This morning, I rolled out of bed and did what I do every morning. I went to the kitchen to make a fresh pot of coffee for Erick and I. There is a universal rule in our house that goes like this: whomever 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 on the kitchen counter, this little act of kindness never gets old between us. It's the silent gesture we do for one another each morning that says (without words) I love you.
But, as I entered the kitchen to start brewing our current favorite coffee brand, Bulletproof Coffee, I found myself feeling angry, short-tempered and suddenly on edge. I noticed my body language had changed too. My shoulders were hunched forward, my eyebrows furrowed, and my once pleasant smile had turned into a scowl. What had happened to me within my three-minute walk from my bedroom to the kitchen? l will tell you what happened. I was triggered.
I took a moment to ask myself what triggered me? Quickly, I recognized my husband's excessive electronics sprawled out on our office floor, two big baskets of dirty laundry sitting in the hallway, and the site of a large pile of dirty dishes in the sink had triggered my sour mood, but why? It seems almost ridiculous that a pile of headphones on the ground, some dirty clothes, and unwashed dishes could make me feel so tense, short of breath, and upset, but it did. It did because it wasn't about those things at all. It was about the traumatic memory those things sparked. Welcome to triggers.
So, 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, to the image of a perfume bottle in a magazine, or even the sound of a motorcycle zooming by. Triggers are objects, sites, or sounds that spark memories from our past that were traumatic.
Why Are Triggers Harmful?
Triggers are harmful because when they spark the 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.
I wanted to start grinding the beans for a fresh pot of coffee. I wanted to be a good wife, tip-toeing back into the bedroom to tell my sweet husband, coffee was ready, and personally, I was in desperate need of caffeine. However, I knew it was much more important to address my triggers. I knew this because if my husband woke up (without me analyzing and combating my triggers with some truth) then my tense, anger would be taken out on him. Then, I would feel bad, and beat myself up about it. Then he would feel bad, and say it's fine. Then I would say it's not fine, and thus the start of our day would spiral into an exhausting back and forth with nothing accomplished at all. This toxic pattern, I know all too well, has ignited me to be really disciplined about addressing my triggers when they arrive. These days, when I notice a random object has sparked an extreme, unnecessary amount of anger inside of me, I take the time to face the pain with my 3-step method for healing emotional triggers.
3 Steps To Healing Emotional Triggers
2) Journal Your Feelings
3) Speak Truth Into Your Life
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. JOURNAL. After my breath was steady and my heartbeat was back to normal, I took out my journal and wrote down all my thoughts and feelings about these triggers making a point to ask myself the most important question of all when journaling about triggers: What memory did these items spark in my mind? As I asked myself this question, the answers were revealed.
MEMORY 1. The excessive amount of electronics on the floor sparked the traumatic memory of when mom walked out on our family. When I was 9-years-old, mom moved out. Not only did she never return to our childhood home, but my parent's once shared bedroom transformed into my dad's man cave, but not just a cave, more like an electrical warehouse. The bedroom mom wall-papered with dancing pink roses, the cozy bed she made every morning with an elegant white quilt and soft lavender sheets, and their once spotless carpet became the new breeding ground for all of my father's electronics. Computers lined up against the wall, camera bags covered the floor, and the clean bed was replaced with (what felt like) hundreds of USB cords. When I begged dad to dispose of some of his electronics, he said, 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, but it was mom's room too! It hurt me to watch her presence abolish with electronics, and that's when I realized excessive, unkempt electronics made me feel like my voice didn’t matter.
MEMORY 2. Then, I conquered my laundry anger discovering that dirty laundry brought me back to the memory of the first year my husband and I lived together. I recalled how hard it was to live in the same space with a man that hardly cleaned up after himself. My husband has a wonderful mother. She is also a woman who does everything for everyone, rarely thinking of herself. Unfortunately, because of this, my husband’s mother constantly picked up after Erick, and my husband didn't develop healthy habits about tidying up a shared space, or doing his own laundry. Our first year under the same roof was hard. It was terribly challenging to live with a disastrously messy man that I loved so much, and I began to take his messiness personal. That's when I realized that dirty laundry made me feel deeply unappreciated.
MEMORY 3. Next, it was time to address the dirty dish anger. Right away, I knew why dirty dishes triggered me. My first horrific memory about dirty dishes happened the year I moved into my Grandpa's house. The day after my family moved in, my cranky Grandfather assigned my brother and I a list of daily chores to do. My job was to scrub, clean, and put away all the dirty dish after every meal. Not too bad, right? Wrong! You see, if my Grandfather stumbled upon one dirty dish in the sink, then all my privileges were taken away. Time after time, if one cereal bowl was left in the sink, then Grandpa took away all my TV time for an entire week! It was absurd! All this took me back to the deep pain I felt when mom didn’t stand up for me to her ridiculously cruel father, and looking at those dirty dishes reminded me that I wasn't good enough.
After these answers were revealed, it was time to do the most important thing of all: SPEAK TRUTH into my life. So, I said out loud that: I do matter. My husband does not take advantage of me, and I am enough.
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.
Remember there is no need to be ashamed about whatever item, scent, or visual may trigger an unpleasant memory for you. I mean, heck, look at me. I can hardly keep my cool if I see a dirty dish in the sink. What triggers you in life? I would love to hear more of your story!