First, let’s discuss what triggers are from a mental health standpoint:
A trigger is something that sets off a memory tape or flashback transporting the person back to the event of her/his original trauma.
Triggers are very personal; different things trigger different people. The survivor may begin to avoid situations and stimuli that she/he thinks triggered the flashback. She/he will react to this flashback, trigger with an emotional intensity similar to that at the time of the trauma. A person’s triggers are activated through one or more of the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. – Source: Psych Central
With that said, the first thing that people think about are people that suffer from PTSD. It’s funny because I have some triggers that are good such as crayons reminding me of elementary school or seeing a store or something that makes me smile because it reminds me of a person that I like. However, for some people, they are things that truly make them feel the total opposite. My dad is a Vietnam Vet. Although I would really like to know about his experiences (and he has shared some), I choose really not to ask him certain things because I really don’t want to trigger him. I know that one of his triggers is helicopters. They stress him out and I totally get it just from watching documentaries. But this post is not about my dad, it’s about myself and others and how they identify and cope with their triggers.
Identifying Your Triggers
How does one do that exactly? It’s weird that I don’t really know how I got my triggers but I learned what they are. It could be from my upbringing. I’m pretty sure it is from my upbringing but my triggers are mine and mine alone as my siblings don’t seem to exhibit the same responses to the things that trigger me. I do know that I hate bullies with a passion. I do not like to be picked on or ganged up on. It is something that I don’t cope very well with. Now, this could be because people picked on me a lot when I was younger because I was the tall and skinny Jehovah’s Witness girl. It could be because sometimes my family would gang up on me and tell me everything bad about myself (or that’s how I saw it at the time).
I do know that my upbringing and the things I saw and heard in my dysfunctional family really did impact me as an adult. I had to come to grips with those things.
How to Come to Grips with Your Triggers
Outside of figuring out what they are, you have to figure out how to deal with them. When I was triggered, I got very violent. I have been known to, on a number of occasions, pull a knife out on people. One incident that I had alluded to in previous blogs (Let’s REALLY Talk About Suicide , People Just Don’t Get It, and Bipolar and Black ) involved my father and a knife. I hold NO ill will to my father because I have never lived his life and I don’t know how he has made it this far without literally killing himself so I respect him for that. However, when he gets drunk, he tends to be a bully. He has been that way since I was younger. He was verbally abusive to us and I can still remember a lot of his words that I will not repeat. That day, in addition to missing ONE of my meds, I got fed up and really was on the verge of stabbing him.
Now, notice, I was already on meds. I took it upon myself to seek mental help and get on meds at the age of 20 because I KNEW something was wrong with me. I knew it. My temper was horrible and my goal was NEVER to be a victim so I always thought of ways to literally kill people if they tried me. To me, everything is a weapon and I still believe that. The goal is to not have to use said weapons. These came from my upbringing. It came from being verbally abused and watching my mom be verbally (and I believe, physically) abused. This is likely why I never PICK fights but, if I feel that someone has done me wrong, I will fly off the handle.
New meds helped me get over that incident. My father forgave me and I forgave myself and him. I learned that you can’t just go into a flying rage. When I look at my two fingers on my right hand, I am reminded of what I did. The knife went through my hand and cut the tendons in two of my fingers. This happened 10 years ago but I reflect on it a lot because 1) I literally had reached my breaking point and 2) I was in the psych ward for a week and I would never want to return to that.
What Did I Learn?
Everything doesn’t warrant a violent response. Although I have probably had about two to four more incidents after that, it has never gotten all the way to that point. I have to still myself and think. But there are people that like to test you. Members of my family are the main culprits which is really irritating because they KNOW my temper. It’s as if they are trying to dare me into doing what they know I am capable of. And that in itself irritates me (trigger). You know what I am capable of but you still want to try me, why?
I have one sibling that I have never gotten along with that says the most hateful and heartless things. I have gotten into it with her on many occasions. People that feel that their family and their feelings aren’t valid and don’t even want to hear them bother me. Everyone has feelings and a right to express them. Never silence those feelings because you might be at that person’s funeral one day because you chose to be a jerk instead of just being a listening ear but I digress. Because of certain things, I don’t really have too much to say to her because we always tend to get into arguments due to her utter lack of empathy. The same goes for the woman that called me fat on numerous occasions. When my family came at me in the past, it was always in packs. I never liked that so I learned to disengage.
How Social Media Helped Me
In addition to having TWO great professionals that have been working with me for the past 10 years, I have found my own way to deal with people that are jerks. One way is to just use my words. In the past, I used to hit people. The thing is: You can’t hit, stab, or choke people out on the internet. So when people say really rude, nasty, and unnecessary things to me online, I have to use my words. In the past, I didn’t use my words, I just went straight to the violence because I didn’t have time to try to reason with someone. I recognize this now from tons of self evaluation and talking to my therapist and psychiatrist. I have been on meds for almost 30 years now. The process in learning yourself isn’t an easy one and can be very frustrating. I also believe that obtaining my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology really helped. I had to look into myself and my memories a lot and come to an understanding of who I was as a person.
Basically, I learned that my triggers are people period. I just don’t really get along with them and I can’t do disrespect. Most people can’t do disrespect but my response is not the typical response to it. Because I know that is my problem, I do things to avoid it. I have the best job working from home (I hope to keep it forever). I have learned to just disengage when people (especially family) try me. I go shopping when other people aren’t out. My friends make fun of me because I go to grocery stores as soon as they open. If Aldi opened at six, I would be there at six. They now open at 8 which is great (they used to open at 10). Because I work from home, I don’t have to drive much and deal with rude drivers.
My medications help in that they put a little barrier up so that everything doesn’t piss me off anymore. But staying away from people and unknown situations also helps. I go to very few places and I also use music to help me.
Because I don’t want to damage my daughter (who has special needs), I try to go outside of my comfort zone and do different things but I can’t usually handle them for a long time. I stay away from crowds (people tend to be rude by stepping on you and not acknowledging you even if you’re a giant like me). I try my best to do more for my daughter because she is a social butterfly and loves people and it takes a lot out of me but I do it because she shouldn’t suffer because of my affliction. My introversion comes from really trying to stay out of trouble because I know what I am capable of.
And although the almost stabbing incident happened 10 years ago, as I stated, I have had a few more incidents that could have resulted in serious violence. One happened when I had to ration out my meds because I didn’t have insurance (some people truly NEED meds). Since that incident, I haven’t missed meds. So if you can piss me off and I’m on meds, you’ve really gone far and I do my best to disengage.
One thing that I don’t like is when people expect the world to change for them because they have triggers. The world will not change for you. You have to learn what causes your triggers and learn to cope with them.
Every year, people say things like “Don’t light fireworks because of vets” or “Don’t make April Fool’s Day jokes about being pregnant because some women can’t get pregnant”. Remember when I said that my dad didn’t like helicopters? He learned to COPE with them. The world will not change to make you feel comfortable. The world will continue to change and grow and will never bend to your will. So don’t be a victim of your triggers. It sounds harsh but it is reality. I can’t expect people not to try me because I have a horrible temper. What I CAN do is change how I respond to those triggers and not let them rule my life. Yes, it is still a work in progress (especially when it comes to new places and meeting new people) but I try because this world is not, and will NEVER be, centered around me.
Please take these words into consideration coming from someone that has to cope with their past on a daily basis. It is better to be cognizant of your triggers than to ignore them or expect the rest of the world to handle you with kid gloves because of your past. We have options. We can’t be victims for the rest of our lives.