Whose Responsibility Are Our Triggers? And Trying Not to Bump the Bed

May 22, 2024 ◊ By Elisa Everts ◊

Whose Responsibility Are Our Triggers? And Trying Not to Bump the Bed

If you've been in relationships for a few years, you’ve probably come to realize that a fight is almost never about the thing it seems to be about. It’s much more likely to really be about something that happened when you were six (or sixteen or twenty five, but more likely six). Old wounds get bumped by things that people in our immediate environment do obliviously, without having any idea its poking your wound.

Something happened when I was caring for my friend Diane when she was dying of stomach cancer that reminds me of this. One night I came to care for her during the night at the hospital even though I’d only had two hours of sleep and was leaving for a twelve-hour drive after this shift finished in the morning. I was doing my best to love her with everything I had, determined to stay up all night with her so she wouldn’t feel so alone.

When I came in, I had to come through a different door than usual and had to sign in as a family member (not being one, but being the closest thing to a family member currently in the whole city of Chicago) and it was a whole ordeal. I felt like I had run some kind of gauntlet.

When I got up to her room, and I went to kiss her cheek in greeting, however, I accidentally bumped her bed, and it must have hurt her terribly because she bit my head off and I burst into tears. I was doing my very best to love her by alleviating pain and discomfort, and yet I had accidentally caused her even more pain.

I always think back to this incident in reference to relationships. We often “bump the bed” when we are trying to love others. We accidentally jar a wound and agony results though we are sincerely trying to make things better.

The word trigger has kind of ironically become a trigger word itself for many people in recent years as there has been some confusion about whose responsibility it is to manage triggers. Spoiler alert, it's ours. We have to manage our own triggers.

But when it comes to loving others, we also genuinely try to avoid activating their triggers, to avoid bumping the bed and opening old wounds. Some grief specialists call them cues or activators, rather than triggers (because it has become such a contentious word). We may want to discard terms that have become problematic; we should not however, throw the very valuable truth they point to out with them.

Next week I will write about how grief activates old wounds, but for today I just wanted to offer a gentle reminder that everyone around us is carrying old wounds, and while it is ultimately their responsibility to manage those wounds, love leads us to do everything in our power to avoid bumping the bed, and to be apologetic and compassionate when we (inevitably) accidentally do. Guarding one another's wounds is one way we help each other manage hope.

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About the author

Dr. Elisa Everts is the founder of Evertree Hope Management and is a dynamic public speaker, author and trainer. Dr Everts is passionate about helping cancer patients and bereaved people in their quest to survive and live a full life during and after cancer and grief. She has the personal experience of surviving Stage IV cancer and the loss of many loved ones. She understands the challenges inherent in these experiences and the importance of cultivating hope through the stories we tell others, and even more importantly, to ourselves.

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Elisa Everts, phd

Speaker | Author | Educator

Finding Hope in Cancer & Grief

Elisa Everts, phd

Speaker | Author | Educator

Finding Hope in Cancer & Grief

I speak to medical professionals and patients, helping them provide hope when there seems to be none. If you or your organization need someone to help process the difficult topics of cancer and grief, let's set up a complimentary call, 703-656-6691, ee@elisaeverts.com.

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