A pounding in my chest. A sense of disorientation. Emotional numbness. The feeling of impending doom and the overwhelming need to run. Anxiety. Rage. If I had foresight like my hindsight, I would know that these feelings would lead to a blog post about breaking the cycle of emotional triggers, but right now all I can do is hide.

It’s been exactly two weeks since I tried to do something I [thought I] “should” have been able to do. In my mind’s eye it looked like it was set to be a perfect experience. I had planned meticulously for the outing, made my lists, tried to create external order in every way. Looking back, I realize I was subconsciously trying to prepare to avoid the internal triggers by ordering and controlling the outside circumstances.

For all my planning, preparation, and subconscious avoidance, external order couldn’t save me from my internal triggers. Within a few short hours on the outing, emotional triggers sent me into the Dark Place. I’m not just talking about overnight. It was days and days. I peeked out the window on a few occasions to see if it was “safe” to come out. But because of my disorientation, the Dark Place felt safer than the light. So I remained there for 12 days.

The Dark Place

Going into the Dark Place feels safe and comfortable because it’s familiar. I know the Dark Place well. I’ve lived there at various intervals over many years.

While I am in the Dark Place I take great care to remind myself of all the reasons I knew I couldn’t stand the light. All the reasons I don’t deserve to be in the light. And I hate myself. For preferring the Dark Place to the light.

While I am in the Dark Place I forget who my friends and enemies are. The disorientation turns me upside down. Like one who is drowning, I fight hardest against anything that looks like rescue. I cling to the rescuer even as I push the rescuer violently away. I cling to bring them down with me, as if to validate the deep ugly waters…so they can see for themselves how dark and how cold and tumultuous the deep is. I push them away because my subconscious tells me I can’t cling…for to love them would be to not bring them down with me. So I push and I pull and I flail and I sputter.

All of this I do subconsciously, maliciously, and I can’t stop myself. This is what happens when I am emotionally triggered.

Triggers. They say everyone grieves differently and I wonder if everyone experiences emotional triggers differently as well. Just like trigger points on my body trigger my tension headaches, emotional trigger points send me into a type of mental fight or flight. And not just “a type of”, but an actual adrenaline response as well.

What is an emotional trigger

A trigger is essentially an old wound, unhealed. Maybe it’s an overwhelming anxiety about the feeling that you are not enough. Sometimes ordinary life bumps up against whatever that old wound is and scrapes it. Circumstantially, something in current life—suddenly and without warning—reminds the subconscious about the circumstances surrounding the old wound. As the old deeper wound gets scraped again, it erupts into a new wound very much on the surface. Pus and blood start oozing.

Self preservation kicks in and tells me that it would be best to just go to the Dark Place, so the old wound can’t be seen. It’s too painful and I don’t want to examine it. Darkness will just let me lick the new wound and try to let me sort out how to not bump the old wound again. The Dark Place is all about avoidance of the old wound. Focus on the new wound, try to clean it up, without examining the deeper wound or cleaning that out and stitching it up. Because I’m too afraid of the pain. Mostly I just don’t know what to do with it. And I doubt very much that there is any chance the old wound can heal. I just need it to be covered up and not seen.

The tension/ pain cycle

Many women suffer from tension headaches. Tension headaches rarely go away on their own. Because of their very nature, they create a cycle of tension and pain.

Pain/ tension cycle

Emotional triggers create their own cycle that looks almost identical. An emotional trigger triggers pain, which causes tension in the moment.

The pain/ tension cycle

With emotional triggers, any poor response to the tension leads to more pain, although this time, it’s current pain, often manifested in relationships. The person experiencing the trigger suffers greatly. And in the process, causes their loved ones to suffer greatly as well.

Why loved ones suffer when you are experiencing an emotional trigger

Loved ones of the person experiencing the emotional trigger suffer intensely for a couple reasons:

  1. Because they rarely understand the dynamic of an emotional trigger. Their loved one looks to be experiencing rage, depression, anger or sadness that seems to come out of nowhere but appears to be blamed on them. The negative emotions are at the least, disproportionate to the circumstances at hand or at worst, completely irrational.
  2. Because not only are they irrationally blamed for the negative emotions, they want to rescue their loved one, which puts them in the precarious place of being pulled in/ pushed away violently. This obviously tends to intensify the pain/ tension cycle.

Once this cycle gets started, it’s not impossible to break. However, it takes an external influence. With our example of tension headaches, they almost never dissipate on their own. Because of the cycle they create, they often just worsen until an external change is introduced into the cycle, such as a hot bath, heating pad, massage, nap, chiropractic adjustment, yoga, medication, etc.

