Why Triggers Are The Greatest Gift
Triggers have gained quite the negative reputation the last few years. Simply put, a trigger is when an event, memory, or interaction elicits an emotion. These are an emotional response to stimuli. You may be surprised to know that not all triggers are painful. But whether they feel positive or negative, scary or not, triggers are actually the greatest gift.
Let’s say as a child, every spring a carnival came to town. Your family would go and family fun would ensue, just like the posters promised. You would play games, ride the spinning rides, and eat the typical fair food. Cotton candy, funnel cakes, and lemonade all contributed to this happy memory. Let’s say a few decades go by. You find yourself at another carnival, but now you’re the grown-up. As you take the first bite of that funnel cake, your mind and body start to remember. Through the smell, taste, and similar atmosphere you are brought back to that spring carnival from your childhood, and in a sense you are reliving that experience. This would be a positive trigger, reminding you of the happiness you once had.
Obviously, there are two sides to the trigger coin. Many survivors of sexual abuse have negative triggers that frighten them and serve as a painful reminder of what they endured years before.
For years, Both Victor and Deanna’s triggers terrified them. Something as simple as movies or music could derail their day, maybe a week, or an entire holiday season.
When Victor was sexually abused by a friend of the family, it was not only confusing and embarrassing, it robbed him of the childhood magic that is the holiday season. Since the abuser targeted him during Christmastime, Victor began associating holidays with the abuse.
“The movie “Scrooge” was playing in the background,” Victor recalled. “I was only eight. I didn’t understand the abuse, I didn’t understand what he was doing. I focused on the T.V. and in turn I started to associate what he was doing to me with Christmas. To this day, I will still find myself feeling strange or weird because my trigger hasn’t gone away. But instead of the constant reminder of what was done to me, I am reliving the holidays through the eyes of my children. Yes, the trigger is still there. But instead of running from it, I see it for what it is…a reminder to speak up and ask for help.”
Though Deanna endured sexual abuse throughout her childhood from her father, she didn’t experience triggers until adulthood. Up until that point her focus was on survival. So when she could find joy in the chaos, she ran with it. It wasn’t until she was free from the abuse at 18 that the joy she felt as a kid turned into a trigger.
“To someone who was never abused, it may seem strange to bond with an abuser. For me, it was a part of my survival. My dad loved music, musicals, and instruments. So often we spent time together listening to music and watching movies like “Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Sound of Music”. He even spent time teaching me how to play the saxophone. He never abused me during these bonding times, so I would hold onto these happy moments to keep me going when happiness was scarce. It wasn’t until I escaped my childhood home at 18 that music became a trigger. I was reminded of the fun I had with my dad who was in all meanings of the word…an abuser. I would hear cheerful music and immediately feel guilty. How could I be joyful when I abandoned my family? How could I enjoy music when I knew it was used to groom me? Music became a source of pain, and I avoided it as much as I could.”
Victor has realized that his triggers were never meant to hurt him. The triggers were his body’s way of telling him, “Something isn’t right. Ask for help.” As painful as Christmas was for Victor, he can find the magic and joy through his children’s eyes. That although his experiences during that particular holiday were tainted, it doesn’t have to be that way forever. He can revel in that magic once again, and celebrate with his family.
Deanna now sings and dances in presentations. She sings and dances with her son at home…and sometimes while shopping at Costco. Yes, her love of music began with her father. Yes, it can still be a reminder of the pain it once covered up. But singing with her son, dancing to the beat, and creating loving memories makes music pure again…something that wouldn’t be possible if she never acknowledged the triggers.
To Victor and Deanna, confronting their hurt head on was crucial to living their best lives now. Living in the moment with their families and creating new memories have become the greatest gifts…triggers, tears, fears and all.
FULL TRANSCRIPT (The following is the full transcript of this episode of The Be Seen and Heard Journey. Please note that this episode, like all BSH Journey episodes, features Victor speaking extemporaneously–he is unscripted and unedited.)
Hey, it’s Victor. Welcome to the Be Seen and Heard© Journey. I want to say thank you for taking the time to be with me today. Whether you’re reading this or you are watching it or listening to it on the podcast this week, I would like to talk to you about something that is extremely important and truly, truly saved my emotional life. I call these emotional triggers. Now let me explain. There are, in my experience, two kinds of emotional triggers. There are positive ones and negative ones. Both of them are important. Let me give you an example. When I was in eighth grade, I’ll never forget, I used to go to the carnival with my friends. In fact, we were so close to the carnival. We would walk and we would walk through the neighborhood and we would go to the carnival.
Then we would go to McDonald’s and then back to the carnival. We had a blast. We had a blast and I used to go on a ride called the Himalaya, which was a ride that you sat on and it went really fast and I’ll never forget it. And it played loud music in the background. I mean it was these speakers spread out throughout the whole ride and it was such loud music, heavy metal, real loud. And then if about, I don’t know, a month later I would be driving in the car with my brother and he’d have the radio on and a song like that came up, my mind would go right back to that ride and I would just feel it again, all the excitement and having fun with my friends. And that’s awesome. And I love having those emotional triggers because they reinforce what life is about. It’s about having fun and enjoying it.
But if we flip it over, there are negative emotional triggers. And specifically, I have one that really stayed with me for a very long time. In fact, probably 11 to 14 years of my life after I was abused. Let me paint you a picture and I’ll keep it very simple. So when I was sexually abused, I could literally draw out the bedroom that I was in and I won’t get into too many details, but it was so vivid to me. And I remember as I was being abused in the background, there was a TV on the TV was the old black and white version ofthe movie, “Scrooge”. And obviously it was around Christmas time that I had been abused. And this is what happened every year, like clockwork, every year when my parents would put up the Christmas tree and put the lights up and the music would be playing and movies would be looping my mind and my whole emotional state would go right back to that abuse.
But only for 11 years until I had the courage to talk about it. And so that trigger kept coming back every single year and I kept replaying it. And obviously that’s where a lot of pain comes from. Past pain, current pain. And so what I’ve thought about is this, that trigger was probably, and I’ll drop the was the greatest Christmas gift I could get every single year, but I never had the courage to open it up. And what was the gift? The gift was you need to go talk to somebody. You need to go share. You need to heal. You need to deal with what has hurt you for so long it was the greatest gift. But so many times we bypass it.
We try pushing it away through outside circumstances of our lives. We start pushing it away through drugs and alcohol. And ultimately it was the greatest gift. I eventually I opened that gift and it changed my life. And now as I’m shooting this video, it’s around Christmas. And now as I’m older and I have three children of my own, I’m telling you, it is the most amazing time of the year for me because I get to live it through my child’s eyes and I’m enjoying it again. I feel like a kid again and it’s not just about opening presents because I honestly, I really liked to open presents, but it’s really about being together and it reminds me that I, I dealt with so much of that pain for so long, but now it reminds me that I can enjoy Christmas.
I can enjoy the holidays with family and friends and not have to go back to that past pain any longer. So please share this video with your family and friends because I do know people that sometimes get very down and depressed during the holidays and it could be potentially for this very reason of them holding on to something from the past. So let’s enjoy this time. I want to thank you so much. Please share this video and remember, every child, no matter how old they are, deserve to Be Seen and Heard©. Have a wonderful day.