trigger (adverb \ˈtri-gər\)
a trigger is something that sets off a traumatic memory and/or flashback that takes the person back, emotionally, to the event of their original trauma and the feelings associated with it. (i borrowed from the definition at this website: http://psychcentral.com/lib/what-is-a-trigger/0001414).
other, non-psychological, definitions of trigger:
1 a: a piece (as a lever) connected with a catch or detent as a means of releasing it; especially : the part of the action moved by the finger to fire a gun
1 b: a similar movable part by which a mechanism is actuated <trigger of a spray gun>
2: something that acts like a mechanical trigger in initiating a process or reaction
i didn’t understand what a trigger was until i had been in therapy for several months, and i had it explained to me on several times. it is jargon used by psychotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists to describe a precise type of emotional (re)action. i include it here for others who have never heard the word used in this way, and those who have, but aren’t exactly certain what it means.
in addition to simply clarifying the term, i want to comment on something that i have heard people say, which is, basically, “that person triggered me”. i think a more correct way, emotionally speaking, is to say, “i got triggered when this happened’. the reason for this is threefold.
first, the meaning of the first phrase puts the responsibility for an individual’s emotions on someone else: they caused me to feel this way.
second, it implies hostile intentions to another person. most of the time, the intentions being ascribed are not accurate, both because most people don’t go around trying to activate people’s memories of past traumas, and because when we feel triggered – when we are re-experiencing events that were traumatizing – we are usually not able to accurately interpret events happening in the present. when we feel triggered we are time-travelling, emotionally, to whenever we were traumatized, and this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to really understand what is happening in the present.
third, the thinking behind the phrase, “they triggered me” is one that gives power to the person who is perceived to have done the triggering actions, as opposed to recognizing that it is oneself that is feeling triggered, and noticing one’s own hurts, emotions and one’s power as a survivor of trauma to actively and consciously assert control over one’s own emotions. this sense of power over ourselves and our own lives is damaged when we expereinceing trauma, and it is fundamental for people to regain it. it moves us from the position of being victims who are being re-victimized to the position of being survivors who are overcoming hardship and have grown emotionally in response to the trauma(s) that happened to us.
in the comparatively small number of cases where people are attempting to trigger one intentionally (hyper-abusive partners, parents, cultists, police officers) it is still best not to focus on their actions, but rather on one’s own feelings and one’s own actions, and not to give them the power to “trigger you”. thinking calmly and carefull about how best to protect oneself and one’s loved one’s, for example, will be much more useful than reacting to their provocations.
it is important for survivors, and for everyone, to focus on our own feelings and actions, rather than the actions of a real or perceived threat(s). my triggered feelings are my feelings, and i have power over them and control over my own actions. they do not control me, or have power over me, just as the past trauma and the event(s)s and/or person(s) involved no longer have power over me. moreover, the definition of a trigger and to feel triggered is about an event that happened in the past, not anything that is happening in the present. when and/or if we are feeling triggered and we choose to focus on what is happening in the present – which is totally understandable as the triggered feelings are happening in the present and feel urgent – then we are confusing ourselves (and, maybe, others) and substituting a superficial and incorrect understanding for the real and actual reasons for our feelings. if we do this and then take actions, or, psychologically speaking, re-act, then we are not likely to respond in an appropriate and effective manner to our present realities, as well as to our triggered feelings.
since we are all human beings, and, as such, we all make mistakes, everyone sometimes gets triggered and reacts inappropriately. my purpose isn’t to judge anyone, but to try and help illuminate an emotional process that i, as a ritual abuse survivor, go through regularly. less so, happily, as i continue to heal.
feeling triggered is also one way that our emotions tell us we have been traumatized, that we have not yet healed from this particular trauma, and that these feelings require attention. in this way, feeling triggered is actually a chance to heal, rather than an experience of re-victimization.
finally, i also want to say that feeling triggered is not bad, although it often feels this way. another word that can be used is re-stimulated. feeling triggered, or re-stimulated, is an essential part of the healing process.