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Handling Emotional Triggers

Accept yourself as powerful instead of as victim to remove the veil of self-deception. When you seek to identify what is triggering how you feel in the moment, you give yourself the chance to feel differently if you want to. You will also have more clarity on what you need to do or what you need to ask for to change your circumstances.

Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D.

Wander Woman,

But why do we all have triggers? In short, because we were all children once. When we were growing up, we inevitably experienced pain or suffering that we could not acknowledge and/or deal with sufficiently at the time. So as adults, we typically become triggered by experiences that are reminiscent of these old painful feelings. As a result, we typically turn to a habitual or addictive way of trying to manage the painful feelings.

Margaret Paul, Pd.D

Inner Bonding Facilitator,


As a reminder, this is a wellness column, so the focus isn’t always fitness and nutrition. From time to time I address what I call innercise as opposed to exercise. This entry will be an opportunity for me to talk myself through a trigger, and hopefully something in it will resonate with you when you experience something similar.

Recently a dentist in Greenville, SC went viral after doing a dance for whatever new social media challenge is going around. Within a week he got 50M hits, and it’s easy to see why. He exudes a swaggering heteronormative masculinity that’s intoxicating (if you’re into that sorta scene, which I am). For better or worse, I feel like I have to qualify my preference in this current lust shaming culture: Yes, I’m attracted to openly and obviously gay men. No, I’ve never been dismissive of potential dating or hookup partners specifically for being flamboyant. Now, with that out of the way: This dentist was hot as hell, and I might chip a tooth just to have an excuse to go stay the night at my best friend Becky’s house and go to his office. Yes, I’m kinda creepy like that. I’ve learned to embrace it.

This dentist was hot as hell, and I might chip a tooth 

just to have an excuse to go stay the night at my best friend Becky’s house and go to his office.

The Trigger: He got me in my fillings

Anyway, the dentist triggered me. He triggered me hard. When I watched the video for the first time to see what the furor was about, he came sauntering on screen from around a corner, and I felt something punch me in the chest so hard that I felt the wind knocked out of me. For a few moments I thought it was my ex. They look that similar.

In 2016 I came out of the hospital and later wrote an article about surviving a botched attempt at self harm. Everything has been much, much better since then. Nothing like that has happened since, and this video didn’t trigger something like that.

I know the common assumption is that men crave constant variety, and perhaps even anonymity in sex. That definitely isn’t my first preference. Despite my reputation for cynicism, what I truly like is devoted intimacy and deep, passionate connection. That’s what cranks my gears. If I fetishize anything, it’s kindness. I guess my kink is romance? Anyway, my fantasy life revolves around men for whom I’ve had very strong emotional attachment (whether it was reciprocal or not).

If I fetishize anything, it’s kindness. I guess my kink is romance?

Jack Kirven

I haven’t been dating much in the intervening years. I wouldn’t want to inflict myself on anyone, plus I’ve been working really hard to build two businesses. Because of this, embarrassing as it is, no one has yet had the opportunity displace the most recent passionate attachment I felt. In other words, I’ve never really and truly stopped desiring my ex. Not all the terrible parts. The good parts. The promise of domestic stability, affection, and hot sex. Period. It’s the truth.

So, here comes the sexy dentist, and suddenly I was finally compelled to do something passive aggressive. I searched out my ex on Facebook. He makes it difficult, because he values privacy so much. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. I didn’t want to friend him, so I saw only a few pictures. One had some likes, and I felt a twinge of intense jealousy. “Who’s liking his pics????!” One of the likes was his best friend.

I did what any stalker with an ounce of ingenuity does: I sent a message to his best friend. “OMG! I can’t believe I found you while looking for someone else! Who would’ve thought? OMG OMG blah blah blah…” I can’t tell yet if I hope he replies to or not. Part of me hopes he’ll just delete, block, and/or ignore my message.

Why did I send it? Because in the moment I wanted his friend to ask me how I was, so that I could gush a litany of successes that I knew he’d immediate report to my ex. And why would that still matter? Because I’d bet money my ex slandered me to all his trashy, alcoholic friends. It’s not that I care so much about what those people think. What still festers evidently is that my ex convinced me that I’m lazy, confrontational, mean, and to some degree perhaps even stupid.

That’s the part I want resolution for. At least I did in that moment. Generally, I don’t need or want it. But these are the moments when you have to look at yourself and evaluate whether or not you’ve actually grown as a person.

Don’t gloss over your feelings, but delay acting on them. For instance, if you’re feeling furious by someone, instead of exploding at them, consciously set those feelings aside to experience and unleash later in a healthy way. You might scream into a pillow or do an intense workout. Be very careful not to deny your emotions because you might find that you have a delayed reaction that is exaggerated.

Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Author and College Instructor,

Room to Fail

Was it immature and weak to contact this person? Yes. Was it petty? Yes. Can I do better? Yes. Have I reminded myself why this is a poor choice? Yes. Will I do it again? I hope not.

What is the point of this? Obviously we aren’t perfect. In our process toward wellness there will be advances and failures. The accomplishments are balanced with disappointments. Frustration is part of it. Without these moments, I’m not sure we can grow. We have to be tested, and when we fail, we have to learn.

This is a moment to remember to show myself compassion. I faltered. It happens. It will happen again, but right now I’ve remember the lesson.


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Jack Kirven is a mobile personal trainer in Charlotte, NC. He is the owner of INTEGRE8T Wellness.

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