Facing Unexpected Triggers

You may have heard the term “trigger”, or “trigger warning”, especially if you spend a lot of time on social media. It may even seem silly or childish or even weak to see that a few words or images can “trigger” someone into a bad emotional space. I don’t think that anyone really understands triggers until they go through something traumatic and in turn, experience triggers for themselves. Obviously, trauma is not something I would wish on anyone, but unfortunately it is something that most will experience in their lives. The loss of a child, having a medically fragile child, or a traumatic death (like suicide) or traumatic experience are common traumas that would result in an individual being triggered. When you open Facebook, you can almost expect to be triggered, especially depending on the groups you may follow. Even better, some posts come with “trigger warnings” at the top, and if you’re having a rough day, you know to keep scrolling. Unfortunately, life does not come with trigger warnings.


The most common natural trigger I experience is music. Sometimes, a song takes me to a place where I have a memory of my brother. Sometimes, the lyrics speak to me, or him, or my life since losing him. This weekend, I listened to music for 3 hours straight doing yard work, with a plethora of songs from my teenage years coming up on the playlist- let’s just say I was ready to cry. I did not have a single moment of sadness or grief until the last song came on. “I Wish You Were Here”, by Incubus started to play and I was a sobbing mess.

Then, I sit down to watch one of my favorite holiday movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I am not sure how it did not occur to me that the entire movie was about a wonderful man who was deciding whether he should his life or not when suddenly an angel intervened and talked him down from the ledge. Now, I know I will have to be in the right frame of mind to watch that movie again.

There is no real tried and true way to face these triggers, at least not for me, at least not yet. One of the most important pieces of advice that I have received on my grief journey was from a social worker I was seeing. She told me, “When you need to cry, cry. Don’t hold it in. Let it out. Just, cry.” So, I do. Sometimes, I cry in the car. Sometimes, I cry in the shower. Sometimes, I encounter triggers, and I don’t need to cry at all. The point is, you can avoid some things. You can avoid walking down certain streets. You can skip certain songs when it is not a good time to face your emotions. But, sometimes, no matter how much you protect yourself, you will encounter triggers. I think that is why it has been helpful to face triggers when I feel like I can. If I am in a safe place physically, or in a good mindset emotionally, I like to face my triggers. I like to try when I can. I like to listen to James Taylor sing Fire and Rain and scream it at the top of my lungs. It is clear that I cannot run from everything, and I cannot run forever. So, if I feel like I can face it today, I face it. If I don’t, I avoid it as much as I can until I am left to encounter it again.


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