We all have them.
Triggers are an irrational over-reaction in the present to a trivial reminder of something in the past. A reminder that holds an echo of a dramatic or painful event, or a fear. Triggers aren’t rational, even if their origin is known and understood. Importantly, they can be good or bad.
Two or three years ago I was walking along an unfamiliar high street and, on catching the rare and distinctive whiff of a paraffin heater’s exhaust, was overwhelmingly taken back to my Grandparents’ kitchen in the 70s and 80s. The last place I smelled that smell and that I associate with wonderful childhood memories.
Triggers can be anything; a word, a song, an aroma, an object or an event. An old liaison of mine had a clear trigger of Hugo Boss aftershave. If someone walked past wearing it she’d be a quivering mess for a few hours (and obviously not in a good way). While most of us would be repulsed by Hugo Boss aftershave just as a matter of course, this was a deep emotional distress caused by an event in her past. There was nothing to do but to let her work through it, even when it meant she had to sit as far away as the room would allow until she could come to me, knowing I was there, caring, waiting for when she was ready.
The first time it happened around me I knew what the historic event was, but had no idea about the aroma trigger, or was even aware that she had been triggered to the event I knew about. It was alarming, I was being shut out, I didn’t know why, I felt blamed, I felt I’d done something wrong. It was hours before she could tell me what had happened.
The important thing to remember when someone you care about is triggered is that the nature of triggers are that they aren’t about what’s happening now. They’re not about what you did. Just that something now holds a mirror up to something in the past and triggers the feelings you have about that. There’s no blame or malice attached.
But triggers happen and it’ll seem that way. When they happen, we need to be supportive of each other. Triggers can come between people through a lack of understanding. But they aren’t things that should get between you, they’re things you understand about each other and support each other over. Crucially they can be subverted, turned on their head and used as opportunities to draw closer.
You talk normally. You reassure, even though you both know there’s nothing in the present that needs reassurance. You make it a joint experience, and in doing so you show you’re the safe place, the place where the trigger can’t hurt them.
We need to be sympathetic, supportive, that’s all. Give what needs to be given. You’ll get back far more.
© Charles Rochester 2016