At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our new series called Triggered.
The Four Messages in the Series:
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Gateway in South Austin at 11am
Gateway in South Austin at 6pm with Ricardo Echeona
There’s something funny about watching lose their temper on film, but not so much in real life.
Especially if we are the one who loses it. And usually we end up hurting those closest to us when we do.
We get impatient and say things or do things that trigger each other, and actually rob each other of Life as God intended. It happens so easily if we don’t take personal responsibility for ourselves and our own emotions and reactions.
Until we own up to our negative emotional reactions, we can’t be free to heal and grow.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. – John 10:10
The thief is the evil in this world that manipulates wounded people to react and wound others, who hear lies associated with those wounds, and live out of those wounded lies—and on and on it goes. Unless—we turn to the One who came to lead us into abundant life.
So last week we said a Trigger is an intense emotional reaction—it could be anger, panic or anxiety, intense fear, or dismay—a sinking, hopeless feeling.
- It’s caused by the trigger, the reminder of an emotional memory that was painful, a wound, often also tied to a lie, or half-truth.
- The trigger could be related to something very traumatic, even a suppressed memory, and it might be something said, or a place, or circumstance that triggers that memory stored in your primitive brain, your Limbic System—which we talked about is where emotional memories get stored.
- But a trigger doesn’t have to be from severe trauma, it can also be a painful emotional memory like a past divorce, betrayal, or a painful season where something said in the present triggers those past memories and feelings.
- And you react.
That’s the key to understanding triggers—it’s an Over-reaction–when this takes over it almost always hurts our relationships.
You don’t want to be prey to your automatic responses, but you also don’t want them to go away because they protect us, but we want less frequent and less severe reactions.
We said the Lymbic brain and amygdala – store emotional memories and control auto-responses designed to protect us—fight or flight.
The Amygdala takes in and stores emotionally charged memories along with fear and anger responses. The Lymbic is 50 times faster than the Neocortex.
The Neocortex – outer layer where rational thinking, and relational functioning happen is slower than the Limbic system.
So If your amygdala has unhealed, emotionally charged memories around something that keeps triggering you—it’s going to cause a hyper reaction.
You’ve experienced this—your spouse, significant other, boss, co-worker, employee has this emotional reaction that’s way over the top—just doesn’t fit the current circumstance—it’s almost certainly Amygdala Brain Hijacking the Neocortex.
- Your wife says in frustration “You never do what I ask you to do.”
- It triggers unhealed memories of your dad’s angry outbursts when you didn’t live up to his perfectionistic standards, and he’d say “You’re not going to amount to much if you keep this up.”
- Into that wound came a lie “You’re worthless unless you perform up to standard.”
- You perform well at work, over the top, but at home you shut down, your wife nags you about doing more –this comment trips that Dad memory stored in the Amygdala.
- Since it’s unprocessed and unhealed, we said the Amygdala is only trying to protect you.
- Before you can think, it shuts down the rational part of your brain, floods you with chemicals and hormones for fight or flight, but it has imperfect data, and gives us overconfidence so we react confidently—never wrong, sure you’re right, get aggressive.
- None of this helps us with relationships—triggering is destructive to our relationships.
Denial, Defend, Attack
The Scriptures tell us:
“You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there!” Jeremiah 6:14 (TLB)
Denial just keeps the wound festering—the problem persisting.
Instead of taking responsibility for our emotional reactions, we more often blame: “you caused this reaction.”
Or we Defend: “I have every right to feel this way” and we argue our case.
Or we Attack: “well let me tell you what you do that’s even worse.”
But all of this steals, kills, and destroys relationships, and the peace, love, and joy God’s Spirit wants to lead us into.
Which is NOT dependent on others or circumstances.
The Fruit of the Spirit
John Burke meditates on it often when he finds himself sinking emotionally in dismay— which is his trigger reaction from past wounds.
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! 19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. – Habakkuk 3:17-19.
