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  • Writer's picturedocschleg


Trigger, triggered, triggering. When used psychologically, this term referred primarily to the experience war veterans had when they heard something that triggered war memories. Those memories are usually upsetting and distressing. More recently, the term triggered refers to something that causes a person to feel upset or offended. Sometimes the upset can come from an involuntarily recalled memory, but not necessarily. This contemporary definition is much broader in scope.

I recently heard the following argument: I get triggered when you say that, so don't say that. On the one hand, I appreciate that people pay more attention to their reactions, specifically their feelings. This self-awareness and introspection is a lot of the work I do with people, so hearing people say such a thing is easily categorized as self-advocacy coming from self-knowledge, among other things.

There is another way to interpret the argument being made, and it goes like this: I feel bad, so you change. This, on the other hand, is contrary to the foundation of the work that I do. There is a behemoth of a movement in popular society to shift the center of my problems to things outside of myself. In my mode as a psychologist, this is a problem for only one reason, and it's related to the original use of triggered.

When a war veteran was experiencing flashbacks resulting from being triggered, treatment was to assist the veteran in processing those memories. This treatment came in various forms, but the goal was to get the individual to the point where they experienced those triggers and successfully manage the memories and associated feelings that occurred as a result. The alternative was that the veteran would limit as much as possible their exposure to those triggers and, as a result, become more and more isolated. No going outside the house, no TV, no social interaction, no chance of being triggered. It was a huge cost to pay - too big for most.

In my business, such triggers are a signal that something within the person needs to be addressed. Something needs to be examined and processed, dealt with, or worked through. If a person's response to being triggered is only that others need to change, a chance for wholeness is lost. Would that we all become un-trigger-able. This is what I hope for myself and those around me.

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