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How Often Are You Triggered by Memories?


Clients spend most of their time telling me about situations which have been or might be very upsetting to them, what I call recall or memory triggers. My job is to teach them how to recognize triggers before, during or after the fact. I’ve blogged often about how to identify slipping into recall, but that’s not enough. You need to know what your triggers are. Remember, you can identify them because they are your emotional reactions that are out of proportion to or in excess of whatever is occurring in reality.

Here’s a paragraph from one of my previous blogs. “To stop recall triggers, make a list of troubling memories regarding how you were hurt in childhood: being shamed, abandoned, neglected, compared unfavorably to others, fiercely competed with, ignored, teased, undermined, invalidated, feeling unheard or  invisible, regularly being forced to do things against your will, being manipulated, etc. Recognize that similar current situations are more than likely to kick up these memories. By identifying triggers, you can anticipate their eruption and label them as not applicable today.”

If you haven’t made a general list of your triggers, why not? Without this information, you’re setting yourself up for upset and emotional eating. You’re not doing all you can to recognize slipping into memory. Don’t underestimate how often this happens: In small ways, I’d say daily and in large ways several times a week. More depending on circumstances and how much work you’ve already done to reduce trigger power.

Start a recall trigger diary. At the end of each day, take time to write down when you felt emotionally out of whack or over the top. Maybe your boss unexpectedly criticized your work, you didn’t receive an invitation to a party, your mom wouldn’t stop nagging you, or a friend was teasing you. If you reacted emotionally rather than rationally to these situations, they were likely triggering old, upsetting memories. Seeing them on paper will help you recognize what gets your goat and how to be less reactive in the future.

Then, each morning, consider situations or people you’ll be with in the upcoming day that might trigger unconscious, distressing memories. Your performance review which might set you off because you’re highly sensitive to criticism. Hosting an event when one of your hot buttons is seeking approval from others. Your talkative neighbor whose visit will remind you of Mom who rarely listened to you. Driving a distance with a testy co-worker who challenges whatever anyone says and is like argumentative Dad. 

I guarantee that knowing your triggers will help you stay rational and do less emotional eating. Remember the Scouts’ motto: be prepared.




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