This morning, I rolled out of bed and did what I do every morning. I sauntered into the kitchen to make a fresh pot of coffee for my husband and me. There is a universal rule in our house that goes like this: whoever is up first makes coffee for two, not one. Although the person who gets out of bed second knows there will be a fresh cup of dark roast waiting for them, this little act of kindness never ages in our home.
Upon seeing a warm cup of coffee, my husband and I instantly transform from groggy humans to empowered, ready to conquer the world humans. This is the power of not love but caffeine! If you’re a coffee drinker, you know there is absolutely nothing more delightful than a person who has made you fresh coffee, and by fresh, I mean organic, dark roast freshly ground coffee beans.
As I entered the kitchen to start brewing our current favorite coffee, Bulletproof Coffee, I found myself feeling angry, short-tempered and edgy. I noticed my body language had changed too. My shoulders were hunched forward, my eyebrows furrowed, and my once pleasant smile was now a frown. What was going on here? What happened within those five minutes I walked from my bedroom to the kitchen?
I’ll tell you what happened. I was triggered.
When you are a child of a parent with a mental health condition,
When you are a child of a parent who has physically abused you,
When you are a child of a parent who has verbally abused you,
When you are a child of a parent who had a bad temper growing up,
And sometimes all you have to be is human to have:
What Is A Trigger?
According to Psych Central, a trigger is an unhealed emotional wound. Triggers can be anything in life from the smell of cinnamon, the image of a perfume bottle in a magazine, or even the sound of a motorcycle zooming by. Triggers are things that spark memories from our past that were traumatic.
Why Are Triggers Harmful?
Triggers are harmful because when they spark a memory of a past traumatic event they ignite harmful emotions like: anxiety, panic, discouragement, despair, and negative self-talk. Not only do triggers spiral a person’s mood from good to bad, but they affect relationships. A trigger that doesn’t get healed can lead to a married couple getting divorced, a friendship falling apart, or family members cutting ties from one another.
Why Do Triggers Take Over Our Thoughts So Quickly?
According to Good Therapy, one vital reason triggers transform a good mood into a sour one so quickly is because triggers involve the senses. Sensory information such as site, sound, and smell, play a huge part in our memories. In fact, the more sensory information we have associated with a memory, the easier it is for us to recall that memory.
Now let's see what I was triggered by during that five minute walk from my warm bed to the kitchen. Then, I will show you how I healed these pesky triggers of mine.
1) My first trigger was the site of excessive electronics.
Silly, I know, but the site of excessive electronics triggers me. As my luck would have it, my husband has an excessive amount of electronics. But it’s not just the overload of headphones, computers, hard drives, speakers, and cords that really bothers me. It’s when he doesn’t put them away and leaves them sprawled out all over the office floor like the entire office is his space, like it doesn’t matter I live her too, and as if the comfort I long to feel in my own home is a silly desire I will never obtain.
1) What unpleasant memory does excessive electronics spark?
Unkept electronics spark the unpleasant memory in my childhood of when my father used to hoard electronics in his bedroom. Growing up, my dad had three computers, two printers, four cameras, a handful of camera lenses, and, zillions of electrical cords in his room. It always bothered me when I walked into his bedroom and saw all these unused gadgets all over the floor. It bothered me because my mother had made their bedroom so beautiful. She wall-papered the walls with dancing pink roses. She decorated their bed with a cozy white quilt and soft lavender sheets, and the floor was always spotless. After my mom left, their former bedroom became my father’s storage space for all his electronics.
It hurt me to see their once shared room now in a disarray, but what it really did was remind me that this place was no longer our family’s home. It was dad’s home. When I asked my father to pass along some of his electronics, he became irate and moody. He reminded me, kindly as my father is a soft-spoken, good-hearted man, that this was his room and he could do with it as he pleased. As the years passed, the entire home became more and more of my father’s pad. As much as I loathed living in a cluttered home piled high with my dad's electronics, what I really hated was living in a house without a mom. The memory of my childhood pain that came from being the product of divorced parents, constantly being used as the middle man for their conversations, and feeling like my voice didn't matter was triggered by the unnecessary amount of electronics sprawled across the floor of our shared office space.
2) My second trigger was the pile of dirty laundry in the hallway.
After I exited the office, I walked into the hallway where two big baskets of dirty laundry had been sitting there for over a week, and then I was triggered again. I know a dirty pile of laundry sounds more absurd than the first trigger, right? But a pile of untouched dirty laundry (that desperately needs to be done) seems to look at me and shout, “I don’t respect you.” Let me tell you how this trigger came to be. Growing up, I had to clean up after myself before fun was to be had. I was taught that every member in a household is required to help around the house, but this was not the case in my husband's home. Bum. Bum. Bum.
