Mental Health

Managing Triggers

lightning triggers
jplenio on Pixabay

We’ve all got things in our lives, past or present, that cause us pain.  And we’ve also got triggers that bring that pain back up to the surface.  This has been on my mind lately because I’ve been getting triggered by something that’s seemingly innocuous.

In my last job I became quite close to a male coworker, B.  I trusted him, but was never sure exactly what kind of relationship we had, and both at work and outside of work it always felt like he alternated between pulling me in and then pushing me away.  He became psychologically abusive and ended up causing a great deal of harm in my life.  One quirk of speech he happened to have was frequent use of the word “cheers”.  It was also a word he would often use to shut down conversation on topics that were a little too personal.  I might say I wanted his input on something because his opinion mattered to me.  “Cheers”, on to another topic.

Fast forward to the present.  There is a male coworker, A, who I am quite close to.  I trust him.  I’m not entirely sure where our relationship is going, but it feels slow and steady rather than game-y.  He is very kind, accepting, and open; a completely different person from B.  Just in the last week or two A has used the word “cheers” several times in text messages and emails, including in response to an email I sent thanking him for always being willing to listen to me.  Each time I got that response I felt a lightning bolt of pain, followed by the thought that he is going to harm me the same way that B did.  I recognize right away that logically this is completely insane.  It’s just an innocent word.  Yet that doesn’t stop the pain.

If I told A that this was a trigger for me, I know he would be very receptive and try very hard not to let that word slip out.  I’m reluctant to bring it up, though, and I guess there are a few reasons for that.  One is that I feel kind of ridiculous asking him not to use such a neutral word; this is my problem, and I shouldn’t make it his problem too.  Two, I don’t really want to talk about my experience with B.  And three, this is a word that I’m going to encounter people using on a fairly regular basis, and I feel like I should be able to gain control over my own reactions.

I just don’t know how to desensitize that trigger.  I suspect I probably will end up talking to A about it, and that will go fine, but managing triggers is something that I’m going to need to put some thought into.

Have you found strategies that help you manage your own triggers?



22 thoughts on “Managing Triggers”

  1. Can you try to ground? like by counting to 5 when you see it, and saying to yourself, this is now, not then? and look around, what do you see, hear, smell, feel? etc? name it? in other words, try to stay in the present when it comes up? xo

  2. A good thought provoking post Ashley.

    I think everyone has triggers of one sort or another. It would be hard to know the best way to advise another on their own. For me, l tend to walk away from certain trigger points. always be aware of my limits and boundaries [l sound like a broken record with the amount of times l have said that phrase]. But it is true.

    in order to avoid a potential overwhelming situation taking control, like l feel with stress and more so ‘crowds of people’, l tend to limit myself with little and very few. I have very little social interaction with crowds, and prefer to deal only with 1-3 people at a time. I am in the process of trying to broaden my boundaries when it comes to people though.

    Having been burned by people many a time, trust for me is a big issue and a broken trust is of course a massive trigger point for many. The trust trigger can be one of the hardest trigger points to achieve balance with.

  3. Because I can easily turn things off, I place the triggers in the past with the event. This isn’t to say they don’t resurface but they do so as a memory verses a trigger. Does that make sense? I use the word cheers often. Maybe you can reassociate that word with someone else. My suggestion is to write a bitch out letter to B telling him all the ways he inflicted pain. hold him accountable for his actions and sign off using “cheers” because sarcastically you are ending it all between you and the hold his word has on you. I suggest doing this before telling A about it. I try hard not to bring up past failed “relationships” with others because I prefer not to hear about their past relationships. This is because it feels like a comparison. This is my experience with dealing with triggers. I write them off and then set fire to them, literally. When you are done with the assholes letter, read it aloud and burn it. Say CHEERS while burning it!!! Lol… Cheers to every failed relationship. Separate yourself from it as a whole. I think this approach will help you with this particular trigger. Think of me cheering you on as you do it 🙂

  4. There are a couple of everyday words that are Very triggering for me. I had to learn to acknowledge that it triggers me, and why it triggers me. Right after I acknowledge that Im triggered by a certain word and why, I try to take the power out of it, by reminding myself it’s just a word, Im safe, no one will hurt me like that again and breathe.

  5. Very relatable post. I find with significant others or even friends, its so hard to get past those triggers. I could say to avoid it but then thats not beneficial. Like you said it is a common word.. Try the ABC method with the work “cheers”– address all the W questions. Try even incorporating that word into your language, then you in a way get a bit more desensitized to it. I also feel like if someone is shutting your conversation down like that, you deserve better 🙂

  6. I have a friend who casually mentioned to me that she hates OMG and oh my God! (For religious reasons.) So I’ve been careful never to say those things around her. It doesn’t bother me, because believe me, I totally get it. She told me that when others say it to her, she “changes” it in her mind to oh my goodness, or something. But I tell you this in the hopes that if you discuss it with A, he’ll understand and not be all like, “You’re a neurotic freak!” because the way I see it, we all have stuff like that.

    My triggers are casual references to spanking kids, as if it’s okay, and as if it’s commonplace, and as if it’s a great thing to do. My response is usually to write such people off as child abusers who aren’t worth my time.

  7. I struggle with this lately too! Anything job-related sets me off. I’m working on using some specific coping thoughts (e.g. “This feeling is temporary,” “I can tolerate anxiety”) as well as using some of the grounding techniques mentioned in other comments (progressive muscle relaxation is my favorite because it forces tension and relieves it). Maybe you can find a way to “take back” the word by giving it a new meaning. Like instead of associating it with B, you can say it to yourself in a congratulatory way when you settle from being triggered.

    1. Actually I’ve just started practicing that. I’ve been rebranding it as “thank you”, which is actually how A always uses it. Now I need to practice, practice, and practice some more…

  8. I’ve found that avoidance of trigger words really doesn’t work, especially if they’re something very common or normally used in a completely different context (I have a lot of problems with the word phoenix because it was part of the name of the group run by the guy who bullied me, and unfortunately it is also used by quite a few trauma-related groups and organisations). Telling people is risky as well, because there’s always the odd asshole who delights in deliberately triggering you once they know how. The only thing that really helped for me was working on the underlying trauma and then gradually exposing myself to the words more and more.

Leave a Reply