Ever watch the movie Inside Out? It is so good! I particularly love how the movie beautifully illustrates the concept of “getting triggered”. We get triggered when someone or something “triggers” an old insecurity, emotion, fear or what have you. Once triggered we often over-react to the triggering stimuli AS IF it were connected to the old memory. This usually results in whoever we are in the experience with getting very confused (or worse) by our reaction.
It can really complicate conflict resolution. I listened as a couple described a repetitive triggering event in their marriage. Everyone was A-OK with the idea that the issue was not the issue. But when the husband “triggered” the wife, her response was so over the top that he was starting to get twitchy. He was backing up rather than leaning into the relationship.
She felt judged by his response. Until the day he said this, “I feel like I keep getting beat up for the ghosts of your past and I have decided that it is not just hurtful but destructive and unfair.” Ghosts. The image worked for her. She was living in a dream and fighting against shadowy ghosts but hitting her flesh and blood beloved in the process.
To work through this both spouses had to take responsibility for their side of the street. It was hard but they found some fun ways to hold each accountable for reactions that were making the situation more difficult than necessary. It took a while but today she has coping strategies in place to manage her triggered moments and he has new skills in place for addressing times when his wife trips over one of those traumatic memory wires.
Whatever side of the equation we are on - triggered or triggering - we can work on improving our response!