This is a word that continues to strike fear into the psyches of mentors, mentees, clinicians, family members, and pretty much everyone else who understands what the word “trigger” means.
In case you are new to the term, here we are not talking about the trigger in terms of a physical weapon, but rather an emotional trigger that can get “pulled” and have a similar inner effect.
Which is why today’s “elephant in the room” question is - “What if the mentoring community is triggering?”
Triggers are a hot button topic in that there seem to be two prevailing schools of thought – in the first, triggers are to be avoided, as they could promote a setback in a recovering person’s efforts.
In the second, triggers are to be welcomed, because they show the recovering person where dependency on a fixed set of thoughts and behaviors (those of the eating disorder) still impede that person’s ability to fully engage with and live life in each moment.
I am of a mind to join both camps, because I think each school of thought applies more readily in earlier and then later stages of recovery.
However, the fact remains that triggers happen.
To further complicate matters, what might be extremely triggering to one recovering person might not particularly bother another.
Triggers are thus like land mines marked with our individual names – someone else might walk right over one, and it won’t harm them, but if we pass by it will explode life as we know it to smithereens.
This is what makes it so difficult to moderate and control for triggers in ANY recovery environment – be it clinical, lay support, or other.
This is also why, after a 15-year personal battle with anorexia and bulimia followed by several years of one-to-one mentoring and three years now of running MentorCONNECT, I can say with great surety that any recovering person joining any type of recovery community or embarking upon any type of recovery process will at some point be triggered by it.
In other words, triggers happen. They just do.
Triggers can happen when one recovering person speaks or writes or acts out something that also brings up pain in a fellow recovering person. Triggers can also happen when a treatment professional asks the kind of frank and honest questions that are often need to properly diagnose and treat a recovering person, and those very questions induce an emotional panic in the patient.
And triggers can also happen in a one-to-one mentoring relationship, where the mentee asks a question, and the mentor’s response includes information that will answer that question, but also proves triggering for the inquiring mentee to hear.
Triggers can also happen every time we turn on the television, go to the movies, open a magazine, turn on the radio, or drive down the highway in our car. They can happen at a dinner party or a business meeting, in an elevator or at home alone in our beds.
If we want to recover, there is absolutely no way and no reason to avoid triggers. They are our teachers, when the time is right and we are strong and supported enough to explore them, that will guide us away from reliance on the fixed eating disordered thoughts and coping behaviors and towards a newfound ability to stay present and responsive in each moment of our lives.
Today’s Takeaway: Where have you been holding back or even refusing to explore a new form of support because of your fear of being triggered? Here, you can keep a journal and note down how often during the day you are triggered just by the experience of living your daily life. Ask yourself if you think the potential for being triggered outweighs the potential good that could come from involving yourself in a new support option that wants your recovery as badly as you do. If your answer is “no”, then give yourself a chance to try it out and see if it is helpful. If your answer is “yes”, give yourself some more time, then ask yourself again later and see if your answer has changed.
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Last reviewed: 1 Sep 2011