Accommodating the triggers: avoiding what ‘always’ happens

Triggers are the things that take you to feeling like you are in a story you may not want to remember.

Triggers sounds kind of trendy. We hear regularly about trigger-warnings before watching some news stories. And sometimes, some of us push back at that.

But we also know what happens to us when we look at Facebook and a friend shares a story and we think, “What is wrong with you!”


Or we go to the dinner and we hear the question and we get sadder and sadder.
Or we go to church and we hear that song and we start to cry.

We know about triggers because we live with triggers.

A way to think about triggers is in the context of habits. But we don’t need a lecture on how habits work right now. Maybe later.

But right now, we’re thinking about how to survive the holidays following a loss. And we know that this is hard. And we know that we can adjust our expectations. And we know that we can alert our allies. But what about what’s going to happen over the next few weeks? What about those events or expectations or situations that we know will shake us up?

What I’d like to do is to identify things that happen and some things for us to do.

  • I get exhausted from being with people and it makes me cranky. I give you permission to put ‘taking a nap’ and ‘not doing anything’ and ‘leaving the party early’ on your project lists.
  • Shopping for presents makes me stressed. I give you permission to use gift cards. Or sending notes.
  • Giving gift cards feels like a failure. I give you permission to use gift cards.
  • Kids going to in-laws feels like abandonment. I give you permission to think of holidays as “suppers together whenever” rather than “on THE day”.
  • Days getting shorter makes me sad. I give you permission to be sad. Because it’s partially the daylight and a lot the grief.
  • “All I want for Christmas is you makes” me angry about commercialization. I agree. But you don’t have to be angry about everything wrong in the whole world.
  • Having to say what I’m thankful for at the Thanksgiving table makes me worried about picking the wrong things. I give you permission to say to the host of the gathering in an email before the gathering, “Could we not do that this year? Could you just look at all of us gathered and say, “This has been a tough year. God, help us. Amen.”
  • Being together with people who are mean to me on facebook is hard. I’ve got nothing. I understand. It is hard.
  • Being the one who will have to cook is scary. I give you permission to not cook. To have potluck. To put cranberries on a frozen pizza.
  • We don’t have enough space for a big tree and a big tree is how my family shows love. I give you permission to redefine love away from big trees.

You don’t have to go to every event if you know you will feel overwhelmed and angry and lost. You can name the things you are worried will happen and can plan a response ahead of time.

Really. I give you permission. Though you don’t need my permission to care for yourself.