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JOEL MARK WITT: Hey. Joel Mark Witt, Antonia Dodge, back again with Merja Sumiloff, the creator of the Healing Power of Inner Parenting: The Four People Within, and we are continuing our conversation here in this video about triggering. I know, for me, when I’m in the middle of personal growth, personal development, oftentimes things are raw and I have a lot of things that might be difficult to see and sometimes in the midst of that … I think we’ve all had this experience … I can get triggered. I’m sure you’ve had this too. Maybe even not in personal development, but just in your daily life you’re getting triggered or whatever. And you’ve actually identified three types of triggering. Maybe you want to explain, Merja, what triggering is in general? And then give us some ideas on the three types of triggering, so we can get some distinction around these.

MERJA SUMILOFF: So, triggering is like a general term that we use for situations where we feel under attack and we feel like we don’t have a choice about what’s happening right now. We feel disempowered. The word triggering actually originates from posttraumatic stress disorder kind of field, medical field, and it used usually to describe a person who comes, say, back from the war and then gets triggered by something to relive the experience. So, the triggering … I just want to kind of pay a little bit of homage to that because that’s where the personal development field has taken that word from. And it’s not to say … I don’t want to like make it frivolous. I don’t want to use it in a frivolous way. I want to use it in a way that’s actually going to be beneficial, because it’s an important part of rehabilitation of people coming back from war and so on.

But just to go into what it means in a personal development setting is we’re talking about something happens in your life that makes you behave or react in a certain way. There’s three different types of triggering, really. There’s offensive triggering, there’s defensive triggering, and then there’s the survival triggering, which you can kind of guess from the names what they’re like. The first thing, the offensive triggering, is all about attacking the people or the situation that is feeling threatening towards you. So, you’re on offense rather than trying to defend yourself, and then when we get into offensive triggering, it’s all about really being an aggressor in the situation rather than being the victim. So, you kind of try and choose to be this aggressive person rather than go into that tender place of possibly being hurt again by whatever is going on around you. That’s the offensive type of triggering.

JOEL MARK WITT: Do you have an example? Even a hypothetical example of how this might show up in someone’s life.

MERJA SUMILOFF: I can give you an exact example from my own experience and one of them is that I was in a car accident. This is several years ago now. I was in one lane and there was another person changing lanes, didn’t check their blind spot and drove straight into the side of my car. We pulled up on the road and exchanged details, or I was trying to exchange the insurance details because obviously they were in wrong and whatever, and he just attacked me. He was like … Firstly, I was living in Ireland and I’m Finnish. I’m clearly a foreigner. I’m a woman. All these kinds of things. He was like, “You … all you women drive the same. It’s your fault. It’s you. It’s … you’re the problem and your insurance won’t cover this and you’re the issue here,” and I’m just like, “Mate, like … Let’s get the insurance claim department involved and let’s just go through this. Don’t worry about whether my insurance will cover anything or anything like that. Let’s just sort this thing now.”

It was a real like, “You’re the issue. You’re the … this and that.” And it was interesting looking at his car, because his car had all dents in it and my car didn’t have any dents until this particular occasion when the front of the car kind of started to come off a little bit because he just jammed straight into it.

JOEL MARK WITT: So, what’s happening … What I’m understanding you saying is what’s happening there is he’s feeling maybe some guilt or … he did something that wasn’t accurate … he made a mistake and instead of saying, “Oh, hey, sorry,” he got triggered around his mistake. He felt insecure about the mistake he made, so he starts blaming you and he goes on the offensive to say, “I’m triggered and I’m gonna blame outwardly.”

MERJA SUMILOFF: Well, he probably didn’t do it very consciously, but it’s very likely that in this person’s life that he was shamed for things when he was a child in the imprint period and so whenever a situation arises where there’s a possibility of being shamed, that’s where he goes … e goes straight into, because it was just unbearable to be shamed. It was just … And it was usually people who are … and we’re probably going to talk about the drama triangle, which is also part of this program, a little bit later on. But the issue with people with offensive kind of triggering is that they’re usually the persecutors on the drama triangle. So, they’re usually the people who have either had to stand up for what is actually right, so he may have been completely falsely accused of being incompetent or whatever and that’s what triggers him into that kind of situation.


ANTONIA DODGE: What’s the second one?