Your joy, your peace, your ability to love life and feel free—it’s not dependent on others, or the circumstances.
God can produce that fruit in you, not matter what.
That’s the abundant life Jesus came to give.
And this is how the Gospel—the good news about God that Jesus brought—helps us.
We don’t need to blame others—in Christ you are forgiven, adopted as a son or daughter, completely loved and secure forever in God’s family, and God calls you blameless in his sight—that’s how He sees you. So you don’t need to blame others. if you’re feeling condemned, it’s not God’s voice you’re hearing:
“there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
Even if you sin, admit you are wrong, turn back to God and grow from it.
You don’t need to defend yourself, Jesus is your defense attorney.
The Scriptures says so:
“If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us…we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. 2 He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” – 1 John 1:8-2:1
No need to defend yourself—you’re right with the ruler of the Universe. And so don’t start accusing others, take responsibility for your own actions or reactions, and grow.
The Accuser vs. Taking Responsibility
See Evil wants us to accuse one another:
“For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth.” – Revelation 12:10
The word Satan means accuser. And It works—just get us to accuse each other rather than taking responsibility—and you can steal, kill, and destroy relationships with ease. Don’t let it happen friends. The Gospel of Jesus—the good news is you don’t need to blame, defend, or accuse—you are safe with God, loved, secure, you have nothing to fear. So you can let God heal you, grow you, to truly love God and to Love Everyone, life by life.
So when we get triggered. We have to take responsibility for our emotional state.
Let’s look deeper at how to first get un-triggered, and then how to begin getting at the roots. John Burke gave us this outline last week, and we’re going to keep filling in details each week of this series.
Spot the Symptoms Early
The goal is to get better and better and realizing when you’re getting triggered, and do these things sooner. Once your Amgdala hijacks your brain and you get flooded, it’s too late. When you feel intense emotion, your muscles start to tense up, your heart may start beating faster, your mind is racing to protect you.
STOP – De-escalate, Re-engage the Rational Brain
First you must De-escalate the amygdala and give time for hormones to dissipate that hijacked your brain.
This has two parts: De-escalate Yourself, and if you’re in conflict with another, De-escalate the Situation.
De-escalate Yourself – Remember, when you’re feeling triggered, you’ve never felt so right, but you’ve never been so wrong. Your thinking, relational brain is not in the driver’s seat—your Limbic, survive at all cost brain is running the show. And depending on how emotionally hijacked you are, it may take 20 minutes for the hormones and chemicals the Amygdala signaled the Hypothalamus to release to subside.
So if you’re in an argument. Just say “I need to take a break for 20 minutes, then we can try again. Let’s both try to emotionally de-escalate.”
Of course, if you’re arguing with someone who has an unhealed abandonment wound—you just triggered them by wanting to leave! Isn’t this fun? Well, it’s human reality—and it’s what it means to Love Everyone, Life by Life.
Easy to say, not so easy to do. But if you’ve talked about what happens physiologically when triggered, you can agree on this.
Whatever the situation, if you can take 20 minutes, go for a walk, or just go somewhere to be alone and pray—say: “God, I don’t know what’s going on, but you do, calm me down.”
Jesus promised this to all His followers:
I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. – John 14:27
Then you want to Re-engage your thinking, relational brain. Here’s how, ask yourself and ask God: “What’s going on inside of me?”
You can’t just stop the emotions, but you can engage your objective brain—your neocortex—and asking an observational question and thinking or writing observations—that hooks your neocortex back in. You want this part of your brain back online because it cares about truth and relationship—the Amygdala and Limbic brain only cares about protecting you. It senses a threat—but it may not be a real threat in the present tense—it may only be reminding you of a past threat, and the painful memory not yet healed, and that’s causing a reaction.
So De-escalate Yourself, then De-escalate the Situation
If you’re triggered in a relational argument.
- You have a perspective 1 Story of what’s happening.
