Why being ‘triggered’ isn’t being wrong.
It’s everywhere. The term ‘triggered’ seems to be the new pop-psychology go-to word.
“You’re just triggered.”
“Ooooh, he/she is so triggered.”
“I bet you’re gonna get triggered.”
“I’m SO triggered.”
The term is often used to demean, taunt or otherwise call out those with whom we are in conflict, the use of the term somehow suggesting moral or emotional superiority.
While on one hand, the term ‘triggered’, is used to point out anothers lack of personal control, on the other hand, being triggered suggests feeling righteously upset or enraged by the action of someone else.
Interestingly, it seems ‘triggered’ has come to imply having and/or expressing intense or negative emotion’: a pseudo-insult we throw out when we see (or cause) a reaction in someone that we judge as ‘too strong’, ‘too angry’ ‘too defensive’… ‘too much’.
In fact, triggered is a term that was originally coined by psychologists working with veterans of World War 1. The term was used to depict the chain of events/emotions/reactions that would happen for soldiers suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Triggered is/was a very real, very intense, very difficult phenomenon to live with and manage for the traumatized. It is always accompanied by a sense of powerlessness over what is happening, and can be at the least frightening, and at the most dangerous to self and/or others.
Sadly, social media has managed to dilute the meaning of ‘triggered’ into a personal insult, designed to gaslight, demean and/or disempower.
When I worked as a therapist (feels like a zillion years ago now), I worked with trauma.
Most people I saw didn’t describe their struggles as having a root in trauma, and most were completely unaware that the way they currently were struggling had anything at all to do with early life trauma.
(I know for at least 30 years, I didn’t realize that for myself).
But all of them could describe both their triggers and the experience of being triggered. Often, their experience with being ‘triggered’ was the reason they sought therapy.
When we would talk about these root-experiences, and start to understand the impact as trauma, clients would often experience an “A-ha moment” that would often bring a sense of immense relief.
Using the current triggers as a starting point, we would uncover the root-experiences that were continuing to play out as trauma-responses in everyday life. After finding a completely understandable reason for these ‘triggered’ responses, it wasn’t unusual to hear clients say with relief: “So, I’m not crazy!” or “Finally, I can understand why I am the way I am/do the things I do!” or simply “I finally feel heard.”
Their ‘triggers’ — and being ‘triggered’ — finally made sense.
Far from being wrong or bad, triggers provide the most powerful door to understanding and healing.
Which brings me to why I struggle with those I see in the online/social spaces sharing memes that suggest avoiding, blocking or otherwise removing people and situations that trigger intense emotion or reaction.
While in early stages of therapy we might talk about avoiding triggers in order to create space to heal, the ultimate goal is/was never to permanently avoid triggers.
Indeed, any approach that suggests that we avoid things, people, or situations in order to ‘protect’ our feelings and emotions simply keeps us feeling stuck and disempowered.
Equally unhealthy is the aggressive postulating, ‘calling out’ people for their beliefs, shaming publicly, judging righteously that is rampant online. Aggressively strong voices hiding deep insecurities.
As unglamorous as it sounds, lasting and positive change is more about taking time to metamorphize — that slow, essential-but-gooey and not-so-pretty stage between caterpillar and butterfly. Recognizing our triggers and doing the inner work so that our reaction to external stimuli is measured, calm and reflective of our authentic self.
The world is going through massive changes and shifts right now. On a global, societal and personal level, triggers and trauma-responses are everywhere.
Through social media and more traditional forms of journalism and news, we are literally inundated by fear-based opinions masquerading as facts.
Fear has a way to hijack our already overwhelmed nervous systems, causing us to be triggered into and by a range of negative emotions: from powerlessness to aggressiveness.
While it is easy for us to be triggered into our fight-or-flight responses, and react aggressively or simply shut down and cocoon — instead, it is imperative that we take some time to regroup, reflect and respond so that we can keep the lines of communication open.
We are primed and ready for the chrysalis stage, but those with an agenda keep trying to funnel our angst into aggression.
Continuing to add trauma to trauma by piling anger, hatred, fear into this volatile situation will certainly create change, but sadly not the change we say we want.
Ultimately, we will end up triggered again — maybe in new or different ways — but triggered nonetheless.
Struggling to respond rather than react?
Start with taking a breath, breathing out slowly.
Repeat at least 3 times.
And then walk away from your keyboard.
You’ve got this.
As always, thank you for reading. I look forward to reading your feedback, comments and experiences, too.
Originally published at https://www.tanyatinney.com on July 13, 2020.