Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Let's Talk About Relapse - Day 10 - More Triggers! What Are Life Messages and How They Can Help Us!

Over the last two blogs, we have been discussing some really good news about triggers!

Although triggers can and will catapult us back into previous unhealthy patterns of thinking, behaving, and feeling, they can also serve to teach us more about ourselves and how to move forward in healing and healthy ways!

Learning to be in touch with your triggers!
In the last blog, I described several different examples of how individuals became triggered by someone or something. I went on to show how these individuals took time to stop and calm themselves, how they listened to and payed attention to how the trigger was affecting them, and then, how they made a deliberate choice to implement a healthy response. In two examples, I demonstrated how individuals kept a pulse on their levels of wellness and strength by checking in with their internal 'trigger thermometers', which helped them in making healthy decisions as well as utilizing additional support.

In each of the previous three stories, the triggers experienced by the individuals were psychological, physical, emotional and even environmental in nature.  In other words, their triggers were external - distinct people, places and things that tugged at the individuals/couples' previous unhealthy patterns of thinking, behaving, and feeling.  In each example, strategies were implemented to keep the triggers in check and move ahead in healthy ways.

Although it is extremely important to keep a pulse on these 'external triggers' and mitigate them, we must also learn to recognize how external  triggers activate our 'internal triggers' or 'life messages'. And because our life messages from the past can be extremely painful and put us at risk for relapse, we must learn about them, how to process and heal them, and how to move forward in healthy ways!

Let's take a look at a few examples.  (The names and people I am referencing are fictitious.)

Tanya is a highly successful business woman.  She spent many years in an abusive relationship. Although she has been divorced for several years, she finds herself in relationships with men who do not treat her well. Tanya learns in her counseling that she has very little self -esteem or worth. Growing up, Tanya heard over and over again from her father that she was 'nothing'. In fact, her father verbally abused her for most of her life. Tanya's 'life message' is, "When it comes to men, I am worthless. I deserve to be treated this way." So, as soon as she meets a man, Tanya replays this life message which in turn triggers her into a powerless role and into a  position of accepting unhealthy behaviors from her partners. Through a lot of hard work and healing in her counseling, Tanya is learning how to re-script her 'life messages' and to empower herself. 

Although male partners can be external triggers for Tanya, she must also learn to address her internal triggers - her life messages - if she is going to give herself and a healthy partner a chance!   

Let's take a look at how another example of past 'life messages' plays an important role in triggering an individual. Brandon has struggled for years with all kinds of substance addiction.  He has been involved in petty crimes, but also has had several DUI's and has served time in jail.  At nearly 25 years old, he has lost almost everything that is important to him. For the past 3 years, he has been sober and working his 12-step recovery program faithfully. Brandon is learning to deal with his external triggers really well. However, recently, he realized that whenever he was around his mom, he felt triggered. Not being able to pinpoint the exact reason, Brandon went in for some individual counseling. After a couple of sessions, Brandon realized that when his mom tries to help him, or gives him advice, or extends some sort of kindness, he feels incredibly angry and resentful. When he thinks of his mom now,  his life message is telling him, "Where were you when I needed you growing up?  You were never around!  I felt abandoned, alone...there was no one!" Brandon is working on his abandonment issues with his mom. He is also learning to heal himself through processing the old 'life messages' and scripting new ones.
Brandon is triggered when he thinks about his childhood.

Although it is really important for Brandon to keep paying attention to his external triggers and continue working his 12 step program, he is learning how  his  'life messages'  can and will injure him ( trigger a relapse) and how he can heal those!

Let's take a look a one last example. Jessica and James are a young married couple who have been together since high school.  They've hit a few bumps in the road lately; Jessica has been reacting angrily to minor things, and she and James have been arguing quite a bit.  They have decided to go to couples' counseling. In session, Jessica describes how recently James has been spending more time with some of his high school friends, and  how James is really excited about going to their ten year high school reunion. Jessica shares how she has no desire to go at all, and is hurt by the amount of time that James is spending with old his buddies.
Jessica and James learning about 'life messages'.
In session, Jessica opens up and shares her 'life messages' about her years at high school: "When I even think of high school, I feel like such a failure. Everyone hated me - they made fun of me -  I was a nothing. Just hearing about those people makes me feel awful.  I don't want to see any of them! And when James is with them, I feel like they are more important than me."  In their couples' counseling, Jessica learns to honor her feelings, to heal past wounds, and how to re-script her life messages.  James learns how to be  more sensitive to Jessica's needs while still honoring his own. 
This is important...

Someone or something might be an immediate external trigger, but often, we need to stop and listen to our past painful  internal triggers -  our 'life messages' - that are coming up for us.  And, we need to take time to tend to them - heal them - and move forward scripting new life messages. 

* This work is not easy...but it is necessary.

Homework: Continue identifying your triggers.  Continue utilizing your 'trigger thermometer'; if and when you feel triggered, implement the 4 step exercise from the previous blog:

  • Stop                                                                                 
  • Calm Yourself
  • Claim Your Present Reality
  • Choose An Alternate Healthy Behavior.

* And, as you are working with your external triggers, begin paying attention to your 'internal triggers' - your 'life messages'. As you listen to them, stop and write them down. If you find your past life messages to be painful, and more importantly, that they are fueling and feeding your unhealthy ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, please consider seeking out additional professional advice, counsel, or guidance. 

Also, I've included two self-help books that contain exercises for working through past life messages.

Two healing references are:

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