When I first started looking on the internet to discover others who battled similar mental health problems to me I would often come across a few blogs or articles with the words ‘trigger alert’ written in the title which always confused me as I wasn’t entirely sure of what exactly reading the context would ‘trigger’ in me.
In fact the word trigger itself is one I have come to detest as it reminds me of many a counselling/hospital/therapy session when I would explain my feelings and someone would ask the inevitable question, ‘What do you think triggered this event or these feelings?’ The answer to this question 95% of the time is unknown to me but there was always this image in my head of someone’s finger on the trigger of a gun, slowly applying pressure moment after moment until at some often random moment the trigger had been pulled too far back and would fire leaving nothing but destruction in its path.
I have come to realise this term ‘trigger’ has a different meaning for many in particular circumstances, for example reading an article on OCD while you yourself suffer from the same condition could trigger old feelings or habits and could ultimately cause you to take a turn for the worse.
Another example is someone who has been abused in the past and therefore suffers possibly from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) a particular situation or even words can cause flashbacks and doubts leading even the best intended advice to actually cause more damage than good.
Triggers could be anything and what they may trigger in that person can be unknown to the person accidentally or intentionally pulling it. I know for me at least triggers are incredibly varied, and though I am still learning about them I am now aware of these triggers and try to avoid them or try to voice them better.
To better understand what I mean by triggering emotions in someone who suffers with mental health difficulties I have had someone describe their experience below…
Disclaimer -In no way am I trying to say that this is what people mean when they say these things. I guess I’m just trying to show that:
- a) in this situation this is how I translate them
- b) more generally to show how we all subconsciously translate, and more often than not misunderstand, what people to say to us.
In this case when it is related to a traumatic event, or maybe a strong emotion/experience, I think this is exaggerated as we interpret almost everything around us according to how we’re feeling, for example letting it reinforce feelings of low self-esteem or self-doubt. Even if the ‘translation’ may seem irrational, and may be completely fictitious, the response and effect still feels very real.
In sharing this it’s not to say that we should necessarily do or say anything differently, although I think we can all constantly be trying to do this, but just to try and show how a lot of the time what is said, and how someone interprets it, can be very different – and I guess maybe if we are all a bit more honest day to day about how what someone says might makes us feel/how we have interpreted it we can try and prevent the often painful effects of these misinterpretations on both sides – I think this is the basis of the need for ‘time to talk’ about mental health.
I guess this is almost like a CBT exercise or ‘mentalizing’, and for me I found it therapeutic to write this down as I often feel guilty when I unfairly respond to what are meant to be supportive words with upset or anger, but this anger comes from fear, frustration and pain.
|What People Say
||What I hear
|‘It could have been worse’
||People have been through way worse than you have, you’re exaggerating your own experience and belittling others ‘real’ experiences in the process.
|‘You’re safe now’
||How can I know that, or you know that, or anyone ever know if they are safe? In my head when I am out, whether it’s dark and I’m alone (or it’s the middle of the day and I’m with other people) I am certain someone will attack me – I know it’s irrational and sounds completely ridiculous but I am convinced this will happen and I’m in permanent ‘alert mode’.
|‘If you feel/act like a victim then they’ve won, they have the power’
||Not only did they have the power over me when it happened, but they continue to have power over me now – at the time I was weak for not being able to stop it, and now I’m weaker for letting it affect me – I let myself be the victim.
|A response to worrying people might not believe you – ‘It’s how it feels to you that’s important’
||There is already a lot of self-doubt and stigma, I’m looking for someone to validate me and say objectively it wasn’t my fault and it shouldn’t have happened. For me when you say this it sounds like you’re saying ‘I don’t really believe you’ or ‘I think you’re exaggerating’ but I recognise that it’s affecting you. The onlookers who saw what was happening and didn’t do anything already made me question myself, and now I’m doing this even more.
|‘You should find someone to talk to about it’
||I’m trying, I want to talk to you about it, but I don’t know if you want to listen. I understand why and I’m also scared that I’ll misread your response anyway and feel worse/misunderstood afterwards. But I want to talk about the facts not how I feel, because talking about the facts reminds me that it happened and that it makes sense for me to feel this way, just feeling is too hard.
||Maybe it’s 2 weeks after it happened or 6 months, but for me it can feel like yesterday and you asking this question can make me feel really hurt like you’ve forgotten, while I literally can’t forget/stop thinking about it as hard as I try. It makes me feel invalidated like it’s silly that it’s ‘still bothering me’
A poem I have written on this subject…
Each word you say cuts me like a knife!
Can you not see how sharp your words are?
Honesty and good intentions are lost in this pain,
Hit me if you must just please stop with these words!
You may feel lighter letting these words escape,
But your gain only comes at my loss.
Two steps forwards and these words have sent me so far back!
They bring no comfort only confirm my nightmares,
They bring no release only throw me back to the start line.
Please stop speaking and take a look,
Look at what your words have done to me.
But even your sharpest words cannot cut as deep,
For my own words have cut me to the core.
I know you mean well but please no more words.
Just no more words.