply, and let a “healing crisis” occur (a cathartic release of the pent-up feelings). This is an intense way to deal with it and can heal deep wounds.
Another option is to cultivate an attitude of neutrality. This isn’t better or worse, but you can use it in different situations. You won’t always be in the right situation to go deeply into your upset and work with it at that level. Or, you may have done that deep work, but the trigger still lingers as a pathway in your brain that it is too easy to go down. In these cases, practicing neutrality can help. (This is referred to as equanimity in Buddhist traditions.)
What does neutral look like?
Neutrality can be practiced throughout the layers of your being.
Use self-talk that grounds you and reminds you of the larger perspective, for example: “He probably didn’t mean what I’m making that mean.” “In a few minutes these feelings will pass; I can be OK till then.”
Sense yourself as a solid being, and let the feelings wash over you. Let yourself notice them as a witness to yourself. Name them to yourself: “OK, I’m feeling angry. It feels like shame is underneath that. Some sadness is surfacing”. Let the show go on without getting attached to the story.
Take a breath and sit back. If you need to, request space or time: “Hold on a second, let me think about that.” “I’m feeling fuzzy, let me check in with myself.” “Wait, wait, I need time to process what you just said.” If you are with other personal-growth type folks, you might need to also make space to not process: “Hey, I’m feeling like just letting this one go, I know I looked triggered there, but I don’t want to go into it right now. It’s already passing and I’d like to move on with what we were doing.”
Neutrality rewires the brain
Each time you can meet a trigger with neutrality, it changes the pathways in your brain. The next time you face this situation, the emotions that come up will be less charged and neutrality will become easier.