Many of us re-create and re-live scenes from the past on a regular basis without realizing it. In fact, unless painful events are conciously processed and released at or near the time of their occurrence, the likelihood is that we are re-creating them continuously in our lives. What this means is that much of what we think, feel, say, and do is not actually based on what is currently happening in our present situations, although we may firmly believe that it is. It is based on things that happened in the past that were somehow triggered into existence again through emotional or body memories re-creating perceptions of past events in the present. Most do not realize that this is happening, and remain trapped within the cages of their own minds. Such influences can seem very subtle, especially if they occur on a regular basis (they seem normal because we experience them all the time), or they can hit us with hurricane force intensity.
Cause and Consequence
These triggers do not need to be based on trauma, but can result from normal or randomly occurring events that affected us in particular ways (e.g. related to our level of sensitivity, vulnerability, or our developmental period). They can primarily influence our perceptions of ourselves, our perceptions of others, our perceptions of the world; or all of the above. They can be extremely limiting, confining us to relationships and situations free from emotion or vulnerability; or forcing us inside the places in our own minds where we deny the truth of our emotions and who we really are in order to remain safe from such triggers. They can cause us to live our entire lives to avoid this discomfort (the triggers), which could prevent us from discovering and developing the truth of our spirit (true nature); and cause us to live a life of avoidance, pretending, and depression. They can also cause us to settle for relationships that are relatively empty, unfulfilling, and devoid of emotion; because we feel safer this way (when what we really want is to share deeply and vulnerably with someone; but cannot handle it, because of the trigger risks).
Recognizing the Cages
For example, if a woman experienced rejection, abandonment, or extreme criticism from parental figures while growing up, then she will likely have hypersensitivities to these issues. This means that, whatever she consciously thinks, underneath it all she will have fears of being rejected, abandoned, or of not being good enough. These fears, the issues and defenses they generate, and the hypersensitivities they create and maintain will determine much of how she perceives herself, others, and the world. She will not usually realize this. She will believe that this is just how things are. And she will have an even greater investment than most in believing that she is right, because of the fears of not being good enough (the inadequacy issue creates a defensive need to be right, because of the fear that being wrong equals not being good enough, and not being good enough could lead to rejection or abandonment).
The two most common defenses associated with a pattern like this are over-achieving and controlling. Over-achieving relieves the anxiety related to fears of failure, and this, in turn, diminishes the fears of rejection and abandonment. So a person with these underlying issues may present themselves as being really together, they may place great importance on their appearance, they will likely perform in a super-competent manner, and seem like a leader; when behind the scenes they constantly fear rejection, abandonment, and not being good enough; and secretly live a life of denial, avoidance, and depression. Sometimes they are aware of this, and often they are not. When they become aware of it, they long to break free from these chains. They may take risks, either within themselves, or with others; in an attempt to become more of who they really are and find a real relationship (one with an equal where they can openly be who they are and be unconditionally loved and accepted at a deep, vulnerable level). If they find such a person, it may seem like a dream come true at first. However, because of the increased vulnerability, and the increased levels of anxiety and fear this vulnerability may generate; they may begin triggering in more extreme ways (because they are more vulnerable and exposed, and because the relationship is so much more important to them). When they trigger, they will likely begin re-creating and re-living painful scenes from past relationships (either with parental figures, or previous, unhealthy relationship partners); but will believe that these experiences (the thoughts, feelings, and reactions generated by the triggers) are coming from their current situation.
They will often end up in relationships with abusive, underachieving, or emotionally unexpressive partners because their self esteem is poor (they don’t believe they deserve anything better), they want to feel superior to their relationship partners (to satisfy the inadequacy issue), or they don’t want to experience the greater risks of sharing emotions with another (emotional vulnerability). They want to feel safe, superior, and in control. But because of their fears of rejection, abandonment, and inadequacy; they will probably make mate selections based on their poor self esteem and fears. So they will probably first end up with people who reject, abandon, or criticize them (re-creating childhood experiences); often including physical or emotional abuse. Sometimes they will remain in these cycles for life, re-creating them from one partner to the next. Sometimes they will be able to break free from such cycles, may try to reach for their ideal; but will probably not be able to handle the perceived threats because of the triggers discussed above. The next type of relationship they may choose, which is a great improvement over the first type, is a partnership with someone who shows little interest in them and expresses little emotion. This may leave them feeling hungry for attention, affection, and deeper emotional connectivity; but it will at least be safe, and relieve the anxiety generated by their issues. The saddest part is that this may be the most they will ever experience in their lives. Since, unless they overcame their issues, they would be unable to handle the emotional vulnerability and triggers a real loving relationship would generate for them; they would be destined to living an inner life based in fear, pretending, denial, avoidance, and depression. Each time they take a risk, and then end up triggering again, it reinforces their issue-based belief system (about themselves, about relationship partners, or both). Unless they broke free from these mind traps, the perceived threats generated by a healthy relationship would be too much for them to handle (because they would not realize that their perceptions of the healthy partner were distorted — they would believe, rather, that the healthy partner was like the unhealthy partners from the past).
*And, if reading this, those with such issues would probably not consider the possibility that this post applied to them. They would likely be nodding their heads, and thinking of someone else (like their partner) that they believed it related to instead.
Setting Ourselves Free
Breaking free from such mind traps requires courage, personal responsibility, determination, and time. We might also need a spiritual teacher or coach to help guide us through such a process. Our minds will try to keep us from facing the truth, accepting responsibility, and taking the action needed to break these chains. They will do this because they believe they need to protect us from the discomfort such risks will generate. So, even if we consciously have a strong desire and motivation to do it, our subconscious mind will do anything and everything to keep it from happening. So the first big step is to gain more self awareness by bringing the subconscious into conscious awareness. When we do this, then we will gain more control over our mind. Things that help with this include meditation, journaling, yoga, and higher consciousness counseling. When it comes to others, it is essential that we learn how to separate the past from the present, and that we are willing to accept responsibility for the times we fail to do so. We were conditioned into these distorted perceptions through painful experiences. It is not a matter of our value or worth, and we are not doing it on purpose. What we have learned, we need to relearn, so we can be free to discover who we really are, and be able to share this miracle deeply with another. Keeping our stress levels down, working with a higher consciousness counselor, and journaling can help with this as well. When we are caught in a trigger response we will be unable to differentiate between the past and the present. We must wait until we are again in a relaxed state (Safe Mode) to attempt this work. Although it is very scary, and although our own mind will be our worst enemy in the process; it is more than worth the challenges to gain the freedom, self realization, and quality of relationships possible when breaking free from such mind traps. We must first give ourselves the gift of self acceptance we want from others. We will then be able to believe that it is possible to receive it from them. It will not work in the reverse order.
Photo Credit: Matthias Weinberger