- The other person also has a perspective, a 2nd Story.
- Remember your truth may be accurate, but incomplete. Their truth may be accurate, but incomplete.
- And God has a 3rd Story of what’s really accurate to a bigger reality.
So try to find what can we agree on that’s true (a 3rd perspective we both agree on)—even doing that re-engages the thinking brain.
Ask “What’s going on between us?”
Once you de-escalate and re-engage your thinking, relating brain, you can start to listen with an open, motivated mind to try to understand each other.
- But that doesn’t get at the deeper roots of why you’re getting so triggered.
- And usually, we want to say the reason we’re getting so triggered is because of what they said, or what they did, or what just happened—but that’s not going to help you live Free or Abundantly.
- You have to own your own reaction.
- Nobody made me feel this way.
Say that to yourself. “Nobody has control over my emotions or reactions except me.”
- That doesn’t mean they may not need to change their behavior, but that’s not your first priority if you want to be free.
So once you learn to Stop—de-escalate and re-engage your, afterwards, or maybe at another time, you need to start to dig deeper. Something else is going on deeper in my soul—what is it. You begin to…
Search for Lies, Agreements, and God’s 3rd Story perspective
Here’s how evil works in the world to steal, kill, and destroy. Evil propagates through unhealed wounds, lies or agreements, and triggered reactions.– Jesus said “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.”
Here’s how evil works to steal, kill, and destroy. Evil propagates through unhealed wounds, lies or agreements, and triggered reactions.
Generational struggles can be passed down from one generation to the next.
This is why this is SO important—it’s not just about you, it’s about generations.
This can change!
You can replace the lies that evil sows in the fertile soil of unhealed wounds!
You can replace them with God’s truth!
Remember, you have a perspective the 1st Story, others have a 2nd Story, but only God has the 3rd Story perspective that is Captial T Truth that makes sense of all our little “t” truths.
When you’re triggered, it usually connects to a Core Need that feels threatened.
We all have Core Needs—they’re good. They’re from God, and if this earth perfectly followed God’s will, those Core Needs would be met in all of us as we perfectly Love and follow God to help us Love others. But God’s will is not done on earth as it is in Heaven—that’s why Jesus told us to pray for it.
- Validation (respect, appreciation)
- Loving Connection (companionship, belonging)
- Autonomy (you can make choices for yourself)
- Value (worth, status,)
- Safety (stability, peace)
- Comfort (pleasure, fun, rest)
- Purpose (meaning in life)
Start asking when triggered, what’s the Core Need that feels threatened?
Is it really in danger of being taken from me, or is that a lie—or does it tie to an old memory that was partially true then, but it’s not still true now.
Then you want to look for God’s 3rd Story perspective–what’s God’s truth? What’s God’s promise to you in this area that can shine a new perspective on this old lie or partial truth?
If you humbly seek God’s help in this area—He will show you in time, when you’re spiritually ready to let him heal it and replace it with truth. Jesus promised God’s Spirit to all who Trust him:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. – John 16:13
So pray this passage:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24
The good news is, God will lead you to healing, and living in His truth, and it changes the triggered reactions and leads us to freedom and life.
That’s what we all can do.
Let God Heal the Wound
Form a New Habit to Respond to God’s Spirit
Once a year, we have the opportunity to jump into a 12 step study. Reserve your spot today because these have filled up in the past. Go to www.gatewaychurch.com/south and register for the 12 Step Studies. There will be one for women and one for men.
So here’s your Assignment for this week In Next Steps/on App:
1. Write down when you get triggered?
2. What is a plan for how you might De-escalate and Re-engage your Relational brain?
3. Then start to ask, what’s the Core Need that feels threatened in this situation?
- Is it really in danger of being taken away, or is it just a perceived danger?
- Is there another painful memory that might relate to this Core Need not getting met?
- What did I believe or hear in my head as a result of that painful memory?
- Is that still true now like it was then?
- How is it the same or different?