As survivors, we work hard to minimize the impact of triggers on our daily lives. We learn approaches to stay present when the triggers come. And we try to avoid the triggers when we can. I have met survivors who attempt to avoid all triggers. Some stay locked away from the world. Some avoid relationships, friendships and anything remotely resembling their childhood. And while there is certainly a case for minimizing triggers to keep life tolerable, there is a problem with trigger avoidance. It is impossible. Triggers are inevitable. As long as we live on this Earth, we will be triggered.
Why? Triggers aren’t what we think they are. Triggers are not small torture devices sent from the universe. Triggers are a reminder that we have work to do. We have emotions to feel. We have memories to recover. We have inner conversations to start. We are here to grow. It is a universal law. So we will continue to see reminders. And avoidance will not help us. We may temporarily delay the inevitable, but that’s the most we can do.
It isn’t our fault that we don’t understand the true nature of triggers. We have been told they are bad. We have been told to avoid them as much as possible. Most trauma therapies teach us how to tolerate and live with trauma, to breathe through our triggers. So we have learned that triggers are something to be lived with, not something to be learned from. And it doesn’t help that there is a pervasive feeling in the world of trauma recovery that trauma will follow us around for the rest of our lives. While I do believe self-development is a lifetime journey, I am not convinced we have to live with trauma for a lifetime.
You may not be convinced that triggers are a good thing, but I would like to share some of my own experiences with triggers and how I have used them to further my own personal growth and memory recovery. Here are some examples of how they show up in my life.
1) Children. If you have children, you already understand what I mean. Children are here to remind us of our past. Literally, their purpose is to help us grow. Do you have a fear that surpasses all others? Your children will embody that fear. My children have dragged me through all my fears around food, personal space, control, dentists, noise and sleep. And like all triggers, they aren’t trying to torture me. They are trying to tell me to find a new perspective, to look at these issues from an adult perspective, instead of my inner child’s perspective. Honestly, when children are raising children, it is bound to go wrong. So these triggers are providing me an opportunity to change. My new parenting email workshop discusses parenting after trauma in much more detail.
2) Media. When I am retrieving a memory, it starts off with a state of confusion. I have far more questions than answers. I usually experience some not-so-fun emotions followed by a flashback. The flashback is usually not clear at first. I can’t always tell the circumstances. I might get a general sense of a time frame or place, but not always. So then, the universe will send me clues. I will see information about a country in my Facebook news feed or the weather report will mention a city. I will hear names on television programs that remind me of a certain person from my past. And my reaction will be intense and deep. It will be unforgettable. And when I push through my defenses to focus on it, the memory will become clearer. But if I am not paying attention, I will start to feel bad with no idea why.
3) Relationships. This one sounds obvious, but I am not referring to the most obvious relationship triggers. My triggers don’t always come in the form of debilitating and disastrous train wrecks (although they can). Sometimes, triggers can come from relatively benign events or statements. Maybe your friend uses a word or phrase that reminds you of a friend from your past. Maybe they give you advice that reminds you of your parents. Reminders don’t always come in the form of complete dysfunction or abuse. And when we become more aware in relationship, we can pick up on the small triggers and avoid the train wreck completely.
So what do we do with all these reminders? The hardest part is noticing them. But once we notice them, it is time to write. Maybe there is a story our inner child wants to tell. Write the story. Maybe there is an emotion. Write from the emotion (not just about it). Maybe the trigger seems to be about the present and not the past. Write about the present. The focus might shift to the past as you write.
Use triggers. Don’t avoid them. Allow them to remind you of what you don’t remember or still have to process. Allow them to be helpful in your life. If you can allow yourself to be thankful for those reminders (even some of the time), your inner relationships will start to flourish and your trauma journey will shift dramatically. And so will our discussion about triggers.
If you want to change your trigger responses, consider my one-on-one survivor guidance sessions to help you build awareness in your life.