Triggers - What Are They?
A trigger, or a “trigger response”, means to re-experience symptoms of a painful memory, feeling, or event. For the person being triggered, they are remembering a trauma; a sense of being marginalized, uncomfortable, offended, or ill-at-ease based upon a past event. A trigger could be a reminder of anything: an argument, event, smell, sound, sight, or physical sensation. Someone who is triggered and provoked is experiencing not just the event in the present moment, but the heightened memory of a past traumatic event as well.
When we experience a traumatic event, our minds hold onto the emotion that comes from it and stores it as a memory. If we encounter a trigger years later, even if from other people or events, the mind is reliving and reactivating the same emotions associated with the first trauma – it gets triggered. In most cases, the trigger response is sharper now because it is an amalgamation of the original trauma in addition to any other traumas similar to it, plus the event now. Most of the time, people are unaware of their triggers and why they show up.
When someone experiences a trigger event, they are reliving some prior trauma. While the present-day aggressor might not understand or even know about the trigger response, the recipient is mentally reliving and experiencing the traumatic event over again, but now with more emphasis. Because a trigger is deeply personal, it is highly emotional, and the reaction usually is in excess. Triggers are highly catabolic reactions and are tremendously draining because you lose valuable energy when triggered. Others may trigger us, but they didn’t create our triggers.
Triggers – General Examples
- Death or loss of loved one near a holiday/anniversary/birthday
- Being alone, rejected, isolated
- Sounds, smells, tastes, sights experienced during the initial trauma
- Yelling, arguing, loud voices
- Being laughed at, ridiculed, rejected, made fun of
- Break-ups, divorce, friendships ending
- Abuse, harassment, betrayal, violence
- Accidents, other physical traumas
- Abandonment, neglect, marginalization
Triggers - Specific Examples
- As a child, if you heard your parents arguing about money often, you might get triggered when your credit card bill shows up.
- If you were yelled at as a child, you might get triggered when someone yells at you as an adult.
- If you grew up with abandonment issues you might get triggered if someone doesn’t return your phone call in a timely manner or ghosts you.
People don’t trigger you - they activate your trigger, and you react to that trigger. Your trigger can still be triggered because it has not yet been healed. You are responsible for all the triggers that you currently have, and you are responsible for healing them too.
So how best to heal, or manage your triggers? I’m a believer in turning and facing any challenge. Triggers are no exception. As we learned above, they are old patterns of reactions that need to be healed.
A few options for managing your triggers would be to identify where you trigger(s) came from. You can also choose to dissociate from the trigger, to not be in the trenches with it, but rather see it from a 10,000-foot view for greater objectivity. Communicate the emotions that you associate with your trigger. Finally, practice self-love, patience, and grace with yourself as you learn to dial down your response to the trigger, so it no longer owns your present-day reactions or behavior.
To your freedom!