August 2021 Newsletter
Hello, and an A-plus August to you!
Can a trigger be helpful?
Welcome, or welcome back, to my newsletter.
Today's issue is about the upside of triggers.
A trigger is an event or situation or memory which causes an automatic emotional response in you. This can lead you to behave in a way you're
not proud of, to say something you wish you hadn't, or to feel terrible about yourself. A classic example is a war veteran who is triggered by the sound
of a car backfiring so runs for cover, thinking he hears a gunshot. The reaction to a trigger is immediate, the nervous system shouting "Danger!"
before you have time to analyze what's happening logically.
A trigger can also generate blind rage and the urge to attack. Think of the red flag waved at a bull, causing it to charge at the "enemy". If we notice a
triggered reaction in ourselves, when we're acting way out of proportion to the cause, it's usually worth investigating. We'd like to be aware thinking responsible
humans, at least most of the time, not puppets whose behavior can be controlled by a certain image or sound.
Tea is an important part of my day when I'm home, whether I'm working at the computer reading or writing, or just listening to podcasts. It's warming and
comforting to me, allowing me to pause to reflect. A couple of weeks ago, after a long trying day, I was tidying up the kitchen before heading to bed. I admit
I wasn't paying full attention to what I was doing when I lifted up the damp paper towel draped over my prized glass teakettle, planning to refill the kettle
for the morning. The paper towel adhered to the kettle, dragging it up, and before I could catch it, my prized kettle crashed to the tile floor and shattered, making
a big noise and a big mess.
Well, you'd think I'd broken a priceless piece of art instead of a $20 kettle. Here was my peace of mind in fragments! The loud noise of it smashing, and the water
and broken glass all over the floor, didn't help my upset. I blamed myself (never a good strategy) for not being careful enough, feeling like I deserved to be punished
for being so imperfect, as I cleaned up the debris. I realized I was more tired than I wanted to admit, needing soothing rather than criticism, yet still felt defeated and
disappointed in myself, as if I had failed a test.
The next morning I was reflecting on this incident, vacillating between blaming myself and vowing to do better at paying attention to what's right in front of me,
when my partner came in with a new tea kettle! I was thrilled, feeling like all my sins were now forgiven. I can push myself too hard and work too long without a rest, and this
incident was one more reminder (I've had many) that this is not good self-care, and doesn't usually lead to positive results. Here's hoping I remember this next time.
Recently I had a conversation with a young woman who had just returned from serving in Afghanistan. I asked her about PTSD, the trigger I mentioned earlier where a
loud noise seems like a gunshot. She said the Fourth of July fireworks were "interesting", that she had to look at the colored lights while hearing the sound to let her
brain know she wasn't in danger. I thought this was a wonderful example of handling a trigger in a healthy manner, exploring and investigating so she could respond in a
useful way, not immediately reacting as if a threat was present. Sometimes all it takes is an extra second to evaluate the input to understand it. Then we can decide
how to cope to best support ourselves and others.
For an article on being triggered to see with better or worse vision,
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Enjoy the start of this abundant month of August.
I'll write again in a few weeks. Take care!