Taming the Triggers

Over the past few years there has been a storm of media drama, especially in academia, about triggers and trigger warnings.

If you look up “trigger warning” in any search engine, you will undoubtedly find a plethora of articles and postings. This concept of triggers actually comes from the clinical research and literature about trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. A simple definition of triggering is something that activates or provokes a sensation, emotion, memory or other response. This experience is often assumed to be negative, but in fact can also evoke feelings of love, joy or comfort.

In working with people who are healing from trauma, I am acutely aware of the power of triggers and how people experience them cognitively, somatically, spiritually and emotionally.

In a spiritual context, my own teachers taught me the term “conversion,” which I have come to understand as a transcendent and transformative encounter with the sacred. My colleague Sara Miles has written powerfully about this kind of experience in her memoir, Take This Bread. At last year’s Spiritual Directors International conference, keynote speaker Fr. Brian McDermott, SJ, spoke eloquently about the importance of allowing ourselves to be transformed by the experience of accompanying another person on their spiritual journey.

It occurs to me that sometimes there’s a fine line between a transcendent experience and a triggering one.

So how do we tame our triggers? Here are a few tools I’ve learned and heard along the way:

  • Know your triggers.
  • Be curious about the story your body is telling.
  • Recognize what helps you feel safe. Notice how that changes over time.
  • Cultivate trustworthy companions.
  • Engage your creativity.
  • Remember what has carried you through so far.


What has been your experience with triggers?

What resources create safety within and outside yourself?