April 30, 2020
In the counseling world there is this concept that after experiencing a traumatic experience, there are certain people, places, conversations, words, or even touches that can rapidly bring that experience back to mind. These experiences are brought on by what is known commonly as triggers. These triggers can often create a sense of panic, hostility, pain, or even a physical reaction that may have undesirable consequences.
Don’t get me wrong, triggers don’t always have to be traumatic. I have a variety of happy triggers that, honestly, I invite gladly. Disclaimer: these triggers often point me towards food. For example, since you asked, a good whiff of popcorn sends me directly to my phone to see what good movies are in theaters. Or, I can not pass a Starbucks (or really any coffee shop) without going inside. No…seriously. The idea of sitting back with a hot cup of anything brings peace to my soul and, oftentimes, I will pay any price for that liquid peace. Or, let someone say the word chick… really does not matter in what context they say the word (our chicks had eggs… that chick be tripping…) and I will be at Chick Fil-A before the rooster has a chance to crow three times. I promise you.
But then, of course, there are my soul strangling triggers. My mother respectfully disagrees with a decision I’ve made and I am triggered to become incredibly defensive because I am chained to approval. I feel as if someone in my circle is threatening to be the center of everyone’s attention and I begin embellishing my stories even more dramatically than before (if that is even possible at this point in my life), because I am often bound by the sin of not just man’s approval but I am incredibly attention seeking. Or those times that my husband is 8 minutes late getting home from work and I immediately believe that he used those 480 seconds to ruin our marriage with another person. My chest begins to tighten, my mind begins to race, and the enemy’s sweet voice begins to play out the same lies of our past. Logic cannot live in these moments. There is no space for God, His truth’s, or reason of any kind. I have allowed myself to follow this trigger into the unknown, wait, into the very known. But why? Because I’m trigger-happy.
So many times in sessions (and sadly in the mirror) I see women that live in this space as well. Something happened: you fell in love with the Lord’s chicken and now the mere sound sends you running, you grew up desperate for peoples’ approval of you to validate who you are as a person solely based off of your performance, you were touched, you were hit, you were lied to… the list can literally go on and on forever. How did this happen? The enemy happened. Sis trust me, the devil knows your hang-ups and hold-ups probably better than you do. He is clever. The Word says he doesn’t even show up on the scene unless he is coming to destroy you (John 10:10). And, as creatures of habit, we become so settled in with this cycle that not experiencing it seems…. wrong somehow. How can we remove these chains that are cutting our skin and our lives so painfully? Does it suggest that we have forgotten the pain? The hardship? Those broken words that shot right through our hearts? Maybe we even want to let it go, and have tried, but these reminders, these triggers, they refuse to release us. Every single time they show up they demand attention and you have no other choice but to follow your emotions into the rabbit hole.
This cycle, this endless cycle of trigger-emotion-reaction is so incredibly far from the life of peace our Father wants for us. He never created you and I to be, in a way, content with this type of mental struggle. With fear of sounding cliché, your Dad quite literally had Himself nailed to a filthy piece of wood so you would never have to be tied to this cycle ever again. Sis, His promises for you are not just for the next life, they are promises made for His children, specifically for you, today. Right in this moment. But how does that help my trigger life now? The first, and most important step, is to give the “ground zero” situation to a very capable God. You have to release it to Him, not because it sounds like the Holy thing to do but because it is quite literally the only thing you can do realistically with trauma. There are a bajillion interventions (I will even give you some), but if those interventions are being used as your main battle weapon- you are going to lose every single time. This battle is a spiritual one, tied to centuries of unearthed chains in your family, in the offender’s history and family, in the offender’s great-great-great-great-great-great grandpappy’ s neighbor’s sin life, and of this world. You will never be able to fight this alone. I like to say when I climb into the Heavenly Father’s lap, cry, shake, and lay my situations in His capable hands, that I leave it there forever. I don’t. So many times I have to climb right back up and say, “My bad” and leave it again.
The next step is to be able to rationally talk yourself off that cliff. That will look differently for different people. The focus is being able to truly identify the difference between what is actually happening (reality) and what you picked up in your imagination (fictional and usually without evidence). Can my husband honestly leave work, drive to another person’s home, have sex with said person, and make it home (pants still ironed) all in 8 minutes? One time I talked myself off that cliff by simply suggesting that if he was able to do that so fast, maybe next time, when I’m sleepy, he’ll use that trick then, too. Then there are other times when I have to talk myself off of cliff with my husband. Is it uncomfortable for him with our history, of course. But he is in a place where he can handle those conversations a bit better now.
Another step is to keep a list of quick note God promises in your toolbox. Romans 8:31, Philippians 4:19, Psalms 36:7, 1 John 4:9-10, and Romans 5:5 just to name a few. Find ones that speak to your spirit when the enemy wants to trigger you into chaos. Speak them aloud, sing them, shout them, write them, meditate over them, lick them if you have to- just get it into your soul.
And finally, my friend, know that you are absolutely not alone in this fight. Every person on this planet has a trigger for something. Some may not realize that is what it is but trust me, they have them. Your pastor has them, your parents, your role models, your best friend, and me. We are all bound by things in our past for one reason or another. Please, do not be afraid to reach out to someone you trust. Let them know your pattern. Open yourself up to be vulnerable with your transparency so that you are not alone. Get those people who are always “paying for you” to actually pray for you and over you. Let these soldiers of prayer speak power, love, and self-control over those triggers. I speak all of God’s power, that lives within you as a child of God, over you that even though life happens, and triggers may come, you will never again be bound to this trigger-happy cycle ever again.
Peace, love, and strength