“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity” (1 Corinthians 13:11-12).
This Thanksgiving brought back difficult emotions I thought I had worked through. The anger I was sure I had overcome came back like a hurricane. I guess you could say I was ‘triggered.’ A ‘trigger’ is anything that brings back past trauma. When it happens, it can unleash a flood of emotions like grief, anxiety, anger, and even panic. I think a lot of people are triggered around the holidays because families come together and old wounds are re-visited.
When we are triggered, emotions from our past take over.
These emotions can feel so strong that we forget what is true for us today. It is like we step back into a reality that no longer exists. When I’m triggered by the past, I revert back to how I felt when I was a child. I feel trapped in a family dynamic where I’m powerless to share my emotions because they will be challenged, manipulated, or dismissed. Maybe for you a parents careless words trigger past rejection, or a siblings anger brings back memories of abusive behavior.
The Lord showed me that in these situations I was once powerless, but I am not powerless anymore.
The best thing to do when you feel triggered is to remind yourself of the current reality. God loves you and He died to set you free. Although you may feel trapped because of your past, He will provide a way out. Often, the way out will be a way through. When triggers make you feel trapped, angry, anxious, or powerless, the Serenity Prayer can be life changing: “God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change (the other person), the courage to change what I can (me and my reaction to them), and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Often, the way through difficult situations that make us feel triggered and trapped is by changing our reaction to the person or situation.
This usually requires a lot of courage because it means doing something we are not used to doing, and that others are not used to us doing. It could involve leaving a gathering if it becomes volatile, standing up for yourself regardless of the consequences, or establishing better boundaries.
What I have noticed in my own life is that when I pray the Serenity Prayer God always comes through with an answer. Sometimes it takes a few hours and sometimes it takes a few days. But He always comes through…with a way through. More often than not, it requires me to do something that is difficult, so I pray for the courage to do it. While we cannot usually run away from painful emotions and situations, God will help us navigate these murky waters if we are willing to be brave.
Remember that we may be helpless at times, but with God we are never powerless.
In times when you feel overwhelmed, triggered, or trapped, try praying the Serenity Prayer. God will help you, I promise.