MERJA SUMILOFF: Okay, so the second one is defensive triggering and when we get defensive it’s all about defending our position or the situation. So, it’s most often, interestingly … again referring back to the drama triangle … it’s the rescuers on the drama triangle that get the kind of the defensive triggering going on, because they feel like they’re doing so much for everyone already and that they have only tried their best and they’re having to defend the fact that they’re not actually a bad person. A lot of the times when it’s about defensive triggering, it’s about the person feels like their character is under attack and that they are being misrepresented and they need to kind of defend who … sorry … they need to kind of defend who they actually are and not accept whatever is being reflected back to them.

These are usually people whose childhood experience was a lot about, “Just be a good girl or a good boy and just do this thing and don’t ask for things and just look after me. I need you to look after me. I need you to kind of make sure that you’re looking after me.” So, then that person becomes very defensive because they themselves want to be a real person as well and be taken into consideration.

JOEL MARK WITT: This actually happened to me this past week. This is probably my style of triggering. I was gone for a whole day doing something and when I came back, Antonia had some stuff that had come up for her and she was like … she was telling me some of the stuff and instead of holding space for her, I’m like, “Don’t you realize that I was up early this morning and I held space for you the day before and I was working with you. I’m a good person.” I had all this language around how good I am on the inside and how I’m not … I don’t have bad intent and I’m trying to explain, like, “I’m coming from a good place and I’m not trying to ignore you here. Can you just give me some space?” And she wasn’t even doing anything. She wasn’t even hostile. I just got really defensive. Feeling like my ego or … actually, my goodness inside of me was being attacked is really what was happening. I felt like I was being called like, “You’re not good enough. You’re not standing up and meeting me where I need you to meet me, Joel.” That just happened just a couple of days ago. This whole dynamic started for us, so I totally identify with that one a lot.

MERJA SUMILOFF: Yeah, yeah. That’s a perfect example of the defensive triggering. Truly. Couldn’t have been better.

ANTONIA DODGE: What’s the third style?

MERJ SUMILOFF: So, the third style is survival triggering and the name kinds of says it all, to be fair. It’s just about doing what you need to survive, to kind of have a sense of self-preservation in those situations. In the modern world, apart from the people who have actually been on the battlefield, the people who can really only relate to survival triggering on a very deep level, and a real like full-on experience level, are the people who’ve been to war. Actually, their life has been threatened. Or other people who have been in situations where their existence may have been threatened, like if you’ve had a big accident or you almost died or somebody … if you’ve had a stalker or if you’ve been under threat. Somebody’s attacked you. Or somebody has physically or sexually assaulted you, basically. That’s where the survival triggering kind of comes in and survival triggering is all about being able to realize … what it comes down to is you need to be able to realize that you are still alive.

Survival triggering is very … it’s such a difficult thing to overcome. If you find yourself relating to this kind of triggering where something happens, it’s almost like you can’t breathe, you can’t … or, if it’s chronic, you can’t eat, you can’t do the things that you have to do to look after yourself, that you have massive amount of anxiety or chronic anxiety that is running your life, you probably have survival triggering as your preferred method of triggering. And that usually means that you view yourself predominantly as the victim in life and something really bad has happened that has made you relate into the survival mechanism, like you have to continue to survive all the time. We were talking about it in a previous recording when it comes to boundaries … that people with the survival mechanism, or survival-type triggering, are the ones who have to build the barricades around them because nothing else is really an option. You’re feeling so disempowered that you just simply cannot choose your physiological reactions.

ANTONIA DODGE: Going through the program, there was a deep sense … You do talk about the drama triangle and, right now, we’re kind of hitting some highlights of the second session and there’s a direct correlation between the kinds of triggers that we experience and where we see ourselves in the drama triangle, but there’s also a deep component of the inner child that’s actually experiencing this. Would you be willing to speak a little bit on what’s going on for the inner child during all of these triggers?

MERJA SUMILOFF: Absolutely. So, when we’re triggering, often the survival triggering is the triggering form of the inner children. So, if your inner children are out of control or you don’t have a really good relationship with your inner children, we often pretty quickly go into the survival triggering. Now, when I talk about survival triggering, having just highlighted as this massive thing, it can have smaller forms, like it can have flavors of survival triggering. I want to make sure that no matter what you’ve gone through in your life, if it was painful for you, it was painful. Your experience may have been painful for you, like extremely, excruciatingly painful, even though if you compare it to other people’s journey it may have not been that bad. But the thing is that we don’t actually draw any parallels to anybody else’s journey. Your journey is the most important thing for you and whatever kind of triggering came as a result of that journey, that’s what we need to deal with. Regardless of how it is compared to anybody else’s work.

