Triggers Can Be Empowering: My Approach


Trigger Warnings: Descriptions of being triggered included.

I’ve begun to accept the way things are done these days. That means I now include trigger warnings in my writings. I write a lot about abuse recovery or abuse prevention. Yet, the first time someone wrote ‘trigger warnings’ on my writing, I was offended.

I began my personal growth in 1971. I was 26 years old and a gazillion miles from my abusive family of origin. And I was safe enough to stop using mind altering chemicals to, well, alter my mind.

I began to do something really strange. I began to feel my feelings. And feel. And feel some more. I remember, I had no name for them at the time. I started dreaming. And thinking about things. Remembering events I certainly didn’t want to remember. Noticing the effect of other people on how I felt.

I reached into my shiny new toolbox and used every tool in it. Twelve step meetings. Talking about my feelings with other people. Writing about those feelings/journaling. Reading positive thinking literature. And so on.

Eventually, I stabilized and was comfortable in my own skin a large part of the time. Until I wasn’t. Something happened and I kind of just tilted. Went off balance.

I used my journal to examine this experience and learn from it like I did everything else I experienced. I noticed that when I ’tilted’ [what you call being triggered], my body felt heavy, awkward and kind of mechanical like maybe I was a robot or something. I certainly didn’t feel authentic at that moment. It’s like living in the past silhouetted on the present.

My mind raced with thoughts that did not match the current situation. And I felt compulsive like I need to do something right that moment. Make this telephone call. Write that person. Hit someone. Do something

r i g h t 

n o w

I examined my experiences further and learned things I wouldn’t understand professionally until after I finished graduate school and was in professional practice.

I’m going to mix these ideas up together because they make so much more sense this way.

If you were traumatized and were not surrounded by loving caring ATTENTIVE people who believed you, believed in you and heard you, you most likely developed PTSD.

An official diagnosis of PTSD has 4 sets of symptoms. Two are healthy involving your mind and body trying to heal itself. And two can be crippling dooming you to forever live in your past.

I’ll come back to this in a moment.

What I understood early on was that this experience of what I called fragmenting or tilting or going off balance and you call being triggered is a healthy experience. I saw it as an arrow pointing me to whatever it was I needed to face next in my life to rid myself of the effects of abuse.

Now for my attitude about healing from abuse. The people who abused me or you should all be strung up by their toenails. They are at fault for each and every wrong thing they did. They carry the blame.

On my end, I’d like to psychologically and emotionally wash every last effect of their nastiness from my life. I’m spiteful and feel mean about it. I don’t want to live in any way on the end of their string. I want my freedom and I’ll do pretty much anything I have to do to get it. I’m determined.

From this frame of mind, I’d like to go back and bring up those two sets of trauma experiences that I consider healthy. These involve the experience of physical and psychological re-living your event. These are what you call being triggered.

Anything at all that resembles your trauma in any way can trigger you. It can be a song on the radio, a time of year, a smell, a tone of voice, a color, the sound of someone’s voice, writings on the internet, or anything at all.

These are the nightmares, the feelings of being triggered, the abnormal fears I carried. And the healthier and more functional you get in your life, the more likely and often this happens. These painful experiences all have a gift right smack dab in the middle of them.

How in the world can that be a gift?

Yes, it hurts. But, your being is trying to heal you, purge you of trauma.

And here we come to the two trauma experiences that can be crippling. It’s the need to avoid triggers, intimacy, and the experiences of living. It’s the moodiness and self-blame. The ‘don’t think’, ‘don’t feel’, ‘don’t experience hope’, ‘don’t have intimacy’, and ‘don’t even do anything at all that might make me remember what happened’.

Only what happened is either part of my healing or it’s a poison in my soul. Not facing the pain involved keeps me spinning in the trauma. Instead of growing, I live there all the time.

This is how I view being triggered. It’s a gift. It’s part of my empowerment. What comes up, comes up all by itself at the right time and in the right way IF I am willing to face it.

It’s like having the flu and needing to throw up. Once I vomit, the pain in my belly is gone. And once I face whatever element of my abuse was triggered in the moment, I am one millimeter closer to being free. Free of the people who harmed me. Free of the harm. Free of the damage that was done to me. One more step closer to wholeness.

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