In Part One we looked at how to go to an appreciation memory in order to help us get our relational circuits (RC’s) back on and be able to relate better with God and others. In this part I want to talk about a part of the brain that Dr. Karl Lehman has named the VLE or Verbal Logical Explainer. This VLE helps us make sense of the world and is constantly giving us explanations of what is going on around us. We will look at how the VLE works when someone, or something, in the present triggers an old unresolved trauma from our past.
The VLE is not malicious, but it can only give us an explanation based on the data it has. If that data is distorted by an unresolved trauma in our lives, the explanation will be very distorted. This is especially upsetting when that unresolved trauma gets triggered by someone in front of us. The result, if we do not recognize it is a trigger, is that the VLE will tell us that that person is the problem. We will lose all the benefits of having our RC’s on, we will blame them for our upset and we will not want to find a solution other than one that requires them to change. We all have experienced this.
Dr. Lehman tells a story about him and his wife getting ready for vacation that illustrates his triggering and the VLE’s explanation.
Driven by an incident from his childhood concerning leaving for vacation, Karl liked to leave for vacation at 6:00 am sharp. At 5:59 he would be in the car waiting on his wife. She was inside doing adult things such as turning off lights, checking the airconditioner and locking up the house. When 6:00 arrived and they were not leaving, he would get very upset. His VLE would tell him that his wife was the reason. Among other explanations about her being the problem was, ‘If she had just gotten up earlier, everything would be fine.’ Karl was upset with his wife, who had not done anything wrong, because he was triggered with the unresolved issue from his past. The trigger turned off his RC’s and his anger grew as his VLE’s explanation made his wife the problem. Notice also that he reverted to the maturity level and emotions that were part of the past unresolved trauma.
As this brief story illustrates, it can be very hard to recognize when we are triggered because the pain we feel seems real in the present and seems to make sense that the person in front of us is the problem. The memory that is making the trigger is invisible, coming from the part of the brain that stores implicit memory. The result is, we lose our peace and the ability to relate to anyone, and conflict can escalate.
(This can happen in our relationship with the Lord, also. If we get triggered from a past trauma, we can believe that the Lord is the problem.)
Before we get to the solutions for this common occurrence, it is important to note that traumas do not have to be huge to set up this dilemma. Any time a child is not validated, comforted and taken through to resolution of a painful situation, it could be a trauma. It does not have to be a fire or a tornado; it can be everyday events that the child was not able to handle in a good way, such as incidents at school. When triggered in the present, the toxic pieces of the past event will come forward into the present. This distorts our perceptions and emotions and we blame the person who triggered us.
So the question arises, “How can we notice that we are triggered?”
1) As we learn to recognize that our RC’s are off because we are impatient, irritable or intolerant (see Part One), we can guess that we may be triggered as well in that moment. We will lose our peace and be upset; it will not feel good. We will need to get calm before further interaction with anyone.
2) It helps me personally to notice that whatever is going on in the present FEELS MUCH BIGGER than that situation calls for; it’s way out of proportion. If that happens, and I can notice it, I will go to an appreciation moment to get calm. Later I will go to the Lord and ask Him about it: “Lord Jesus, what do you want me to know about that upset?” If I cannot work it out by myself with Him, I will ask someone to help me.
This is how we solve the problem on a deeper level. We get healed of the old, unresolved trauma from the past that triggers us in the present.
3) When Jesus comes into the painful memory and shows us where He was and how He saw it and gives us what we did not get in the past when it happened, everything changes.
The trigger is gone! It no longer FEELS true that the other person is the problem. I again see them as my loved one.
As we get better at spotting triggers, noticing our relational circuits are off, and going to Jesus for healing, we will see our relationships increase in joy and grow deeper in intimacy.
See Part Three for more on calming the brain.
**For more information about triggering, healing and the VLE, see Dr. Lehman’s new book—Outsmarting Yourself www.kclehman.com