Do You Know Your Triggers? [Holiday 2016 Blog]

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Time for joy and time for cheer! We’ve been waiting for the Holiday season all year long. It’s a time to slow down, relax, enjoy the sights and the sounds, spend time with family and prepare for a new year. This has been a rough year for many and we could all use a little joy and cheer.

The holiday season can also be a difficult time for many people. This is a time where depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts increase. While some are feeling joy, some are feeling hopeless and even helpless during the “most wonderful time of the year”.

Many are feeling this way because they have been triggered. Triggered by memories. Memories of love ones who have been lost either to death, divorce, or the end of a relationship can illicit all kinds of feelings. For some, they are dealing with financial stressors. Overwhelming bills, debt, job loss and poverty does not cease to exist during the holiday season, it is only amplified by the stress of people feeling the need to get gifts, even if you cannot afford them.

All of the aforementioned things, and more, are triggers. A trigger is anything that sets off a memory (or flashback) to a previous traumatic or depressing event. A trigger can be a thought, a smell, something you see or hear. Your soul is a tablet (Hebrew definition from the Biblical word “Nephesh”; Strong’s); therefore it has a memory. Your soul is a collection of all of your past experiences. It has been writing things about you and your life since you were a child. It remembers everything that has ever happened to you. This is why telling people to “get over it” never works; especially if you don’t know how to help them get over it! Telling to them “just pray about it” is equally as damaging.

It only takes one thought to trigger a memory. After you are triggered, there is a certain feeling that is produced. Once the feeling or emotion is produced in your mind [soul], your body and conscious mind will do anything to block out that painful memory. This is where we begin to see all types of behaviors begin. It didn’t start with the feeling; it started with the thought! The trigger. Thoughts lead to feelings, and feelings lead to behavior. There is always a reaction to triggers, whether the reaction is positive or negative.

I read a story on TMZ (don’t judge me) last night about Lamar Odom that sparked this blog. It stated that he was checking himself back into rehab this week because the anniversary of the death of his infant son is coming up. He feared (feeling/emotion) that he would go on a bender, so he proactively put himself into rehab in order to avoid this. Some will judge him; as a therapist and an empathetic human being, I applaud him!

My new book, “The Other Side of Rejection” (available for purchase soon) addresses the issue of triggers and asks the reader to go on a journey of self-awareness and recognize their triggers for feeling depressed and rejected. The “sparking” of triggers can lead to us fulfilling our needs in maladaptive ways including drugs, alcohol, inappropriate and unhealthy sexual relationships, gambling, binge eating, etc.— all in an attempt to ease pain. Some will call it “acting out”.

In the case of Lamar Odom: he is the epitome of self-awareness right now! Lamar is also quoted as saying that the death of his son (grief, trauma) is the reason he started doing hardcore drugs to begin with. His memories are his triggers. His triggers could potentially produce certain behaviors such as using drugs and alcohol. Drugs are a maladaptive coping skill which is used to avoid and escape painful feelings and memories. The drugs, alcohol and illicit sex were cover ups to mask deep hurt and pain.

Do you know your triggers? Do you know what sets you off? Do you know what sends you over the edge? What’s underneath your behaviors? What causes you to lash out at people? What puts you in “your feelings” or in “one of your moods”? Healthy people are not absent of triggers [everyone has triggers], however they have the ability to recognize their triggers and respond a different way to them.

Ways To Cope With Triggers:

  1. Don’t ignore your triggers: Self-awareness is your best friend. Know thyself! Whatever you ignore (suppression), it will manifest in your behavior. You cannot ignore what you feel. What you feel is real. Deal with it before it destroys you.
  2. Use a holistic approach: We are triune beings; body, soul and spirit. I believe in wholeness. You can’t take care of one part and ignore the others. Prayer, meditation (positive thoughts and mantras), changing the way you think, exercise, eating healthy, relaxation, etc. are all coping skills.
  3. Process your memories: You can’t live in your memories and expect to be successful in your present or your future. The future belongs to those who are willing to deal with painful memories. Journaling, therapy and support groups are all great ideas to help you process painful memories. You must deal with the roots of your triggers, which is trauma, hurt, rejection, etc. You have a tree growing; it’s important for you to know what’s at your roots (soul).
  4. Develop a support system: You need to be around people who love you, care about you, can pray for you, challenge you and support you. No man is an island. You cannot fight alone. You need help! You need people who you can be open with about what you’re thinking and feeling; people who won’t judge or take advantage of you but rather will love you through your process.
  5. Decide: You must decide what your new reaction is going to be. When you have painful memories, when you see the person who hurt you, when you have negative thoughts, you must decide what your new reaction is going to be. Will it be an emotional one or will it be a well thought out one? Will you react or will you respond?

My prayer is that when Lamar Odom goes into rehab this time, a therapist can give him some good tools so that he can be able to self-regulate himself next time and not have to go into a facility to cope. That is the goal of counseling/therapy—that you leave with tools to “heal thyself”. My prayer for you is that you sit down with yourself in a quiet space and identify your triggers so that you can respond differently to them. Go a step further and get help if you need it. You need tools to live a better and more prosperous life.

Healing doesn’t remove the scar or erase the event; it just takes the pain out of the memory.

“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” -3 John 1:2

© 2016 Joshua Peters Smith. No part of this blog may be reproduced without the express written permission of the author.

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Joshua Peters Smith is an author, speaker, dream coach, pastor and a certified mental health therapist with eight years of experience in the mental health field. Joshua has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s degree in professional counseling and is currently pursuing a doctorate degree. Joshua is known for his ability to integrate psychological principles with theological truths to bring about complete healing to the soul. Joshua is the founder of the Soul Healing Initiative, a forum focused on emotional healing, health and stability, education and mental health awareness.