I’ve Been Triggered

By: Mary Ellen Collins

“I CAN SPEAK FOR MYSELF,” creeps into my brain whenever I am interrupted or they attempt to reinterpret what I have said. My internal voice is shouting, “Who do you think you are? I can speak for myself. I DO NOT need you to interrupt me or to decide that you know better what I have to say!” This is not the first time it has happened. I really do not want to believe this is intentional and yet my reaction is the same.

Like a thief in the night, the anger, the emotions, the defiance kicks in. Wait. Defiance? That sounds like a teenager. Oh my, I have been triggered. I know better, but here it is happening to me. I become emotional, even though I am an adult. I spiral right back to that defiant 15-year-old. I am an adolescent. I was 15 when I lost my mother and here I am again, emotionally a 15-year-old.

Recognizing my behavior, I first thought they are competing with me when they try to speak for me. I know better. I own this. I am an intelligent and reasonable person (when I am not triggered). I am usually pretty level-headed. I am the Founder, Board Chair, and Executive Director of the Motherless Daughters Ministry. I have written, researched, and spoke on the ages of loss. I wrote all the Motherless Daughters Ministry blogs on age of loss and emotional development. I help others recognize how age of loss spirals us back emotionally. I should know better, right? I am a real example of how easy you can be triggered and spiral right back to your age of loss. It sneaks up on you and takes over when you least expect it. This happened right smack in the middle of my daily life.

I expect to get emotionally triggered on special days, like Christmas and Mother’s Day. I usually cry uncontrollably when I hear Silent Night at Christmas time. There are events where I have been triggered too. When my daughter left for her 6-month college exchange to England, my emotions triggered my fear of loss and abandonment. I did not change her bed sheets for 6 weeks so I could smell her.

I am getting ready to sell my home of 32 years, and my grief cycle is triggered. I cry over my loss and cry over things that just don’t make any sense. I tell myself that I am just “fragile.” The reality is that anytime my emotions are larger than the situation, I have been triggered.

But spoken words from a passing conversation? Really? It is just that easy. BAM! It is so important to recognize what is happening. It is such an automatic reaction. I have to push the PAUSE button so I can figure it out. Do I really want to feel this way? Recognizing the behavior is the first task. Nothing can change until I recognize it and own it. They may have done something I did not like but I own this puppy. So now what?

Now I have a name for it and I own it. Owning is imperative for getting to a win-win. I don’t want to feel this way and I am sure they do not want to come across this way. I need to speak to them and make them aware of my emotional trigger. I think I am coy and I don’t show my internal emotions, but as good as I think I am, my non-verbal behavior usually shouts out my true feelings. They probably do not understand my response. It is always a risk, but I need to talk with them. I need to explain me and my response. There is an off-chance this could go sideways, but I am willing to take that risk. They are a good person and so am I. I treasure their relationship too much to not say anything. So here it goes . . .

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