2) What unpleasant memory a pile of dirty laundry sparks?
My husband's mother did everything for her children, including all the household chores.
At times, she would ask for help, but if nobody helped her, she just cleaned the messes up herself. Unfortunately, because of the way my husband’s mother constantly picked up after him, my husband didn't develop any healthy habits about helping tidy up a shared space. The great news is my husband truly wants to help out around the house. He wants us to be a team when it comes to our home, but since he never had to do this for the first 21 years of his life, it’s so easy for him to revert to his old habits of leaving the home a mess until I come along and clean up after him.
So, when I looked at that disgusting pile of laundry, that had been sitting there for days, my mind remembered how much I loathed watching his poor mother clean up after the entire family over the holidays like she was their personal maid. Then my mind flashed to the first year we lived together and how hard it was to live in the same space with a man that hardly cleaned up after himself. I recalled all the feelings I felt that year of feeling unappreciated and taken advantage of and just like that I was triggered.
3) My third trigger was the stack of dirty dishes in the sink.
Dirty dishes in the sink, till the day, is my biggest trigger of all! This all began when I was a little girl living in my Grandpa’s house. I lived with my grandfather for over a decade. Upon moving into his home, not only did I discover Grandpa yelled a lot, but Grandpa gave each one of us a daily task we had to do. My job was to scrub, clean, and put away all the dirty dish after every meal. In the morning, it was then my job to put up all the clean dishes too. I was 9-years-old when this rule was set. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important for a child to have set chores. I mean, obviously I believe this. Did you see what that dirty laundry did to me? But when those dishes were not cleaned, put away, and scrubbed how my Grandfather preferred, the wrath that came next was unbelievable.
3) What unpleasant memory dirty dishes in the sink spark?
If my Grandfather stumbled upon an empty bowl of cereal that had not been put in the dishwasher yet, the mugs in the cabinet were face down instead of facing up, or if he caught my mother washing a dish, instead of me, I was immediately punished. Upon any of these things happening, all my rights were taken away. I could not use the computer or swim in his pool for the rest of the week. Not only that, but I was then cursed out. My Grandpa often said something to me like, “Damnit to hell! Can you do anything right?” “Damnation Sarah, learn how to put away a mug the right way.” “Sarah! If I see one more damn dish in the sink, I don’t know how much longer you can live here."
Yup, at 9, my Grandfather was threatening to kick me out of the house for a dirty dish in the sink. Now as an adult, each time I see one dirty dish in the sink (that is not mine) you better believe I am triggered. Immediately, I feel angry for all the years as a kid my mother didn’t stand up for me, and then I become resentful to my husband. His dirty coffee mugs in the sink look at me and seem to say, "Hey you! Remember us? Clean us and never forget women are lesser than men!" Now my husband is nothing like my Grandfather. My hubby is the most sincere, even-tempered guy who actually loathes the whole men must be macho stereotype, but when I see dirty dishes in the sink that are his, they trigger what it was like to grow up with a man (my Grandpa) who often treated women as lesser beings.
So here I was standing in my kitchen, and within 5 minutes, I wasn’t just mad. I was furious, frightful, and fuming. I felt unappreciated, taken advantage of, and like my feelings and thoughts, once again, didn’t matter. This is the power of a trigger. As I stood there, recognizing how I felt I realized that if I didn’t address these triggers, my husband would wake up and I would be mad at him for the rest of the day. That's when I knew I had to do the to the 3 step method for healing triggers.
3 Step Method For Healing Triggers
1) Breathe - Instead, of making coffee, I went back into the office, surrounded by the storm of electronics and took deep breaths until my anger dissolved.
2) Journal Your Feelings - Next, I took out my journal and wrote down all my thoughts and feelings about these triggers making a point to ask myself: What feelings did the excessive electronics, dirty laundry, and dishes in the sink spark? As I journaled, these answers were revealed: Excessive electronics made me feel like I didn’t matter, dirty laundry made me feel taken advantage of, and dirty dishes in the sink made me feel unsafe in my own home.
3) Speak Truth Into Your Own Life - After I observed these feelings, I reminded myself of the NUMBER 1 THING you MUST DO to heal your triggers. Speak truth into your own life. So, I spoke the truth: I do matter. My husband does not take advantage of me. I am safe.
Ten minutes later, my husband popped out of bed and walked into the office where I was journaling. “No coffee this morning?” he asked. I looked at him with a bright smile and said, “Trust me, you’re glad I didn’t make it yet.” He looked at me with a perplexed look in his eye, and asked, “Why is that?” I grinned, “I was taken care of my triggers.” He chuckled, knowing good and well that (in our home) healing an unpleasant trigger always comes first to a cup of coffee.