Triggers

When someone has trauma in their past, they are likely to have triggers. Triggers are things that transport you back your trauma, that bring up the emotions and the feelings you had at the time. When you’re triggered it doesn’t matter how badly your day was going, it’s suddenly crap. It doesn’t matter what interesting things you were working on or thinking about, they’re drowned out by the feeling of tension and dread that suddenly suffuses your body from head to toe. Your sense of feeling is heightened and it’s hard to function.

I have triggers. Where did they come from? Several places. First, from growing up in an authoritarian family. And second, from the absolute crap my parents put me through when I started thinking for myself when I was in college. It’s hard to really explain the pain that my parents caused me during those years, except that the last summer I spent at home, in between years of college, was so painful and emotionally traumatic that it permanently scarred me. Some of my triggers are related to things from when I was a child, but most come from that terrible, horrible, awful summer and from the years that followed as I tried to get my footing and find something to hold onto.

A couple of years ago a phone conversation with my mother suddenly veered into danger territory and then traipsed about through everything from my refusal to obey my father when I was in college to my refusal to apologize to him for not obeying him and from my prison-bound children (because I’m not hitting them a la the Pearls, of course) to my wayward feminism to my religious apostasy. I hadn’t been that triggered in years. I shut down. I stopped functioning. I was feeling everything I’d gone through my last, long terrible summer at home and feeling all of the pain and trauma of it all over again. It was hard to sleep. My mind kept racing and I couldn’t focus and my whole body felt weighted down. I was lucky it was the summer, because I was unable to do any work for a week and that would have been a problem if it had been during the school year, what with grad school and all. Ultimately, it was so bad that I put myself in therapy.

When I first blogged about socialization and homeschooling, the negative response was very triggering. It’s hard to explain, because you wouldn’t think it would be this topic necessarily that would do that, but it was. I was once again feeling all of the trauma I’d gone through in the past, all washing over me again. I almost stopped blogging because of it. I almost couldn’t handle it psychologically. It was almost a year before I even touched the subject again, and I’ve had to learn various coping mechanisms to deal with blogging on homeschool topics at all, because I there is always pushback and for some reason that pushback is usually triggering.

I am frequently triggered in small ways in my regular life as well. I was triggered recently when a relative responded to my sharing a personal financial situation by ranting about how I should be grateful that the free market gave me “choice.” Once again, this may seem an odd topic to be so triggering, but it’s all mixed in with how my parents treated me in the past. It’s part of why I can’t talk to my parents about politics even in the present—it would be too triggering. As it was, this rant meant that an entire evening was ruined and it took some phone time with a friend to get back to where I felt happy and stable again.

When I put up one of my vulnerable parenting posts this morning, I wasn’t expecting the comments I would get to be triggering, but they were. But I want to be clear about a couple of things. The fact that I was triggered by the discussion in the comments is not the fault of any of those who commented, and I don’t want anyone to let concern about triggering me get in the way of commenting. I learn from comments, and others do too. I am responsible for my actions even when I am triggered. I said a few things in the comments section that I shouldn’t have, and phrased things less tactically than I should have, and perhaps didn’t listen as well to what others were saying as I should have. I am in the wrong and fully responsible for those things. I’m going to use this experience to learn more about managing triggers and about what it is that sets them off. If I can’t blog about something or read comment sections on a topic without it setting me off, I shouldn’t do those things. I will be more careful about how I handle this in the future, and I don’t want anyone to feel like they shouldn’t comment. If you were a part of that whole thing and were wondering what was going on, now you know. Triggers are nasty little buggers.

What about the rest of you? Are there things that trigger you? How have you learned to cope with your triggers?

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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