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I was working through an issue with my girlfriend the other day, and I was struggling. The issue itself wasn’t a huge deal, but my reaction felt really painful. I was getting triggered, and the issue we were dealing with was bringing up some difficult struggles from my past. I felt like I was being crazy, and I wanted to disengage and pull away.

Perhaps you have had a similar experience. You are going through something—it might be big or it might be little—but your reaction feels extreme. You’re getting triggered–something from your past is coming up–and it’s difficult to be thoughtful and move forward in a reasonable way.

My initial reaction when I get in this kind of place is to check out and disengage. I don’t like to feel as if I’m not in control of my emotions, so I want to move on to something else and avoid those painful feelings. But this strategy isn’t always the best route to take.

I actually think it’s good to freak out sometimes. When I am triggered about an issue or struggle from my past, it’s good information that something in my life is unresolved. Getting triggered is like a roadmap that points me toward my unresolved work. It lets me know the things I need to look at if I want to continue toward my goal of being a balanced, emotionally healthy person.

The next time you feel yourself freaking out or getting triggered, try not to check out or disengage too quickly. Press the pause button and sit with your feelings for a bit. What is coming up for you? What are your thoughts? What are your feelings (e.g., sad, angry, scared, happy, excited, tender)? Does anything about what you are feeling now remind you of something in your past?

After you have considered what the reaction is about for you, think about processing your reaction with someone you trust. Maybe you could talk about your experience with a family member or close friend. Perhaps you have a small group or support group you could confide in. It might be a good time to talk with a counselor about the issue you are struggling with.

I’m trying to take everything in my life, both the good and the bad, and think about them as a teacher that can guide me toward personal growth. When you freak out, don’t run away from the feelings too quickly. Instead, think about what your reaction can show you about yourself. You might not learn this information any other way, so see if you can take advantage of the opportunity, even if it is uncomfortable.

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