Similarly, a pain/ tension cycle that results from an emotional trigger does not resolve on its own. Because of the cycle it perpetuates, an external change must be introduced into the situation to stop the cycle.

The question is, what will fix it? The answer is: a choice.

Breaking the cycle of emotional triggers

The one inside the cycle HAS to make a choice. The empowerment for the choice comes from understanding the cycle. It will never get better on its own. It will only get worse. The spiral of the cycle will only deepen.

To stop the pain/ tension cycle of emotional triggers, a choice needs to be introduced. The choice is an “exit point” to healing from the pain, and peace instead of tension. Breaking the cycle of emotional triggers the exits for peace & healing

Depending upon the level of severity of emotional triggers, the choice for peace and healing can be relatively simple and straightforward and easy, or it can be incredibly muddy and nearly impossible. The choice can be rational, like seeking counseling, or support, or prayer, spending time in worship, removing yourself from a triggering situation or taking part in calming activities.

Sometimes though, the trigger has pushed you too far gone. Remember that violent push/pull phenomenon? In severe cases, the person drowning in an emotional trigger is sometimes almost hopelessly unable to make the choice to choose healing. Because they are drowning. And rational decisions don’t come easily in cases of drowning.

When rational choice doesn’t feel possible

When rational decisions fail, there is One who does not fail. When we push away our resources and human rescuers, there is One who is bigger than our push. Because He is not a human rescuer, his rescue powers are unfathomably deep.

When we are in this deep place of suffering and causing our loved ones to suffer, He hears the cry of our hearts. Even when we are too weak and triggered to pray, our God will not fail us. He prays for us when we can’t. He intercedes for us. And He will intervene. He will meet us where we need to be met in the way we need to be met.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:26-27

Consider the promises God gives. His word is steadfast and cannot fail. This is what it says:

“Reach down from heaven and rescue me; rescue me from deep waters, from the power of my enemies.” Psalm 144:7

“He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, But the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.2 Samuel 22:17-20

“But as for me, my prayer is to You, O LORD, at an acceptable time; O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me with your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.” Psalm 69:13-14

All italics mine.

The choice is simply to say “Yes” to God

When we feel as if we’re drowning, when the waters are deep and dark, when we hate ourselves and when the tumult of the emotional trigger overwhelms us, we can rest assured that God will not fail. He will bring rescue.

There’s only one thing we have to do. We don’t even have to pray in these moments (as we’ve seen the Holy Spirit himself will do that for us). We don’t have to do a single thing but be willing to let go and say “Yes” to God. Then wait. Wait for Him to honor Himself and his promises by rescuing you.

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:11-13

If you are His, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, then you have died with him. He assures you that you will live with him. If you simply hang on and endure, you will reign with Him. In the darkest of the dark places just never allow yourself to deny him. And he has promised that even when you have no faith of rescue and it feels hopeless, he will remain faithful to you, because that is remaining faithful to Himself.

Let go and just say “Yes”

Here’s a song I wrote to help you say “Yes”. In the dark moments when you can’t sing, allow me to sing it for you. I’ve included the lyrics below.

The song is raw. It’s unedited, recorded on iPhone voice memo. There’s nothing fancy about it, but I believe it was given by the Holy Spirit and has power to help you to choose to let go and say “yes” to God’s rest and His peace.

Download “I Say Yes” mp3

Feel free to listen to the song in its entirety in the player below. But if you want to download the song so you’ll have it on your phone or computer, simply add your email address below to receive emails from christianwomanhealth.com and you’ll be shown a button to access the free .mp3 download.

I Say Yes download

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I Say Yes

by Jessica Bolen

You are my strength when I am weak
Yours is the portion that I seek
You are my peace when all else fails
You are the God who doth prevail

You are my strength when I am strong
Your mercy carries me along
You are my healing and my song
You are my right when everything is wrong

So I say Yes to your rest
And I say Yes to your peace
Wonderful Counselor King of Kings

For everything I do belongs to You
And everything I am belongs to you
Everything I hope to be is yours, Its yours too

So I say Yes to your rest
And I say Yes to your peace
Wonderful Counselor King of Kings

I’ll keep my eyes fixed on you I will keep my eyes fixed on you
Lord keep my eyes fixed on you
You’re the author and the finisher of my faith

So I’ll keep my eyes fixed on you I will keep my eyes fixed on you
Lord keep my eyes fixed on you
You’re the author You’re the finisher of my faith

How do you experience emotional triggers? What choices do you find easiest to make in times when you are emotionally triggered? What choices seem the most difficult? Let us know in the comments below.