Types of Triggers
Triggers are of three general kinds (with overlapping aspects):
Program cues, both generic and specific
Program cues are triggers that are deliberately set by perpetrators during controlled situations. Generic program
cues are purposeful associations which initiate internal enactment of thoughts and feelings from past double-bind scenarios,
so that we are bound by closed systems of thought and continue to be enslaved without the necessity of direct monitoring and
control by those perpetrators. For example, words or symbols which cause thoughts and feelings that reinforce dogma or belief
systems. (“I belong to them because ...”)
Specific program cues are objects, images, phrases, sensory stimulants, etc., which are designed to set off
a prescribed sequence of thoughts and actions, or to make a self state with limited consciousness and functional experience
available for use by a perpetrator. A specific cue might be a word in combination with a symbol, for example, or an object
used to induce trance state (such as a prayer wheel). The first example might be activated through an associative thought
chain in which the word and symbol have specific meaning to a part of the self who believes that s/he has received a paranormal
or “divine” message to carry out proscribed actions. In the second example, the use, or even the sight,
of the object cue will cause the survivor to drop into trance, in which suggestible and previously conditioned self states
interpret subsequent input as cues for their compliance.
Reminders, both generic and specific
Reminder triggers are any whose associative responses influence present experiences with aspects of unresolved
trauma. Examples of generic reminder triggers are those such as holidays, relationships, feelings, situations, etc., which
remind us of the past in such a way that we cannot remain conscious of the present as such. Specific reminder triggers are,
for example, the color red, which might remind us of blood (provoking feelings of panic); the smell of alcohol, which might
remind us of being raped; feces, which remind us of being shamed and punished, etc.
Echo triggers are situations in which the emotional dynamics replicate, in some way, a past relationship of
abuse. For example, when a survivor who is now a mother is confronting a daughter about lying; or when a survivor is expected
to be able to do something they are unable to do. In the first example, the survivor might become flooded with feelings from
her own mother’s denial of her abuse, and be unable to differentiate appropriately to handle the present situation.
In the second, the survivor might experience a “crisis of expectation,” in which s/he is flooded with rage or
suicidal, helpless or hopeless feelings. Since double-bind conditioning often demands that the victim perform impossible acts,
with a life or death outcome for which the victim is made to feel responsible, situations which replicate this dynamic cause
frequent, overwhelming reactions in survivors.
There are specific things that survivors can do to prepare themselves to take advantage of the situation of
being triggered in order to process their feelings and memories. They can also be self-protective by giving themselves
permission in advance to stop, if necessary, if they are already overloaded, if it is currently unsafe to process, or if they
are not able to be supported or support themselves sufficiently at the time.
If a survivor is currently vulnerable, yet wishes to use the opportunity triggerous material provides to process,
she or he should prepare for that possibility:
Make sure you are in a comfortable situation;
Keep your journal, a drawing pad, reprogramming worksheets (there is a copy on the other side), comforting toys
and some tissues handy.
It is often helpful to keep a positive or inspiring object, image or guardian “icon” visible ..
something that reminds you of your desire to heal.
Remind yourself of your positive motives and possible short-term consequences .. and your reasons for
risking them by processing your thoughts & feelings. It is often helpful to make some message signs (block letters,
so kid alters or vulnerable inner child state can read them). For example:
This story may trigger my feelings and/or memories.
I can stop reading if I need to. If I am very upset, I can ______ until I feel better. (Fill in the
blank with what works best for you, for example, “listen to some music” “hold my teddy bear” “call
a friend” “write in my journal” “yell, and pound on a pillow” “mash some clay” “draw
ugly pictures” etc.)
I am choosing to process triggers (or “read recovery material, which might be triggering”) so I
can heal by honoring and comforting my pain I do not want to add more pain through self punishment in the present.
I am willing to release old pain, but I do not want to become confused by it so that I think I need to be hurt any more.
Be aware that narratives can sometimes open up associated memory fragments (a memory “bank”) which
can seem mixed, confused or contradictory. Remember, you have time to sort out all of the pieces. Things are not
always as they first appear. Trust your feelings as valid to your experience.
Remember to ask yourself, “If I knew a child who just experienced what I am remembering or feeling, what
would he or she need to feel comforted?” Then provide for yourself as best as you are able.