The word trigger, or triggers, can mean different things to different people. In the case of a gun, it’s obviously that thing you pull to fire the gun. Simple enough.
When it comes to emotional triggers however, its not so obvious what it is. Anything could become a trigger given the right circumstances.
And when that trigger hits, you never know how you’re going to react. It could be a trigger of a traumatic event that could spur on a PTSD episode or anxiety attack. It could be something unpleasant that upsets you but doesn’t necessarily come off as dramatically. And it could just leave you on the ground rocking in the fetal position hoping that everything goes away.
Some writers will give ‘trigger warnings’ before their work, recognizing that something in their story or whatnot could be a traumatic trigger for someone. While commendable, there is no way to give a warning for literally everything that could be a trigger. For instance, the word ‘is’ could be a trigger (I’m not sure how, but stranger things have happened I’m sure), as a writer do I have an obligation to tell everyone that I use the word is? Do I have an obligation to inform about literally everything that’s in my work before someone reads it just because it MIGHT cause them upset? I thought that was the idea behind writing, to write something that stirs up deep emotions in your reader. They don’t always have to be negative emotions, so do I have to give happy trigger warnings? “Warning, this book may contain puppies, kittens, and rabbits. Reading this might cause excess levels of happiness and joy. Read at your own risk.”
For instance, I had a triggering episode earlier, AB and I were kissing and she pulled at my hair. (A common enough event), but for some reason, this time it was different. It wasn’t traumatic or anything, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t the same as when she usually pulls at my hair.
This next section might be a bit more information than some folks may be comfortable with, but I promise nothing graphic. (There, I gave you a warning. Now what was I talking about?)
So normally when we’re making out, if she wants to kiss my neck or my ear (both of which are extremely sensitive), she pulls my hair so as to pull my head to one side or the other and hold me in place. Since my ears and neck are so sensitive, I instinctively try to move away when she’s kissing me there. (I do enjoy it, I just can’t control myself from moving.) But this time, we were just kissing and she pulled back on my pony tail, just holding my head back, but not kissing at my ears or neck. And while it wasn’t an extremely negative trigger, it definitely reminded me of something my ex used to do. My ex used to make me ‘behave’ whenever she thought I was getting out of control, (usually in bed, but not always). ‘Behaving’ was her code word for holding off, hold off on my own pleasure, hold off on doing whatever, no matter what she was doing, I was to ‘behave’. And while she never pulled my hair to make me ‘behave’, all of a sudden, that’s all I wanted to do for AB. I just wanted to ‘behave’- which is not what she was looking for. So I stopped her, told her what I was feeling, told her that she couldn’t have known this would be like that for me, because I never associated pulling hair with ‘behaving’ but there we were. AB understands, probably better than I do, the irrational nature of triggers, and that they’re no one’s fault, but that they need to be addressed when they come up. So now I know that in certain circumstances, having my hair pulled can be a trigger for me, will it always elicit that response from me? Most likely not, will it always be a trigger? Probably not as well. Well I hope not anyways, having a reaction that can draw away from something I really truly enjoy but requires at least an element of something that is a trigger for me could be really annoying and frustrating.
I think if I had just ‘ignored’ it, shoved it away because it wasn’t REALLY bothering me, it just wasn’t the reaction that I was hoping I would have, could have ended up making this a bigger issue. My hope is that by addressing it right away, despite the fact that I had to gather up the nerve to tell AB that what she was doing wasn’t what she was hoping for me, that I can move past it and she doesn’t remain hesitant to pull my hair or do whatever that next thing I find that triggers an unpleasant memory from my past.
Because I do enjoy it. And I know that what she does is completely different than what my ex did. I know that AB is NOT my ex, and that she does not do the kinds of controlling things, the abusive things, that my ex did. And I hope that in time, I can get better, I can get beyond all of these things from my past that keep popping up and trying to drag me down. But I know that I have AB here to help me stay in the present, to keep me from falling back on bad habits or ‘training’. There’s no need for me to ‘behave’- I am encouraged to let loose and act how I want (within reason of course). I am encouraged to do what feels natural. I am encouraged to communicate openly and without fear of being judged or criticized. Because I can’t help what I feel. Nobody can help what they feel, all we can do is help how our feelings control (or don’t) our reactions. And what’s even better, is that I can believe her when she says she’s all right, or she believes me when I say something.
Another thing that I realized today was that I tend to NOT believe people when they tell me (especially over text message or on the phone) that something that could have upset them, doesn’t. So when that happened this morning, I texted AB back “I’m sort of feeling that maybe you’re still feeling that I was feeling pressured by you, and I want you to know that isn’t true. ” She had told me not two texts before, that she was all right, that she believed me, but it wasn’t my first reaction to believe her. Not because she’s not a trustworthy person, because she is, but because my ex never believed anything I said, even when she said she did. She never was completely honest with me about her feelings, about what was going on… whatever. She would say one thing, but mean the exact opposite, and it became a mine field to negotiate whenever we were having a tense situation, not always a fight, but when things were tense, things could blow up in your face if you looked at it right.
And again, that’s not AB. She’s extremely honest and doesn’t try to make me feel better by lying about how she’s feeling. Or whatever it was that my ex was attempting to do. If something were bothering AB, she would tell me, and we would talk about it. Just like we did about the hair pulling and my reaction.
So going back to triggers… if I were to be writing something where I included hair pulling in a sexual manner, how could I warn against a trigger that I myself have if I didn’t even know I had it? How am I as a writer, or even a person supposed to know about each and every thing that could possibly trigger a negative (or positive) response in anyone who might read it?