Intro to Triggers

This week is Eating Disorder Awareness Week… Likely only those who are already familiar with the subject are aware of this. Which is kind of a sad statement given that an estimated 8 Million people (3% of the U.S. population) have an eating disorder. I also suspect that this number is low given how people react and think about the subject.

I can only imagine how many people this impacts indirectly. Friends, family, even acquaintances will see the effects. Today I wanted to broach a subject that will be more difficult and sensitive. I wanted to discuss triggering. Those things that cause recovering people to revert, or they might not even be headed in a positive direction and the trigger makes their behaviors worse.

**A quick note on triggers. Obviously triggers are real and can cause someone deep pain. In todays context there are jokes about people being “triggered” over things that others think are silly. I’ll admit that I find some of them ridiculous. I believe that we should be mindful of our fellow man and help each other where we can. I had a hard time expressing these thoughts because I don’t want to downplay triggers and I don’t want to turn people away who have a misconception about triggers. To be clear – we are talking about genuine psychological triggers not people who get easily offended. (see urban dictionary or your favorite internet search for common meanings of trigger, triggered, triggering)**

Some triggers we need to face head on and others we need to avoid until we are strong enough to face them, or face them in increments instead of all the time. I’ve observed that Bree does better with food when she doesn’t prepare it (However this observation falls apart when people are around, e.g. potlucks, extended family dinners, parties, etc.).

I’m assuming, and we’ve discussed at length, that when she is around food while preparing it she is triggered and won’t eat that meal as well. I’ve found that when I prepare a meal and she helps in other ways that things go a little smoother. She’s not around the food as much and is less triggered. Leading her to eat better. I haven’t discussed this with any professionals so I don’t know if this is good or bad BUT I’m happy to play this role.

I should probably also note that this doesn’t always work, I’m trying to keep this real but my optimism pokes through and as I reread things they always seem super successful. This is not the case. These last couple weeks and months have been rough on this front. While other things go better, this slides downward. We pick up and make progress but it’s a long hard road.

It’s interesting that what works for one person doesn’t work for another and what triggers one person won’t trigger another. Even with the same eating disorder. We are all unique and so are our behaviors and challenges.

The other discussion I want to have about triggers happened on Facebook.

Two quick notes: 1)  I won’t use names these are two great people and 2) in no way is this meant to make them look bad. In fact, I admire and respect the way this was handled and love that they were both looking out for my wife.

Bree posted a picture on Facebook, a friend mentioned something about Bree’s body. It was a nice compliment, something many women face and would love to hear. However, it COULD be triggering for someone with ED. One of my wife’s friends who has shared her own experiences with ED commented on the comment mentioning these triggers, and specifically what it could have triggered for Bree.

I thought to myself that I was about to see some fireworks. Everything was very polite but also blunt. So I thought that would cause a negative reaction. I was very wrong.

These two people don’t know each other, and I’ve observed too many misunderstandings on Facebook to be optimistic. But guess what, the first lady replied politely and asked a genuine question about what she could say that was different and less triggering. The whole thing was an insightful conversation that really touched my heart.

Having that be touching may sound weird because it seemed like an innocent conversation. They were respectful, thoughtful, and insightful about how we should treat one another and learn from each other. Needless to say, I was impressed with the quality of my wife’s friends. These people were truly trying to help and then truly trying to learn.

On this topic specifically, rather than focusing on physical body image in our talk/compliments we could focus on deeper more meaningful observations about those we know. I think that this is a positive change to our mindset and would help avoid many of the triggers that are out there. But not all triggers can be eliminated and we can’t expect others to know what they are. We need to be loving and forgiving to ourselves and others when we are triggered or cause someone to be triggered. We are all always on the road of self improvement, I know that I need mercy and grace as much or more than everyone else.

In searching for a way to conclude these thoughts my mind keeps turning to the general publics view on triggering. I mentioned it briefly up above implying that it might be an over used term. I keep reminding myself that just because it’s overused doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist and that it’s a real thing that impacts a lot of people.

I recommend checking out this post 5 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone with an Eating Disorder. The article has some practical tips on how to love those you know are struggling. Things not to say as the title implies and several suggestions to replace those triggering comments with.

I believe firmly in loving my neighbor and doing everything in my power on a personal level to not be someones trigger. This is what made the Facebook conversation beautiful. Both women were trying to be loving, choosing to be mindful of others and learn without forcing an opinion. We don’t know the internal struggles of those around us. They may have a darkness that is threatening to drown them and I want to be a life-preserver not a rock. I think when we show love and kindness, and enter into conversations with an open heart and mind we can never go wrong.