Triggers: stop shooting the messenger

How many times have you asked yourself, ‘what’s wrong with me?’ in a scolding, angry, frustrated way. Perhaps after you ‘lost it’ with someone or you burst out crying over something that didn’t warrant upset. Imagine if you swapped the ‘beating yourself up’ with ‘what happened me that I get triggered when someone says or does that?’ Your internal dialogue moves from a judge-like stance to one of ‘interested empathetic listener’.  Triggering events or people are often the messengers reminding us: ’nope, still not over it!’

Yes, there are parts of us that will get triggered from time to time and there are parts of us that will judge ourselves or others harshly or unfairly when those triggers are released rather than held gently. Yes, the easy option is to leave well enough alone and not to go poking around but one remains unwell leaving some things alone. Thorns sometimes need to be pulled or soothed out. Nobody wants to live with ‘thorns’. 

Animals get triggered too, because as sentient beings – events and people imprint on them. Whether rescued or bought, things can happen a dog, cat, horse etc before they get to you. Things that are stored in their emotional memory: sounds, smells, behaviour, objects. And we often find out their triggers as we go through life together. Maybe you can’t sweep the floor when they are there: that isn’t a brush to them, it’s a weapon. Maybe you can’t allow the postman come to the door: that isn’t a friendly service provider, that’s an intruder who tries to get in through a small rectangular cut out at the same time everyday! Maybe you can’t raise your voice singing or laughing as where they came from there was domestic violence and they are triggered by loud voices so they go into protection mode. 

So I guess we are fortunate as humans, we are blessed with language to process these often overwhelming emotions. All the sayings we have grown up with: ‘problem shared is a problem halved’ and ‘spit it out’ come from a wisdom that knows ‘we need to talk it out, not hold it in!’ 

Animals on the other hand can go straight from the emotion triggered by an activating event to behaviour and the behaviour is sometimes a difficult one to understand or deal with. Sadly some animals get punished – imagine being punished for being afraid, for thinking you are doing the right thing.

I often create possible scenarios or stories to help me understand some of the rescues here when their behaviour is concerning: when they shake when a door bangs, when they hide if someone new arrives, when they won’t eat if you’re there, or when they growl or flinch when you simply raise your hand to turn on the light. Yes, you try work out the triggers, unpack their emotional baggage.

I don’t know if it’s an age thing or not, but it’s so wonderful to be able to say, ‘I’m not angry/upset/disappointed by what you did/said, but it just triggered me, it reminded me of a time when….’  The more we use our words rather than release a bullet-type reaction is when we start to take the power away from the triggering event. I have to remind myself often: just because we think it, does not make it true or real. Often we are upset when there is really no need to be! Those pesky irrational thoughts and untruths many of us live our lives by. How very sad. 

But animals don’t get to say, they don’t get to explain, but they do feel and they feel deeply, and they react accordingly. It’s up to us to help them replace difficult triggering memories with more positive ones. They love us unconditionally; it should be reciprocated. 

And yes, I know that sometimes that pain memory will never fade: it’s etched deeply. Remembering becomes a preventative and protective weapon. Go gently when you use it…

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