Recently I was sitting in a group for partners of sex addicts, and over and over again the women kept referring to being “triggered.” They sprinkled that word throughout their conversation and feedback to one another, and they all knew what they were talking about…to some degree.
To another degree, they were completely missing their own and one another’s experience. Betrayed partners tend to use language like “I was triggered” or “that triggered me” when something happens that creates an emotional response related to the betrayal they experienced. For example, one of my clients recently talked about being triggered by seeing her spouse interact with another woman in a social situation. Her spouse was being appropriate and so was the other woman, but seeing her spouse talking and laughing with another woman immediately brought up the painful feelings of betrayal associated with his recent affair.
Triggers can occur out of the blue and, in a heartbeat, transport the partner back into the painful or scary emotions they felt when first experiencing betrayal.
Understanding what triggers are and how triggers work is an important part of learning to process the emotional upheaval that has occurred for betrayed partners. However, using the language of being “triggered” can become a catch-all phrase that is used any time high emotion arises. If part of recovery from betrayal trauma involves being able to name and articulate one’s experience, to put words to what is happening and create a narrative that one can begin to understand and integrate, then the language we use as part of the healing process is very important.
Instead of using the phrase “that triggered me” to describe an emotional response to something, another option is to take a moment to come down into your body and to find out exactly what emotions you are experiencing. Then you can put words to these feelings, allowing yourself to say, for instance, “This happened and I’m feeling a lot of fear and panic now.” Or, “I felt so much sadness and grief when I was reminded of that.” Or, “I am really angry right now.”
When you purposefully connect to your feelings and name them, you help yourself take the next step toward healing your emotional self. Using the language of “being triggered” indicates that something is occurring inside of you emotionally, but it does not allow you or others to know exactly what is happening. It keeps emotion stuck inside you, churning around, rather than being named, felt and allowed to move through your body and be released.
My challenge to you is to give this a try over the next week or so. Whenever you find yourself thinking or saying the word “trigger,” pause for a moment. Check in with your body (where emotions are felt) to see what it is that is really happening and put words to those feelings for yourself and those you are talking to. Naming your experiences is a powerful form of healing. Give it a try.
Written by: Cheryl Schenck LPC, CSAT