As a runner and weight lifter, I am very familiar with trigger points – painful balls of muscle or fascia caused by acute or repeated trauma. They are hyperirritable, overresponding to even the slightest pressure or pull. They cause intense pain at their source and can often lead to referred pain in a distant area, frequently occurring along predictable pathways.
As a survivor of a traumatic divorce, I am also very familiar with emotional trigger points – painful memories and associated responses caused by repeated or acute trauma. They are areas of hyperirritability where the response far outweighs the preceding factors. They cause intense pain at the time of their trigger and can cause referred pains in seemingly unrelated areas.
I am consistently amazed at the magnitude and quantity of my emotional triggers. A snippet of a song last night brought me to tears as it reminded me of one of the dogs in my other life. Nothing is safe – smells, sights, words, movies, a date on the calendar. Sixteen years is a long time and it doesn’t leave much untouched. Triggers are like a black hole through space-time, pulling me back to a place of fear and pain.
Not surprisingly, most of my triggers have to do with fear of abandonment or betrayal. These are the ones that petrified me in the early months as their intensity would take me back to the moment I learned that my life as I knew what over, curled on the floor in a fetal position around my phone.
As with physical trigger points, emotional ones also improve with time. My trigger points are fewer and further between and the response is somewhat muted.
But time is not enough.
My triggers have the potential to be a source of tension in my current relationship. It’s not unheard of for Brock to commit a level 1 offense on the Relational Transgression Scale (RTS) and for me to respond as though it is a level 10 misdeed. That’s not fair to him or our partnership, nor do I want to respond in that way.
Aware of the potential damaging nature of my triggers, Brock and I agreed early on in our relationship that I would make a concerted effort to neutralize them as much as possible. These are the strategies that I found useful:
Awareness: The first step was for me to become aware of my triggers, especially when the pain and reaction was referred to a different area. I learned that when I reacted strongly to something, it would behoove me to look deeper to see if my response was actually due to something in my past. Often it was.
Avoidance: Avoidance has its place. In the early months, I simply could not handle certain known triggers. I gave them wide berth until I was strong enough to face them.
Preemptive Strike: Now, when I am going to encounter a known trigger, I work to calm myself ahead of time. Some exercise, meditation and a reminder of my gratitude for my current life go a long way to preventing an overreaction.
Layer: I have reclaimed certain triggers by intentionally layering new and happy memories over top. The old pain is still there, but it muffled by smiles.
Plan: I also have backup plans for those times when the triggers do strike. I am better at stepping back. I remind myself to breath. I know that a long run will help to dissipate the pain and allow me to think again.
Trigger points are difficult to treat. If you try to force them to relax, they will grip and the pain will intensify. The mind almost has a fear of letting go of those painful nodules; it seems as though it works to protect them, those memories of our trauma. Be patient and apply gentle, yet persistent pressure at the point of the pain. Breathe into the tightness and give it permission to fade. The past will be there. The pain will never be forgotten. But you do not have to allow it to keep you bound in agony.
24 thoughts on “Trigger Points”
Lisa – I am so impressed by your ability to see deeply into your own process, and to find words to describe it not only for yourself (and your relationship with Brock) but for others too. This is such a gift.
Thank you:) I guess being raised by a marriage and family therapist has its benefits:)
I love this post. It gives me hope that I may be able to overcome these triggers and my reactions to them. I’ve attempted to date without success in the last year because of this particular issue. I’m not even at the awareness stage yet, which is why I’m choosing to take myself out of that scene entirely for now and get help.
It infuriates me that he still has some level of control in my life! I know that I’m the one giving it to him. I hope in time, And with effort, I’ll be able to diminish the effects of this trauma!
I can completely relate to the feeling of control. That is part of what makes the triggers so bad – the fury that follows that he is still impacting my life. Use that anger as fuel to power your way through your work with your triggers.
Best to you:)
I feel sosimilar to you. Except my emotional triggers come from my husband. So tell me is it unfair of me to treat a 3 on rts as a 10? I guess that would be yes but then again I’m still learning how to survive in a marriage like mine. One where the love is one sided most of the time and the hate is in the air all the time. It gets better with the passing days. Well see what happens… Maybe I’ll open up a little in my next blog.
I think part of it comes from recognizing what you can change. You can’t change your husband directly, but you can change how you respond. This directly will make you feel better and it has the potential of altering his response to you. Wish you the best!
Thank you. It is much easier said than done. But I’ll try.
Isn’t everything easier said than done? 🙂 You’re in a tough place, but not a powerless place.
Thinking of you and wishing you the best.
I know both types of trigger points well. I love how you tied the two of them together…great post 🙂
Thanks! Now to release these dang trigger points in my back from a weekend of running…. 🙂
I’ve been running for 20 years and a personal trainer told me that my back pain is due to not working enough on my core and lack of weight training. The core is especially important, because we need it to hold ourselves up as we run, walk…live! lol! Have a great week!
So true! Mine usually flares from too much time on the computer paired with not enough yoga.
I realize this is an older post. But it’s timing perfection. I am slowly testing the waters and facing the avoided triggers slowly. Trying my hardest to not over react. Exposure and non avoidance are the only ways forward. Or you will be stuck. I am still very much trugging the swamp, but slowly making my way to solid ground. Some days are tougher than others for sure. I hate so much how this healing seems to be dragging it’s feet. I am not a very patient person. But I read and hear that it may take years to reach a place of contentment or acceptance. I guess I just need to continue to ride the waves……thank you once again for sharing your experience.
I’m not patient either. Unfortunately, healing doesn’t care about our timetables. It’s always later than we want!
Keep walking towards that solid ground! You’ll get there:)