JOEL MARK WITT: Sure. So, I want to ask a little bit about the survival triggering. I’m gonna paint a scenario here. You tell me if I’m accurate on this. Let’s say when you were a child, you’re watching and your parents went through a really difficult divorce and there was a lot of fighting. And then maybe you get married and have children yourself, and you’re in court with a custody agreement with your children, for example. Some survival things might come up for you. You’re not talking about … like they didn’t literally go to war, but in their minds as a child it was watching a war in the household. Their parents splitting apart.


JOEL MARK WITT: Is that what you mean? Like it would almost be a survival mechanism and they might panic as if their life was threatened that their children are gonna be taken away from them or something.


JOEL MARK WITT: Is that the kind of thing that might be real?

MERJA SUMILOFF: Yeah, very much. Very much, because we’re talking about kind of the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We’re talking about shelter, food, all those different things. Like my parents didn’t go to war. Their parents did and what’s interesting is that these things can travel over generations, but my parents … like we had very, very … like massive amount of turmoil when I was growing up, then also the assault that I had when I was five and all those different things, so my preferred style of triggering is naturally going to be survival because I don’t know that my body is my own. I don’t know that we’re gonna have food because my father drank all the money that my mother was making … before the next day payday. So, sometimes, we didn’t have food. So, yeah, absolutely. If you’ve ever gone hungry, if the shelter that you’ve lived in hasn’t felt safe to you, if you’re being as a child has been threatened by what’s going in the shelter that’s supposed to support you, you are absolutely going to experience some level of this survival triggering.

ANTONIA DODGE: Yeah, and it doesn’t … I think if you’re a person who’s watching this series of videos and … The purpose of these videos is to try and determine whether or not Merja’s program around inner parenting is right for you. This can sound kind of extreme. I don’t remember having intense abuse situations as a child, but I definitely had a dad who had some anger management issues and I manifest … the wounding that my inner child experienced during that time period, I manifest it in a million different ways a day and all these little tiny little micro transactions, right? Because there’s a portion of my inner child that is still trying to make sense of it all and if a situation requires the holistic me to show up, there’s gonna be a part of me that’s like, “I don’t know about this. I don’t know if this is the thing we should be doing.” Even if it is the thing we should be doing, because there’s a piece of us, if we haven’t healed through those traumas, there’s a part of us that’s always holding us back. It’s creating resistances. It might be triggers that have different flavors, like you said, and there might be even nuances, shades of gray between all the different styles of triggers, but fundamentally these are all kind of red flags or mileposts, or markers, that indicate that there might be some attention that needs to go back to that attention.

You and your program said something that I thought was great, which is that, “A lot of people’s inner dialog is just their inner child that hasn’t figured out the trauma that they were experiencing.” So, how we talk to ourselves … you talk about the drama triangle in the program, which is that model. Those three different positions. The victim, the persecutor, and … I always say victim, hero, villain, but the hero would be-

MERJA SUMILOFF: The rescuer.

ANTONIA DODGE: … the rescuer. In that drama triangle, when we deal with trauma that we need healing from, we naturally find ourselves in that triangle and then we naturally find ourselves manifesting certain triggers. And we sort of naturally find ourselves flowing into very subconscious decisions in our lives where we see the effects of them, but we’re not really sure where they came from and we’re not really sure if that’s the thing we should be doing but we don’t know what else to do. You mentioned in the program, some people drink some wine because it feels better than to not drink it and then Monday comes way too soon for them. It’s just … we feel out of control in our life because the thing’s that’s actually in control is the thing that needs attention inside of us, which is our inner children.

If you are a person right now that is trying to determine why you have behaviors that aren’t serving you and you’re not sure what the source of those behaviors are. You just see these components like we talked about. The inability to create the healthy boundaries in the last video or maybe these different styles of triggers and finding yourself in the drama triangle. If you find yourself in these situations where you’re not 100% sure why you’re not in control of your life the way you want to be, then I highly recommend you go check out Merja’s program: The Healing Power of Inner Parenting: The Four People Within. And in the next video, we’re gonna talk a little bit about self-sabotage because I think that’s a big one for a lot of people … is this idea of like, “No, I think I’m okay I think I’ve got it down and dialed in,” and then all of a sudden you’re like, “Oh, well, maybe I didn’t, because kaboom. Here’s my life.” We’re gonna talk a little bit about that in the next video.

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