The Danger of “You Triggered Me”

I am an avid eavesdropper.   I love taking transit to work and hearing all of the conversations, observing different body positions, leaning in to see what people are reading, or watching on their phones.

In my office, the door closed, I hear the banter of the group of intermediate students playing directly underneath from where I sit.  I hear the swearing, the intimidation as well as the screams of delight, joy and engagement.

School hallways have their own micro cultures.  I will sometimes walk in specific parts of the school observing the body language and the language, paying special attention to students who have, for whatever reason, hit the radar of “the feelings teacher.”

Certain language comes in and out of fashion.  Last year “rager” was all the rage.  The word generally referred to someone what was out of control angry or out of control disregulated.  More boys than girls used the term. It is still in use although less so, at least in the classrooms.

The phrase, “You triggered me” is now widely used by elementary aged children.  It is used by children to refer to behaviour that is disrespectful, unkind or hurtful as in, “You didn’t give me a turn on the iPad! You triggered me!”  It can also be used to manipulate a child to get something from them as in, “You are not giving me the answers to your work! You triggered me!”

A trigger is any thought, memory, action or encounter that creates a negative response or feeling. Triggers are personal.  What triggers one person may have absolutely no effect on another.  If you tell me I have crazy hair that won’t trigger me but for someone else, that may send them over the edge. Triggers originate early in your life, usually between the ages of 0-3. They are linked to an old survival response.  You believe you are under threat so you store that memory as a trauma response.  Anything that brings up the trauma response then becomes your trigger.  There is evidence that some of those trigger responses get passed on in your DNA.  That means the trauma responses of your mom and dad may also become your triggers.

It becomes your life work to discover the origins of your triggers and move from a survival response to a thrive response.  Even if the trigger does not start with you, your job is to train your brain away from the trauma response.   No one else can do that for you. It is not the work of the world around you to fix it for you.  Evolution does not work that way. Biology does not work that way.

Children are following in the footsteps of the culture and the adults in power around them. We are doing our children a disservice by providing a culture of entitlement that rewards children for their inabilities.  I have heard both parents and teachers reinforce this idea. “This child is the reason my classroom is unmanageable.” “This teacher is the reason my child is unmanageable.”

Parents, children, teachers behave badly.  We all do.  We are human.  Regardless, this idea that it is somehow everyone else’s job around us to ensure we feel good or get what we want, is lethal.

Instead of “You trigger me” what we need to practice is accountability.  That means, I take responsibility for my trigger, and I work it out.  I work it out by addressing the person who said something unkind or ‘triggered me’.  I work it out by taking care of my feelings.  And I work it out by getting help around addressing the root of the trauma response so that the next time I get triggered, I will have an opportunity to react and even heal the original trauma.

I will say it again, it is our personal life work.  And it is our collective life work. It is a spiritual practice and an evolutionary practice as well. My triggers. My responsibility.

My desire is that my future eavesdropping adventures will include more samples of self advocacy and less samples of “You triggered me.”