Triggers: The Callous & The Festering Wound
Updated: Mar 1, 2021
When the average person discusses what to do when experiencing triggers, their immediate reaction is usually one of two things:
1. “That’s ridiculous! You should block that person on everything! How dare they say that! Cut them out of your life!”
2. “Don’t be a baby, they didn’t mean it like that. You simply took it the wrong way. Stop being so sensitive.”
If I had a nickel for every time someone imparted these passing words of “wisdom” upon me, I would be retired in the Bahamas rubbing suntan lotion onto my husband‘s rippling back muscles. But alas, that is not my current reality.
Over the years I have realized that the answer is not so black and white when handling all triggers - ESPECIALLY if you are dealing with a mood disorder. What I like to do is start by classifying my triggers into two general categories:
The festering wound
A festering wound needs more care, sensitivity and attention to heal, whereas a callous gets stronger every time it tears. It is up to you to decide where each of your triggers fall, and here is how I know which is which.
It starts with two simple questions: Can I have a calm discussion with the subject of the trigger about how I am feeling? Or, am I about to have an anxiety attack within the next several seconds? If my immediate reaction is an anxiety attack, then it’s time to remove myself from the situation and tend to my festering wound. However, if I feel calm enough to have a discussion, it’s time to build upon that callous by immediately opening the lines of communication. I know, I know... easier said than done, right?
Let’s simply begin with how to heal a festering wound.
STEP 1: Respectfully remove yourself from the situation. Find a nearby safe space. Your car, your office, your bathroom, somewhere you can take an immediate moment to yourself.
STEP 2: Breathe. Inhale 1-2-3-4, exhale 4-3-2-1 until you feel calm and collected again.
STEP 3: Ask yourself some questions
What emotion am I feeling? Anxiety? Depression? Anger? Irritability? (Having a list of emotions saved in your phone is very helpful if pinpointing what you feel is difficult for you)
What was the trigger that made me feel this way?
Where did I first experience this type of trigger?
EXAMPLE: I am feeling disrespected. I am feeling this way because my employee is taking advice from someone who has not gone through the level of education that I have instead of coming to me for help. I first felt this type of disrespect in school when I felt compared to my older sister by my teachers. This inevitably caused me to feel that I had to prove my intelligence and if someone challenged my information they thought I was stupid and didn’t trust me.
STEP 4: Figure out the best way to heal the underlying trauma that caused the trigger.
Talk to your therapist: If you do not have a therapist or have been to one before and it left a bad taste in your mouth, I encourage you to try again. Finding the right therapist is like finding a spouse! The first person you try may not be the person for you. So put yourself out there! Keep trying until you find the perfect fit for you.
Acknowledge the event occurred, that your feelings are valid, and come to the realization it was not that person's intention to make you feel that way. They are only acting the way they have been conditioned to act their entire lifetime, just as your subconscious has done to trigger you into fight or flight mode based on experiences from your past.
Repeat this process to heal the wound until it is ready to become a callous; a point of strength you can build upon.
How to healthily build upon a callous:
STEP 1: Identify your trigger. A calloused trigger is usually something that is recurrent in your life that you have had to learn to adapt to. So now its time to pinpoint where it stems from (if you haven't already) and talk about it.
EXAMPLE: My husband trying to correct me when I have not asked for help makes me feel like I am stupid and that I have done something wrong that deserves punishing. This feeling stems from my childhood experiences with my father.
STEP 2: Open lines of communication. [Compliment - Explain Trigger - Compliment Again - Action Steps]
Compliment: "Hey James, I love and respect that you always want to help me. I know your intentions are always good and aimed to help me grow!"
Explain Trigger: "However, sometimes when you correct me when I haven't asked for help it takes me back to a time in my childhood when my dad would criticize me and it would make me feel stupid. This is a trigger I am trying to heal, but, right now, being corrected still makes me feel dumb and incites negative self talk."
Compliment: "Again, I know it is not your intention to make me feel that way. I know how much you love me and want me to succeed!"
Action Steps: "But as I am working on healing my past wounds, would you be okay with asking me if I want help before offering me corrections? That way I can emotionally prepare myself ahead of time and get myself into the right mindset so I don't needlessly get upset."
This [Compliment - Explain Trigger - Compliment Again - Action Steps] format can be used in any situation to begin effective communication. So long as you take responsibility for your trigger and openly communicate your feelings in a way where you are not blaming the other person for triggering you, the conversation usually takes a positive turn. If it takes a more negative turn, do your best to not take what the other person says personally. At this point they likely have their own unresolved issues they are working through too. Issues they not even be aware of. What is important is that you have taken a huge step yourself in effectively communicating your emotions. And that is the most crucial step in healing and building upon a callous.
A mood disorder trigger is often like a PTSD experience. In fact, 40% of bipolar patients also suffer with PTSD. So opening the lines of communication with your support system and therapist (callouses with both, festering wounds only in therapy until you are ready) is a major first step toward strengthening your emotional body and preparing you to cope with your triggers better in the future.
Our brain and body are constantly changing, so if we prep ourselves with the proper tools during that change, we will grow rather than regress. Having triggers does not make you weak, but without turning those triggers into callouses you cannot become stronger.