Often, we hear what needs to be done, rarely do we hear suggestions about how to do it.
Many of us, if we have been alive on this earth for any length of time, have had some trauma in our past. Because of that, inevitably things will happen in the present that will trigger memories of that trauma. This has the potential to taint the relationships of the present, relationships with people who have no idea that they are doing anything to cause unpleasantness. It is completely unfair to unload our pain onto them, but because of human nature, that is what we tend to do. In the same way, it is also unfair to them to not share that they have caused this painful memory to be triggered. We must let them know in a nonjudgmental kind way of course. Communication is so important in any relationship, often it’s not exactly what you say, but more how you say it. It’s all in the delivery.
As humans, we will keep things to ourselves because sharing with someone else may cause the pain to bubble up and boil over out of control. We do this because we care about not hurting others, but also because in our minds, we might be embarrassed or ashamed of the circumstances. We do this because we don’t exactly trust the person enough yet, we are uncertain of what they will do with the information. There are so many reasons. The thing is, most people are at least a little intuitive and can tell there is something about the situation that is off. If it is never explained, they will most likely internalize it and assume it has everything to do with them, because how would they know it was anything else? This is also a common component of human nature.
We may not be able to explain it right away, because we may not understand it ourselves at first, or ever, if we don’t stop to examine the situation. But really, we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to make that examination. It is fine to tell someone you don’t really understand your reaction to something they have said or done but you think it has something to do with memories of the past. It’s not fine to explode in anger and tell them they are causing you pain, or worse yet that they should know better. How on earth would they know better?
On the other side of the situation though, we have to deal with the memory that was triggered, somehow without it causing harm to the present relationship. So how do we do this? Well it has to do with mind over matter. Recognizing what has happened is the key. If we don’t understand it was a trigger to a forgotten or suppressed traumatic event, we can’t begin to make corrections. Understanding ourselves then is extremely important. We have to examine why the situation triggered the emotional reaction associated with the traumatic memory, because it is going to start with that emotion. Usually the emotion is sadness, anxiety, or fear. Generally, once we feel the emotion, our minds will bring us back to the time we felt that emotion the strongest. We will understand at that point, that what happened just now, in the present, triggered the memory. I should say that sometimes, the traumatic event may not be available in a person’s memory because it was too painful and has been suppressed to the point that it is irretrievable. (Trei, 2004). If this is the case, a person would need the help of a psychologist to get to the root of the problem.
So, the memory is in the past, we are most likely in no danger of the situation repeating itself in the present, but the emotion is strong, it will affect the present unless we consciously stop it from happening. We have the power to stop it, we all have the power. Many times, we believe we are powerless to do anything about our emotions, we have to let them take over. The thing is, we are not powerless we don’t have to let them take over. We can easily stop them in their tracks. All we have to do is simply say STOP to ourselves. One way we can visualize this is to imagine someone holding up a STOP sign in front of our face, so we really can’t continue on the path we are on, unless we make a conscious effort to sidestep around the stop sign. There are many ways to picture putting a stop to the emotion, or the pain of the memory. Everyone has their own unique imagination; this is just one example. If the emotion or thoughts creep back in, we can repeat the process, our fascinating and beautiful brain will work it out.
So, you might be asking what triggered me to write about triggers? Well here it is.
I do have a special someone in my life, we have both had some traumatic events happen in our past lives. We don’t often trigger each other, and we definitely don’t do it intentionally. We have talked however about how things that happen innocently do trigger memories of past trauma, and we know enough to not blame each other when this happens. This understanding in itself tends to endear me much more to him.
Anyway, the way he was talking was putting him “in the doghouse” with me so I said perhaps you should just stop talking. Well he took that literally and actually did quit talking, trying to be funny. The more he didn’t talk, the sadder I found myself, even though he was clearly just trying to be humorous as he was using sign language and facial expressions etcetera, just not using his voice. I had to examine what was causing my sadness, and finally I figured it out. Even though the situation was absolutely different, my ex-husband used to punish me with the silent treatment, sometimes for days, before he let loose with his perception of my failings as a wife and mother. Of course, this wounded me to my very core because my entire life at that time was about being the best wife and mother I could be. This happened over the course of many years, and the silent treatment became a most dreaded situation which I tried to avoid at all costs.
Interestingly, once I understood the association, I felt myself becoming even sadder, remembering all those times. I began to tear up. I now understood, let the feeling wash over me and almost fell into the helplessness of the sad emotion. In my mind however, I knew this was irrational as it was in the distant past. I also decided that I wasn’t going to let this effect the present. I put up an imaginary hand and actually said STOP to myself. Once I did this, I was able to push back the sadness and remind myself that this was not the same situation, there was no maleficence here. No one was trying to punish me. No one would be spewing negative hateful things when the “silent treatment” was over. The goodness of the present didn’t have to be tainted by the past because I had the presence of mind to take charge, making the irrational fade and the rational come into the light.
This was my trigger for writing about triggers. I am dedicated to helping people work through complicated situations by breaking them down into manageable segments. I shared my story with you as a real-life example, not something made up or generalized. I always try to make my subjects more relatable. I wanted to help people see the big picture and hopefully take this to heart next time they are triggered.
Trei, L. (2004, January 8). Psychologists offer proof of brain’s ability to suppress memories. Retrieved from https://news.stanford.edu/news/2004/january14/memory-114.html