Avoid Testing Your Emotional Triggers: Seeking Safety, Week 5 of Trauma Recovery Group

To read Week 1, click Here.
To read Week 2, click Here.
To read Week 3, click Here.
To read Week 4, click Here.

Are there certain subject matters, situations, or environments that trigger you emotionally? (Here is some information about triggers, including what they are and what "TW" or "trigger warning" means on social media posts).

This past week in Trauma Recovery group, we talked about Coping With Triggers, and one of the things we discussed is the concept of "testing," and I think we've all dabbled in this at one point or another.

Testing is when you dip your toe in the water of your trigger, so to speak, to see if you've become "stronger" or better able to handle the trigger.  I'll give you an example by sharing one of our homework assignments this week, which was to list our top three triggers and how we can cope with them.

I listed:

Trigger Warning (TW)
  1. Getting ill - especially gastrointestinal (due to past neglect trauma when I got very sick as a child).  Methods to cope: Grounding skills, reminding self that I can take care of me. I am a competent adult and will not let myself down.
  2. Rape scenes in movies and on TV. Methods to cope: Avoid such programs. Ground, self-soothe, and distract if exposed to such content.
  3. Stories on harmful things done to animals and children (the vulnerable). Methods to cope: Deep breaths. Radically accept that horrible things do happen and that I don't have control. Make choices I feel help, protect, and honor vulnerable beings every day and make my difference and impact that way.

Testing one of my triggers would look something like this:

Using example #2:  Watching a film that I know will have a rape scene to see if I can handle it without having a reaction.

End Trigger Warning

I wrote down a quote that one of the doctors co-facilitating the group said about testing triggers:

"[Always think:] 'will approaching this trigger help me have a better quality of life?"

So, in this case, would watching movies with such scenes improve my quality of life? Of course not, so it's better not to even bother testing the trigger.

If I were avoiding going to the movie theater at all for fear of being exposed to such a scene, I might test the trigger by going to a G or PG-13 rated film that I've researched to be sure there is no such content. Then I would go to the movie theater because being able to do such a fun activity could improve the quality of my life.

Makes sense? 

According to Lisa Najavits, whose text "Seeking Safety" we use in our group, there are times to avoid triggers and times to approach them:

(Najavitz, 2002, page unknown)

Do you ever try to test your triggers?

Does the information in the post help you to understand why it might be more effective to avoid doing this?

Thank you for reading.
More soon.

Read Week 6 HERE


  1. Hi Debbie,
    Once again you give the gift of enlightenment and self awareness.
    My comfort zone has diminished and I have never known why. I have avoided relationships for 5 yrs or so, rarely leave my house, avoid intimacy and social activities like the plague. Yet was always wondering why, however with one quick post by you it hits me like a tonne of bricks again. I am avoiding trauma. As a result my quality of life has also suffered especially with work.
    I need to get a copy of "Seeking Safety" I think.
    I am still fighting for DBT although my MH case manager has his own ideas. This is also very devaluing.
    Thanks again, I wish I could bottle you & carry you where ever I go. You are the salt of the earth and I hope you are proud of your work which has had a profound impact upon my life.
    My appreciation seems an insignificant reward for your effort and the light you shine on others lives, yet it is all I have at the moment and hope it will suffice until I am in a position and state of mind to give back to the BPD community.
    You are a true inspiration and I cling to the hope of even the slightest recovery from BPD. I hope. I hope.

    1. Oh, sweet BPDnMe, thank you for your kind words, for reading my blog, and for leaving this comment. You are truly an encouragement. The Seeking Safety book sis excellent, and you know you can take DBT classes with me online, right? Check with your MH case manager to see if it would be appropriate for you. I responded as I read your message. Now I'm tearful (in a positive way). Your message made my whole day and beyond. Thank you Andrew. ♥ Debbie



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