Trigger (Un)Happy with ADHDJune 4th, 2012 by admin
Sometimes, adults with the ADD/ADHD brain type will be chugging along with their normal routine, with a good support system and treatment plan in place, and suddenly an external factor causes a meltdown.
That external factor or trigger recreates the feelings and behaviors from a past traumatic situation. It can be a critical comment someone makes, or an interaction that triggers a memory of a past painful episode and causes you to remember all the things you have to worry about. For anyone who struggled with disapproving or frustrated parents, teachers and guardians growing up with ADD/ADHD, you probably have a few triggers stored up in your subconscious. The key to getting control over triggers is to watch them. If you are removed enough to observe a trigger, then that impulse no longer controls you.
Triggers in Action
A good friend of mine grew up with two parents who used their words and voices to control and bully people. Even now, whenever she sits down in a formal group or presentation and someone begins to talk with authority and power, she can’t help but start to feel anxious that the speech will become an argument or even a public reprimand. Even though she knows better, she cannot be a part of groups because she is so triggered by people who ‘have the floor.’
Here’s another example: your mother calls every Saturday at 4:00 PM. Almost always, this conversation is tense, stressful, upsetting, and rehashes years of old resentments. Like Pavlov’s dogs, as 4:00 PM draws near your trigger goes off and your mind starts racing. The angry feelings begin to bubble up, and your negative thoughts create chaos inside of you. As the weeks go on, that dread eats up more and more of your Saturday.
Address the Issue
Defusing a trigger is like facing a fear. Think about the physical or emotional conditions that set off the havoc, and ask yourself, “What do I expect to happen? Am I in real danger? What do I need to let go of, when it comes to these bad memories?” For the woman who gets nervous listening to raised voices, she can practice breathing exercises, and focus on the content of the words to remind herself that she is not a target, but an audience member. If she steps back and feels that a particular coworker truly does speak with inappropriate aggression, she can talk to her boss or an HR representative to work on calming him or her down. For the person dreading the weekly telephone argument with Mom, it’s a matter of facing facts about the communication methods. Ask, “What is the deep thing about my mother that I really need to express? Where am I holding back on my own communication with my mother?” Most of our sense of victimization comes from the fact that we’re suppressing, not expressing.
Regardless of the details surrounding your trigger, my advice is, take control of the situation by telling the truth. Step out of victim mode and into self-protection mode. If you encounter your trigger in a setting that has nothing to do with your original trauma, see what you can do to erase the trigger from your life. Then work with a coach or therapist to face down the lingering demons of that trauma. If the perpetrator of your trauma is still in your life, triggering you with new behavior, hash it out. Get everything off of your chest, and demand progress in the relationship. By saying what’s on your mind, you treat the other person with respect, and you acknowledge your belief that they can treat you with respect. Sometimes it will be necessary to interact with that person less or even not at all. This is reality. Your goal is to silence your triggered impulse. Do what you need to do.
Never give up and give into your triggered emotions and negative thinking. Fight back! You may go down a few times and find yourself flailing in anger and self-pity. Don’t beat yourself up, we all do it. Just get up again and keep trying. Seek out a great support system – don’t you deserve it? Always ask for help if you need it. Remember that if you do not give up, you will learn to conquer fear and come out on top. That’s the way it works.