the word "triggering"

Forum for moderating the WhatsApp group and posting etiquette
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Joined: Thu Nov 19, 2020 10:53 pm

the word "triggering"

Post by Scott »

There is clearly some confusion, fear, and resentment around the topic of "triggering" content. I felt the same things but have mostly come to a good place with it, so I just want to share some of my experience.

First, what's true with many difficult issues is that people use the same word in different ways. Two people can be talking about two related yet different things, but think they're talking about the same thing because the same word is used.

I think this is true with "triggering." Way back when, I don't remember hearing the word very often. When it was used, it meant "to set off an intense, automatic psychological reaction that often results in intense pain or unwanted reactive behavior." I remember it being used to describe a situation or a graphic telling of a situation, like a traumatic event or where someone would consistently drink, drug, or act out. I remember a few people who had been triggered into panic attacks, sometimes severe.

Over the past ten to twenty years, the word's use seems to have expanded quite a bit. I hear it a lot. Most of the time, it's used to describe something to which a person reacts with mild to moderate upset. This is very different than the old use of the word.

Sometimes we have misunderstanding on this topic because one person uses "triggering" in the old sense of the word while some listeners hear it in the new sense.

I don't like the new use of the word because it muddies understanding of the old use. When I feel mild to moderate upset over something, I'm upset, not "triggered." I need to do some work on myself. It's not good for me to try to avoid that work and the discomfort guiding me toward that work by trying to make other people adjust their behavior. I am not in favor of group etiquette for this purpose. If we tried to avoid all topics that could be mildly to moderately upsetting, we'd have a huge list, stifle discussion, feel like we're walking on egg shells, and feel resistant and maybe resentful.

I do very much appreciate the old use of the word. We do need a safe space for recovery that does not trigger intense psychological reactions like panic attacks or unnecessarily trigger intense urges to game. (Talking about video gaming will sometimes trigger urges. That's unavoidable. But there is unnecessary talk about video games like naming titles or describing in-game play that we can avoid.)

There's one more way that the word "trigger" has been used, which also muddies it and creates confusion. Sometimes when the Twelve Traditions are not followed, impressions are created that CGAA is affiliated with an outside group, person, organization, religion, or philosophy, or has opinions on a outside issue. A common result is that people who do not belong to or agree with such outside issues/groups get the idea that CGAA is for a specific group that does not include them. They feel alienated, and sometimes upset if they felt tricked or misled. I've heard such alienated people described as "triggered." That's not an accurate or helpful description. If I look into an organization and discover it's run by a certain corporation that I want nothing to do with it, I'm not triggered. I just leave. If I go to a support group and discover it's connected to Scientology, I'm not triggered. I just leave.

I wrote this to sort out my own thoughts and hopefully start meaningful discussion that helps other people sort it out. I think it would help if we used separate words for the separate phenomena, like "upset" to describe upset, "triggered" to describe an intense psychological reaction, and "alienated" to describe alienation.
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Joined: Fri Nov 20, 2020 10:46 pm

the word "triggering"

Post by LND_5678 »

When I say 'I am triggered' or 'such-and-such was triggering' I usually mean I am having an intense emotional reaction to something, and the intense emotions/feelings are extremely unpleasant to the point that I have an almost uncontrollable urge to scream, or physically act out.

For example, a little over a year ago, I was triggered to the point that I punched my fist through a glass window, bled profusely, had to go to the ER, got around 9 stitches, and had an oozing wound on my arm for several weeks.

That is being triggered. I know it when I feel it, but I'm not always able to stop myself from saying or doing things which - somewhere in my mind - I know will make the current situation worse. There was a more mature part of my brain looking at my fist before it went through the glass, yet that part of my brain could not take over and stop me from doing this very stupid, physically violent thing.

Sometime this spring, I was, once again, standing in front of a glass window, feeling triggered. I was stressed out about something. (It was probably my inability to get my computer working correctly.) I saw the glass in front of me and felt an urge to put my fist through it. Fortunately, the memory of last year's experience is quite vivid in my mind, and I was able to breathe deeply, and take a couple of steps back from the window. I didn't write about it, or talk about it, or anything like that. I stopped myself from behaving on my worst impulses, knowing that in the past it had resulted in a lot of pain, bodily injury, and stress for myself and those around me.

In a way, the part of my brain which was able to have me breathe and step back from the window is the part which is connected with my 'higher power.' The more connected I am to my higher power, the less reactive I am when I am in situations which are 'triggering.'

I think I'm saying A) 'triggered' isn't black and white. It's a continuum of discomfort all the way through to painful beyond tolerance, at some kind of a breaking point, and to some degree, how triggered I get depends on my connections with others and higher power and my overall health


B) There is a difference between 'triggered' and 'triggering'
It is not necessarily true that every time I am triggered, something external to myself was triggering. I think that most times when I am triggered it is because I am re-active in a situation which I find triggering, but the situation itself is objectively not particularly triggering.

Sure, there are some situations which most people would find triggering. Yet I find that because of my particular life traumas, I am re-active in ways and situations which other people are not. Often, this means other people are not understanding about my extreme discomfort with a situation. That's not on them. It's on me. It's part of my life journey to learn how to cope with this.
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