How Past Wounds Cause Present-Day Problems [And What You Can Do About It]
Have you ever experienced an argument that just got under your skin, and hours later found yourself going over it in your mind, thinking about all the things you would say and do if you were back in that situation again?
Maybe you couldn’t even stop thinking about it for days afterward?
Or perhaps you move on from arguments pretty easily, but whenever you think about the person you tangled with, your body tenses up and you get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. Or perhaps you don’t think you “feel” anything at all, but you just find yourself avoiding that person for weeks or months afterward - or simply never talking to them again.
Each of us experiences this differently, but what is happening is the same. We’re getting triggered.
A trigger is any emotional response that is out of proportion to what the actual situation calls for.
Also commonly called “pushing our buttons”, when this happens to us other people often don’t understand our reaction - and can even judge us as irrational and childish.
What they’re not seeing, however, is all the people who get triggered in a different way… by shutting down. People who become withdrawn and emotionally numb in response to difficult situations - who under-react - are often praised for having good self-control. But the truth is, shutting off our feelings is no more mature or healthy than those who over-react.
Our culture considers under-reacting to be normal (and expected) and over-reacting to be wrong (and immature), even in our language. Just now as I’m writing this, my spell-checker sees “overreacting” as a word, but “underreacting” is flagged as incorrect. That shows how rarely under-reacting is recognized!
Getting triggered happens to everyone. So let’s remove the stigma around it, and see it for what it really is: an emotional flashback.
Let me explain.
Our triggers come from our past.
When we get triggered by something, it’s natural to think that the person or situation that triggered us is the source of our emotional reaction. In reality, though, the true source lies in our past.
Behind every trigger is a time in our history (usually in our childhood) when we experienced a similar situation, and it wasn’t resolved for us. In other words, our true need in that moment was never met, so a piece of our psyche became “frozen”, or stuck, in that moment in time.
And now, whenever we encounter a situation that causes us to feel the same way (however slightly), that moment in time gets reactivated within us and we “flash back” to that original wounding event, causing us to feel the same emotional pain all over again.
That’s why the emotions we feel seem (to others, at least) to be so disproportionate to the event. It’s because we aren’t in present time anymore! Not emotionally, at least.
We think of flash-backs as something that only people with PTSD experience, such as soldiers who’ve been traumatized by combat. But emotional wounding happens on a spectrum, from deep traumas to little things we often dismiss as no big deal (such as being ignored by a parent when we really needed attention).
We like to think of children as resilient by nature - and they are - but in doing so we often discount how things are perceived from a child’s point of view. As children we are physically dependent on others to survive, so in that time of life, things like not getting enough attention can provoke a very literal fear of death.
When our past wounds get continually reactivated in our lives, it can throw our emotions seriously out of whack.
We can easily end up with social anxiety, out-of-control anger, and even panic attacks. Or we might simply feel depressed all the time, and struggle to enjoy anything at all.
When this happens, we naturally look to the emotions themselves as the source of our problems (damn anxiety!), or try over and over again to fix or change the present-time situations that keep triggering us. But as I’ve shared, the true problem isn’t present-time!
Seeing the emotions themselves as the problem is a lot like shooting the messenger. No, actually, it’s exactly like shooting the messenger, because our emotions are precisely that - messengers. They’re like the flag waving on the golf course that shows us the location of the hole, or in this case, the past wound behind it all.
Yes, the emotions that arise when we get triggered are often inappropriate to the situation, but they’re the symptom, not the cause.
I believe this is precisely why drugs and therapy so often don’t work in resolving emotional problems like anxiety and depression. If those emotions aren’t arising in response to the present, no amount of talking or “fixing” the situation will resolve them.
And while it is entirely possible to artificially alter brain chemistry (and emotional states), the underlying wound remains unhealed. So once the drugs go away, the emotional problems come back.
Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.
Unfortunately, doing the same thing over and over with little to show for it is precisely what clinical psychologists and therapists will tell you is necessary for emotional healing.
This couldn’t be further from the truth!
I say this from years of personal experience, and from seeing hundreds of people transform their emotional lives in a very short span of time. The reason why most people believe that emotional healing takes years to achieve, is because the tools they are using simply aren’t very effective.
With all the countless therapists, psychiatrists, and counselors practicing today, if the current solutions on offer were actually effective, mental “illnesses” like anxiety and depression wouldn't be becoming full-blown epidemics. And yet they are.
It is extremely difficult to find effective methods of healing nowadays, even though there are healers on every street corner. Actually, this is because there are healers on every street corner!
On the one side we have the mental health industry, limited by methods that can be “tested” in scientific studies and heavily influenced by pharmaceutical companies. On the other side are all of the people peddling spiritual bypass cloaked in the guise of spiritual and emotional healing, tricking people into thinking they are healing when what they are really doing is dissociating and learning to shut down their feelings.
Can you tell that I’m passionate about this?
In my own path of healing, I was extremely fortunate to avoid these traps by learning an emotional healing practice that actually works.
It works in part because it is the opposite of spiritual bypass. There is no blissing out while someone else “heals” us, no analyzing and “fixing it” with the mind, and no avoidance of the pain. This healing method requires us to profoundly witness and accept all of the deeply held feelings inside us.
But it doesn’t stop there (like many other practices do)!
It also takes us back into the past, to the original wounding behind our present-day triggers, where we bring healing to ourselves by giving ourselves whatever we needed in that moment to make it right within us. This allows us to reclaim the part of ourselves that was frozen in that moment in time, which means we literally will never be triggered in that same way again.
This bears repeating. Unlike methods that focus on down-regulating our nervous systems (like EFT), we don’t just resolve the trigger this one time, but forever. Noticing the absence of our usual reaction the next time we encounter that same trigger is how we know that the healing was successful.
And the most beautiful thing about this is that we can begin to view our triggers as gifts, and opportunities to heal.
Once we are equipped with an emotional healing practice that works, effectively and efficiently, our triggers stop being obstacles and instead become signposts directing us to where we need to heal.
We can stop cursing at life for being so difficult, and can instead feel gratitude even in the midst of discomfort - because we know that life is bringing to us precisely what we need in our journey of healing and growth.
This healing practice is the cornerstone of my personal path, and of my professional practice as well. It is the most profoundly effective tool I’ve ever found for personal transformation, and I have added quite a few tools to my toolbox over the years!
Many spiritual teachers talk about the virtues of “being present” in our lives, but rarely do they give specific guidance in how to achieve that. This is how.
By healing the parts of ourselves that are frozen in the past, we are able to bring them back into the present - and each time we do this we become less fragmented, and more whole. To me, this is what it truly means to be fully present: emotionally responding to the present moment, not the past!
This is my wish for you as well. If you’d like to experience this transformation for yourself, get in touch! You can book a complimentary Emotional Breakthrough session to find out if this is right for you.
Whatever you decide, and wherever your healing journey takes you, may you find all that you need to carry you forward.