The word “triggered” is really popular now in mental health circles, and I think also in popular culture.

To the best of my knowledge, it’s more of a popular term than a one taken from scientific circles. I believe it comes from symptoms of post traumatic stress, where people relive aspects of their particular trauma because of something they experience in the present. For example, ” the smell of chocolate chip cookies really triggered me.  I couldn’t stop thinking about how he always made them for us when we were together”, or ” that was what my mom made after dad hit all of us”.

I try not to use the word because it’s getting to the point that it has no meaning, a word used over and over that becomes so common that high school girls use it for describing a reason to have a tantrum.

However, I did get triggered last Friday.

I was at a continuing ed training. The topic was grief, and I went because the speaker was an international expert on grief, death, and dying.  He worked with Elizabeth Kubler Ross, who gave us the five “stages” of grief. I’m sure you’ve heard them:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

The entire first half of the day was on relationship loss, meaning divorce and break up.

I knew this topic would be tough for me. I brought my mandala coloring book so that I had something soothing to do. (often people bring knitting to these events, just to let you in on a secret.  The knitting is more common at physician continuing ed conferences though).

A woman told me in her best therapist voice at the first break that I was disturbing her by looking through my bag for different colors for the mandala.  Perhaps I didn’t realize that all that rustling around was very distracting.

I didn’t smash her in the face.  She had a point. But I thought about smashing her, and so that was my first hint that I was “triggered”.

A man volunteered to do some grief work up at the front with the speaker.  The speaker was respectful and didn’t go too far, quite right for a conference. It was about losing his girlfriend. He had hugged a coworker to reassure her,and then his girlfriend broke up with him.

Whoa. I was much more involved with someone outside my marriage than a simple hug.  Maybe there was more to the hug in this seminar synopsis, but still. Trigger. I’ve worked so hard on self forgiving in this area. Bang.

At lunchtime I joined two other people I knew from early in my career for lunch. I told the woman about my divorce. Now I’m feeling pretty bad, although I loved seeing her.  My anxiety is now soaring.

After lunch we talked about death and dying. I left once because I thought I’d weep through the lecture. I fit many of the criteria for complex grief.

Multiple losses.

Overreacting to small losses, like losing keys.

Grief that doesn’t follow a course of acute pain, and then a slow steady recovery. Instead there is an initial feeling better, then a stuck place.  Recovery doesn’t continue.

Lack of interest and depression.

Experiencing a loss that is socially unacceptable.

I’ll throw in another:  a sense of a foreshortened future. It wasn’t on the list, maybe it should be.


I went out with a couple close friends for snacks and drinks after the conference, and our discussions about their divorces and mine helped at the time.  It’s good to have their friendship.

However, there’s more loss on the horizon. My youngest will be leaving in five or six months. I may have to sell the horses. I probably will sell the house.

I’m fearing for my stability.

I was going to cancel with my therapist tomorrow but I think I better go.  Maybe restart my antidepressant.

I’ll probably still try to minimize using the word “triggered” but don’t you all doubt for a minute that it exists. I am triggered. 

I have new empathy for those of us that suffer from PTSD.Image




2 comments on “Triggered

  1. I have experienced these triggers and cycles of falling down or seemingly being “stuck”. I have earlier explored my feelings in depth and they did not go away. I have more recently read a therapy that encourages you to simply ‘accept’ your feelings and then move on with your day. In other words people can waste a lot of time trying to get rid of feelings and that simply does not work. Since I have been doing that the feelings have started to subside. Now that is an unexpected outcome back it is amazing that is what happens. By accepting them, the feelings lose their power. It is a bit like being a driver on a bus with unruly passengers. Simply accept that the passengers are there but don’t focus on them. Let them shout and scream in the background. But at all times remember that you are the driver of the bus.

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