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What Are Triggers in a Relationship?

Updated: Jun 30

by Lisa K. Stephenson

Photo by Moose Photos from Pexels

My ex and I began a [friendship] and this is what happened…


I had to cut off my ex [again] because he very knowingly activated one of my triggers…he did so and then proceeded to use the push-pull method on me, cruel, no? (Cheating and abandonment anyone?) It almost led to the inevitable, a back and forth of accusation and defense where the conclusion was to be: triggered person [me] having more evidence of my emotions being ignored and [he] going on the defense for being blamed. Activated triggers lead a person to become emotionally demanding, accusatory, or just shutting down. None of which is [technically] effective.


What are triggers in a relationship?

Types of relationship: Friendship, platonic, intimate—triggers can occur when there is pain from not being heard. Why is there pain when your emotions are ignored? This is because the behavior triggering this negative emotion was/is unfavorable. Experiences from our past which have caused us a great deal of emotional pain when beginning to rear their ugly head will no doubt cause us to go into defense mode: argumentative, paranoid, distant. Whether the triggers are activated by the same person who broke your heart or someone completely different, the fact remains that we become vigilant to these behaviors and it only takes one small move relative to past incidents to cause a reaction. Well, I was triggered. (PTSD anyone?)


To a selfish man-boy, any reaction to their unwanted behaviors as aforementioned may come off as “needy” causing them to want to push you away, however, for the sake of not losing you as an option he may provide some effortless one-liners to keep you in tow [pull]. This is toxic and should be looked into on a deeper level. While triggers are [your] responsibility and not that of your partners it is still good to know whether or not the person causing these triggers should have a place in your life. Triggers come from a place of unresolved issues lingering from your past, not dealing with them can and will affect your present relationships. There is a saying that goes, “the person who hurt you, cannot heal you” and this is true! For your sake and your healing, stop allowing the person who hurt you back into your life only to leave you triggered and coming undone. Unless he/she is committed to doing the hard work on getting back on track to a place where the two of you can be amicable, it is no doubt a waste of time and you will end up unraveling all of the progress you’ve made towards healing to this point.


Present relationship triggers require more self-awareness and accountability. Learn to work with your wounded self, she/he needs you to not give up on them and abandon them. Learn to take time out to deal with your triggers so they do not escalate in communication. I have also dated someone new who triggered a negative emotion inside of me, he would tap or slap my cheek from time to time when we were casually watching a show and he wanted to initiate a playfight. As a woman who was once beaten on the side of a highway by a man she loved, I did not take this new guy taps to my cheek lightly. The second time he did it, I asked him to leave my home, and as he grew bewildered as to why, I explained my story to which the tears began rolling from my eyes. I was not yet healed; however, I had to take responsibility and demand my alone time, not burdening him with my triggered feelings. (Physical abuse anyone?)


Why do people knowingly trigger us?

It is known that behind your habits are your thoughts. Negative thoughts about a person will produce negative behaviors/habits exhibited towards that person, (i.e. lying, deception, disappointment, lack of love). We need to recognize that anyone who is out to hurt us, does not LIKE US, especially if this is a relationship, he does not LOVE YOU. Pain and love do not correlate; behaviors where the outcome is your happiness for any man or woman is due to the positive thoughts they possess for you. Think about it for a moment, a man who likes you possesses positive thoughts towards you therefore will exhibit favorable behaviors where the outcome is too positive (i.e. happiness, love, inspiration, courage, power, health, success, and much more). So why trigger a negative emotional response towards someone you like? The answer is, they don’t like you. Perhaps you’ve stopped serving as a benefit to them, perhaps the quest they’ve set out to conquer has been accomplished, whatever the reason, old habits should die hard when you’re aim is to please a person you’ve hurt. No triggers allowed!


Secondly, superiority. The feeling of control one gets knowing that he/she can still evoke an emotional response from you, whether this is a good or bad one. Types of people who enjoy inflicting this type of abuse are narcissists and those with antisocial personality disorder which also consists of narcs but has more severe disorders. This is practiced mostly by exes, especially dumpers. In the beginning, when he/she ends the relationship to rebound with another, they are on cloud nine and of course, not thinking about you or the hurt they’ve caused you. It usually takes a while for them to come around, sometimes learning that rebounding into another relationship was just “Grass is Greener Syndrome” and so, for them to gauge your level of interest, they trigger you. But not right away, you see, they have to lure you back in and to do that they will lie, deceive you into thinking they are changed, never remorseful, however, which is something you should always look out for. If an ex is feeling guilty for leaving you wounded, he/she is just looking for forgiveness to clear their conscience that they may set out into the world to wound and destroy another. If they are remorseful, he/she is looking to make things right in more ways than one, earning your forgiveness. A remorseful person will not maliciously trigger a person they’ve hurt, especially if the reason is to gauge interest to have power.


How to stop reacting to triggers?

Handling your triggers whether past or present requires you to take control of your life and the decisions you make. Acknowledge what your triggers are so that you can properly manage them: meditation works great, positive distractions, support groups, drinking tea, resting, and exercising to name a few.


Unless your triggers are childhood related, the moral of the story is… stop entertaining men who bring you to Google anything outside of, “Bridal stores near me”.


Music to my ears... oh hey Jhene' girl


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